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DIY Guitar Makeover VOL. 3 Hot-rod your Tele, Strat, or Paul, with this insightful collection
DIY Guitar Makeover VOL. 3 Hot-rod your Tele, Strat, or Paul, with this insightful collection
DIY Guitar Makeover VOL. 3 Hot-rod your Tele, Strat, or Paul, with this insightful collection
DIY Guitar Makeover VOL. 3 Hot-rod your Tele, Strat, or Paul, with this insightful collection

DIY Guitar Makeover

VOL. 3

Hot-rod your Tele, Strat, or Paul, with this insightful collection of hardware tweaks and wiring mods.

Makeover VOL. 3 Hot-rod your Tele, Strat, or Paul, with this insightful collection of hardware tweaks

Digital Press

MOD GARAGE

Swap That Tone Knob for a Warmth Control

BY DRIK WACKER

Photo courtesy singlecoil.com

Bottom: A sweet stash of new-old-stock low-capacitance tone caps from our shop. Makes you want to haul out the soldering iron and get busy, right?

F or most players, even a �.��� µF cap makes the tone too dark and lifeless. The solution is to replace the tone cap with

one that has even less capacitance, and thus turn the tone pot into a “warmth control.” To do this, we’ll experiment with capacitors in the picofarad (pF) range: specifically from ���� pF up to ���� pF. Here’s what you can expect from five popular values that fall within this range.

• 1000 pF. This value provides a very subtle effect—perfect for warming up pickups with a lot of high end. Because it only affects the upper high-end frequencies, it’s impossible to dial in a tone that sounds lifeless. This value, as well as all the following values, delivers useful control over the whole rotation of the tone pot, and every small turn of the knob yields an audible change without any of the dreaded “on-off” characteristics of most stock tone knobs.

• 2200 pF. Still subtle, this value is perfect for warming up strident pickups in the first half of the pot’s rotation. Beyond this, it will start to slightly blanket the high end, yet you’ll retain all the guitar’s chime and overtones. This is also the ideal value if you want to warm up your distortion sound without making chords muddy.

• 3300 pF. My personal favorite—I have it in almost all my guitars and I recommend you give it a try. This value lets you go from warming up shrill sounding pickups in the initial third of the rotation to that “cocked wah” tone when you fully close the pot. In the last third of the rotation, it warms up your tone noticeably and imparts a vocal quality. This versatile value also produces stunning tone swells.

• 4700 pF. This is similar to the ���� pF cap, but it delivers a little more of all the qualities I mentioned above. However, it can be difficult to simply tame shrill-sounding pickups using a ���� pF cap, because the useable knob-rotation range for that task is so small. When fully closed, this value also shares the vocal quality of the ���� pF cap, but tends toward a more throaty character— something the ���� pF value lacks. Because

it avoids any muddiness and allows perfect

separation between the individual strings when playing power chords, the ���� pF value is prized by many players craving round, fat distortion tones.

• 6800 pF. This value sits right on the border between a warmth control and a traditional tone control. But compared to the standard tone control values, ���� pF preserves much more high end and chime, and, as with all the aforementioned values, offers finer controllability. While ���� pF is throaty when

fully closed, ���� pF is raucous, yet still has

a vocal quality. If you want an effective tone

control that doesn’t ruin top end and chime, this ���� pF value is your ticket.

Naturally, you can try lower values than ���� pF (��� pF or ��� pF, for example) or higher than ���� pF (such as ���� pF or �.�� µF), but the ����-���� pF range has proven to be the most useful, and it satisfies the majority of players. It’s not a big investment to get some caps in this range and try them out. That way you can determine what works best for your guitar and music.

you can determine what works best for your guitar and music. 1 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL
you can determine what works best for your guitar and music. 1 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL

MOD GARAGE

Dialing in the Passive Tone Control

BY DIRK WACKER

I often hear guitarists say they leave their tone control on 10 all the time—or even disconnect it—because they find it

useless. A small turn from wide open takes the tone from “lively” to “clinically dead,” and that’s all you get. Why is this a common problem with passive guitars? Typically, it’s because of two reasons: 1) The tone pot has an ineffective taper and/or resistance, and 2) the tone cap has too much capacitance. Both issues are easy to fix, so let’s explore the remedies. In a passive guitar, the typical tone control is a capacitor connected to a potentiometer— that’s it. Because the system is so simple, both components must be chosen carefully to make it work well. Players often complain that the tone pot functions as an “on-off” knob, rather than a control that provides a gradual and even effect over its entire rotation. Fortunately, we can deal with this. The tone pot. Because of how our ears work, the tone pot inside a passive guitar must be an audio (aka logarithmic) type, not a linear type. (This also applies to a volume pot in a passive system.) The “on-off” problem is typical of audio pots with a ratio of 90:10, which is more or less the standard today. Human hearing simply doesn’t work like this and needs a different ratio, preferably 60:40, or at least 65:35, which was the standard in the ’50s and ’60s.

