Nov 25 2009

Adjusting your strap…

by Josh

Last weekend, I was invited to a jam at my buddy Paul’s house.  Paul had selected a series of easier songs for the jam session and it was a very fun time, however at one point during the night someone was playing on my Fender Stratocaster and remarked that the guitar strap was low.  This fact had occurred to me as well, however I had never taken the time to adjust it.

During a break, I set about the business of adjusting the strap and quickly got it into two pieces without realizing how to put it back together again.  Thankfully, the fine folks over at Levi’s Leathers put together a great diagram that got me back into business.  It seems that I have what is referred to as a “feed through adjustment system.”

A quick disclaimer: I don’t have a Levi’s Leathers strap, but if their straps are as good as their diagrams they’ve got good stuff.

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.

Sep 21 2009

My Digitech Brian May pedal arrives!

by Josh

My Digitech Brian May Red Special pedal arrived today!  I’ve gotten to play with most of the models and they sound pretty cool, I can’t wait for my new amp to show up so I can hear them on a decent tube amp.  The neat thing about the pedal is how you can control the effects.  On certain models, they’ve also put in things like tape flanger effects which you can control with the pedal itself.

In addition, they thought of some cool touches like including a embroidered satin bag to put the thing in, and a sixpence to use as a plectrum (just like Brian May uses).  I’m very satisfied with the purchase, I can’t wait to practice with it and work on that Bohemian Rhapsody solo with the right tone!

Sep 15 2009

The Amp Search is over!

by Josh

I decided on a Fender Blues Junior amp with a Digitech Brian May pedal to go along with it!

The reasons for this decision are many.  First and foremost, it was a result of good advice I received from many of my friends.  In fact, it was about the only solution that incorporated the advice of pretty much everyone I talked to.  It was a decent tube amp, good volume, and strong enough even for simple gigging should I want to do that at some point in the future.

Instead of going for a tube amp with onboard effects, I opted for a stronger tube amp that is more stripped down.  Several people (my cousin John included) recommended that I go with this approach because most people are unlikely to use all of the modeling that is available on amps that support that type of thing.  I certainly am not to a level where I can use all of those fancy features, so I oped for the “less is more” approach.

Why the Brian May pedal, then?  Simple: Brian May kicks ass, I love Queen, and it saves me the trouble of getting a Red Special replica guitar (for awhile).  Check out the pedal demo from YouTube.

Expect to hear more about both of these items once they arrive and I’ve given them a workout!

Sep 12 2009

The Beatles Renaissance…

by Josh

This week marks the release of The Beatles: Rock Band.  I know that Rock Band tends to be a fairly passe’ pursuit for actual musicians, but I find it fun and we just had to get it.  For those of you that don’t know, I was in high school right around the time the Beatles Anthologies came out and this spurred a fairly significant addicition to the Fab Four that has continued in many forms to this day.  The fact that The Beatles: Rock Band contains the newly remastered catalog of songs was just icing on the cake.

Last night, my wife and I were spending a lazy night at home when my phone rang.  It was a buddy from work, Rick.  I had been talking to him earlier in the day about Beatles Rock Band, and he seemed interested.  “Hey, I was wondering if you needed a third for Rock Band?” he said.  Well sure we did!  We were just getting ready to play anyway, so the more the merrier!

He came over twenty minutes later, with a guitar case in tow.  It seems that he purchased a Rickenbacker 325 Capri when he was younger and wanted to show it to me… holy cow was it awesome!  He also had “The Beatles Collection” which was a box set of the original 15 Parlophone UK albums.  Unbeknownst to me, it seems that there was another HUGE Beatles fan in the office.  We played Beatles Rock Band for a good long while, trading Beatles trivia and having one hell of a great time.

It seems The Beatles had a shared love of Rickenbacker guitars.  I found this great site,, that has a great article on the The Beatles and their Rickenbackers.

Getting to hold that Rickenbacker really made my weekend!

Sep 3 2009

Amp Shopping and other fun…

by Josh

A bit ago I began shopping for a new guitar amplifier, shortly after my buddy Paul picked up a Fender Super Champ XD Guitar Combo Amp.  This amp has a lot of cool features… its all tube, meaning it uses vacuum tubes to produce certain desirable sound patterns.  HowStuffWorks has a nice primer on what the different types of tubes mean.  In addition, the Super Champ XD has some really great voicings on it, which replicate different pedal effects right on the amp.

Conflicting Advice

I’ve been polling my friends and family about what amps they like, and I found a very similar pattern to the advice I got when I was shopping for electric guitars: it seems to be a matter of personal preference.  My coworker, Greg, really likes 15-watt Class A tube amps.  He seems to think that most people don’t need over 30-watt, he seems to think one could play a pretty sizable bar and not have much of a problem with an amp that size.

One of my other coworkers, David, really likes Peavey amps.  This gels very closely with my cousin John’s recommendation, the 60-watt Peavey Vypyr. This amp is clearly more amp than I actually need right now, but the modest difference in price gets a bunch of additional features: a built-in chromatic tuner, simultaneous effects, a built-in looper, and output jacks that let me record if I wanted to.  On top of all that, its a tube amp which means its going to be loud, clear, and awesome.

Finally, there’s Vox.  The reason I appreciate Vox amps is for their connection to The Beatles, one of my favorite bands.  They’re expensive though… to get a decently sized amp its prohibitively expensive.  There is a practice sized amp that looks nice: 4-watt Vox AC4TV. It’s a little on the smallish side, but I might hold that one as a secondary amp that I can take around that has the extra tube power.

So I’m going to head around to the local guitar shops and try some out this weekend!  Fun stuff!

Aug 17 2009

Daily Practice Makes Better…

by Josh

I have been working to practice daily, my only break in the action was for a four day trip out of town.  I’ve been working mainly on the songs already listed in the Song Practice category, tonight I added “Don’t Wait” by Dashboard Confessional.  It’s all chords I have been working on with other songs, just a different strum pattern and timing.

I need to make my way out into the wide world and get some replacement strings, mine are starting to smell like rust which means its about time to get them replaced.

I intend to get into my Fretboard Logic books very soon, so expect to see some posts on that.

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.