I have wanted to build a guitar with four pickups for a long time. Actually, my Ibanez Bolt guitar was originally intended to house four pickups. Now I finally have one.
The key to this guitar is in the electronics. There are basically two pickup systems in there and each one is controlled with a blend pot and an on/off switch. System #1 (the white pickups) features a Kent Armstrong Vintage Strat pickup that is reverse wound for low noise when blended with the other white pickup - a Fender Custom Shop Fat '50s bridge model. These pickups are in positions '1' and '3' on the guitar. System #2 (the black rail pickups) consists of a Carvin TBH60 in the '2' position and a Seymour Duncan Performer Scorcher (Duncan's overseas version of the Hot Rails) in the '4' position. That's four different pickups by four different manufacturers. System #1 obviously has a more vintage tone, while System #2 provides more crunch.
All four pickups can be on at the same time or I can just have one of them on. Or, thanks to the blend pots, I can get some cool blend combinations, as well. If I turn on both systems, I can get a 60-40 blend between the two System #1 pickups and a 20-80 blend with the System #2 pickups. The possibilities are nearly endless. The point in creating such a guitar was to provide 'Stratocaster' and 'Les Paul' tones in one guitar and EVERYTHING in between. And yes, I had these electronics professionally wired up.
I began thinking about a 4-pickup guitar like this in 1998 when I began putting together my Ibanez Bolt guitar (read the Ibanez Bolt story below). For whatever reason, that guitar went toward a more-traditional route, as it has only three pickups. But the 4-pickup bug bit me again in August 2004 when I ordered the birdseye maple neck for this project from Warmoth. The neck was already made and for sale in Warmoth's Showcase section - it really caught my eye, as it has an amazing dark green skull 'n cross bones inlay. I then began acquiring all the electronics and hardware for this project and in October 2005, I ordered an alder Jazzmaster-style body from Warmoth - a nice big body that would comfortably house all these pickups and electronics.
But as with any project, there's always a headache or six and this is where this project ran into some issues. I really wanted the guitar electronics to be rear-loaded (no pickguard) and Warmoth balked at the idea of routing four single-coil pickup slots for the body top. They could do three, but that wouldn't help. So I had them do the neck (position '1') and bridge (position '4') routes and I routed the middle two myself - not a bad job, either!
I call this guitar Blendasaurus Rex to play on the fact that it uses blend pots to achieve the four million or so tones (4 million is the guitar's assigned serial number). I hand-painted the red, black, yellow, and green quadrants on both sides of the body and Ava added her handprints to each quadrant. I have two decals on the body face - Peacemaker and Rumsfeld - that I added at the last minute that were leftover decals from some other project that never materialized. The back of the Blendasaurus Rex also has some decals - namely the four states that make up Four Corners - Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.
For the hardware, I went with a typical Tune-O-Matic bridge, but I placed the stop tail much farther back than normal - almost like an archtop guitar. Because I didn't have the proper tension angle to keep the strings in their saddles, I had to file down the saddle notches so the strings remain in place. I also ordered a custom chrome skull 'n bones neck plate. For the headstock, I went with Sperzel locking tuners with ivoroid buttons. All of the decals are from Speedy Signs.
This project took a long time, but I think it was worth it. It's probably the most versatile guitar I own and I can just sit there with this thing plugged into my POD and dial in any tone imaginable. And that's what I set out to do.
Got a strange SG here with an old neck.
In 2003-04, I was putting together my Fernandes Monterey Special guitar and due to an issue I was having with the original Fernandes Vertigo body, I was forced to go after another 24 3/4" body to use with my Fernandes neck, so... I found an Epiphone Les Paul with some great flame graphics (although it's a plywood body - my only one), so I ended up using that with my Fernandes project. And that left me with a 24 3/4"-scale Epiphone Les Paul neck. And that neck sat around for 5-plus years.
Two events in 2009 brought this neck back into the big picture. First, my Firebird project went south so I had two extra pickups (I used the Golden Age bridge humbucker in my Fender EVH Frankenstein Baritone). The second development was seeing a really cool mahogany SG body on eBay made for 24 3/4"-scale bolt-on necks. Hmmm.
But this project isn't just a two-pickup SG. It's a recording monster. I picked up a GFS Fat PAT chrome bridge humbucker and I had the leftover black Golden Age neck humbucker. I decided to wire each humbucker up separately to its own volume and output jack. That's right, two output jacks on this guitar - one for each pickup. The reason? For recording, I can line out each humbucker (two distinct tones) into the board for double-tracking guitar tracks in one take. For example, the neck humbucker can be run through my Boss ME-30 with a nice tube crunch, and the bridge can go through my POD and get a delayed, flanged, clean tone. Anyway, that's the plan.