[Editor’s note: These ratios indicate the percentage of total resistance measured at the middle of the shaft rotation, i.e., at 5 on a typical knob.] Using a linear pot as a tone control creates a different problem: There’s no apparent change in tone over almost the whole rotation until the “on-off” effect suddenly appears at the very end—exactly the opposite of an audio pot with an ineffective taper. Besides the pot’s type and taper, its resistance can make things worse in a passive system. A simplified rule of thumb: The higher a pot’s resistance, the less effective it will be as a volume or tone control. This means 250k and 500k pots work well in these applications, while

a 1M pot is pretty useless. So what’s the perfect tone pot for a passive guitar? It’s a 250k or 500k audio type with a

60:40 or 65:35 taper. I use a 250k audio type with

a 60:40 taper along with a no-load mod, which

makes the pot disappear from the circuit when it’s fully opened. This recipe preserves a good portion of the high end. Compared to a 500k pot, a 250k pot offers a bit more controllability, but it adds more load to the circuit—that’s the nature of the passive beast. The no-load mod compensates for this problem. The tone cap. The second element in the

tone control system is dominated by two factors: type (construction) and capacitance. The type—ceramic, polyester, paper-in-oil,

capacitance . The type—ceramic, polyester, paper-in-oil, Some people claim that, when wired into a guitar, all

Some people claim that, when wired into a guitar, all cap types sound the same, but if you experiment with this, I’m pretty sure you’ll reach a different conclusion."

Photo courtesy singlecoil.com

Your tone control can be a potent sound- sculpting tool, but to be effective, its
Your tone control can
be a potent sound-
sculpting tool, but to
be effective, its simple
components must be
chosen carefully.

etc.—dictates the overall tone, while the capacitance determines how dark the tone will get when closing the tone pot. Some people claim that when wired into a guitar, all cap types sound the same, but if you experiment with this, I’m pretty sure you’ll reach a different conclusion. In previous Mod Garage columns, I’ve discussed various types of tone caps and how they perform, so we don’t need to rehash this here. Capacitance is often described as “value,” and the typical range for guitars is from 0.022 µF up to 0.1 µF. Over the years, cap values have steadily decreased from the original 0.1 µF that Leo Fender chose, so “a guitarist can also play bass lines,” to 0.05 µF, which was the standard

in the late ’60s and ’70s, to 0.022 µF, which is the quasi-standard for single-coil pickups today. But let’s face it: Even in the ’50s, guitarists never wanted to play bass lines on their Telecasters, and even 0.022 µF is overkill for most players. In other words, 0.022 µF makes the tone incredibly dark and lifeless when the tone pot is closed, which is exactly why so many guitarists don’t use their tone control at all. So it’s time to fix that! The easy and effective solution is to replace the tone cap with one that has way less capacitance. This will morph the pot into a “warmth control.” Capacitors in the picofarad range (pF) are perfect for this, and a useful range to experiment with is from 1000 pF up to 6800 pF.

range to experiment with is from 1000 pF up to 6800 pF. PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL

GUITAR SHOP 101

The ABCs of Output Jacks

BY JOHN LEVAN

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T here are many different types of output jacks, including mono, stereo, TRS, barrel, and power types (Photo 1). Ultimately they

all have the same job: transfer the signal from your guitar to the instrument cable. Output jacks can eventually wear out, causing the signal to be intermittent—usually at the worst possible time. Ever been onstage and heard a crackling sound or even silence when you jiggle your guitar cable in the jack? No fun. When it’s time to replace a cranky output jack, there are several things you need to know before firing up the ol’ soldering iron. The first step is to identify what kind of jack you have and what will make the best replacement. Form and function. Almost every type of output jack used on both acoustic and electric guitars is referred to as “a 1/4" jack,”

but as gearheads we have to be more specific. Here’s a list of the most common types of 1/4" output jacks:

Mono: Used in most acoustic and electric guitars with passive pickups.

Stereo: Used in acoustic and electric guitars with stereo outputs or active electronics.

TRS (tip-ring-sleeve): Used with active electronics, active pickup systems, or acoustic- electric guitars with two independent sound sources (such as an under-saddle transducer and onboard mic).

