Zen and the art of guitar maintenance

Posted in guitar, Ibanez, Les Paul with tags , , , on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 by Ed Wyrd

My experience maintaining my guitars has been minimal, at best. I’ve done nothing more complicated than changing strings and polishing them. So what I just did, for me, is nothing short of miraculous.

Over the last several weeks, I took my corroded Ibanez Les Paul and transformed it into a working beauty.

Most of the issue was metallic. All the hardware needed replacing and I was fortunate that the original dark wood finish was still in great condition. So there was no sanding or refinishing involved, just electronic replacement.

If you want to see what a hot mess it was (and I apologize, I don’t know how that term slipped into my vocabulary), check out yesterday’s blog post, Waiting for the luthier or someone like him.

Over several weeks, I ordered all the new parts I thought I’d need and when the last one finally arrived, I got down to work.

Never having undertaken such a task, of course I consulted all the YouTube experts, but I also acquired information the old-fashioned way: I checked out a few books from the library, including the “Haynes Gibson SG” book, which provided a lot of help.

I won’t bore you with the step-by-step process (and I could do that very easily since I used to be a tech writer before the economy went south in 2009), but basically, I removed all the screws, put them in order so I wouldn’t get them confused (in reality, they all ended up in a jar to soak in WD-40, on the off chance it would remove some of the corrosion). This actually turned out to be unnecessary, because all the replacement pieces came with shiny new screws.

I pried out the huge metal anchors that held in the bridge and tail piece. Then I pounded in the new anchors with a rubber mallet. The tail piece fit perfectly, however, this is when I learned that tune-o-matic bridges are not universal! The new one wasn’t wide enough to span both posts. That’s when I measured the two and found out the new one was a couple millimeters shorter. Frustrated at myself for not figuring this out in the first place, I ordered another one.

The new tune-o-matic fit without even having to use its supplied anchor posts. And personally, I think it’s much snazzier looking. Instead if the traditional wedge-shaped strong guides, this one has little rollers, lime so:

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Next, I removed the humbucker. First the bridge one, tugging on the wire to see which pot it was connected to.

I do not know if it’s the nature of the braided wire Ibanez used originally and the metal acted as a natural heat sink, or if Ibanez used some special heat-resistant solder, or if the soldering iron just wouldn’t get hot enough (but it worked like a charm on all the other soldier joints), but I had a helluva hard time unsoldering those braided ground wires.

Here’s a picture of the rat’s nest prior to my attacking it:

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I had to take a hooked tool and tug while I applied the iron to the solder.  Eventually, they came loose and I was able to feed through the wires for the new humbucker and solder it in. I repeated the procedure with the neck pickup.

Then I replaced the output jack. This was fun because it not only was difficult getting the braided wire unsoldered, it was just as hard getting it soldered into place on the new one. I eventually cheated by taking some bare wire strands from a piece of speaker wire, wrapping it around the post and the braided ground wire, and liberally applying solder to the whole damned thing.

I ended up doing something similar to wire in the new three-position switch because it had three braided grounding wires coming in. I wrapped them together and soldered them to the grounding prong on the switch. Then, my ADHD kicked in and I jumped the gun by screwing in the switch’s cover and the neck humbucker before I tested them to see if they worked.

I plugged in my Smokey amp then out a tuning fork near each pickup. The bridge pickup worked fine. The neck pickup didn’t work.

I unscrewed the switch’s cover, carefully removed the ring bolt, pulled it out, bent back some prongs and made sure no wires were touching, did some solder touch-up, then before putting it back together, tested the humbuckers. Yay! They worked. I put everything back together and tested again. Double yay! They still worked.

I was almost home free. All I had to do was press in the replacement tuner bushings and I’d be done. Turns out, the bushings, although they fit onto the tuning machine pegs, were too wide for the original hole in the headstock. (Having learned my lesson with the wrong sized bridge, I had, in fact, measured these. Unfortunately, the measurement was of the inside diameter of the bushings, not the diameter of the hole it was to go into.

