The Strat-ish-Caster, Part IV

I’ll be honest.  I’m not a huge Strat guy.  I’m not a big single pickup guy. I’m not a Strat tremolo kind of guy.  I’m not a pickguard kind of guy.  Most of all, I’m not a pickguard kind of guy.  I don’t know why.  I know…it’s heresy.  Bear with me, though, because I may – now don’t get your hopes up, too much – I may be a changed man.  Now, don’t get too excited, but, I do ask you to share in my excitement.  I’ve wired and set up my first Strat pickguard.  Here’s the sad part, however…it doesn’t, in any way, fit the body.  But, it was wired.  Now, I’ve taken everything out so I can start measuring, drawing, and figuring out what to do with it.


Again, there’s some mighty ugly gouging, at first, but the wood is soft enough that through love and sandpaper (mostly sandpaper), most of the damage inflicted smoothed out quickly and easily.  That 0221181920made me happy, especially since the majority of the reduction of the horn involved a “multi-tool” saw – a lot like making scrambled eggs with a hammer.  That did, however, allow quick and easy removal of roughly 1/2” of wood.  It sanded down, nicely, though,  and looked pretty much how I envisioned it. That meant, 0221181920ahowever, that it was time to start working the contours and shaping the horns the way, again, I have them in my head.  I also started getting inspired by builds and examples around the web (My first foray into Pintrest – jibbers crabst what a rabbit hole!), as well as just things I like…since this is what this all about – what I want.

Here are looks at the horns:


One thing I did notice was that apparently, the router was a little wibbly.  It looks 0222180742like hesitation wounds, honestly. It’s all good, really, but it just made me chuckle, a little.  I’m not the only one who may or may not have the best control over the power tools at hand.

With a final push, all the rest of the sanding finished fairly 0223182352smoothly.  I must say it was a welcome sight when all the paint that was left was in the cavities, which I really, honestly, couldn’t care less about, at this point.  It meant that I could finally kind of progress.  The winter months certainly make a dent in progress.  Between the sander and doing hand sanding as needed, I got the body to a point where the sanding wasn’t to remove paint, anymore, but to work on the0224181540 contouring in various places around the body.  I specifically wanted to work on a bit of a “knee cut” much like the “belly cut,” but on the bottom. That allowed me to do a little monkeying around, and had pretty decent results both with the knee cut, but also in shaping the lower horn a little more, giving it some beveling.  Doesn’t look too bad, if I say so, myself.

0304181404aNow what’s the problem with custom contouring of a strat body?  You now have a pickguard that no longer fits or looks quite right.  So, with the modifications to the pickup holes, the horns, the electronics cavity, and pretty much every other part of the body, it was necessary to either hire out and have a custom pickguard made or, as was the route I took, customize and reshape the 0304181404pickguard.  I had no idea what to do, mainly because I’ve never had anything with a pickguard, ever, so I had no idea what went where, what held what together, all those weird thoughts that come with unfamiliarity. 

0318181831aSo, I’ve been procrastinating, awfully, about writing and further documenting the process.  “Why?,” you ask.  Because of things that aren’t really pertinent to the story and because of the weather, that’s why.  Things tend to screech to a halt when temperatures 0318181839dip below the “your paint will look awful” threshold.  It had been that way for many moons and I was getting stir crazy, so I started working on these other things to keep me sane. 

[Finally, however, progress is being made.  It’s been a gorgeous day, allowing what will end up in Part V to take place: painting!]

So, in the meantime, however, I had gotten the pickguard to a point where it 0321182346would, indeed, fit the body.  Now, I’ve been of two minds, but ultimately went with not drilling the guide holes for the incoming accessories until after painting/clearcoating.  May bite me in the butt, might not.  We shall see.  At any rate, after carving, 0322181942beveling, and sanding, the pickguard looks a little different than it started.  I had initially scuffed it so it had this fuzzy grey/black look to it and a neat texture. However, I didn’t know how that would hold up, ultimately.  So, I went ahead and hit it with clear coat.  It actually brought the pearloid “grain” back out, which was interesting.  I didn’t quite polish it, but I didn’t leave it just clearcoat. It looks pretty nice and with the hardware strapped in, I’m looking forward to putting it into the guitar body.  Interesting to note, however, that I hadn’t decided on a color when I was picking hardware, so it has a bit of a motley look about it.  That’s OK.  Hardware can be swapped later.  For now, I just want to get this beast roaring.


Strat-ish-Caster, Part III

Sitting here listening to Joe Satriani’s new disc (check it out, if you haven’t) and sipping coffee with Kahlua and Baily’s at close to midnight while looking at the pile of parts sitting next to me. It’s not looking bad, from here, and that’s not just the coffee additives talking.  I’ve been steadily working on this project since just after Christmas and, honestly, am starting to make progress.  I think there are two 0122182237reasons for this: I happened upon an inexpensive sander (if you can find an open box floor model on clearance, I recommend it.  Just under $15 well spent…), and I finally have visions of how I want this to end up.

Now, it would be super-dee-duper nice if the weather would warm up so I could head back out to the garage to work, but since it’s late January, I don’t count on that, really.  So, I’ve been working in small increments and, today, I worked on 0125182224amore fine-detail work.  I’m getting a bit more comfortable just horking around with the file.  Hmmm…that sounds unprofessional.  Is there a single word that encompasses “working with a large file in ways that are gentle, when needed, in tight confined spaces and not making ugly, irreversible wood-manglings?” Nope?  “Horking,” it is.

I’ll tell you this for nothing, robo-sander beats hand sander for removing existing 0125182224finishes from guitars.  I know…I should be using a heat gun of some sort and peeling the finish.  However, in the absence of such wizardry, this will do.  I have the back finally just about there, but the 0127182350afront has a little ways to go.  However, one the things I want to is a partial mirror of the back, and that’s contour and reshape (shorten and flatten out) the top horn.  I went ahead and sketched it out in sharpie and set about my business.

At the same time, I decided the neck needed some love, as well.  In borderline Strat heresy, I decided to shave a bit of the headstock “heel” and slope it up a bit towards the … well, it’s going to be the top of the headstock since it will, by necessity, be a reverse headstock.  I’m OK with that.  I’ll just need to get a nice lefty pre-slotted nut.  I guess I could file a blank, myself.  I digress.

