Thursday, November 10, 2011

It Be Rainin' Guitars Up In Here!

[NOTE: I am fairly certain that were I to utter the above phrase, I would sound like an incredible dork. If anyone sends me a sound clip proving that the above phrase can be spoken in a way that is full of awesomeness, I will immortalize it in a song featuring your clip and the subject(s) of this post (it's gotta be good, though).  Just upload it to my Soundcloud dropbox.]

If you have zero interest in guitars, you might as well stop reading; the rest of those post will serve only as a sleep aid.  For those that do, at the very least you can enjoy some eye candy even if the details bore you.

In the past months, two new guitars have entered my collection. While that may make me sound like Mr. Moneybags, both of these instruments were a long time coming and the arrival of one was never supposed to coincide with the other. They are also moving guitars out as they come in, one of which has already found a new home.

Every song that has been recorded for the project (not counting Mean Left Hook of course, which was recorded long ago) has featured my Variax 500, a veritable Swiss Army knife of a guitar. A few weeks ago - after nearly a year on order - the next generation Variax has reached my hands. I'm not going to go into great detail talking about this one, not because I don't love it but because there's already a fair number of reviews on various blogs, forums, and online magazines. I'll keep my assessment short and sweet; if a rechargeable battery, custom tunings at the flip of a switch, and the ability of the guitar to remain useful if you absent-mindedly forget to charge the battery sound like highly desirable or must-have features to you, this guitar is worth it (otherwise, one of the previous generation Variax will likely do you just fine).

The second guitar is a custom build that I began back in May. I've always wanted to build my own guitar, partly to entertain the tinkerer in me, and partly to create a guitar that was exactly what I wanted it to be. For years I owned a 1983 Squier '57 Vintage Re-issue Stratocaster. Anyone familiar with this model knows that at the time Squier were making these re-issues better and more historically accurate than their American-made Fender counterparts. As wonderful as the guitar was, I wasn't enjoying it like I once was. I have developed a taste for thicker, baseball-bat like necks, the tone of the pickups didn't speak to me like they once did, and I had a desire to get creative with the electronics.  Rather than modifying the guitar and destroying the unique and coveted prize that it was, I sold it over the summer to someone who will hopefully appreciate it for exactly what it is.

And so I set to work creating a replacement that would suit me to a tee.  While I won't go into the long history of where all the parts came from (mostly a mix of eBay, a guitar parts supplier called Warmoth, and three red pearl-topped knobs I bought almost 15 years ago when the music store I was working at went out of business), I'll touch on a few of the deviations from your typical Fender Stratocaster that make it special:

At a monstrously thick 1" for the entire length, the only Stratocasters ever offered with a neck comparable to this were early Jeff Beck signature models.  In fact, despite many players commenting on the comfort and tone of thick necks (both of which I can confirm), there are almost no guitars on the market that have them.

Rather than go with a big-name pickup manufacturer such as Seymour Duncan or Dimarzio, I wanted to go with something outside the norm; a diamond in the rough, if you will. I ended up selecting Wilde Pickup's MicroCoils, launched in March of this year. Wilde is a pickup company started by Bill Lawrence - a legend in the pickup design field - and his wife Becky (also a highly respected pickup maker). They're noise-resistant, sound killer, and are incredibly responsive.

I based the wiring on the Strat Lover's Mod found on GuitarNutz, which effectively adds 8 additional settings on top of a Stratocaster's usual 5. The one alteration I made was including a capacitor in the out-of-phase switch to create what is referred to as 'half-out-of-phase'.

The verdict?  I had a lot of fun putting this guitar together, and the end result is a distinctive and unique guitar that feels and sounds exactly like what I had hoped to achieve.  When all is said and done, it really wasn't that difficult or expensive, and there's some excellent resources online when in doubt.

No comments:

Post a Comment