Oct 12 2009

Project: Shielding, re-wiring, and new pickups…

by Josh
The body cavity was completely unshielded, as you see here.

The body cavity was completely unshielded, as you see here.

Over the past week, John and I have worked on a new project: fixing up my 1999 Made in Mexico (MIM) 60’s re-issue Fender stratocaster.  The start of the issue was a persistent, irritating hum that emanated from the guitar when my hands were off the strings.  It was made perfectly clear that some hum is normal with single coil pickup guitars, but John was convinced that some improvement could be made.


Shielding a guitar is the process of adding material to protect the wiring in the body of the guitar from offending radiated energy.  More information can be found at this handy page at Catalina Guitars.

The shielding tape is applied to the back of the pickguard.

The shielding tape is applied to the back of the pickguard.

John informed me that shielding my guitar would eliminate some of the hum, so I purchased some conductive shielding paint and conductive copper tape.  The process of shielding was the most simple that we undertook during this project.  Remove the strings of the guitar, take off the pickguard and remove all of the controls.  The shielding paint indicated that you needed to apply three coats to the interior cavities of the guitar, allowing 24 hours between each coat.

Shielding paint applied to the body cavity and the face of the guitar.

Shielding paint applied to the body cavity and the face of the guitar.

While the first coat of paint was drying, John applied the copper shielding tape to the back of the pickguard by cutting strips to fit the contours and smoothing it as he went.


Upon removing the pickguard, John discovered that my guitar had cheaper, plastic coated wires hooking up the internals.  We got hold of some cloth wrapped, wax coated wiring from our local guitar shop.  The wax coating removes any internal air space surrounding the wire, which eliminates the chance of microphonic feedback.

We had originally planned on rewiring the guitar by following this guide that we found, however after a failed attempt on a guitar John was working on and some difficulty getting the materials to solder together properly we opted to cut our losses and rewire the guitar using Fender’s stock wiring diagram and the improved wiring that I mentioned above.

The new wiring installed, this was not the final configuration.

The new wiring installed, this was not the final configuration.

Neither John or I are experts at soldering, but we got everything attached back together without any major issues.

New Klein Pickups

The final step was installing the new S-5 Klein Scooped Mid Range Stratocaster pickups.  Using the above wiring diagram, we were able to install these pickups very quickly.  These pickups are also wax coated (referred to as wax-potting) in order to reduce vibration and microphonic feedback.  I intend to post more on this topic soon, both John and I were very impressed with the results.

The new S-5 Scooped Mid Klein Pickups installed.

The new S-5 Scooped Mid Klein Pickups installed.

One additional benefit of the Klein pickups (this particular set, anyway) is that the middle pickup is reverse wound.  This makes the neck/middle and middle/bridge switch settings act like a humbucker pickup, which totally eliminates hum in those two settings.

I don’t have much experience to draw from, but John does and he considered these pickups to be some of the lowest noise (hum/buzz) of any single coils he has heard.  That’s good enough for me!

Neck Modification

The sanded neck, leading to the headstock.  Notice the satin appearance.

The sanded neck, leading to the headstock. Notice the satin appearance.

I originally got this guitar used and there were some dings in the neck.  I showed this to John, and he quickly conjectured that going over it with fine grit sandpaper would even out that sticky gloss polyurethane finish and get rid of the irritating dings.  Some 400 grit sandpaper and some fine steel wool did the trick!  You can see in the before-and-after video below that it looks satiny and it does play much faster than it did before.

Testing and Final Results

Once we got all of the shielding paint dried, the newly rewired hardware installed to the shielded pickguard, and the guitar restrung it was time for testing.  We found that we had succeeded too far in our shielding efforts, and we had a small issue with the jack touching the shielded cavity and

grounding out.  After several attempts to fix it, we opted for the low-tech solution of applying some electrical tape at strategic locations in the jack cavity and the process was complete!  John donated some aged vintage pickup covers and knobs to my cause for no other reason than they looked cooler (I agree!).