0125182224b0127182349As mentioned, the sander really sped things up, as these things do, and got the back from looking a little leprous to looking like something with actual decent grain.  The lower horn/neck access looked good, so I sanded it to a point where it looked not only intentional, but like it could have always been that way.  That’s always the goal, right?  That meant it was time to turn my attention onto the upper horn.  This was going to have to be just as well done, if not better, as it’s the front of the guitar.

0125182225So, with the sharpie guides, the work has begun on the front contour and, at first blush, it definitely looks like a hack job.  Thankfully, it’s improved since this picture was taken and it’s starting to take shape, so to speak.  The curve up into the horn, itself, is basically finished, so what’s left is getting a nice access-like pocket.  About half way, there.  Once it’s where I want it, my attention will need to turn to the end of the horn.  I still have a ways to go shortening it, slightly, and working the contour into the final bevel.  It’s getting there, but, again, it would be easier if I could do this in the garage when massive clouds of sawdust aren’t a problem.

0127182346So, on to the neck.  Most of my focus was on the headstock.  I know it’s blasphemy, but I’m just not a huge fan of the stock strat headstock.  That said, I feel that it’s OK to keep around, just with some gentle tweaks.  The first thing I wanted was to shave a bit off the neck to headstock transition and give a large, wandering thumb someplace to rest.  Unfortunately, the pictures 0203180046don’t really show the transition very well.  There’s a much smoother transition, but I’ll have to figure out how to get better contrast photos, or just stop taking said pictures at my desk in fairly awful light.

I set about making little contoured places in several places along the headstock as well as a pronounced bevel around all the outer edges.  The focuses were the knob at the end and making it have sort of smooth grade whereby it starts at the bottom of the knob about 1/4” shallower/thinner, then by the time you follow it around the knob, 01271823480127182347you’re back to the full thickness.  That’s probably an awful description, but all I could come up with, so, there you go.  This cutaway/transition thing is also mirrored on the back of the headstock, as well.  It doesn’t look too bed, to my eye, so, I think it’s finished, there.

The final tweak to the headstock was right at the transition from the nut to the pegboard where I tried to do another contour but with still some of the original height, kind

0203180047of giving it a sharper line.   It looks pretty good, as well, but, again, lack of contrast in the photo doesn’t really bring it out.

I turned my attention on the neck heel and the neck itself.  I didn’t really want to do much to the neck, itself, but I did flatten out the “thumb zone,” ever so slightly, making it more comfortable to my hand.  That’s what it’s all about, right?  At any rate, I then worked on the heel, smoothing it on the portion of the heel that will line up with the access contour on the back of

0203180047athe body.  Again, nothing too dramatic, but enough that it felt a bit more comfortable when I placed it in the neck pocket and just felt how the two came together.  All in all, it could have been a much larger mess than it is and, really, it’s coming along well.

Next steps?  Moly…there’s still so much to be done that Old Man Winter is keeping in check.  Once the rest of the body is sanded clean and the top horn shortened and sanded, final sanding on the body will commence just to make sure that the contours look good, and everything has a smooth transition from one feature to the next.  Then, once the rest of the parts arrive, in drips and drabs, it will be time to start thinking about finish color, any modifications to the pickguard, as well as moving forward with filler, primer and so on.  This is feeling pretty good.  I’m looking forward to getting this closer to playable.

The Strat-ish-Caster, Part II

Status, Sulu?

The Strat-ish-Caster is coming along.  It’s slow work, mainly because, at least at this point, I’m not using any power tools.  It’s also too cold to work in the garage – even with the space heater (it doesn’t make large amount of difference when the air temp is 4…) – so, I’ve been working a bit inside which, as you know, is a dust nightmare when filing/sanding.  So…I’ve been taking it slow.  That’s not to say that I haven’t made progress, it’s just not as quick as I’d like.  Since there’s no way I’ll be priming or painting for at least 3 months, I’m not in a huge hurry.

Neck and Neck

One thing I’ve started to investigate is headstock shape.  I’ve got a 21-fret Strat neck and, honestly, I’m just not a huge fan of the Strat headstock/pegboard.  As such, I’m looking at design options and how I would achieve the look I’m going for.  It looks quite obvious that I’m going to need a coping saw and keen and steady eye/hand coordination.

The other consideration for the neck is that it’s not pre-drilled.  This is to be expected, of course, since hole placement is not universal.  So, I’m pondering the best way to go about this.  I’ll figure it out.  The only thing at this point is to keep all of this in mind while I’m working on the neck pocket, as well, since there’s a LOT of excess paint in there and I want to make sure everything still fits hunky dory after stripping that out.

Body Check

As mentioned previously, or at least I hope I mentioned, the curve on the horns of this strat thingo were not to my liking.  I don’t know why, exactly, I just didn’t0114180853 like how they looked.  So, I set about fixing that.  I’ve been working on the lower horn, since that’s also where the contouring will be happening, but I figured I should give you a before shot of the upper horn and from it you’ll be able to extrapolate what the lower one looked like as well as see it before I modify it.  You can see it’s a little longer and thinner as well as a bit more hooked inward.  Not a fan, really.  Again, I don’t know why, but, again, it’s how it is and it’s got to go, at some point.

Sometimes I have a clear idea of what I want going in.  This was not one of those times. I wanted a) a shorter, rounder bottom horn and b) a contoured cutawa0114180852by neck access.  Yes, I know, a 21-fret neck on a strat body does not require extended neck access.  Guess who doesn’t care?  This guy.  This was about proof of concept and making a go of something that I would probably want to do in the future and wanted to learn techniques, pitfalls, and so on. On the right, you can see the obverse (front) of the guitar.  Don’t ask why I’m using numismatic terms.  It’s my blog, I’ll do what I want.  As you can see, the horn is filed and both shorter and not hooked.  This makes me happy.  I have also started filing flat across in order to give it the proper bevel I want as well as accommodate the pickguard, which I’m still a little on the fence about.  I’m not sure the best way to go about the look I want…so…I’ll work on the back.