Power: This is usually a stereo or TRS jack attached to a preamp.

Each of these can be found in different forms, including the open or skeleton jack, the

enclosed or panel jack, the barrel jack, and the flange jack. Let’s take a closer look. Electric guitars with passive pickups typically have open jacks. I prefer the Switchcraft brand, because they have heavy-duty construction. Imported guitars, especially budget models, usually come with enclosed or panel jacks. Often encased in plastic, these jacks are inexpensive and tend to wear out faster than a well-made open jack. Acoustic-electric guitars often have a cylindrical barrel jack that passes from the inside of the instrument through the tailblock. Secured externally with a nut and threaded strap button, this jack replaces the guitar’s endpin. Barrel jacks can have mono, stereo, or TRS configurations. Takamine acoustic-electrics, as well as some other acoustic-electrics, use flange jacks. These have integrated endpins and structurally resemble barrel jacks. They too come in mono, stereo, and TRS styles. Guitar applications. The most common output jack for electric guitars is the mono jack. It has two lugs: One is the ground, and it’s part of the jack’s interior or case. The other lug is the hot or primary lead. This lug is part of the long, bent flange that connects to the tip of your instrument cable. A stereo jack is similar to a mono jack, but it’s equipped with a third lug and a second (shorter) bent flange. The latter acts as a power switch for active pickup systems by connecting and disconnecting the third lug when a standard 1/4" plug is inserted or removed from the stereo jack. For example, when the black (negative) wire of a battery snap is soldered to the third lug, inserting a 1/4" plug into the jack engages the battery by connecting the negative battery wire to ground and completing the circuit.

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The TRS jack functions like a stereo jack with the addition of a fourth lug and third flange that allow you to add a second pickup source. By using a stereo cable and TRS plug, you can independently control these two sources. This is useful when you want to send each to its own preamp, direct box, or amplifier. A common use for a TRS jack is in an acoustic guitar that has an under-saddle pickup, as well as an onboard microphone or a body sensor. For electric guitars, the TRS jack works great for using magnetic pickups in conjunction with a bridge configured with piezo-pickup saddles, like the L.R. Baggs X-Bridge. Power jacks attach directly to a preamp and can have either a stereo or TRS configuration, and some preamps are housed within a barrel jack. Power jacks are found in many different systems, including the L.R. Baggs Active Element, Fishman Matrix, and Taylor ES1 and ES2. Because most power jacks are soldered to a printed circuit board, they are difficult to replace without damaging the electronics. If a power jack fails, your best option is to replace the entire unit.

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How do I wire this thing? With the exception of the power jack, all of these are simple to wire if you take the time to map them out. All of them will have a ground and a primary lead, but they differ in other ways. Here’s a breakdown of those details:

Mono jack: The ground lug is attached to the case and the primary lead lug connects to the bent flange (Photo 2). Stereo Jack: The ground lug attaches to the case; the primary lead is the short lug that connects to the longer bent flange, and the long

lug is the power/battery switch that connects to the short bent flange. Photo 3 shows the wiring for a stereo open jack and Photo 4 is a stereo barrel jack. TRS jack: The ground lug attaches to the case. The primary lead is the short lug connected to the bent flange, and the medium power/battery lug connects to the short bent flange. The longest lug connects the secondary pickup to an isolated output (Photo 5). Okay, got all that? Great—someday there will

be a test

and you’ll be ready.

Great—someday there will be a test and you’ll be ready. 4 5 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL
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MOD GARAGE

Ultra-Flexible HH Wiring

BY DIRK WACKER

Schematic courtesy singlecoil.com

H ere’s a super-flexible mod for dual- humbucker guitars with 4-conductor pickup wiring. The 3-way pickup

selector on most HH guitars offers three sounds, but by adding two DPDT mini- switches to the existing wiring, you can get eight switchable sounds. As shown in the schematic, one switch acts as a coil cut to go from humbucking to single-coil operation, and the other is a series/parallel switch to further expand the tonal palette. If the pickups have metal covers, like on a PAF-style humbucker, you’ll have to make sure they aren’t connected to the pickups’ common ground. More about this in a moment. Installing two mini-switches is easy on instruments with a pickguard or control plate, but it can be a real pain on guitars that lack

plate, but it can be a real pain on guitars that lack When you use the
plate, but it can be a real pain on guitars that lack When you use the

When you use the 3-way switch to select both humbuckers in parallel and then hit the series/parallel switch, you put the pickups in series, which really packs a punch."