So I got out my drill and a round file and went to work widening each hole. That done, I pressed in the bushings, screwed in the original machine heads, and now I was ready to restring.

I put on the two E strings, then I pressed the low E string at the first fret and at around the 20th fret. I sighted along the neck and realized it touched every fret. That meant I had to adjust the truss rod to put a slight curve in the neck or I’d be suffering from string buzz.

That done, I finished stringing, tuned each string, then played its harmonic at the 12th fret. It was in tune. (I had duplicated where my original tune-o-matic had each string guide set, and must have hit it perfectly).

I played a few tunes on her and was very pleased with her unamplified sound, but the real test would be plugging her in. I had bought a cheap pair of humbuckers off of eBay fully intending to replace them somewhere down the road with higher quality ones, but when I plugged in and played her…

Wow. The sound was rich and warm, with some nice bottom, unlike the thin, trebly-sounding original pickups that I was never happy with.

So now I essentially have a new, nice sounding Les Paul. I had replaced everything, even the strap pegs, except for the volume/tone pots, their knobs, and the tuning machines.

And now, the reveal:

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I’m happy with the results. I also have a feeling of satisfaction having done the work myself. In fact, now I want to buy one of those unfinished wood guitar kits and finish and assemble it.

Until then, my next project is to refinish this stool I found in the trash:

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I would like to give it a piano gloss-like finish. I figure that will give me some experience before I tackle a guitar body.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

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Waiting for the luthier or someone like him

Posted in guitar, Ibanez, Les Paul with tags , , , on Monday, June 22, 2015 by Ed Wyrd

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my Les Paul was last seen languishing in its hard case, subjected to all the multifarious atmospheric conditions that plague our basement, most of them involving moisture.

Years of neglect led to this:

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And this:

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The Treble/Rhythm Ring is worn and the pickups show rust.

And this:

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Hard to see, but all chrome hardware is corroded and flaking. Bridge pickups show rust.

And this:

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More rust.

And this:

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Corroded tuner bushings, missing high E bushing.

She was in bad shape. I had purchased her used in 1984. It is an Ibanez Les Paul copy, (as you can tell by the headstock, post-lawsuit). At one point, I had sent a letter to Ibanez asking how old she was. They replied it was a 1978, although now, researching on the internet, the serial number seems to indicate it was made in early 1977.

Her sound was never quite right to my ears, although now I realize that probably had as much to do with my Peavey Backstage Plus amp as it did the pickups. It just didn’t seem to give the low end punch I wanted from a Les Paul.

There were other issues also. A buzz. Not a fret buzz, but an annoying vibration from the neck pickup. Being stupid about guitars at the time, I made the assumption it was those ugly metal pickup covers causing the vibration.

So instead of seeking professional assistance (this was in the days before the internet) I took a screw driver and pried them off!

Luckily, I didn’t do any serious damage to either the pickups or the finish. But the vibration persisted until I wedged a folded piece of cardboard into the space next to the pickup. Problem sort of solved, but it didn’t improve the sound or her appearance.

So I stopped playing her, got a new guitar, and stored her away. Until recently. I pulled her out and like Linus looking at Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, I said, “she’s not really such a bad looking guitar. All she needs is a little tender loving care and some new parts.”

Over a period of a few weeks, I ordered a new Treble/Rhythm ring (the words were completely worn away), a new 3-way switch (the old one crackled when moved and didn’t work in the Treble position), new humbucker pickups, a new bridge and tail piece (the old ones were really grungy and corroded), a new pick guard (not that there was anything wrong with the original. It’s just plastic, but the mounting hardware was rusted and corroded), and some tuner ring bushings (also corroded and one was missing). I’d have replaced the tuners themselves, but I couldn’t find an exact match and would have had to drill new mounting holes.

And over about a three week period in June, I worked on her a little bit when time permitted.

Last night, I finally finished, put new strings on, and tuned her up.