On the reverse (back), I started really working on the contoured sweep back between the neck and the horn, itself.  The access is about the right depth from neck pocket to horn and depth from where the original curve started and where it imageis, now.  I know that’s a crude way to put it, but I’m not sure of all the terminology.  You can see that the approach, or maybe, transition to the neck pocket, still needs a bit of rounding and smoothing.  Part of that is the angle from which the picture was taken and part of it is that it does, really, need a bit more love.  Thankfully, though, it’s not a lot of work left, there.  The cutaway contour is coming along nicely and this is where the “not knowing what I’m looking for but knowing it when I see it” comes into play.

I started just creating the access cutaway and making sure it had depth and was smooth and rounded.  Then I started noticing that the horn transition to the back of the guitar was becoming more pronounced.  I like it, a lot, so it’s something I’ve imagenow been working to enhance and while making it more obvious, not making it, well, dumb looking by cutting away far too much wood.  Cutting is probably  a misnomer, since I’m using a file and only a file for this project, so far.  As you can see in the picture, it’s shaped along the grain of the wood.  I will be fading it into the body in, probably, another 1/2 inch.  Also in that plan is to look into making a small, but usable, knee cutaway.  I just want about 1/4” deep contour for my knee, when sitting.  I know, I know.  It’s what I want, though, so if it works, it will be cool.  If not, I’ll be the first to admit that it was a mistake.

Oh, and about the paint – I’m leaving it on and working through it because a) it’s noxious and b) I want to be able to see where I’ve been and keep in my head what I’m doing.  Trust me, I need this.

What are going to be the next steps?  I hope to finish the bottom horn and contouring revolving around it, soon.  I will then move to the upper horn and remove the curve/hook.  I’ll also sand back the strap button hole and fill it.  The strap button on the back of the horn is a lot more comfortable and I tend to inadvertently pop the strap a lot less.  From there, we’ll see.

The Strat-ish-Caster, Part I

Body and Soul

I seem to have been bitten by the guitar building bug.  It’s replaced GAS – “Guitar Acquisition Syndrome” inasmuch as while I still desire more guitars, I desire, much more, to make them.  I want to customize, rework, alter, defile…well, maybe not defile, but you get the idea.  With this being the case, if you hop over to GuitarFetish, you can pick up guitar bodies for an exceptionally reasonable price.  At least, that’s where I picked up this strat-like-thing for $20.  It’s light, so probably balsa.  I kid. It is light, though, but it’s also got some un-Strat-like features.

This project, I had to decide if I was going to go traditional or Phil (that’s me).  I decided on Phil.  So, in looking at the horns, it’s obvious they’re longer and more curled inward at the ends.  I’m kind of ‘meh’ about this look.  So, I marked off where it was to end up, and I took after it with a file.  Hmmm…the phrasing “took off after it” makes it sound like I have very little idea what I’m doing.  This is mostly true.

1227172238What we have here are the initial forays into filing a more1229170033 contoured horn-to-heel transition allowing for easier access to the upper frets.  Yeah, it’s going to be 21-fret, so reaching them isn’t going to be a problem.  However, perhaps I neglected to mention – this is going to be the mother of all experimentations.  While a $20 lefty strat-like-thing isn’t playing with house money, having a cheap body to practice woodworking on isn’t necessarily a bad idea.  Don’t misunderstand, however – I’m a large proponent of respecting the materials you use, whether it’s cooking or building a guitar, or some other resource intensive project.  So, I’m not going to destroy it, intentionally, but I am going to learn how to make cutaways,  bevels, contours, headstock alterations, and whatever crops up as something I think would improve the guitar.

0106180126aThe biggest challenge, I see, initially, is not cutting into the neck pocket while still cutting enough away to allow for a decent contoured access.  It looks pretty rough, right now, and it is – I0106180126’m only using a file.  For the most part, I feel like it’s giving me a lot more control over what I do and minimizing the lasting effects should I make a mistake.

I still need to remove the remainder of the paint and sand and sand and sand.  The next steps will be coming in the future.

The Het Project

When I discovered and was entranced by Metallica, frontman and rhythm guitar maestro James Hetfield was crunching away on a fairly beaten up Flying V, which he recently restored, by the way.  So, then came “Master of Puppets” and James’ pristine, white Explorers.  Over the years, these have evolved and he’s used white, black, wood grain, metal and gone from Gibson to ESP and, finally, to his signature model ‘Snakebyte.’  Well, I do tend to live in the past, especially musically, and my love for this guitar was no different.  What I didn’t really want to do was spend a bazillion dollars on some signature model, nor close to a bazillion on one of the new-ish Explorers.  So…I found a compromise.  I ordered a DIY Explorer kit from  There are other kits out there, but this was one of the few that didn’t have the pickguard layout, which I didn’t want.  I haven’t seen this particular kit, recently.  If you should be looking for an Explorer kit, I’d drop them a line and inquire.  I’ve heard scuttlebutt there’s a mahogany version, now, but haven’t seen it.

At any rate, for $141, it came with everything you’d need to get an Explorer up and jamming.  It just needed to be painted, finished, put together and named.  Well, I guess you don’t need to name it, but mine came pre-named: “Li’l Het.”  This was because of a nickname I was given in high school.  I’ve since decided that sounded weird, so it’s just “The Het.”

I’ve never really had much confidence when doing projects on my guitars (as demonstrated by the 1.5 year pickup replacement project…), let alone putting together a kit and making a working guitar.  So, when this kit arrived, I was immediately overwhelmed with the monumental task that lay ahead.  I’m really not about the long game, and this was going to be a long game.  That said, I’ve learned a LOT putting this together.  So…this will chronicle this journey – the good, the bad and the definitely ugly.

Sanding is something that I’ve always been pretty decent at doing, all the way back to wood shop in the 8th grade when my balsa CO2 racer took second (or was it third?  It was 30 years ago, so it’s blurry) in a city-wide competition.  At any rate, I enjoy sanding.  I enjoy taking an unfinished product and getting it “smoov.”  The things, here, that require sanding are the body and neck.

06 - primed and ready for sanding Here we have the neck and body primed and partially sanded.  What you can’t see in the first photo but can, below, was a fairly large irritation.  So, I had it resting, comfortably, and drying on a box configuration I’d been using for the past three weeks without issue.  I prime and then I head out to do something else, closing the garage door behind me.  Upon my return, as the garage door is going up, it was obvious that something was wrong because those parts that were expected to be in a certain place, weren’t.  Instead, the neck and body were piled over the push mower.  There was minimal damage on the neck, but a significant 05 - I got a dentdivot on the Explorer’s body.