We put together a before and after video, which John has graciously hosted on his YouTube account.  John is doing the side-by-side (including the nice riffs to illustrate things) and the pictures in the middle are from our build process:

In the end, I consider this project a wild success.  I learned a lot about the inner workings of my electric guitar, we both discovered the excellence that is Klein pickups, and my guitar is nearly hum free.

John and I are going to embark on more “Do It Yourself” style projects like this, so expect to see more of this as time goes on!

Oct 2 2009

Guitar Tip of the Week: Bread Clip Strap Lock

by John

John is a new addition to TheGuitarZero team. He has been playing guitar since he was a little kid, and has spent most of his adult life chasing tone and knowing all there is to know about guitar gear.

Annoyed by your strap slipping off of your guitar and you dont want to pay for those strap-locks that cost so much and look so out of place on your strap?  Go to your kitchen and find a loaf of bread or some hot dog/hamburger buns and grab the clip that secures the bag.

Now take that bread clip and slide it right where you would put a strap lock and voila!  No more guitars slipping off of the strap.  The best part is that its free!!!

Like this Tip?  Learn more about distortion pedals from John!

Sep 28 2009

Distortions at a Glance

by John

John is a new addition to TheGuitarZero team. He has been playing guitar since he was a little kid, and has spent most of his adult life chasing tone and knowing all there is to know about guitar gear.

This week I will be exploring the infinite ocean that is “Distortion pedals.”  Distortion can be broken up into several different categories.  Saying you have a distortion pedal is like saying you have a car.  People get the point of what it is but they have no clue if its a convertible, sedan, import, race car, truck, SUV, etc.  Essentially distortion is the over-amplification of the input signal coming from your guitar.  I’m sure everyone here is familiar with the idea.

Low Gain

So lets go from the low gain distortions to the high gain distortions.  At the low gain side of the distortion you have overdrive.  Overdrive gives you a very mild distortion.  It it usually meant to “overdrive” your amplifier.  Meaning it pushes the signal to your amp so the signal breaks up a little bit to generally give you a smooth sounding tone.  A fantastic overdrive pedal would be an Ibanez TS-9 Tubescreamer or a Boss BD-2.  A famous example of a lot of overdrive is Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood and an example of mild overdrive can be heard on the solo of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2 solo.

Medium Gain

The medium gain distortion sound is what most people think of as distortion.  This is the classic sound that the 90’s grunge scene was founded on.  This is basically amplifying your guitar signal much more and through different internal components i.e. transistors, diodes, etc.  The classic distortion of choice for most musicians is the classic orange Boss DS-1.  This pedal is the equivalent of pressing the distortion button on most of your practice amps at home.  There are so many high quality medium gain distortions out there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you…  The choices are practically endless.  A few great distortion boxes out there would be the Xvex Box of Rock, the afore mentioned Boss DS-1 if you are on a budget, Proco Rat, and the Xotic BB preamp.

High Gain

Lets talk high gain pedals!  These pedals are distortion on steroids…  These high gain pedals we are about to talk about are the huge sounding distortions you hear by bands such as Metallica, Disturbed, Nickelback, and any other Nu Metal band out there.  Many guitarists get that great sound simply by buying an amplifier that has a high gain circuit built right in.  Like the Mesa Boogie Rectifiers, most Randall amps and the Peavey XXX.  These will 99% of the time be a better sound than any pedal.  But there are hundreds of awesome high gain pedals out there that will get you pretty darn close at a fraction of the cost.  The Boss MT-2 Metal Zone and the Boss ML-2 Metal Core are probably the most versatile, best sounding high gain pedal out there.  The Digitech Hardwire TL-2 Metal Distortion is really good as well.  You might want to be careful about some of these higher gain pedals because some companies want to push the envelope so much they end up making a pedal that has so much distortion it sounds terrible.  I won’t name any names but on your journey you will come across more than a few of these.