For the Epiphone neck, I decided to do a couple of things to it before bolting it to the body. First, I drilled tiny holes into the pearloid fretoard dots so it would like kinda cool. Then, I rounded off the top of the headstock so it wouldn't be such an obvious Epiphone rip-off. I then printed out a cheap Duotone "decal" for the headstock. I had a white vinyl Standard left over from another project and that was that.
As far as the hardware, I went with some inexpensive Sperzel-like locking tuners, a chrome Wilkinson Roller TOM, and a funky Hofner-style vibrato. And of course, Schaller straplocks.
And then there's the paint job. Not sure why I went with this, but sometimes I just get sick of spraying. It took a couple of weeks to hand-paint the whole thing, but I think it turned out pretty loud. A nice Dalmatian look. Something different and that's what it's all about.
This is what I came up with when I had an "extra" orange GFS body. Scary, huh?
When putting together my Jackson Monaco Strat, my original plan was to go with a GFS Paulownia body in orange (less than $50!). Unfortunately, installing the Floyd studs in the lightweight body almost ruined it, so I immediately went ahead and ordered another orange GFS body to try it again. The issue was that the two Floyd studs pulled put a lot of wood, so that original orange body could no longer ever hold a two-post pivot tremolo. (I ended up fixing it up and painting it yellow and using on my Tonka guitar.) Before I even received the second orange body, I decided not to even try it again and I ended up purchasing a yellow Mighty Mite body for the Monaco Strat project. That left me with an extra orange GFS Paulownia body.
I thought it would look good with a black pickguard and cream pickups, and that led me to a Halloween theme. I've had some good success with Dragonfire pre-wired pickguards, but I didn't just want another standard Strat setup, so I ordered one of their active "EMG-like" S Series pickguards. No issues wiring it up and absolutely no noise whatsoever. A really good value. I did, however, go back and forth with different knobs (tried some skull knobs, but they didn't fit or look right), and I accidentally broke off the shaft on the second tone pot. Oh well, I always leave them on '10', anyway. I settled on a black volume knob and a cream tone knob.
The most interesting part of this project was adding the 9-volt battery box to the body so it can house the battery for the active pickups. Luckily, the wood is fairly soft and I was able to easily Dremel the hole from the back right next to the standard top-loading Strat cavity, although it is at a bit of an angle. Oh well. Other hardware on this beast include black Schaller straplocks, a chrome "bastard" roller tremolo (same as on my Pawnshop Special guitar), a chrome neck plate, and a custom Strat output jack with bat wings and a skull.
For the neck, I ordered an inexpensive Eden maple neck (similar to the neck on my Domino Surfrider 6000) and added some black locking WD tuners. For the waterslide, I had a guy on eBay make up a custom Halloween Scarycaster decal in the standard Fender Stratocaster style, and I added some small Halloween-themed waterslides to stick with the theme (pumpkin, witch, spider, cat, bat, etc.). I also added a large black vinyl skull (with tiny arms and legs!) to the body face and a black vinyl bat to the body back.
The guitar is set up well and the S Series Dragonfire pickups sound amazingly good. It was easy to put together and I tried to keep the costs of all the parts really, really low and still get a cool guitar. Mission accomplished.
Back in 1985, I put together a red Hondo Strat with a skull & crossbones pickguard. Not sure what happened to it, but here's another one.
A friend of mine in high school sold me his early 1980s Hondo Strat, and yes, even back then, I made some modifications. I removed the stock white pickguard and replaced it with a really cool skull & crossbones/one humbucker piece. I remember it kinda looked like Warren DeMartini's guitar from the Ratt 1984 "Roung And Round" video and/or the black Aria Pro II George Lynch had on the back of the 1983 Tooth And Nail album. I went to the local Guitar Trader and had them wire it up with a used Fender humbucker they had lying around for $20. And that was it - that modified '83 Hondo guitar looked cool and the addition of the humbucker improved the tone.
I'm not sure what happened to that axe, but it had a plywood body and it kinda disappeared at some point - maybe I trashed it. Anyway, while looking through old pictures in 2009, I saw it again and thought why not do this one again? I wanted to do it cheap, so I ordered a maple neck and a red Paulownia body from Guitar Fetish in January 2010. The red body is actually a dark transparent red, but hey - close enough. And man that wood it light. But at least it's not plywood.