I’ll be the first to admit that my woodworking skill is suspect at best and limited to sanding, really.  That said, I went out and got some wood filler and set about making it less tragic.  Spoiler – it’s not perfect, but there has been nothing about this project that was about perfection.  As much as I wanted this to be the perfect replication of Het’s iconic Explorer(s), I knew that it wasn’t going to be, so I just set out to do the best I could in what would be considered a learning experience.  It really, really reduces the stress when you allow yourself to make mistakes, which is good…

At any rate, one of things I was learning was that a good painting area was paramount and, in our garage, hard to come by.  I finally settled on a tall cardboard box, bungee cords and a wire hanger.  In conjunction, these came together for a usable area that I employed the rest of the way.  So, I then set about painting.  I started with the neck.

07 - Neck painted whitePainting was fun and went pretty painlessly.  Well, except for when the temperature was a little lower than my non-updating weather app told me and I watched the paint on the back of the guitar literally become craquelure. Not cool.  Well, actually – bottom line is don’t paint below 55 degrees F, and certainly not when it’s 42.

04 - Primed and PaintedSo, with the neck in good shape with several coats of paint, I should probably talk about the paint used.  I used DupliColor Artic White and Bright White for the main colors.  Priming was the 2-in-1 Filler Primer.  It worked really well.  Sanded down nicely.  I was, however, overly concerned with the number of layers and sanding between applications.  I really didn’t need to do that, from reading.  Next time, I may try a different approach.  So, I painted the neck, but wanted to wait until affixing the neck to the body before painting the body because I didn’t want to have to sand down a ton of excess paint to get the neck happy.  It  wasn’t a *bad* idea.  I just, apparently, was a little tired when I glued the neck.

08 - Locktite Neck I used a happy clamp to press together that nice neck and body with Titebond Ultimate III waterproof glue.  Best and worst decision ever.  First, best – the neck isn’t going anywhere.  Worst?  Well, yeah…Apparently, when I set the neck in, I managed to go past the line I had drawn in with pencil, so it was just  under a 1/4” too far forward into the neck pickup cavity.  This wouldn’t be so bad, but I didn’t notice until a bit later…enough later that it didn’t matter.  It wasn’t going anywhere.

As a side note, I used the aforementioned Titebond to repair an acoustic guitar bridge and it seems to be as solid as anything one could ask for.

09 - White painted whole guitar So, it came time to paint the whole she-bang.  I learned a  lot of what not to do during this time frame.  The first was that when I masked off the neck the first time, I used standard blue masking tape and lots of it.  That led to missteps, el grande.  The main thing that happened was that the lesser tape grade (more on that in a minute) allowed a bit more seepage than I wanted or expected.  Then, I was a giant idiot and tried to sand the paint and tape residue off the fretboard.  Note to self and to those of you who would be tempted by this path:  Coconut Oil and elbow grease will do the job and not leave your fretboard look like it was partially inserted into a garbage disposal.  I’m kind of embarrassed by it, but it is what is, at this point, so we move on!  This next time, I masked off the neck with Blue Platinum (I highly recommend this tape), this time, and it was a much more satisfactory experience.

10 - cracking paintSo, I got the body and neck painted and sanded.  It looked pretty tight, at this point, except for the neck carnage – as evidenced by the next couple of photos – and I was ready to start putting the beast together. Well, OK – start getting all the pieces together and making sure they are ready to go when I am.  That went mostly painlessly.

11 - that neck thoughSo, here you can see the butchery on the fretboard.  Man…deep regrets, here.  But, everything else was looking good.  I put things in their places – pots, switch, pickups, and just about everything was as it should be.  What wasn’t?  Well, that would be the neck pickup.  If you recall, I didn’t notice that the neck was 1/4” (or less) too far forward into the neck pickup cavity.  How did I figure this out?  With a demonstration, of course, when I tried to fit the neck pickup into it’s nice cozy home…and it didn’t fit.  So, I did what any ra12 - guess what doesn't fitnk amateur would do, and that was to break out a file and start contouring the pickup cavity to accommodate the pickup which was mainly too wide based on where it would end up because it was a bit forward.  So…the corners.  This is why we love humbucker pickup rings.  They dutifully covered the carnage when everything was said and done.

A note on pickup rings and EMGs – make sure they’re similar.  I say this because the rings I had came from the humbuckers that shipped with the kit.  I have no idea if the included pickups solid or not, as to fit the Het aesthetic, they needed to be EMGs, and sonically, they needed to be the 81/60 set or, in this case, the passive equivalent, hence the Hz H4/H4A 13 - EMG in mounting ringcombination.  So, the pickups and rings were from different eras, it would seem, and the screws from the EMGs were decent enough for the rings, but man, I had to dig around for springs because the ones that came with the humbuckers were a bit on the long side and, as you can see from the photo, look like they would be perfectly poised to launch the screw at several hundred feet per second.  So, I adjusted slightly and then both pickups were in their rings, waiting for installation.  One slight problem, though – with the neck so far forward, the neck pickup was literally touching the neck, meaning the ring was going to need a little modification in order to be used. More on that, later.

This is pretty much just a picture of the pickup cavities for the sole reason that those little holes, there, are supposed to take *both* sets of pickup wires to the 14 - Ready for clearcoatelectronics cavity.  I suppose that if you were using the stock pickups, the hole would probably be the correct size.  As it stands, both sets of 4-wire connector for the EMGs was a bit of a train wreck.  I’m honestly surprised they work.  Basically, even after enlarging the hole a bit, they still weren’t going to fit.  So, I had to sever and splice which, as we all know in guitar circles, isn’t necessarily optimal.  It was, however, how things would have to be since there was no way that both sets of wires plus each connector end was going to fit through the hole provided.  It’s a good thing I’ve gotten comfortable with soldering, again.  I don’t think I’ll go the “quick connect” route, again, with passives.  It’s just not that much easier, really, than just soldering.  I’ll address the connections, later on, in the wiring section.

