CATCH-ALL PROJECTS





AMARILLO T-180
An amazing value on this one. And I couldn't say "No" to another Tele with an f hole.

Over the past few years, I've found myself really going back to GuitarFetish.com for pickups and other miscellaneous items. And they also are the exclusive distributor for Xaviere guitars, which come stock with GFS pickups. So I pulled the trigger on the cream, maple-neck, XV-610 model, which comes with two interesting chrome GFS Dream 180 pickups (humbucker version of a P-90).

The stock guitar came with a six-saddle chrome tele bridge, and a white pearloid pickguard. The maple neck was fine out of the box and came stock with a graphite nut. Thankfully, there was no mess in the electronics area - one volume, one tone, and a tele three-way switch. Nice chrome knobs. The Dream 180s have a very crunchy humbucker tone mixed with the classic P-90 bite. The pickups and wiring make the guitar very usable and very quiet.

Of course, I had to make a few changes. I added chrome Schaller straplocks and ordered a set of GFS' chrome vintage locking tuners ($25!). I swapped out the stock bridge saddles with Graph Tech String Saver saddles and purchased a custom Texas Special neck plate to keep with the "Texas" theme. I also replaced the stock chrome knobs with a set of All Parts Texas flag knobs, which really look cool.

What "Texas" theme? Well, I thought I'd spice this one up a bit and make it a fake Amarillo-brand guitar. So I ordered a custom headstock decal (in Coca-Cola font) and sanded off the Xaviere logo and applied and clearcoated the new one. I also ordered three vinyl stickers - a Texas state flag for the face and Texas Longhorns and Route 66 decals for the back (US Route 66 passes through Amarillo). I even attached an Amarillo city pin that I acquired in Amaraillo in 1998 under the pickguard. Yee-Haw!

Overall, I'm very impressed with the quality and value of the Xaviere guitar. The pickups are amazing, the electronics are definitely usable, the stock hardware (bridge, pickguard, neck plate, tuners, strap buttons, nut) were all high quality. (I only swapped out the strap buttons, tuners, saddles, and neck plate to keep busy!) The wood seems rugged enough (two-piece maple neck and the body has maple top/back/sides over a poplar core) and the paint job is flawless. All for less than $200. Yes, I'd buy another one - an Amarillo T (Tele) -180 (Dream 180 pickups).

January 2010




BROWNSVILLE IMPALA
What a cool little guitar!

I have had my eye on a Brownsville guitar for a number of years - but it was for their Choirboy model. But then I saw this Impala model on eBay in August 2007 and thought the "yellow crackle body/white pearloid pickguard look" was too much to pass on. And the price for this used axe was amazing, too! (Less than $200.)

Modifications for this guitar? Not so much. The body and neck (24 3/4") are great, and the stock Toaster humbucker pickups have a tone all their own. Surprisingly, the stock, through-the-body bridge is first-rate. The pickguard was a keeper, as well as the chrome/pearloid knobs.

I just swapped the original strap buttons for chrome Schaller straplocks and replaced the stock tuners with black Planet Waves locking tuners. For an extra touch, I added pearloid Schaller buttons (fit nicely on the Planet Waves) to complete the "pearloid" look of the guitar. I also replaced the old, dirty pickup mounting screws with new chrome screws.

Lastly, I fine-sanded the back of the neck and cleaned the rosewood fretboard. That's it! I wish I could have messed around with this one more, but the stock appointments are pretty cool. If it wasn't for my fascination for locking tuners and straplocks, I would play this guitar 100% stock.

Bottom line: Great value on a great guitar.

September 2007




FERNANDES MONTEREY SPECIAL
I had been scoping out a Fernandes Nomad guitar for a while, which is the small travel guitar with the built-in effects, when I stumbled upon a red 2002 Fernandes Vertigo FX model on eBay in March 2004. Even though the guitar was two years old, it was New Old Stock (NOS). The Vertigo FX was a one humbucker model, and had an interesting body shape. I added vinyl motorcycle flames to the body face and swapped the stock Fernandes bridge humbucker for a nickel-plated Rio Grande Barbeque Bucker pickup. I also removed the stock tuners and replaced them with chrome locking Schaller tuners, and addded the typical Schaller straplocks. My Fernandes Vertigo FX, with its built-in Digitech Effects system, was ready to be wired up. This is when I began to encounter some problems.