For the hardware, I went with WD chrome locking tuners, chrome Schaller straplocks, and some random, heavy duty tremolo that I found on eBay. It's got some weight to it, and the strings can load the traditional way through the trem block, or through the top, which I thought was pretty unusual. So I top-loaded the wound strings (E, A, D) and went through the block for the plain three (G, B, E). And of course, I found a WD skull & crossbones pickguard - exactly like the one I had back in 1985. And I tracked down a real Hondo chrome neck plate.
And then there's the electronics. This is where I went off-script a bit. I decided to try a newer pickup manufacturer, Rockfield, and its Fat Ass bridge position humbucker. And to do something completely different with the guts, I ordered a MODboard CH-1 Chorus effect from Guitar Fetish, which puts the paramenter controls (speed, depth) of a typical Chorus pedal right on the guitar with a dual concentric pot. (I also have a GFS MODboard DL-1 Analog Delay on my Jackson Dinky Tremma.) That was a little tricky to wire up, as I had to get a smaller wattage soldering iron, since I was working with a circuit board. But I was able to get it working and wired it up to the pickup, a volume pot, the dual concentric pot, an on/off switch, and a stereo jack, as the MODboard requires a 9-volt battery. For easier battery access, I routed out the guitar back under where the neck position pickup would be, and placed the 9-volt battery compartment there. And I used shielding paint for the cavity, as well as foil tape for underneath the pickguard.
This project was a lot of fun for me because it took me back quite a few years when I actually kinda had this guitar. The Rockfield pickup sounds really open, and the CH-1 MODboard, while fairly subtle, puts a nice effect at my fingertips. And the skull & crossbones pickguard means it's 1985 all over again.
This guitar started off life as a Carvin Bolt project, but there isn't a whole lot of Carvin left on it. One mod led to another and now it's just ... weird.
In late 1998, I decided to put together a Carvin Bolt guitar, but I didn't want to order their Bolt package - complete with electronics - since I didn't want to use Carvin pickups on this guitar. I bought the body and neck, as well as a black stop bridge, and after painting the body jade, I finished it off with some black Sperzel locking tuners and a set of Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickups. Not only did I leave the middle pickup slot on the Strat pickguard empty, I applied black duct tape all over it to make it look cool. I guess I was too cheap to order a custom pickguard. My original plan was to put four pickups on the guitar (2 Hot Rails and 2 Classic Stack - Classics ended up on my Kramer Carrera), but that never got off the drawing board. Maybe I'll attempt that set-up on a future guitar. Now for the modifications!
By now, the guitar was boring. I ordered a black Hipshot Trilogy bridge which allows me to flip levers to get all sorts of custom tunings. What a bridge! The tunings available seem endless. Playing in different tunings had really expanded my mind, especially when it comes to writing new songs. The Trilogy makes the string ferrules (strings-through-body) obsolete, but I left those in the body, anyway.
I also wasn't thrilled with the fret job on the Carvin neck, so I sold it on eBay and began looking for a new neck. Luckily, I saved the neck off my 1984 Ibanez Destroyer X-Series guitar and it fit perfectly. Problem solved. I really love the feel of this neck. I've owned it since 1987 and it's been through a lot. I had a co-worker of mine from Guitar Center route the neck for a Floyd Rose locking nut back in 1987, and I shaved a lot of wood off the back. It has small frets, but there's a bunch of life left in them. The only issue I had was that the headstock is thin, so I went to Home Depot and got some washers so the Sperzels would tighten properly. Because the neck was routed for a Floyd, I still have to use a Floyd nut - just not the clamps and locking screws.
In 2001, I decided the "custom" pickguard that I had rigged wasn't cutting it, so I ordered a new flat black Strat pickguard. I also added a middle pickup - a Seymour Duncan Cool Rails (there's a coil split switch for the neck Hot Rails and the bridge Hot Rails). Since I was taking it all apart, I decided to add a bit of paint. I cut a bunch of pieces of masking tape into various geometric shapes and painted the body black. When I peeled off the tape, I had a pretty cool jade/black design going.
The assigned serial number for this guitar is a tribute to Orangie, my orange cat who died October 16, 1998, while this guitar was still in its planning stages. With its Hipshot Trilogy bridge, this guitar has given me some cool ideas for songs. Check out Lime from 11 expressions of me and You from bikini.