them, such as a Les Paul. In that case, I’d suggest using two push-pull or push-push pots. The DPDT switching matrix is standard on most switchable pots, so either way, it should be easy to adapt this mod to your specific guitar. Now, about the metal pickup covers: Because of the series/parallel switch, we need to separate the pickup’s cover from its ground and then install a new ground wire exclusively for the cover. This is the same operation as modding a Telecaster with 4-conductor wiring, which I’ve covered before. For the gory details, go to premierguitar.com and search for “Preparing Your Tele for Future Mods.” Alternatively, you can simply remove the cover or swap it for a plastic one. The payoff. On a typical dual-humbucker guitar, the 3-way pickup selector offers either bridge humbucker, neck humbucker, or both humbuckers in parallel. Thanks to the two DPDT switches, you get five additional sounds:

Bridge single-coil

Neck single-coil

Both single-coils in parallel

Both single-coils in series

Both humbuckers in series

Operation. Essentially, the two new switches work as extensions of the pickup selector

switch. For example, when you select the bridge humbucker with the 3-way switch and then hit the coil-split switch, you get the bridge single-coil. Or when you use the 3-way switch to select both humbuckers in parallel and then hit the series/parallel switch, you put the pickups in series, which really packs a punch. As an extra bonus, the wiring offers hum-free operation when the two single-coils are used together in series or parallel. (When using either the bridge or neck single-coil by itself, you face the same noise issues you would with a standard Strat or Tele—that’s the nature of the beast.) To keep the schematic as simple as possible, I’ve ended right after the 3-way pickup selector

switch—in other words, it doesn’t show any volume and tone pots. That’s because the mods all occur before the 3-way switch, so everything that comes after the pickup selector switch can stay exactly the way it is. This reduces the diagram to the necessary basics, which is convenient because after the 3-way switch a Les Paul is wired differently from, say, a PRS or Hamer. I show the two switches as individual parts on the schematic. If you use a push- pull or push-push pot, the switch is located underneath the pot, but the wiring remains the same. As usual, I’ve used the Seymour Duncan color code for the wiring. If your pickups are from another company, simply transfer their color code to this diagram.

company, simply transfer their color code to this diagram. DOWNLOAD TODAY! PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS
DOWNLOAD TODAY!
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GUITAR SHOP 101

“Decking” a Stratocaster Trem

BY JOHN LEVAN

H aving endured for more than half a century—and still going strong—the venerable Stratocaster has delivered

great tone to generations of guitarists. One of the instrument’s strengths is how easily it can be adjusted to suit different playing techniques and musical styles. Here’s a case in point: Recently a client brought me his 1993 Strat (Photo 1) for a setup. His primary concern was that he was having a problem staying in tune, especially when bending one string while holding another. While we were discussing this, he revealed he rarely used the tremolo and kept the bar swung back out of the way when he played. Based on this, I recommended he allow me to lock his tremolo down—or “deck” it against the body. I knew this would resolve many of the tuning issues he was having. He agreed and I proceeded with the relatively simple project described below. If you’re a Strat player who doesn’t find much utility in the trem system, you might consider doing this too. This tweak isn’t for everyone— many Strat players feel the trem provides much of the guitar’s magic. But there are also those who play a Strat because they love its pickups, scale length, weight, and feel, but prefer the stability of having its bridge locked down tight against the body. Some even swear this increases sustain. Fortunately, it’s a reversible mod, so you can try it out and see for yourself. If the tuning advantages outweigh losing whammy capability, great. If you find you miss your trem, you can always return to a floating bridge setup. (I explain that process in the DIY video “How to Float a Strat Trem.”) Evaluating the guitar. This Strat had spent some time on the road, but it was in good shape. It had a vintage-style, six-screw bridge—not

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the two-post design of modern Strats. I noticed there were only two springs holding the tremolo to the claw, which explained why the bridge was tilting forward so much (Photo 2). It’s crucial to know the intended tuning and string gauges before you set up a Strat. My client explained he strings up with .010-.046 sets and tunes to standard pitch (unlike some Strat players who tune down a half-step à la Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan). Getting started. The first step is to remove the cover plate on the back so you can access the claw and trem springs. To provide maximum stability, I added three more springs to the claw

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(Photo 3) and then used a Phillips screwdriver to move the claw toward the body and tighten the five springs (Photo 4). The goal is to tighten the springs enough so the tremolo doesn’t move when you bend a string. At this point, we’re just roughing in the spring tension—we’ll come back and fine-tune it in a moment. Tip: Remember to tune the guitar after every adjustment. If you neglect to do this, you may have

every adjustment. If you neglect to do this, you may have It’s crucial to know the