Since it was just one humbucker wired up to a volume and a tone, I decided to fire up my soldering gun and attempt the job myself. It didn't work right at all. Although the passive pickup part of the guitar's wiring was simple enough, you can imagine all the other wiring involved with the on-board effects system. I thought that taking it to a professional guitar shop would solve the problem, but I soon got the call that they couldn't figure out what was wrong with it either. Great. Now I had a 24 3/4"-scale piece of firewood.

I resolved myself to see the project through no matter what, but I realized that I had to ditch the Vertigo body with the on-board effects. Everything else could be salvaged. As stated earlier, the fact that the guitar neck was 24 3/4" scale, I was a bit limited in replacement bodies. I contemplated getting a custom Warmoth body, but I tracked down a black, limited edition, bolt-on Epiphone Les Paul with flames. This guitar was routed for the typical Les Paul two humbuckers, but I decided to leave the neck pickup hole empty, and just go with the Rio Grande in the bridge. I also added a new chrome jack plate and a chrome 3-way switch plate that I had laying around that was originally acquired in 1987 for a Les Paul Goldtop project that never came to fruition. Lastly, I replaced the stock Epiphone Tune-O-Matic with a Gotoh TOM and used the chrome Fernandes knobs.

I breathed a big sigh of relief when the Fernandes neck fit the Epiphone body perfectly. I successfully wired up the Rio Grande pickup, and I was finally in business. The downsides to the end result are I'm missing the built-in Digitech effects system and the fact that the Epiphone body is essentially plywood. Oh well - it's a cool paint job.

Let me describe the tone of the Rio Grande Barbeque Bucker pickup - it totally kicks ass! I'm not sure if I have a hotter pickup on any other guitar. Since the neck fit like a glove, the action is really good and it plays fast. By the way, Monterey is Fernandes' Les Paul-type model guitar.

September 2004




FLOYD ROSE TORNADO
I finally assembled some parts lying around the house and this thing is a shredder!

Back in September 2007, I saw that Musician's Friend had the Floyd Rose Discovery guitar for only $149! I picked up a blue one with three pickups and a Floyd Rose Speedloader - what a deal. But I didn't like the neck too much, and I didn't like the idea of those double-bullet ended strings, so I went out a tracked down an OLP/Ernie Ball Music Man neck (routed for a Floyd Rose nut) on eBay. I added an Ernie Ball Music Man decal to the headstock and was ready to go with the neck replacement. I even gave the Floyd Rose Discovery body an EVH-inspired stripe job. But then I ran into a couple of small issues. And the whole thing sat for a while.

The issues I had were these: the OLP neck required some major routing in the Floyd Rose body, and the Speedloader tremolo, while a cool idea, uses very specific strings that may disappear of the market in the near future. So I put it off for a while I decided on what to do. When I started planning my Charvel Taxi project, I decided to go with that Speedloader that was lying around, so there went the tremolo. I had purchased a black Smit's Boosted Classic pickup and installed it in a black pickguard I customized for the Floyd Rose body, but I ended up using that pickup for my EVH 78 Frank. So now no pickup.

In early 2009, I found an old, black Floyd Rose II on eBay for less than $40, and since I never had one of these in the 1980s, I thought it would be cool to get it and use it on what would become the Tornado. I used some steel wool on the fine-tuner screws to take all the black off (half of it was gone anyway) and show the brass. I then routed out the necessary wood in the neck heel and got the OLP neck to fit to scale. I didn't like the striped-EVH design, so I painted over the body and headstock with some thick tan paint. The tan with the black pickguard looks cool. I even created a quick Tornado stencil with some masking tape and painted it below the Floyd.

Because the Floyd II does not lock the strings at the bridge, I went ahead and used my regular D'Addario XL120s with the ball-end at the bridge. And because I hate winding, I ordered some Schaller 4x2 locking tuners from Warmoth. That negated the need for a locking nut, so I went with a Floyd-replacement Ebanol nut made out of graphite. Unfortunately, the nut is made to screw in the through the back of the neck (through neck), not the OLP top-mount connection, so I couldn't figure out a way to hold it on the Floyd shelf. I ended up using Super Glue to hold it in there, as top-mount screws got in the way of the string slots. I also cracked it when I attempted to counter-sink the screw holes. Oh well. I glued it back together.

For the pickup, I went with a classic - the Bill Lawrence L-500XL. My first real guitar in 1983, a black Peavey T-60 that I bought off a friend, had a cream Lawrence L-500XL blades in the bridge position and it sounded great. I even had this pickup in my Red Devil II for a time. It sounds very similar to the Seymour Duncan Dimebucker (EVH 82 Rasta), which is a tribute to Pantera's Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott and the Bill Lawrence L-500XL. Anyway, the pickup screams. Just as I remember it.