Here's a weird story for a weird guitar. It definitely wasn't supposed to turn out this way. In January 1997, I was in a little music store in Appleton, WI, and I saw an off-white 1984 Kramer Focus 3000 for $99. The guitar had the Kramer original "beak" headstock and the pre-fine tuner Floyd Rose trem. It didn't look too bad so I decided to pull the trigger. My original plan was to paint the body a flat black and replace the S-S-H pickups, as well as trying to re-build the rusted-out old Floyd.
Well, I painted the body flat black and with the original black pickguard, it looked a bit boring. I then flicked some gray primer and gloss black on the body - that gave it some character. It still wasn't enough, so I gambled with some torn-off pieces of masking tape and some yellow paint. The ultimate paint job. I was more than pleasantly surprised with the new colors and pattern.
At about the same time, I realized that the original neck was twisted pretty bad and that the frets weren't too great. No big deal - I'd just get an after-market neck. I bought a Carvin neck (maple with ebony fretboard) and it fit perfectly. The neck wasn't routed for a Floyd nut, but since the old Floyd bridge didn't have fine tuners, I thought - what's the point?
Speaking of that stock Floyd Rose brige, it was quite a chore to get it into playing condition again. I took it to Shane at Henri's Music in Green Bay, WI, to see if he could order some replacement screws for it. Unfortunately, no one made that type of screw anymore, so he took it to a machine shop and they re-drilled the screw holes and he was able to use Scahller Floyd Rose screws. No one makes replacement saddles anymore either, so I have to be careful with those.
As far as the pickups, I went with a DiMarzio HS-2 and HS-3 (I had the HS-3 left from my black 1983 Kramer Pacer) for the neck and middle, respectively, and a DiMarzio Tone Zone for the bridge (thanks to a recommendation from Eric Klister). All three pickups are mounted directly into the body, which was a little tough to do with the bridge pickup (my Dad added some wood for the cavity). I used the black tuners that came stock with my Charvel Model 96 that I had purchased a few months earlier (I put LSRs on the Charvel). I printed Smithtone in mistral font - white on black - and applied it to the headstock and gave it a few clear coats to finish it off. Also, I was going to go with a black pearl pickguard, but I ended up with a flat black partial pickguard, similar to my Red Devil II.
The key to this guitar is the Roland GK-2A synth pickup. I never planned to buy a guitar synth - I was kind of forced to, if you believe that! During the summer of 1997, I was trying really hard to track down the new Peavey Wolfgang AND the Ernie Ball Music Man EVH. Although Edward Van Halen left Ernie Ball in 1995, the company still made a virtually identical guitar called the Axis. I found a company on the Web that was taking orders for the Axis and I put a $750 deposit down on a purple one. Well, in September of 1997, I tracked down a REAL EBMM EVH (in purple!), so I no longer wanted to order a purple Axis - obvious, right? Well, the company wasn't thrilled with giving back my $750 deposit, so I basically had a big store credit. In late 1997, I had them send me a Roland GR-30 guitar synthesizer and a Behringer Ultrafex II rack unit. Done deal. For background info and a similarly eerie story, check out my Summer of 97 page.
The Roland GR-30 comes with a thin pickup (the GK-2A) that you're supposed to install on your guitar, and one of the requirements is that it has to be between the bridge pickup and the bridge itself - as close to the bridge as possible. At this time, I didn't have 20+ guitars to pick from, and since the Flintstones guitar had room between the pickup and the bridge, it was nominated. The GK-2A tracks better with thicker strings, so I use an 11-49 setup on this guitar. Although I use this guitar primarily as a synth controller, I am able to get a passive-only or a synth-passive mix, as well. I added a Sabine AX-2000 tuner (requires two lithium CR-2430 batteries), which is mounted to the body, to quickly tune the guitar, since the passive pickups are almost always plugged in to the guitar synth.
Why Flintstones? The yellow/black pattern reminds me (and others) of the outfits Fred and Barney wore in the cartoon. Classic stuff. It's kind of funny how this guitar started as a $99 piece of firewood and ended up as a real burner (no pun intended). I've used this guitar on quite a few songs, including El Tonto and 5911 from man makes plans and God laughs. The neck also made the CD back of 11 expressions of me.
What was I thinking? A fretless guitar?
Basses are commonly fretless, as are classical-stringed instruments (violins, cellos), but a guitar? I know there are players out there who have done this before a million times (in fact, one guy swears glass fretboards make the best fretless necks), but how was this going to work - who makes a fretless neck?
