Old 05-02-2007, 01:14 PM   #1
J Kennedy
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Default Guitar hotwire 101 – Studio secrets of the Universe

Friends,

Here’s some tips and tricks to get a lot more sounds out of electrics. This stuff came about from my work in studios and never being able to get decent sounds out of the electric (apart from playing ability). This is no Loser or Justin stuff, more on the vegetable level of electronics. Good news, since if you can remember not to pick up the soldering iron from the hot end and can drill a hole straight through the pickguard, you can pull this off and get radical transformation of the sounds your electric is capable of producing. There’s only a few basic principles that you can get max use out of.

A couple non destructive tips to start. The modifications are best used with a good floor box compressor inline with a distortion unit after (check out an old Ross compressor if you can find one).

Voltage gain and tonal contour can be altered abruptly by running the electric thru a good quality lo to hi impedence transformer before the amp/recorder. Hook the electric to the low imp end of a mike transformer and the hi end out. Response will not be linear so may need some eq to boost the high end, but works well with thin single coils to get hi output, especially running distortion devices. All kinds of transformers are fair game, and some are the size of a sugar cube that can be mounted inside the guitar with switches to bypass. All these mods are using passive circuitry partly because I don’t understand anything more than which end of the iron is hot, but also, zero additional noise or distortion is introduced if everything is properly grounded.

Fuzz boxes should give you the chance to flail away and not have it obvious that you are using a distortion device. Some of the highest quality distortion boxes are made from old portable cassette recorders like the ones sitting in dusty piles of tangled wires in thrift stores. You have to take out the guts of the amplifier, put it into a metal project box and run the guitar input into the hot lead that connects the record head to the amp. Major clean overdrive. Run a compressor into this and “smooth as silk” takes on a new meaning. Some of the old General Electric junkomatics give an especially sweet sound.

Be back with some blood and guts invasive mods to pickups, body and circuitry.

John K

Last edited by J Kennedy; 05-02-2007 at 01:24 PM.
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Old 05-03-2007, 09:24 AM   #2
J Kennedy
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Default wood glue and hollow body electrics

Higher definition of notes can be had with hollow and semisolid guitars by applying a mix of 4 parts wood glue (casein base) and 1 part water inside. Total end volume of the mix should be about 2 oz or 60ml. Mix and pour into the sound hole and roll around till the back and sides are coated. Prep first by connecting a hose to a room humidifier and run the steam for a couple minutes into the sound hole. Wrap a piece of cloth loosely around the end of the hose to catch condensate but the steam still gets through. A plant spray bottle on fine mist will work also if you don't have a humidifier. After a couple minutes cool steaming, let the guitar sit for several minutes before treating with the wood glue/water mix.

Level out the guitar so that the excess pools symmetrically in the middle of the back. Temperature should be around 85 F or so. Let the guitar sit for 2 days before using. A low speed electric fan can help remove moisture while drying.

This works especially well for hollow body electric basses. No good for acoustics as it will only deaden the sound.

Epoxies and acrylics work well sound-wise, but two downsides. First, volatiles can flash off that corrode contacts. Second heat is created in the curing that has the plate stressed when it dries and shrinks, so the plate can separate from the wood after dragging it outside in the winter several times.

My feelings will probably not be terribly hurt if you don’t run out and immediately nuke your $3500 Gretsch with Elmer’s glue. If you do have a hollowbody to experiment with, the results are (usually) positive.

John K

Last edited by J Kennedy; 05-03-2007 at 09:55 AM.
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Old 05-03-2007, 02:09 PM   #3
J Kennedy
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Default too off topic?

Guitar mod is maybe too off topic to be on this part of the forum, so moderators feel free to shift it if you want. There’s such a wide database here of good useful knowledge that I want to document some of this stuff, wherever it belongs so anyone can take advantage, now or in the future.

There is a practical application to livelihood. Music is a hobby now and the success of others is about my remaining motivation. Don’t have to worry about the hair, the competition or any money from the music side.

When a Rickenbacker and a recording gig were my only separation from the food line, I discovered that guitar modification was becoming a main source of stable income and repeat customers. The studio had a fleet of modified guitars that the clients could use. The result..”I got a strat, but it sure as hell don’t sound like your strat. Can you make my strat sound like that??” I didn’t have a whole lot of bands coming back for more than 3 or 4 recording sessions, but a growing number of guitarists were hooked with the upgrades, and my place was their first stop after the music store with a new axe and Yankee green.

There’s a sobering thread on here getting to the root problem of surviving as an engineer in a more complex and competitive industry, and the waste of prep time before you even start the paying clock. We’ve all gone thru it. Union wage in Pittsburg studios was more per hour than a psychiatrist was making, but prep time, setup and travel equalized out the pay to not much more than minimum wage. Bummer.

I had a good, workable system on the modification end to cut out wasted time where I looked at the guitar and gave the person a list of parts to bring back with an agreed flat rate for the conversion. Customer did all the footwork so I had about 15 minutes invested in getting a parts list and setting a price before actually hitting paid time. Gentlemen, there is stable money to be made in this that can supplement the struggle to get a studio up and self supporting. Anyway, more tips to come on whatever forum this thread ends up on.