March 2009




McLOVIN
Yes, this guitar is named after the McLovin character in the movie, Superbad.

This guitar is a typical example of a great guitar for a ridiculous price. It started out life as a Rogue HH Ash (natural) from Musicianís Friend for $149. I mean, what kind of guitar can you get for $149, right? Well, amazingly, a pretty decent one. It came stock with zebra Bill Turner (EMG guy) pickups, Grover tuners with amber buttons, and a decent Tune-O-Matic bridge. The wood parts are natural two-piece ash body and a bolt-on maple neck with a rosewood fretboard - and itís bound with brown tortoise shell binding, which matches the stock brown shell pickguard. Not bad, right?

Surprisingly, for a cheap guitar, they put decent amount of quality and attention into the pickups and wiring, so I left that alone. I didnít, however, like the look of the zebra pickups and the strings did not line up perfectly with the pole pieces, so I picked up a pair of chrome humbucker covers and that improved the look (in my opinion) and made the alignment issue less apparent. I swapped out the cheap strap buttons for chrome Schaller straplocks and then tackled the bridge.

The TOM was fine, but Iíve always wanted a stop tailpiece with fine tuners (as on B.B. King's Gibson Lucille guitar), so I ordered a chrome Gibson TP-6 bridge (not cheap!) and that certainly adds a new tuning feature to the guitar, as well as doing something for the overall look. In fact, the addition of the TP-6 makes the guitar look like a 1970s-circa Carvin. Anyway, I did have a little issue getting the TP-6 on there, as its thickness prevented me from using the stock tailpiece screws, and the stock bushings were metric, unlike the Gibson screws that came with the TP-6. So I had to run to Home Depot and pick up some metric bolts and these have the TP-6 bolted down into the bushings so well it would make Tone Pros proud. Done deal.

I swapped out the stock Grovers with chrome locking Grovers and was able to take the stock amber buttons and use these on the locking assemblies. These look great and I gotta have my locking tuners! I had to file down the nut grooves a bit, but that was no big deal. The action is nice and the stock frets are actually quite uniform.

This biggest part of this project was the new headstock decal. I ordered a vinyl McLovin decal from SpeedySigns.com in black with a gold shadow, so I had to sand down the headstock to remove the stock Rogue decal. This was a bit tricky, as the headstock seems to have a flamed-maple veneer covering it, so I didnít want to sand too hard and go through it. Thankfully, I didnít. I applied the new decal and clearcoated it 5-6 times and buffed it down nice to give it a good glossy shine to match the body.

After these fairly simple steps, I turned a $149 guitar into a monster. And having McLovin on the headstock makes it cool, too.

August 2008




PAWNSHOP SPECIAL
Ever see an odd-looking guitar with a mismatched color scheme and some off-the-wall stickers hanging in a pawn shop? Sometimes, these are the ones with the coolest vibe.

I didn't set out to make a "pawn shop" guitar, but some projects occasionally are initiated when just an extra part materializes. In early 2009, I set out to make a cream Fender Stratocaster, and I purchased an alder cream Eden Strat body on eBay for less than $50. So far, so good, right? The problem was it was to go with a Warmoth neck with a standard heel width of 2 3/16", but the Eden body's neck pocket was significantly wider than that. And although side shims could have been added, I didn't want to start a project off like that. So now I had an extra body.

I quickly began looking for a guitar neck with a wider heel, and I found someone on eBay selling a maple/rosewood Jay Turser model that fit the bill (pun intended) for $40! And it had a fairly unique headstock shape, which I also liked (similar to my Fender Lipsticaster). I then began looking for original and unusual headstock decals and I found a guy who was offering custom work and used a Pawnshop Special example in his advertisement. That gave me an idea to throw some parts together and I ordered his display item - very easy.

Because it was a Strat body, I needed to get a pickguard and I decided to order a Carvin pre-wired guard. I wanted something cool and unique so I ordered a red/brown tortoise shell pickguard with two black single coils (AP11s) and one cream humbucker (C22B). The middle AP11 is reverse-wound and the bridge humbucker has a coil-splitting switch. I also replaced the stock black Strat knobs for rosewood knobs - nice touch! I have to say, after years spending hours upon hours wiring Strat pickguards, or spending a bunch of money having someone else wire it up for me, it's great to go through companies like GFS or Carvin and order pre-wired pickguards. Their soldering is perfect and it turns an all-day project into a couple minutes of hooking up a ground wire.