OK – so, back out to the garage/workshop (mainly garage…) to do some final things, now that the paint has had time to set – but not enough, because I’m a 15 - Laid out on the workbenchrookie and impatient.  So, masking the neck, again, I use DupliColor clearcoat.  I apply a coat at a time, 5+ times (I don’t remember…it was sometime after midnight by the time I finished.) and then bring it inside to cure, as it was supposed to get down into the 40s, that night which, as we’ve learned, creates undesirable results.  Unless weird crackling everywhere is what you were going for, in which case, that’s a pretty easy way to get that look.

My attention span and enthusiasm tag teamed to get this thing back out into the garage on a warm-ish day to put some of the final touches onto The Het.  First, I 16 - Spa day - polish and stainmask off parts of the body and the sides of the neck – I’m going to try to do something about my abuse of the fretboard.  I got a nice ebony stain.  I figured at the very least it would help darken up the spots that I sanded the hell out of and, at best, would make it look ebony-er.  You heard me.  It actually worked pretty well.  The main side effect that could be considered “bad” would be that the inlay dots all but disappeared.  That said, I like the look.  Ah, but you’re wondering “what’s that green stuff?!”  Good question.  Once the stain had set, I used turtle wax and “swirl eliminator,” for what that’s worth.  The good?  It gave it a nice shine, without over-glossing, which is what I was looking for.  The bad?  I still have green in some of the hard to reach areas.

Additionally, while I was in the workshop/garage, I decided to do something about 17 - Headstock lovethe truss rod cover.  I know that on Hetfield’s Explorers, a) the headstock is black and b) so is the truss rod cover.  Guess what?  You’re not the boss of me.  I wanted the white headstock in case I felt the need to scribble a logo on it or something.  I didn’t, but what I did want was just a little personality up there, so I took the black truss rod cover and did a marbling effect using the white paint and the red paint I was originally going to use for the Red Wings logo on the main body horn.  Since I went for the pure white Het look, I had some red paint I felt needed some love.  So, I used the rag I used to polish the body, applied red paint, dabbed at it a bit, applied white paint and dabbed it as well.  What came out was a sort of weird red marble looking thing which I kind of dug, so I left it that way.

On to the electronics.  This is where all sort of weird things had to happen.  The first thing that was a) regrettable and b) kind of unavoidable, at that point, was that the neck pickup was going to need to be rammed in there to get it into the hole.  18 - Biiig body itty-bitty houseSo, I put the wiring through the miniscule hole and into the next pickup cavity.

Attaching the easy-connector thing, I set the H4A in and pushed to get it as far as I could, manually.  It was then necessary to put a nice cloth over top, folded a number of times to reduce what was coming next, and then hammer it into place.  Yeah…physically beating a $70 pickup with a hammer.  On one hand, it’s never coming out…ever… and, thankfully, was able to be put in to a level where it’s not interfering with string clearance or anything like that.  That’s good, because, like I said, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.  So, that brought on the second painful modification.  I measured and measured again and then clipped the pickup ring in the requisite spots so it hugged the neck, nicely, and looked like it was meant to do that.  I then drilled the holes and affixed the pickup ring for the neck pickup. Thankfully, the bridge pickup was a lot easier, the only real challenge was when I realized there was just no way that the 4-wire bundles and connectors were going to fit, so something had to be done.

20 - wireyI then cut and stripped those beautiful 4-wire, shielded bundles, separating out the leads and soldering other wires to it that would, indeed, fit through the wire hole.  This felt like sacrilege, but it worked.  Well, OK, it mostly worked.  Like I mentioned, the neck pickup may have had some issues and, at this point, it doesn’t work.  I’m not going to stress about it too much, at this point, as I really mainly do rhythm chugging, anyway, but, at some point I’ll need to figure out if it’s the wiring to the switch or actually the pickup wiring.  One has a much greater chance of being able to be fixed.

I mentioned the connections and the “easy connectors.”  Yeah, that didn’t all work out the way I think anyone intended.  First and foremost, the Explorer electronics cavity was not made for such things and so the main connector patch section thing is stuffed in just on top of the volume pot.  The other challenge was that the screw down terminals for the grounds and switch connectors were…iffy with thinner wires.  Even screwing down the terminal screw as far as it would go, the wires would pull out almost immediately.  This, to me, was irksome, so, I soldered the wires to their terminals.  Now you see why I am just thinking it’s easier to just solder everything from the get-go.  I will say that the spade connectors for the jack were very helpful, but also were soldered – they just held on, themselves, when soldering.

And so, it became time to see if this thing worked, from an actual playable instrument point of view.  To the right is a picture of the 19 - The Hetwhole assembly and you can see the neck is a bit darker than standard rosewood and there’s really only one inlay dot visible.  I think it looks pretty good.  It’s not perfect, but I never expected it to be.  I know – why did I do it if I didn’t expect it to be perfect?  Because I wanted to get a feel for what would be involved taking a kit – I think we can all agree I’m not ready to take a plank of wood – from bare wood to assembled, playable guitar. I have a much better understanding of what is involved from a primer/filler/sanding/painting standpoint.  It’s a pain, sometimes, but that’s mostly because I don’t really have a proper place to do this kind of thing nor do we have a consistent enough temperature around the time I started this to get decent work done without a lot of errors.  I’ve also learned that there are some *ahem* Chinese outlets that have some of the hardware and luthier equipment for pennies on the dollar and that I can cut down on some costs, that way, while still keeping the final product looking and sounding good.

All in all, this was an amazing experience, and it didn’t take long to get hooked.  I’m a little twitchy, now, since it’s coming onto winter which, as we found out earlier, is not a good time to paint anything.  Ah, well.  Could be worse.  It’s not like I’ve got another project waiting in the wings…or do I?



Operation: Red Flag

President-elect Trump has started naming his potential appointees and, if you’re a thinking man with a half a brain, they’re terrifying.  It’s like a clown car opened up behind the White House and he’s just taking them in the order they’re getting out.  The one that this missive touches on is his CIA appointee who has stated that using encryption “may itself be a red flag.”  Seriously, Mr. Pompeo?  Or, using encryption is because those of us using it prefer to keep the government out of our business as our founding fathers intended and not this Orwellian ridiculousness we’re being asked to pretend is the new normal.  Hell no.  Using encryption doesn’t make me a terrorist any more than buying Sudaphed makes me a criminal drug user.