Tomorrow, I’ll do the reveal.

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Dreamweaver

Posted in dreams, guns, tv with tags , , , , on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 by Ed Wyrd

I usually don’t remember my dreams. I wish I did. I wish I was one of those writers who keep a pen and notepad by their bedside so when they wake up they can jot down every juicy detail and use it for fodder for their next story.

But my dreams are like an ephemeral mist that dissolves when exposed to warm rays of the sun.

But last night’s dream has lasted, or at least a part of it has and its odd enough that I thought I’d share.

I was assisting special agent Jethro Gibbs of NCIS (the TV show). I wasn’t an agent, but for some reason I was helping him. He had even given me his gun.

I had trailed the bad guys back to their lair and decided to apprehend them myself.

I quietly entered through the rear door. It was dark and hard to see, and I moved cautiously, holding my gun out before me as I entered the next room, like they do on cop shows on TV. From out of another room, one of the bad guys appeared, firing at me.

I returned fire and he fell. I kicked his gun away, then kneeled down to check him. He was dead.

From another doorway, the second baddy rushed me. I tried to fire, but the gun jammed. I looked at it and saw that it was stuffed with tiddly-winks.

What the heck? Somehow Gibbs had kept his gun in his pocket and also kept tiddly-winks in it, which got into the gun, jamming it.

OK, let me pause a moment here and explain the gun. It didn’t shoot regular bullets, instead you loaded these metal discs into it. It didn’t fire the discs, like one of those plastic toy guns that launch plastic discs horizontally from the barrel by a spring. No, these were metal discs, like slugs (those stamped metal discs that you have to pop off of a metal electrical outlet to run the wires through). Like slugs, these too were about the size of a quarter. You loaded them into the gun vertically so when the gun fired, the hammer struck the face of the slug, firing the bullet.

You can see how tiddly-winks could screw the whole thing up. The plastic disc would come between the hammer and the slug, preventing the gun from firing.

And all this made sense to me in the dream. It wasn’t anything unusual, this disc-firing gun. On the contrary, it seemed oh so normal.

So back to the dream. The baddy is attacking me, knocking me around, and all the while I’m struggling with this gun, cursing Gibbs, and trying to remove the tiddly-winks and reload it with the slug-bullets.

Again, in real life this would be impossible: to fix a jammed gun while under attack. But this was my dream, and this too seemed normal.

Finally, I was able to clear the jam and reload the gun. I leaped clear of the attack and fired several shots at the baddy. Several were body shots but I saw a hole appear in his forehead.

He should have gone down. Heck, with a head shit, he should have died instantly. Instead, this was dream-reality and he kept coming.

He picked up a large tube TV that had been sitting on one of those 1960s metal stands with the spindly legs where the TV sat on a lazy-susan spinning center. He raised it over his head, about to smash me with it, when finally his nervous system shut down and he crashed to the floor, dead.

Then my alarm went off. So I never did get to chastise Gibbs for giving me a gun jammed with his tiddly-winks. Which is probably for the best, he would have just Gibb slapped me anyway and said something terse like, “Next time, check your weapon beforehand.”

And DiNozzo would have called me a proby and compared my situation to some movie.

Or something like that, and it would have all made perfect sense.

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Build it yourself

Posted in Fender, Gibson, Gresch, guitar, Ibanez, Les Paul with tags , , , on Monday, June 1, 2015 by Ed Wyrd

All right, first I have an assignment for you. Go to the following URL on eBay and look at the item, then if you like, look at the rest of the seller’s inventory, then come back here so we can discuss it.

thestratosphere

Interesting? I found it searching for used Les Paul guitars. That isn’t the only company that sells “project” guitar bodies and necks, but their the first one I ran across.

Seeing those bodies at a fraction of the cost of an actual Gibson, Fender, or Gretsch left me with several questions.

First of all, if you buy a 2015 Gibson Les Paul Studio body, does it come with a Gibson factory warranty?