For hardware, I tried a set of chrome GFS locking tuners and I was impressed with the quality. For the bridge, I had on an oddball bastardized, two-post tremolo lying around with some cool roller saddles that showed some wear. I fine-sanded a lot of the black chrome off, and gave it a nice worn look. Not that this guitar is a relic or anything - just the bridge. And of course I used Schaller straplocks.

Finally, I added two SHAG stickers and a coin to give it a cool vibe. I placed a space cat decal on the front and vespa girl on the back. I originally picked up these stickers and thought about using them on my Charvel WD Red Bull project. And the coin is actually an old Family Fun Center (San Diego) game token that I was going to use for a trem stop, but it didn't need it, so I attached it to the body by the neck heel.

So with the color scheme, interesting hardware, cool stickers, and unique headstock, doesn't it look like a pawn shop axe? But it plays like a custom shop studio ace.

June 2009




SHE DEVIL
I went back and forth and back and forth on this one. But thanks to these GFS pickups, it turned out great.

During the summer of 2009, I saw that Guitar Fetish had some amazingly inexpensive guitar bodies on its site. The bodies were made of Paulownia wood, and were completely finsihed in opaque and transparent colors. I ended up getting three - transparent red Strat (Hondo Pirate), orange Strat (October 31 Scarycaster), and a Tele body with a natural flamed maple veneer - with binding! And all of these bodies together cost me less than one Warmoth body. Sure, the wood is light and kinda porous, but what the heck. My plan was to use the Tele body with a Warmoth reverse Tele neck and turn it into a Jackson Tele.

Around the same time I was assembling parts for what would become my Charvel Taxi Fretless guitar project, and I picked up a Tradition rosewood neck on eBay for less than $50. Back then, that project was going to be a Fender Taxicaster and I even got as far as applying the decal to the Tradition neck. The Fender Taxicaster was to have a Floyd Rose Speedloader on it, but in early 2010, I began having second thoughts about this project.

In early 2010, I found a really cool Fender fretless guitar neck on ebay and I thought that it would go really well with whole Taxicaster project. Except that the Floyd Rose Speedloader I was planning on using would not accept flat wound strings (I plan on using Fender bullets with the Speedloader). So I would have to use the Speedloader trem on another project (along with the Warmoth reverse Tele neck to become the Jackson Firecaster). The fretless neck then became the basis for another project spinoff - the Charvel Taxi Fretless guitar - as this modified Strat neck would not fit easily on the GFS Tele body. So basically the GFS Tele body that I originally had for the Jackson Tele project and the Tradition neck that I originally had for the Fender Taxicaster were homeless. Hmmmm.

Anyway, after sorting out this logistical mess, I went ahead with the She Devil. I picked up a really cheap Wilkinson Tele bridge (from GFS) that fit really nice. I also went with a set of vintage GFS locking tuners and, as always, a set of chrome Schaller straplocks. I had to sand down the headstock to get the Fender Taxicaster decal off and I had someone make me a cool-looking She Devil waterslide with a sinister-looking, devil-cat woman next to it. I even tracked down a devil girl neckplate, which emphasizes the guitar's theme.

The electronics on this thing are smokin'. Even when my plan was to make this a Jackson Tele, I had decided to go with a set of GFS Lil Puncher XL Tele humbucker rail pickups - a Modern Vintage in the neck and a Modern Lead in the bridge. These pickups are really hot! Like Seymour Duncan's Hot Rails. And because I tracked down a pre-wired Tele control plate on eBay that had, of course, 250K pots, I thought it would be fun to add the passive Black Ice Overdrive tone circuit to the tone pot. According to the Stewart-MacDonald/Black Ice site, the Black Ice Overdrive works best with hot pickups (check) and 250K pots (check). So... I installed it and honestly, I really don't notice that much difference. I had actually read a few reviews of the Black Ice before purchasing it and this seems to be a common assessment. Oh well. It's subtle, for sure.

Lastly, I thought the thing looked a little bland upon completion, so I added a Planet Waves "Devil Girl" and the Hell Ride vinyl decals to the body face. All in all, the guitar has a powerful tone and I continue to be impressed with GFS pickups. Also, the Tradition rosewood neck has a nice back contour feel to it and the rosewood slab has to be one of the nicest - if not THE nicest - rosewood fretboard figuring and coloring I have ever owned. The devil is in the details, for sure.

April 2010


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