I actually got the idea years ago from the Carvin factory, where I saw one of their necks with a beautiful ebony fretboard and zero frets. And it's been in the back of my mind since.
There was a guy on eBay selling a fretless guitar, so I pulled the trigger in July 2007, but I couldn't live with the guitar the way it was. So... this fretless guitar was parted out - the body became my Fender Lipsticaster and the neck became attached to my Texcoco Fretless. I did, however, already have a neck for my Texcoco Fretless, so that neck (CBS Strat) turned into my Fender Stratocaster (70s) project. Whew!
The fretless neck has Crafted in USA stampted on the headstock front and features a yellowheart fretboard on maple. Obviously, the guy ripped off the original fretboard and glued on a new slab. I added a new graphite nut (pain in the butt) and black locking Proline tuners (also, pain in the butt). I had to sand down the butt back of the neck as it sat to high on the body.
As far as the body, it's a KnE alder Charvel hard tail, with one humbucker route. I added the neck position slanted tele pickup route, as I had an extra chrome-covered Lindy Fralin Broadcaster Hybrid 2% Overwound pickup laying around (the bridge part of this set is on my Tora Tele). I hand-painted the body yellow (with a foam brush) and hand-painted the Native American-type symbols and art.
The bridge on the body was expensive - a strings-through-body Custom Shop Parts Hot Rod hard tail with flames - way cool chrome! The bridge humbucker is a boutique Diesel Bulldog and sounds tough. It's wired up to two on/off switches - one for each pickup.
This guitar is extremely hard to play. It requires special strings that won't chew up the fretboard - La Bella Stainless Steel Flat Wounds (9-39), and playing accurate chords is virtually impossible. But soloing and sliding is pretty cool. This axe is definitely different than any other guitar I own. And what's with the name? Check this out: Texcoco.
UPDATE: April 2013
In an effort to use my set of Lindy Fralin Broadcaster Hybrid 2% Overwound Tele pickups for my Fender '50 Esquire -2 pickup- pine project, I removed the Fralin neck pickup and swapped it out with a Tone Emporium '52 Tele TE-05 neck pickup (nickel cover). The Tone Emporium pickup sounds great and this switch will allow me to use both Fralins on one guitar (the Fralin bridge pickup was in my Tora Tele). Great value and quality on the Tone Emporium set.
TOKAI SPRINGY SOUND SCALLOPED
Around the time I was putting together my cream Fender Stratocaster (90s) guitar, I got a wild idea. Why not get a guitar with a scalloped neck?
This must have came to me because the Fender Stratocaster (90s) looks so much like Yngwie Malmsteen's guitar - which of course has a scalloped fretboard. Hmmm. I ordered a 22-fret, Mighty Mite birdseye maple neck with abalone dots and then found a guy via eBay to scallop it for an extra $75. He also routed the nut to accept an LSR roller nut. It turned out very well and I was impressed with the quality of the guy's work.
For the body, I thought a cherry sunburst body would look cool, so I stuck with Mighty Mite and found a two-piece ash body with a super sunburst on it. Seriously, this is one of the nicest bodies I've ever bought.
With the neck and body ready to go, I just needed some hardware and some electronics. I ordered a GFS MIM tremolo (same one as on my Fender Stratocaster (90s)) and that fit nicely. I also added some aluminum roller saddles - the same ones as on my Pawnshop Special guitar's tremolo. I originally went with Planet Waves locking tuners, but the set I bought was defective, so I ordered a cheap ($30) set of chrome locking tuners from Dragonfire off of eBay. Great price and they work perfectly. Who says you have to get an expensive brand name when it comes to locking tuners? Lastly, I rounded out the hardware with chrome Schaller strap buttons.
And then there were pickups. I had been buying a lot of GFS pickups lately (low prices and pre-wired pickguards), so I stuck with them and ordered a pre-wired guard with a set of '70s Grey Bottom Overwound single-coil pickups. Great sound, great price, and super easy to install. We have a winner!
I have to admit that a scalloped fretboard is not something that has won me over to the point where I'm going to convert all of my necks. In fact, I really prefer to feel the wood under the frets. But, the point of a collection is not to have many of the same, but different versions. And yes, scalloped is kinda weird.
And the Tokai brand? Well, I remember them from years ago as a Japanese company that made some amazing Stratocaster knockoffs that command a nice price on eBay these days. And when I came across a decal, well, it was a more "cost effective" way to get one. And Mighty Mite parts fit together nicely!
Other totally Weird Smithtone guitars that defy common sense:
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