Distortion pedals generally work the same way.  Its how much they crank up your signal and what internal components are used.  These always vary from pedal to pedal.  Another neat trick that makes your distortion stand out is to put an overdrive pedal after your distortion pedal.  That will get you that meaty Eric Johnson/ Steve Vai tones.  Also subscribe to a few YouTube channels that do nothing but pedal demos.  My favorite subscriptions are proguitarshopdemos and gearmanndude.  Just type those names into the youtube search bar and subscribe to them.  You will learn a lot and at least get a good knowledge of how these pedals sound at different settings.  I will be back next week with another article that will help you on your tone quest.  Until then….  Jam hard.

Jul 19 2009

Barre Chord Practice with Paul

by Josh

It’s been nearly a month lacking of updates, but I have been busy practicing!  I’ve been working on the songs that I have mentioned previously here almost daily.  This has caused some measurable improvement.  My friend Paul recently picked up a Fender Super Champ XD Guitar Combo Amp and we spent an evening putting it through a workout.  In the process, he showed me some Sex Pistols tunes including God Save The Queen.

This song is comprised of a variety of different barre chords, including the G major barre chord played at different locations up and down the neck.  I focused the bulk of my practice on this since that night, but Paul did a good job of walking me through the rest of the song so I can practice it once I get better at the mechanics of forming and transitioning the barre chord.

I’ve got a bunch of updates built up since the last time I posted, so you’ll see a little more activity here over the coming weeks as I unpack some of the interesting resources I have accumulated.

Jun 13 2009

Lemon oil is good for fretboards…

by Josh

Over the past week, I spent a good deal of time hanging out with my cousins in Illinois.  During that time, I got to play with a variety of different guitars, pedals, and other miscellanea.  I was explaining to my cousin John about my recent electric guitar setup at which time he gave me a few additional tips on how he cares for his fretboard.

He uses denatured lemon oil on his fretboards.  The process he uses to apply the oil is pretty simple: take off the strings, get a soft microfiber rag fairly soaked with the lemon oil, wipe across the fretboard leaving a generous deposit of lemon oil behind.  He then lets the guitar stand for 10-15 minutes so the fretboard can soak up all of that oil, then he gently wipes the fretboard off with a different microfiber cloth.  He says that he prefers to keep a little oil still present on the fretboard for good measure.

Here’s some additional details I found on this topic.

Next time I change the strings on my Fender I’m going to try this!

Jun 3 2009

Electric Guitar setup…

by Josh

I got my new 1960’s reissue Fender Stratocaster a few days ago.  I was told that all guitars (electric or otherwise) require a setup periodically to ensure their proper function.  Normally, I would take this type of work to a professional guitar shop (and I recommend you do), however I have a coworker that has a LOT of guitars and knows how to set them up properly so I let him do it.

Today I found out way more about my electric guitar than I possibly could have imagined.  Fender Stratocasters have a floating bridge which means the bridge is suspended above the body of the guitar.  My coworker tells me that the floating bridge is a bit harder to keep in tune, which may explain why the previous owner of my guitar had elected to “lock” the bridge by making adjustments to force the tremolo springs to lower the bridge to nearly flush with the body.

I am told that this is somewhat common with floating bridges.  This modification lowers the strings near the body of the guitar, which was causing the strings to vibrate against the lower frets.  My buddy fixed this up by restoring the bridge to its original configuration, which raised the strings and allowed the neck to flex properly which eliminated the fret buzz.  He then made some fine adjustment to the bridge to get the string height appropriately configured.

He demonstrated several measurements to prove the fixes were complete, but I’m going to have to read more before I understand exactly what he meant.

I will post more details from the setup process as I remember them!

Jun 1 2009

New guitar is showing up today!

by Josh

My New Guitar!

I was lucky enough to come across a good price for this lovely used 60’s reissue Fender Stratocaster in three-tone sunburst!  The shipping notice says it should show up today, so with any luck I will be getting it set up and ready to rock shortly!