John K
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Old 05-04-2007, 07:39 PM   #4
J Kennedy
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Default candidate for best guitar pickup

Greatest pickup probably doesn’t exist since individual preference rules, but try this one out. I never liked humbuckers because the tone is too thick, but here’s a mod to the humbucker that gets the bell sound of a singlecoil and the substance of a double coil. Increased output and superior sound at the same time.

You can almost hear ol' Hare Krishna himself jamming on the celestial flute.

You need the 6 alnico magnets out of a strat pickup, not the fake Squire types that are inert poles channeling the flux from a bar magnet underneath. (I was also wondering if anyone knows a source where you can get these magnets. It gets less cost effective to tear up a strat pickup to get them, though for the sound you get, it’s still a fair price to pay.)

Remove the humbucking pickup, unsolder the two cap joints and remove the cap. The pickup has the adjustable screws in one coil, but the other 6 poles hidden beneath the cap in the second coil are also run by the same bar magnet. Press these out and toss them away. Put a light coat of vegetable oil if needed on the strat alnico magnets and insert them instead.

Two points. The magnets are too long, so you will have to drill out holes in the pickup base plate to let them extend through. You have to observe polarity with the original bar magnet or you will get some weird results. This is simply felt by the pole and bar magnets attracting each other. If they repel, you’ve got a funky flux field going on. Before closing, make sure the bar magnet is in contact with the alnicos.

Solder the cap back on and reinstall the treble pickup with the alnicos closest to the bridge for extra twang. Best to install the other one or two pickups in the same manner to get the best sounds out of mixing the pickups.

John K

Last edited by J Kennedy; 05-04-2007 at 07:44 PM.
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Old 05-04-2007, 09:21 PM   #5
brainwreck
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Default

post all this stuff you want. i'm definitely interested in hearing it.

i have a strat copy with the crappy steel pole pieces and ceramic bar magnet pickups (single coils). i thought about either replacing the ceramic bar with an alnico bar or trying to pull the pole pieces and replacing with alnico. have you ever tried this?

stewmac sells pickup parts including alnico magnets. i found another place also but i can't remember it at the moment. if i remember i'll post it here.

Last edited by brainwreck; 05-04-2007 at 09:24 PM.
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Old 05-05-2007, 10:31 AM   #6
J Kennedy
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Default

Brainwreck,

Thank you much for the reference to stewmac for the alnico magnets. These are really useful in upgrades across many brands, and if they can be gotten without having to tear up pickups… Please let me know if you find the other source.

There are several things you can do to the pickups you have that may help out by increasing the field. My rule of thumb is that more is usually better but not always and that with more complex phasing arrangements, what you do to one pickup should be done to all. Listen to the mod and if it sounds better not just louder, go with it.

Note on pickup mod on general. None of this stuff takes any brains to do, but some mechanical skill and caution are definitely needed. The wires in a pickup are thinner than a hair with a thin coat of shellac for shielding. Heat is necessary for soldering but is a major enemy to the magnets and windings. Very easy to melt and short a pickup or damage the field. Even taking off the lower bar magnet has to be done carefully if it’s bonded since the stress can abrade a few windings and the pickup is fried beyond repair. Break even an exposed lead on the winding and you’ve got maybe a half chance of soldering it back.

Pressing out the inert poles is usually not an option on the cheaper pickups. Humbuckings have a nice plastic channel to fit the alnicos. The cheap single coils are often glued in place to waxed cardboard with the windings in contact with the poles. Test it anyway with a slight push to see if it slides easily. Even if it does but it’s not in a plastic channel, risk is too high for killing the pickup. You may get the pole out, but you’ll never get the alnico back in. There are several alternatives, the best to replace the pickup with a real one having individual pole magnets.

Otherwise, replace the bar magnet with a stronger one. Downside may be that since the bar magnet field is not uniform from the perspective of the coil, you can get soft spots in the middle strings if you crank things up too much. Compensate by adding a bar on top of the original (polarity in mind) and tweaking the second bar if needed by sliding it a bit until the volume is nearly constant. Tack the second magnet with some super glue when you’ve got it right.

Warning on super glue. It will flash off a film of hi resistance acrylic stuff that will coat all your contacts if it’s not completely dry before enclosing the pickguard.

Tip on taking the guitar apart too many times to test, and reaming out the screw holes. Small section of half the width of a wooden match in the hole will fix things.

Another good option is to glue the alnicos on each inert pole (polarity preserved again with reference to the original bar). May require drilling some wood out for depth. Good to get a couple “drill stops” from an aircraft supply store to protect from inadvertently going all the way thru the guitar. Vacuum and paint drilled wood inside body with wood glue.

Best results are from drilling pole-width holes in the bar magnet and adding alnicos, but this opens up a whole bunch of problems. I can get more into this if you need.

Note on extended magnets. These work great until you’re on stage with a few fluorescent lights. Flux fields operationally can extend way beyond the boundary of the coil. Big magnets can also even change the sound of the adjacent pickup. Ground the entire cavity with copper foil so you can solder a link wire to ground. Otherwise use aluminum foil with a braided ground lead you can fan out and attach to the foil with a paper clip.

For what it’s worth, I’ve got a yard sale Squire strat with Radio Shack bar magnets bulking the fake pickups and major resurrection circuitry mod. The guitar as a whole is a piece of junk, but the sound has blown away every vintage hi end American variant it has been compared to.

Regards,
John K
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