 Clipart - Waving Red Flag

So, without further ado, may I present my plan.  Well, less of a plan and more of an idea that I hope takes off because….well…screw Mr. Pompeo. 

red flagRed Flags | Baer Law Firm

Basic Network Connection

Basically, if you’re running internet from Time Warner, Comcast or any of the large providers, you’re compromised.  Sorry – it’s just how it is.  Thankfully, there are things you can do about this.  There are VPNs, proxies and other variations on that theme.  I’ve used a LOT of these and I have some recommendations.

First and foremost VPNs.  VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and the simplest explanation is you are logging to their network and using their network to navigate the web and it sends the data back to you.  The theory, there, is that the only IP address visible is the one assigned when you log into the VPN – your own network IP address is not exposed.  So, think of it as a tunnel under a lake.  The only thing the world knows about it the opening from the other side of the lake from where you entered the tunnel.  So, there is some debate as to which are better and if there are any good free ones. 

I currently have four installed on my system that I use.  Each has its own set of pros and cons.


Let’s start with the one I use the least – SecurityKISS.  I’ve used it off and on for over a year and it’s pretty solid.  I get slightly reduced bandwidth speeds, but that’s to be expected.  The only real downside to this particular VPN is that it has a bandwidth usage limitation of 300MB, if I remember correctly, and that’s per day, I believe, and resets every 24 hours.  Now, it looks like they’ve simplified it since I started using and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It uses a client you can download and have pricing options that range from free to just under 90 euros a year. Of course, each price tier opens up more possible server connections as well as features. 

SoftEther / VPNGate

Another one that I use that is a little more complicated to set up is VPNGate / SoftEther VPN. The one thing I like about this is that once you get it set up, you load a list of potential servers and it displays the uptime, bandwidth and how many users are currently connected.


There are four ways to connect, each with their pros and cons and the VPNGate website has instructions to set up each method including one to use the OpenVPN client if you already have that in order to use other VPNs.  It’s also open source, so you won’t be restricted in your usage for using the “free” option, as they’re all free.


I started using Windscribe after I was doing research and really liked what I saw.  I liked it even more when I didn’t notice any discernable slowdown when using the VPN – even running a speedtest confirmed it.  Now, what’s interesting about this VPN is that there are ways, free ways, to increase your monthly usage cap. 


My current cap is at 15GB per month and, thus far, when I am going back and forth between VPNs, this has been more than enough.  There are two pricing options and they’re basically free and paying the yearly charge of ~$90 all at once or monthly.  I like the free option and was willing to do things like tweet a micro-testimonial to get an addition 5GB per month.

One of the interesting things to note is that not only can you use this on your Windows or MacOS system, but also your android device or even your router if it has been DD-WRT or Tomato flashed.


I’ve started using VPNBook a lot more, of late.  About the only things it disallows are pop connections and torrenting (except for, it would seem, the European servers).  It does pretty much everything else, is fast and pretty easy.

image As you see in the graphic, there, it supports a number of servers in a number of locations.  It tend to use the US1 and US2, though I’ll use the Canadian ones if I’m feeling frisky.  The only “inconvenience” is that the password to log into the VPN is provided by VPNBook on the web site.  I pinned the page in my browser, so it’s not too bad.  It’s pretty simple to set up and the instructions are clear and concise. VPNBook supports OpenVPN so is usable on Windows, MacOS, Linux, iPad and Android devices.  It also supports PPTP, but recommends the OpenVPN method.


“The Onion Router” or TOR can fall under “browser” as well, and that’s where I will discuss it more.  At this point, you just need to know that it is a distributed network designed to provide anonymity.  For the most part, it does, but my recommendation is to fire up a VPN and then load your TOR browser.


E-Mail is the most easily siphoned window into your personal lives.  There are some ways to mitigate this – webmail is, in theory one way, though it’s not any more or less secure than a standalone client if it’s not set up properly.  So – what do I use?  I’ve tried a ton of email clients over the years and the one I’ve settled on isn’t necessarily the one I’d recommend for end-to-end encrypted emails.

Confidant Mail

Confidant Mail might be a hard sell because it’s basically uprooting your existing emails (even though you keep your old email address) and putting them into a completely encrypted system. It’s not simplest to set up and seems to rely on you convincing everyone you communicate with to install and use Confidant Mail, as well.  Since it’s a standalone application it doesn’t run the same risks as do webmail or even standard pop/smtp-based email clients that employ message encryption.  It had a page dedicated to why it’s better than normal or even encrypted email.  It generates a public key via GPG when you set up the program, initially, and once that’s done you can upload the key to the servers so that people who are subsequently installing the program will be able to search for, find, and add you to their contact list.  I recommend checking it out, but something that I’ve had a bit of a problem over the 20 years I’ve tried using PGP is convincing my friends and family to also use PGP.

Anything with “Making the three-letter agencies cry” in the tag-line is something worth looking into.  The only thing with Sigaint is that you really need to access it through your TOR browser. They have a clearnet address, as well, but it mainly serves to tell you to seek them out via TOR.  It’s a webmail client, so there are inherent risks, but they are quite open and honest, telling you not to trust them and to encrypt your emails.  Now, there is a “pro” option, as well, that for $32 for life, will allow you to use multiple protocols (pop3s, smtps, imaps), upgrade your email storage from 50MB to 1GB, full disk encryption, and a slew of other things to ensure your anonymity.  With the pro upgrade, you can also use an external email client – it says it’s been tested with Thunderbird, Claws and K9 Mail.  The free version is still very usable, though they recommend PGP-encrypting your emails before you send them, and I’ve had nary a hitch using it.  You basically get two email addresses – the clearnet version and the onion-specific version.  They both go to the same place, it just depends on the origin.  If you want no one to know who your are, this is the way to go.