I’m thinking not. It would be like buying a stripped down Vette body and filling it with your own components. I doubt that Chevy would stand behind the product, and in this case, I wouldn’t think Gibson would either.

Another question, where do these stripped down guitars come from? Does this company buy say, a $1000 guitar, strip out all the components, them sell everything individually? How do they make any money on that? The example guitar, you could probably buy all the parts for anywhere from $25 all the way up to ten tines that. Even then, you’ve only spend say $750 for a $1000 guitar. How is this company profiting?

Unless these are blemished or used or even demo guitars that they got at significant discount on, but even then, I can’t imagine them being able to pick up a 2015 Gibson Les Paul Studio for what it would take for them to turn a profit at $459 for a body and neck.

Another question is, if you do purchase one of these project guitars, once you have it all assembled and functioning, can you make a profit selling it? Would you be able to sell it at whatever the going rate for a used Gibson is? Would an appraiser be able to spot it as a fake? Or is it considered customized?

I’m only curious because I’ll essentially be replacing everything on my lawsuit era Ibanez Les Paul except for the tuners, the volume and tone pots and much of the original wiring, and if I find that an enjoyable experience, I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at one of these projects where I’d have to put in all the hardware.

Maybe it could be the start of a new avocation for me: Shadow Ferret Guitar Customization.

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SG Update

Posted in Gibson, Gresch, guitar, Ibanez, Les Paul with tags , , , on Friday, May 29, 2015 by Ed Wyrd

I stopped in at Cream City Music and asked for a rough estimate on what my Gibson SG special  might be worth.
Since I didn’t have it with me, he couldn’t do a thorough examination of it to give an accurate estimate, but he did do the ball park figure thing.

For a 2000/01 in mint condition, he said you could expect to get $600-700 for it.

Mine is in mint condition except for a small paint chip on one of the horns — the left one, which is the one facing you when you play it.

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I’ve been trying to get an estimate for repair, but most of the guitar stores only do minor repairs and they don’t have painting facilities. I did contact Gibson and they sent an email with instructions on how to pack it and ship it to them. Then they’d look at it and provide an estimate.

In other words, I’d pay for shipping, then if I didn’t like Gibson’s estimate, I’d still have to pay $80 for the privilege of having them look at it, and I assume, the cost of return shipping.

The estimate of $6-700 was right around what I was hoping, but then he said that’s what they’d expect to get when they sell it.

Oh. And what could I expect to get selling it to you? “Around $350.” Trade-in? A few percentage points more.

Much less than I was hoping for a trade-in for a Gretsch.

So for the time being, I’m keeping my Gibson, and looking for a guitar store or luthier that does paint repair. Then if I still want to sell it, I’ll have to do it myself, possibly on eBay or in the classified. Or, if I feel like dealing with creepy, scary people: Craigslist.

In the meantime, I’ll be refurbishing my Les Paul. Stay tuned.

Oh, and it looks like I’ll be keeping my Peavey Backstage Plus. The guy at Cream City Music said they’re a dime a dozen. I guess everyone owned one once and they’re all trying to sell them.

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Capzasin: Arthritis Pain Relief?

Posted in arthritis, aspercreme, Ben Gay, capzasin, Icy Hot, pain relief with tags , , , , on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by Ed Wyrd

My big toe has been bothering me for a few years. I don’t know if it’s arthritis, or what, but in the second knuckle, pain builds up until I hobble when I walk. The pain slowly subsides as I move, but comes back at rest.

I’m not a big pain pill person, in fact, I rarely take them and then, only for the rare headache or other infrequent pain. So I’m not popping pills to relieve this pain, but I have tried a few topical ointments, like Icy Hot, Ben Gay, and Aspercreme. None of them do a damned thing.

I was in Walgreen’s the other day and just for the heck of it, I looked for some sort of arthritis relief. There was this one in a red box called Capzasin, “Arthritis Pain Relief.” OK, why not? So I bought it, went home, and applied it to my toe.