It’s crucial to know the intended tuning and string gauges before you set up a Strat."

to redo your work. This holds true for every step of a setup, including adjusting a truss rod, setting saddle height, and intonating the strings. Take it to the bridge! Next, turn the guitar over and make sure the six mounting screws holding the tremolo to the body are all adjusted flush to the bridge plate (Photo 5). Don’t tighten them too much, otherwise the tremolo will rock forward on its beveled edge. Lower each screw just enough for the bridge plate to sit flat and flush with the body. Testing one, two. Tune up and test the spring tension by bending the strings. Does the trem move at all? If so, tighten the claw a bit closer to the body. Hold a note on one string and bend another against it. You want the held note to stay in tune as you bend the other string. Keep in mind that some guitar necks flex a bit when you bend a string and this will subtly affect the tuning. In this case, we’re only paying attention to the tremolo to see if it rocks forward when bending strings. Be patient: You may need to tighten the springs several times before the trem stays rock solid when you bend. Remember to always tune after every adjustment. Once the trem is secured flush to the body and doesn’t tilt forward when you bend strings, it’s time to move to the final setup stage. Adjust the saddles. Now adjust the action at the bridge saddles. Using an Allen wrench, adjust the two screws to position each saddle

to your preferred height (Photo 6). Make sure each saddle stays level and doesn’t tilt, and adjust the saddles in a gentle arc that matches the fretboard radius. I explain this operation in “How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster.” Final Setup. After decking the trem and adjusting the action, the strings may be sitting too close to the pickups and this can negatively affect intonation. So we have to check the pickup height before doing anything else. If you want to brush up on this, read “How to Balance Pickups on Strats and Teles.” After adjusting the pickups, then tackle the intonation. Again, I detail this process in “How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster.” Tip: Always put fresh strings on your guitar before you adjust the intonation. All right—that’s it! You’ve now locked down your trem and should have a much easier time keeping your guitar in tune.

should have a much easier time keeping your guitar in tune. BEWARE OF STRIPPED SCREW HOLES

BEWARE OF STRIPPED SCREW HOLES Occasionally when locking down a Strat trem I’ve encountered worn out screw holes, either at the spring claw or bridge

plate. Stripped-out holes must be doweled and re-drilled, otherwise the screws will continue to strip out more wood and will eventually slip out of the hole. Last year I wrote a column about fixing stripped- out holes for pickguard screws, and the same principles apply here, although in this case the holes are bigger and require

a slightly larger dowel. Check out “Got

a Loose Screw?” for complete details.

Remember, if you don’t have the proper tools or knowledge to correctly do this—or any guitar job—play it safe and consult

your local guitar tech.

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MOD GARAGE

Lean, Mean Series Wiring for Telecasters

BY DIRK WACKER

T ele players often ask about adding series wiring to their instruments—a mod that lets you access a powerful tone when

you engage both pickups. On a stock Tele, the pickups are connected in parallel when you use them together, but if you run them in series instead, the resulting output is hotter and louder, and this makes it much easier to drive your amp into saturation.

There are several ways to mod your Telecaster for series wiring. The most common approach

is to replace the standard 3-way pickup selector with a 4-way switch. This keeps the three familiar switching positions untouched and simply adds a new sound in switching position #4. I explained how to do this mod in “Telecaster Series Wiring,” which you’ll find on premierguitar.com. (I think it’s the most useful Telecaster mod ever.) In that same column, I also describe an alternative scheme that uses a second 2PDT switch to connect both pickups together in series, while overriding the setting of

Fig. 1 Schematic courtesy singlecoil.com
Fig. 1
Schematic courtesy singlecoil.com

the stock 3-way switch. But not everyone wants to swap their 3-way selector for a 4-way unit or add that extra 2PDT switch. Fair enough. If you crave that powerful dual-pickup tone, yet want to maintain the Tele’s glorious simplicity, why not simply configure the 3-way switch’s middle position to connect the bridge and neck pickups in series? Yes, you’ll lose the old middle position with both pickups in parallel, but if the series connection is all you need, this wiring is for you. You’ll be one click away from a hot series tone—a solo preset in the switch’s middle position. The new switching matrix for the 3-way switch looks like this:

• Position #1: bridge pickup alone

• Position #2: both pickups in series

• Position #3: neck pickup alone

To begin this mod, you must first check if the neck pickup’s metal cover is connected to ground—which is the case for almost all standard Telecaster neck pickups. If so, you’ll have to break this connection and solder a third, new ground wire to the metal cover. We covered this before in “Preparing Your Tele for Future Mods,” which you’ll also find at premierguitar.com. If you have a Strat pickup, a P-90, or some similar single-coil in the neck position, you can skip this step. For all other pickups sporting a metal cover that’s connected to the pickup’s ground, you’ll need to break this connection before you proceed. Fig. 1 shows the wiring, which looks familiar but is a bit more complex than standard Telecaster’s wiring. The important detail here is to connect the hot wire from the neck pickup to the volume pot’s input lug, rather than directly to the switch, which is the usual approach. There

are other ways to accomplish the mod, but this

is my favorite because it’s simple to wire and you

can easily reverse the mod or upgrade to a 4-way switching system at a later date. And the beauty

of this is we still have the familiar operation of

a standard Telecaster 3-way selector. The only

change is the new sound for the middle position; the other two settings are not affected. While we’re discussing Tele wiring, I’d like to

make a point about grounding. Typically, you’ll see the two pots being connected to ground by running a wire from the volume pot’s case to the tone pot’s case, and then soldering the string- grounding wire that’s installed underneath the bridge to the case of one of the two pots. When you use a standard Telecaster control plate made from conductive metal, you already have

a kind of natural grounding and you can skip

the wire connecting one pot to the other. Just connect the string-grounding wire to the case of one of the pots and you’re done. Why? When the pots and switch are installed on the control plate with their metal parts touching the metal control plate, they create a perfect grounding system. This applies not only to Telecasters, but all pickguards and control plates made of conductive metal. To confirm this, simply set a digital multimeter to continuity and place both probes on the metal pieces you want to check. If the DMM shows continuity, you’ve won. If not, then ground your pots or glue a piece of copper foil underneath the pickguard or control plate to add conductivity. This series wiring offers another benefit when you use a conductive control plate: The lug on the 3-way switch that’s connected to ground only needs a short bare jumper wire soldered to it. Simply clamp the other end of the jumper between the 3-way switch’s metal frame and the control plate, and you’re good to go.

metal frame and the control plate, and you’re good to go. PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS

GUITAR SHOP 101

Happy Little (String) Trees

BY JOHN LEVAN

S tring trees are tiny and often go

unnoticed, but they play a vital role

on flat, Fender-style headstocks. Also

called string retainers or guides, they secure

the first two (or sometimes four) strings between the nut and tuners. Photo 1 shows a guitar configured with two “butterfly” string trees holding down the top four strings.

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On both guitar and bass, a string tree’s primary function is to provide the correct amount of downward pressure on a string so it doesn’t rattle and buzz within its nut slot. This downward pressure also ensures that a string will sustain properly when played open. If an open string isn’t securely seated in its slot—essentially pinned down the way you’d press a string against a fret—it won’t sound as loud or clear as it should. Whether or not a guitar or bass requires string retainers is determined by how its headstock is constructed. For example, Gibson headstocks tilt back at an angle from the fretboard, and this angle is sufficient to create the necessary downward pressure to keep strings firmly seated in their slots en route to the tuner posts. By contrast, Strats, Teles, and

most other guitars with six-in-a-row tuners have flat headstocks that run parallel to the fretboard. On these headstocks, the strings that have to travel the longest distance from the nut to the tuner posts need hardware to create this essential downward pressure. Most of us never think twice about string trees until there’s a problem. I’ve already described one—the rattle or sitar-like buzz that results from insufficient downward pressure behind the nut. But if a string tree creates excessive pressure, this can cause premature wear in the affected nut slots and also create tuning issues. And here’s another consideration:

If you have a whammy bar, certain types of string trees can interfere with the string returning to pitch after you release the bar. To summarize, string trees can help or hinder your guitar’s performance. Let’s take a closer look and discuss ways to deal with potential problems. Design and construction. String trees come in a variety of materials and styles. Most are metal, like the butterfly, disk, and barrel types found on Fender guitars. The metal trees will work, but if you do a lot of bending or use a whammy bar, you’ll probably experience tuning problems. Why? Every time the string changes tension against the tree, the metal-to- metal contact creates friction that can cause the string to hang slightly at this point of contact. To reduce friction—and thus improve tuning stability—you have two options: use a string tree made from a slippery material such as graphite (Photo 2), or install a string tree with built-in rollers that turn with the string as you bend or use the whammy bar (Photo 3). Both types of retainers accomplish the goal of reducing metal-to-metal friction. I’ve had great success with Graph Tech string trees, which are made from a synthetic material impregnated