A fairly new service arrived earlier this year.  Basically, ProtonMail provides end-to-end encryption, a two-step authentication method (log into Proton Mail, then log into your mailbox), as well as the ability to send emails that will, in essence, self-destruct after a set amount of time.  It’s hosted in Switzerland and their servers never see plaintext anything – all the emails stored on the server are encrypted.  This has three cost/service plans where the free service provides you with a single address, a limit of 150 messages per day and 500MB storage.  The Plus tier is 48 euros per year and gives you a bit more while the Visionary tier gives you 20GB storage, 10 custom domains with 50 unique emails addresses and no limit on sending/receiving emails.  It’s 288 euros per year.  One interesting feature is that you can enable authentication logs which will tell you when your mailbox was accessed and from what IP address.  This is a solid choice and I’ve not had a problem with ProtonMail – and you can download the android app to access it from your phone or tablet, as well.

Trend Micro – Encrypted Email solution

I’m not sure what to do with this, since it’s more or less a service solution rather than a product solution, so you have several choices as to how it protects your email.  It looks decent enough, but also, to me, looks like there are several holes along the chain that could be problematic, but that’s just me worrying about anything that is not encrypted leaving your system and relying on something “out there” to do it for you.  It also looks geared towards small business, with a subscription system, so I’m not sure how useful it will be to an end user who wishes to employ it.  So, there you go – another option. 

Web Browsers


I have many browsers.  I want to try them all, see which ones work the best for my needs.  I will touch on them and let you decide for yourself if they will work for you, your privacy, your security.


Yes, Chrome.  Mostly, this is because of the pile of extensions you can plug into it to give you whatever level of protection you wish.  I use the following plugins to great success:

    • AdBlock Plus (ad blocker…)
    • Anonymous Communication (secure chat client)
    • BitDefender Quickscan (real-time antivirus checking of web pages)
    • Block Site (offending site?  “Welcome to my kill filter, sucker.”)
    • Do Not Track (cuts down on sites abilities to track you)
    • DotVPN (VPN internal to the browser)
    • Ghostery (makes it easy to see who’s trying to track you)
    • Javascript Popup Blocker (popup blocker that handles most of the javascript-based ones)
    • NetCraft Extension (site information and phishing protection)
    • OneTab (not security, but bloody useful – collapses all tabs to a list on one page)
    • Performance Analyzer (measures the performance of web pages/sites)
    • Poper Blocker (my favorite popup blocker)
    • Request Maker (Log, edit and send HTTP requests)
    • Rubber Glove (removes common browser tracking ‘fingerprints.’)

Now, these come at the expense of performance, occasionally, and RAM usage, most of the time, but I haven’t been hit by any drive-by malware for a LONG time.  When used with a VPN (one of the ones listed above or just the DotVPN), it offers reasonable protection from snooping.


After I spent a large amount of time getting the beta of FireFox up and running and customized to my liking, it decided to update to a newer version and wiped out not only all of my bookmarks, but my extensions, as well.  As you can imagine, that made me a touch salty, which is why I don’t use FireFox as often as I used to.  That said, I have a couple of addons/extensions that make FireFox more usable for me.

    • AdBlock Plus (ad blocker…)
    • uBlock Origin (an efficient blocker that is pretty customizable)

As I mentioned, though, I don’t use it much, anymore.  So, these two are by no means the extent of the addons or extensions out there, but they’re the only ones I’ve put back since being forced to start from scratch.

Epic Privacy Browser


They feel that your privacy is yours and yours alone.  It’s a solid browser and does just about everything I need.  The big things to take into consideration, here, are that

    • Private Browsing is *always on*
    • it automatically sends the “do not track” message to websites
    • it blocks all third party trackers and cookies
    • one-click on/off proxying which hides your IP address and encrypts your data (gets REALLY slow, sometimes, especially when inside a VPN tunnel)
    • it searches through its own proxy when obscures your searches from outside “eyes”

So, basically, it has just about everything you need, right out of the gate, to be private and mostly safe out there in the wilds of the internet.  I mentioned that it gets slow inside of a VPN.  A lot of things get slow inside a VPN tunnel, so it’s not a condemnation as much as a factual statement – in this case, however, you know why and can appreciate why your data is taking a bit of time to find its way back to you.  It does break some sites, of course, but has a “Quick compatibility umbrella” which expands and lets you pick and choose which safety mechanisms you are using in an attempt to return compatibility.  I use this browser a lot.


Opera was my first “go-to” browser after my FireFox kerfuffle.  It’s a solid browser and one that I’ve used off and on since it was initially released back in the land before webkit.  The one thing I miss is the ability to set how many data connections you wanted to hammer a site with to improve performance.  I think it’s still in there, but the bottom line is that, really, most connections are fast enough that it’s really fairly unnecessary unless you want to inadvertently instigate your own miniature Denial of Service attack which, by the way, web masters love. 

I only have a few extensions and they are “the usual subjects,” AdBlock Plus, and that’s pretty much the only ones for security. “Why,” you may ask.  Well, it has a nifty feature whereby you can toggle, on a tab-to-tab basis, the built-in VPN connectivity, which is through SurfEasy.  For the most part, it’s fast and can be routed through numerous countries for added protection.


It’s main goal is to limit the trackers and ads that slow down your browsing while at the same time protecting your private data.  It’s a good browser and I actually do find it faster when going to normally ad-laden sites.  Of course, part of that, too, is that I use a custom hosts file that nips most of that in the bud, but still, you can tell the difference.  It defaults to trying to run everything through https-everywhere, which is good.


The bottom line, for me, with this browser is that it’s in its infancy and each release makes it better.  It’s a solid browser, now, but doesn’t have everything to keep you off the grid…yet.


After the big three (Chrome, FireFox and Opera) all flaked out in their own ways, I spent a lot of time looking for a browser that didn’t drive me nuts.  I test drove this for a few days and those days have turned into months.  I like it because it’s fast, does everything I want, and doesn’t do dumb stuff.  One of the selling points is that almost every aspect of the browser, and therefore your browsing experience, is customizable.  It’s not as secure as the others, but can take extensions to fix that, I’ve just been too lazy to, recently.  Well…when I want secure, I’ve got how many other browsers to choose from?

OWASP Mantra

“Elegant, clean and completely open source,” this browser is build with the security / penetration tester in mind.  The landing page has a slew of links ranging from your everyday to the Hackery section and a link directly to Shodan.  One of the things that stands out about this browser is the number of tools built in.  There are a lot.  I suppose I could list them out, but that’s pretty much what their web site is for – it discusses each one and does a better job than I could.  Honestly, it’s more for site testing than security, but as it takes FireFox extensions, you can add whatever you need, in this regard.  It is, nice, however, to have the ability to see what headers are being passed on to you and allowing you to edit them on the fly.  That’s good stuff, right there.