Capzasin, if you can’t surmise from the name, is made from capsaicin, the substance from chili peppers that makes them HOT!

Only after I applied it did I read the directions, which aren’t available until you buy it, take it home, then rip open the cardboard box. Because unlike other medications where they put the cautions on a plastic sheet that  you can peruse at the store, this one is only available at home, when it’s too late.

Some of the precautions:

  • If you are a first time user and think your skin might be sensitive to CAPZAISIN, test it on a small area first.

Oh. That probably would have been nice to know before I applied it.

  • Wear gloves to apply or, if medicine {this part was wiped out by opening the box}act with hands, wash with soap and water {more missing bits}ing to avoid spreading to the eyes or other sensitive areas of the body. Try using dishwashing liquid or cooking oil at room temperature [emphasis mine] if regular soap and water does not completely wash the product from your hands.

See? Now that would have really been nice to know before I bought it. You need cooking oil to remove this shit! And it was nice of them to tell us the cooking oil should be at room temperature, I would have taken it right from the chicken I had frying on the stove.

Anyway, according to their inside info, “What does capsaicin do? When applied to the affected area, capsaicin penetrates deep and specifically targets pain transmitting neurons by progressively deteriorating their ability to signal pain to the brain, effectively relieving minor aches and pains of muscles, joints associated with arthritis, simple backache, strains, sprains and bruises.”

Well, let me tell you what it actually does. For me, there is the deep joint pain from the arthritis. Then I applied the Capzasin and at first, nothing happened. But then as minutes passed, I could feel the capsaicin burn. Did it relieve the other pain? NO! Instead, now I had deep joint pain in conjunction with topical surface pain!

But, to make matters worse, and this was actually hinted at on the outside of the box, “a transient burning sensation may occur upon application, but generally disappears in several days.” Several days is right, but transient burning sensation was being mild. Have you ever had athlete’s foot? That burning, cracking between the toes? Yeah, this wasn’t like that. It was much worse. Now, not only did I have the joint pain and the topical burning, but the pain spread gradually until it was between all my toes, like I had spilled hot oil (not room temperature) on my foot and was suffering from third degree burns.

Again, from the inside of the box: “Are there any side effects? Due to the nature of capsaicin, a mild, tolerable burning and/or itching sensation may be experienced when the product is applied which may last up to 48 hours.”

Yes, it did last up to 48 hours. And I’ll attest to the fact that soap and water does not wash it away. In fact, it made it burn more! My foot felt on fire for those 48 hours and no, it wasn’t mild or tolerable.

In fact, I threw the bottle out. Something that dangerous doesn’t need to be in our house. Especially since one of the warnings is: “Flammable keep away from fire or flame.” Remember when the word was actually “inflammable,” but Americans always confused inflammable with not-flammable and things blew up all the time?

So, I give this product 0 stars. Did it relieve my pain? No. Did it cause pain? Hell yes. Avoid this product. I can’t see any benefit from its use, unless you enjoy inflicting pain on yourself.

Your mileage may vary.

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Eenie Meenie Minie Mo, Which Guitar is Going to Go?

Posted in Gibson, Gresch, Ibanez, Les Paul, SG with tags , , , , , , , on Friday, May 22, 2015 by Ed Wyrd

In our last episode, Timmy had fallen down the old abandoned well and Lassie had gone for help, but had stopped at the guitar store first to strum on a few axes.

Which brings us to my dilemma: which guitar should I sell in order to get a Gretsch semi-acoustic?

The choice is between these two:

1977 Ibanez Les Paul and 2000 Gibson SG Special

1977 Ibanez Les Paul and 2000 Gibson SG Special

Do I keep my first guitar, the 77 Ibanez and sell the 2000 Gibson? Or do I get rid of the faux Les Paul and keep the SG?

Decisions decisions.