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with a Teflon-like lubricant, and roller string trees from All Parts. What’s your angle, man? The amount of downward pressure a string tree creates is determined by its location and how high it sits off the headstock. Assuming an identical location, a lower retainer—one that’s close to the headstock—will create a steeper angle between it and the nut than a retainer that sits higher off the headstock. Getting the correct angle is critical for avoiding wear (too steep an angle) or sonic artifacts (too shallow an angle). For a guitar equipped with a single string tree to hold the 1st and 2nd strings, the angle between the retainer and nut should be about the same as

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the angle between the nut and 6th-string tuner (Photo 4). For guitars that require a second string tree for the 3rd and 4th strings, the angle should approximate that of the 5th string. Many string trees sit on a separate post or standoff spacer that determines the retainer’s height. The attachment screw passes through this washer-like cylinder and goes into the headstock (Photo 5). When the post is a separate piece from the section that actually holds the strings, you can adjust the retainer’s height—thereby controlling the string angle— by inserting a shorter or taller spacer. If the string angle is too shallow and you have a removable metal or plastic spacer, you

A string tree’s primary function is to provide the correct amount of downward pressure on

A string tree’s primary function is to provide the correct amount of downward pressure on a string so it doesn’t rattle and buzz withinits nut slot."

can increase the angle buy sanding or filing the spacer to reduce its height. Alternatively, you can substitute a shorter spacer: Electronic supply companies sell standoffs for PC boards,

and some enterprising guitarists adapt the ball- ends of bass strings for this purpose. Stacking small washers can work too. Whether you need to go up or down, it shouldn’t be too hard to adjust the height of your string tree by either modifying it or swapping it out. Replacing the string tree. If you opt to upgrade to a roller or graphite retainer, it’s a very simple project. All you need is a small or medium tip Philips head screwdriver. Lift the strings out from the retainer, remove it, screw the new one in place, and you’re done. You might encounter small variations in screw size and threading, but most manufacturers use a consistent size. You can use your original screw

if it’s in good condition and fits the new retainer. First-time installation. If you’re installing a

string tree on a headstock that’s never had one—on

a replacement neck, for example—string up the

guitar and lay the new tree on the corresponding strings, midway between the nut and closest tuner. Confirm the strings are lined up evenly and then, with the screw in place, press down on the tree so the screw makes a small indentation in the headstock. This indentation should lie exactly between the two strings. Use it as a guide for drilling the mounting screw hole.

Start with a pilot hole, using a very small bit. For the screw hole proper, be sure to choose the correct drill bit—it should be slightly smaller than the screw. Measure everything twice, go slowly, and be careful how deep you drill—you don’t want to drill completely through the headstock! Before installing the screw, lubricate its threads with a bar of soap or candle wax. Inserting a delicate screw into a hard maple headstock requires skill, so don’t attempt to install a new string tree unless you have the right tools and experience. If you’re unsure about your abilities, take the guitar to a qualified repair tech or luthier. Goodbye string trees. Some manufacturers offer locking tuners with staggered posts. Intended to create the required string angle on a six-in-line headstock without using string trees, staggered posts start out at a normal height for the 6th string and then gradually reduce height, which puts the shortest post furthest from the nut. Depending on the geometry of your headstock, you may be able to eliminate string trees altogether by using these tuners, but the only way to know for sure is to install them and see if you experience any of the sitar sounds or sustain issues that come from having too shallow an angle on your top strings. In most cases, you probably won’t need string trees if you have staggered tuners.

won’t need string trees if you have staggered tuners. 1 9 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS

GUITAR SHOP 101

Tips for Replacing a 3-way Toggle

BY JOHN LEVAN

G iven the popularity of Les Pauls, SGs,

of other two-pickup axes inspired by

Explorers, Flying Vs—and the thousands

these iconic models—it’s no surprise I’ve replaced many failing 3-way switches over the years. Switches get used a lot and eventually they can wear out. When this happens, you’ll hear loud popping sounds or scratchy noises, and the signal may even cut out when you’re switching pickups. Fortunately, 3-way toggle switches are easy to replace, and you can do it yourself with just a few tools and a bit of patience. It only takes a few minutes to cover the process, so let’s get started. The project. To illustrate the steps, I’ll use a 1983 Ibanez Les Paul copy that has a standard 3-way pickup selector: neck only, neck-plus- bridge, bridge only (Photo 1). Charmingly, Ibanez kept the arcane “Rhythm” and “Treble” designations for the neck and bridge pickups. This is a cool guitar and it plays great, but the toggle switch is shot. Like many imported guitars, it has a cheap switch. I’m going to upgrade the guitar with a Switchcraft model, one of several options preferred by discerning players and professionals who are willing to pay a bit extra for reliability. Let’s take a closer look. Types of toggle switches. On most guitars, you’ll find one of two different types of 3-way toggle switches: the box style and the open style. In a box toggle switch, the internal parts are enclosed—typically in plastic—and they can fail if the prongs get overheated, especially when the switch has been re-soldered too many times. As a result, box switches tend to have a short life. The internal parts are exposed on an open toggle switch, but open switches are usually made from better materials. Switchcraft double- pole 3-way switches boast solid construction