Aside from the price, I selected this guitar at the advice of my cousin John.  He knows what type of music I like and recommended this particular model of guitar.  He likes Fender stuff and has his own truly excellent David Gilmour relic stratocaster.  He’s even got some YouTube videos playin’ the thing.  He knows a quality guitar when he gets his hands around one!

Paul, one of my coworkers has recommended the book Fretboard Logic as a good starting point to help learning how to play solos, so I’ll be getting that to help with my skill building!

May 13 2009

Practice: Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty

by Josh

As I mentioned yesterday, I picked up the tab for Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty and gave it a shot.  Free Fallin’ is a song that is well suited to beginners like me because its only three chords and they’re very easy to switch between.

The song is comprised of a D chord, a Dsus chord, and an Asus chord.  The strum pattern is pretty easy to figure out if you listen to the song, and I learned an important lesson from this song: often, a finger or two will remain anchored and will not move as you move from chord to chord.  In the case of Free Fallin’, your ring finger will stay in the same spot on the B string.

You can see this by looking at the chords I listed above:

     D  Dsus  Asus

To move from the D to Dsus, simply add your fourth finger to the e string. To move from the D chord to the Asus chord, leave the ring finger where its at and then shift your index and ring fingers to the D and G string as indicated on the tablature above.  Anchor that ring finger and don’t let it move as you transition your chords, it really helps.

This is a very fun song to play and provides both chord switching practice and strumming practice. With a little work I think I can have this one down!

May 12 2009

Basics: Tablature

by Josh

Tablature (or tab for short) is a very common way to learn simple songs on the guitar.  It essentially provides you a diagram of where to put your fingers on a timeline so if you follow it you can play a song.  Some tab will provide you just the chords to play certain songs, while others will give you a common notation to know what frets to put your fingers on to form the note sequence or chord that you want to play.

Tab Basics

Here is an example of guitar tablature, taken from the Wikipedia article on this topic:

The chords E, F, and G:

     E   F   G

The numbers in the example above will help you learn to form those chords. You count the numbers from the top of the neck down. If you were playing the E chord as indicated in the diagram above, you’d be pressing the G string on the 1st fret, and the D string and A string on the second fret. One thing that tab doesn’t really help you much with is which finger goes where, that’s when I usually hop over to Google and do a quick search to find a picture of someone forming the chord so I know which finger goes where.

You will find that many notations will also indicate some more advanced techniques, many of which I do not know how to perform accurately (yet!), such as hammer-on, bend, slide up, and slide down.

Other variations

As I mentioned before, other variations of guitar tablature will only give you the chords.  I generally find this style of tablature useful for songs that you tend to strum chords. For songs that are more oriented towards fingerpicking (lots of single string notes played one at a time with individual fingers), I tend to prefer the notation listed above.

Here you can see an example of chord tablature, taken from Ultimate-Guitar.com tab for Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty:

        D    Dsus  Dsus  D   Asus
she's a good girl, loves her mama

You can see the benefit here is that you can see where the chords go in relation to the words in the song. Both versions of guitar tablature do this, however as I mentioned before this way is more useful for songs that make use of full chords that you can strum along with.

Understanding guitar tablature is an important skill to begin learning, so try searching for “Your Favorite Song’s Name tab” in a search engine and see a few examples for yourself!

May 4 2009

Basics: A few tuning tips from Paul…

by Josh

This is the reason I started this site!  After reading yesterday’s post, my buddy Paul provided these additional tuning tips:

  • Always tune low (fatter strings) to high (thinner strings).  The lower strings put higher tension on the guitar’s neck, which can affect the tuning of the higher strings.  If you do this the other way around, you might find that the high strings have gone out of tune after you adjust the lower strings!
  • Always tune the tuning pegs from flat (looser) to sharp (tigher), for largely the same reason as above.  The tigher you make the strings, the more they affect the tension of the guitar’s neck!

Thanks for the tips, Paul!  If anyone else has guitar tuning tips, feel free to provide them in the comments!