Here is a close-up of the Ibanez:

Ibanez is ready for its closeup

Ibanez is ready for its closeup

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, it had been poorly stored and suffered from moisture damage. You can see some of the rust on the screws and a small amount of corrosion on the bridge. This is after I took a small wire brush attached to my Dremel and tried to grind away some of the rust. While doing that, some of the chrome on the bridge flaked off. The bridge and tail are much shinier now than they were when I first pulled the guitar out of the case, but there is still a good amount of corrosion.

You’ll probably also notice that the humbucker pickups are exposed. They originally had those traditional chrome metal covers like the vintage PAF (patent applied for) humbuckers had. But years ago I pried off those metal coverings. I’m sure that wasn’t good for them. I think I recall that there was a buzz or vibration from one of them and I thought it was caused by the metal cover. Turns out it was the pickup itself. I found a matchbook wedged on the right side, which I put there to supposedly stop that buzz.

So those are my choices. Ibanez or Gibson. Gibson or Ibanez. Which one stays and which one goes? What would you do? What do you think I would do?

Well, as I implied in my last post, I’ve already made my decision.

And the winner is *drum roll*

The Ibanez! Yes, I’m keeping the Ibanez. Why? Sentimental value. It was my first guitar, after all. The body still looks nice, with only minor cosmetic blemishes. All the issues are with the hardware. So not only will I keep it, it’ll become my project guitar. I’ve already ordered new parts from various sources.

Another reason is, I’ve never been truly happy with the Gibson. I mean, it’s a good guitar, but honestly, it never blew me away. In fact, I could never really tell the difference between the Ibanez and the Gibson in regards to tone (maybe the Gibson had an edge in beefyness and certainly it’s pickups didn’t buzz), or sustain, or playability. The only thing the Gibson had going for it was that it was, in fact, a Gibson.

In other words, the Ibanez has my heart and the Gibson never won me over, unlike my new baby, the Gretsch, which I fell in love with almost immediately. It not only feels as if it was made for me, it sounds beautiful.

Gretsch G5013CE Rancher Jr

Gretsch G5013CE Rancher Jr

Some of you probably think I’m crazy to get rid of the better, American name-brand guitar over what is essentially a Japanese knock-off, and maybe I am, but I can’t help the way I feel about the Ibanez and my lack of feeling for the Gibson. And essentially, they are the same guitar: solid body with double-humbuckers.

Additionally, when I sell, or trade-in, the Gibson, I’ll be taking the Peavey Backstage Plus amp with it (pictured in the first graphic). Talk about disappointment, that amp has never ever given me the tone I was looking for. Oh, sure, its loud, 35 watts loud, but I just have always hated how it made my guitars sound. I want something that provides crunch, a decent metal tone, like Black Sabbath or AC/DC, or even some Al DiMeola. Instead, it’s given me Wes Montgomery. Not that there’s anything wrong with his playing or his music, but his tone was always too clean, there was no snarl, no growl, no rumbling like I was attempting to control thunder.

Seriously, the little handheld, battery operated, Smokey mini amp I have gives me more crunch than that Peavey did. But I’m not down on Peavey, they’re a good amp manufacturer. I just have always hated my Backstage Plus, which is why the next amp I’m considering is the Peavey Vypyr VIP 1. I’ll be stepping down in power, 35 watts down to 20 watts, but I’ll be picking up 36 guitar amp models to choose from. So then if I want to play clean like Wes Montgomery, I can, but if I want to play loud brutal riffs like Tony Iommi, I can do that, too. Plus, one other thing it does: it is also an acoustic guitar amp. I’ll be able to use it with my acoustic guitar, as well as with my electric.

So there you have it. I’m trading in the Gibson and the Peavey for a Gretsch. Sometime. In the future. When that will be however, I don’t know. Could be tomorrow. Could be months from now. But whenever it is, you can rest assured there will be a blog post about it.

Oh, and here is a picture of my wife’s Journey signed Texarkana:

2015-05-21 21.06.34

Guitar signed by the band Journey

And now you’ve met the entire guitar family as it stands today.

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