Sep 19 2010

Acoustic Guitar Building…

by Josh

For the last few months, I have been cultivating an interest in the construction of acoustic guitars.  This started simply enough this summer once I finished my ukulele kit and continued after I saw Andy McKee perform in Denver.  After some research into his Greenfield guitars, I got interested in figuring out what it would take to start building acoustic guitars on my own.

I found a myriad of different kits, and this led people to send me links of other fingerstyle acoustic players including this one by Antoine Dufour.  Dufour plays guitars by Mario Beauregard, who apprenticed from a man named Ervin Somogyi.  As I investigated further, several other luthiers have apprenticed and raved about the abilities of Somogyi so I headed over to his website and found this excellent video.

It seems that Somogyi has written some of the best books available on the topic of acoustic guitar building, but they are very expensive.  After thinking it over for a few months, today I ordered my book and DVD set.  I plan to read them over the winter months and select a project next year to begin.  I plan to start with an acoustic guitar kit or two so I can get some of the mechanics of assembly down, and then attempt hand-building a guitar myself if that goes well.

I am excited about this new hobby, expect to see more here over the coming months!

Aug 22 2010

Instrument building…

by Josh

As I mentioned previously, I am cultivating some interest in learning how to build instruments.

This all began innocently enough… several years ago, my Dad purchased a tenor ukulele kit from Grizzly Industrial, Inc. for me, which unfortunately sat on a shelf for a number of years.  At the end of May, I began constructing the ukulele kit. Over the course of nearly a week of evenings, I built the kit and finished it. Shortly thereafter, I became dissatisfied with the friction pegs and ordered and installed some Grover ukulele tuners, along with some Aquila strings. This made my ukulele complete, and it looks and sounds pretty good for a first try.

You may have noticed by now that I documented this process over at my personal blog. Frankly, I anticipated this project to be a one-off that I just got done because I had the kit handy, but by the time I was finished with the ukulele I enjoyed it so much that I began to think that I should look into trying an acoustic guitar next.

Over the course of several months, I have been investigating possibilities for someone with very little actual woodworking experience to build an acoustic guitar. I found that several companies have acoustic guitar kits of varying degrees of difficulty, the highest rated of these is the StewMac Dreadnought Guitar Kit. This kit comes highly recommended because of the superior instructional guides that come along with it. Several websites have denoted this kit as a good one for beginners, and it produces a very nice guitar as well.

The biggest limiting factor for me right now is tools. The StewMac kit comes with a recommended tool list that is fairly long, so I am going to save up some money over the winter months and begin this endeavor in the Spring. I have already stockpiled a great set of links, reading material, and videos that are further encouraging me so I will share those as time permits, in addition to our regular content about learning the guitar.

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!