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1

and last a long time, which explains why they’re used on so many high-quality instruments. Open toggle switches come in three styles:

short straight, tall straight, and right-angle. The short and tall straight switches have their switching apparatus below the toggle, while the switching mechanism on the right-angle switch is perpendicular to the toggle. All three are wired identically, they simply differ in depth and width. For example, guitars with shallow electronics cavities, such as the SG and many thin ES-style hollowbodies, use the right-angle switch. Gibson Les Pauls take the tall switch. Here’s an easy way to tell which type of replacement switch you need: Check out the minimum cavity size for all three Switchcraft styles at stewmac.com, and then compare these dimensions to your guitar’s switch cavity. Removing the old switch. Using a Phillips screwdriver, remove the cover plate on the back of the guitar to access the switch cavity. If you already have an open switch and you’re simply replacing it with a new one, draw a diagram of the old switch or label each wire to help you remember the connections.

Fig. 1 2
Fig. 1
2
Fig. 2
Fig. 2

If you’re replacing a budget box switch with an open toggle switch, you can use the simple diagrams I’ve provided as a guide. Fig. 1 shows

a common 3-way toggle as seen from the front

and Fig. 2 shows the back view. Unsolder each wire and then remove the switch by turning the mounting nut counter-clockwise.

Some toggle switches have a hex nut and require

a deep well socket wrench, others have a knurled

collar nut that can be loosened or tightened using

an adjustable toggle switch wrench.

Tip: Don’t use a pair of pliers to remove the nut collar! Pliers will mar the knurled nut and if you slip, you’ll also damage the top of your guitar. Installing the new switch. On the open switch I’m installing in this Ibanez, there are four prongs at one end and one prong on the opposite side (Photo 2). The four grouped prongs are the switch’s inputs and output, and the single prong on the opposite side is the ground. In the group of four prongs, the two outer prongs are the inputs for the pickups and the two in the center are the outputs. Before soldering, I use hemostats to gently bend the outer prongs (these connect to the pickups) away from the two output prongs between them. Then I crimp the two inner prongs together, because they’ll share one wire from the switch’s output to the output jack. Note: Open 3-way toggles may differ physically. On a right-angle switch, for example, the ground prong and the input and output prongs are stacked vertically, and on some straight switches the ground prong is located

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between the two inputs, while the outputs are on the opposite side. But regardless of the layout, the principle is the same, and once you understand it you’ll be able to confidently wire up your guitar. Study the wiring diagram that came with your new switch to confirm how it’s configured, or use a multimeter to test and identify the input and output prongs. Slide the new switch into the switch cavity, thread on the collar or nut, and then tighten it. Be careful when tightening the collar—it only needs to be “finger tight.” If you torque it too much, you’ll strip the threads. Also be sure to orient the switch so the toggle throw matches the original. Solder up. There are typically four wires to solder: the neck pickup, the bridge pickup, the output (this connects to the output lug on the jack), and the ground. Select a wire and clamp it to its respective prong with the hemostats, then briefly touch the tip of your soldering iron

to preheat the prong and wire, and finally touch the solder to the connection just long enough to let a small amount of solder flow over the wire and prong. For detailed soldering tips, see “Tips for Replacing a Strat-style 5-way Switch.” Tip: When soldering, be careful not to heat up the prongs too much. Excessive heat can damage the switch. Once you’ve soldered the four wires to their prongs, it’s time to check your work. Gently tap the pickups with your hemostats for each position of the switch. You should get neck and bridge alone when the toggle is pointed up or down, respectively, as viewed from the playing position, and both when the toggle is in the center position. If the neck and bridge toggle positions are working in reverse (i.e., the bridge pickup engages when the switch is up), then reverse the leads on the outer prongs. If the pickups are working correctly, reinstall the cover plate and you’re done!

correctly, reinstall the cover plate and you’re done! 2 3 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS DIY
correctly, reinstall the cover plate and you’re done! 2 3 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS DIY

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