Maxthon Cloud Browser

This browser actually kind of tries to be a one-stop shop for you, providing a browser with many interesting security features like an encrypted password manager, right-click re-enabler, a cloud-based note/document storage area (1GB/free), and a provider of anonymous emailboxes.  All this translates to a web browser that is pretty solid for information gathering while you’re browsing the web.  It also defaults to duckduckgo as its search engine which, while it doesn’t return 1.5 zillion results like Google, it also returns mainly those things that have something to do with what you’ve searched for and not a bunch of ad placement crap.  I haven’t used it a huge amount because, well…nine browsers makes “equal time” hard.  That said, it seems to do well with ridiculously pop-up ridden sites like, on which I watch hockey from the Ukraine and rugby from New Zealand and it plays the video with no fuss, no muss.  Not a security related feature, to be sure, but one that’s welcome, nonetheless.

Pale Moon

Developed by the save folks who develop FossaMail (which is what I use), this browser just received an overhaul.  This overhaul brought it up to “today’s browser standards” and in the process broke a couple of the nice security extensions it had going for it.  This will probably be fixed, in the near future, but fear not – important security extensions remain: AdBlock Latitude, Encrypted Web, and Secret Agent.  What this means is that you’re not going to see the majority of the ads out there, you’re going to be in HTTPS as much as possible and it will rotate the “User Agent” as not to leave a reliable fingerprint of the browser you’re using.  This is a good thing.  It will also alert you if a site tries to hijack requests and tries to redirect it to a different web site.  It will tell you the how, the who and the potential why: “Your web surfing may be subject to surveillance.” It’s a solid browser with a highly customizable landing page which is nice.  Check it out, but also check out the FireFox-based extensions that you can add to make it as secure as your paranoia desires.  Is it paranoia if you know it’s happening?  At any rate…

TOR Browser

As discussed, previously, this is the browser that works with the TOR network and will allow you to see deep/dark web sites and those sites with the .onion suffix.  It allows you to switch TOR circuits – or paths through the TOR network – in order to maintain anonymity if you feel that the current route/path/exit node has been compromised. Do remember that while the TOR model allows your data to be encrypted inside the TOR network, once your data leaves an exit node and goes to a site, the data in between the exit node and site is not encrypted by the TOR network, so continuing to use an extension like HTTPS Everywhere is always a good idea.  Now, what I do, for what it’s worth, is to fire up a VPN and then launch the TOR browser.  This way the TOR network connections are working within an already obfuscated network tunnel.  While not foolproof, it does increase the challenge for prying eyes/agencies.  While navigating through Onion-land is a bit more arduous and a bit slower, it is still a much safer alternative to bopping around in clearweb land.  There is also a “hardened” version that may be a version or so behind the currently available TOR browser, but has been modified to provide a lot more security.  I use this one almost exclusively.


You’ll notice there a browser missing.  Most folks in the IT world understand why it’s missing.  Perhaps you don’t.  Perhaps you love IE Edge.  Here’s the thing – it’s a screen door on a submarine, security-wise.  That’s pretty much what you need to know.  Any of the browsers above would be a much better choice when it comes to keep your data from “the man.”  In the interest of fairness, I will say, simply, that when I tried to “harden” IE, it broke.  I can no longer use it to browse the internet and it has become, inexplicably, the default PDF reader despite Acrobat Reader being installed.  It now, like Hodor, can only say one thing:



This is where Pomeo is poking the bear.  I’m a firm believer in 1st, 4th and 5th Amendment rights as well as a strong heaping helping of “nunya.”  What’s “nunya,” you say?  If you grew up in the south, you know this is a rather sassy way of saying, “None of your business.”  Really, that’s how I feel about all aspects of my digital life.  I used to have an attitude of “fine, look around – I’ve got nothing to hide!”  What changed?  Well, for one thing, the Patriot Act.  Almost completely unconstitutional in its reach and just a wake up call that it doesn’t matter what the laws say, the government will find a way to wiggle around them.  Then came the hoo-hah about the iPhone in the San Bernadino terrorist case where some dunderhead tried to brute force *guess* the password to the iCloud and iPhone accounts and effectively wiped both clean.  Somehow, this was seen as Apple’s fault and so there was the huge floofle about how Apple should create a backdoor for law enforcement and Apple basically said, “Up yours,” as well they should.  What killed me about this, tangentially, was that if you search for “iPhone 5 unlocking/decrypting,” there are enough links that the FBI could have had it done in under 5 business days and for right around $150.  At any rate, as soon as that story hit the news, I hopped into my Android settings menu and encrypted the heck out of my phone.  You want anything?  You’re going to have to work for it, or at least lay out some cash.  Even though I’m not doing anything “wrong,” I’m not in any way shape or form going to make this easy for anyone who wants my data without a fight…or encryption key.

Drive Encryption

I absolutely encourage drive encryption.  Every Virtual Machine I create is encrypted and has to be decrypted, using the proper password, to even mount.  Once past that, the drive is encrypted and, finally, the user directories are encrypted with a different password for each user.  Seems like it could be considered overkill, doesn’t it?  Well, so what?  I think I mentioned not making it easy.


This is a very useful – and free – encryption program geared towards drive encryption, whether it is full disc encryption, partial disk, containers (encrypted files that act like drives but aren’t outwardly visible as such) and can even hide these encrypted volumes.  It’s free, actively maintained and based off of the TrueCrypt software package that was used by a multitude of corporate entities, including mine (TrueCrypt, not VeraCrypt) – and it (VeraCrypt) is SO much faster and less flaky than McAffee’s “Endpoint” software, in my experience.  You can select many encryption protocols and – and this is a wonderful “and” – you can even wrap them three deep, meaning your volume will first be encrypted with AES-256, then it will be encrypted with Blowfish, or TwoFish, and finally, on top of these two encryptions, it will encrypt a third time using Serpent, for example.  That’s my personal choice, but there are several combinations from which to choose.  This flexibility makes it exceedingly useful and, more importantly, pretty intuitive to use.  I recommend this to the moon and back for keeping your sensitive bits protected.

McAffee Endpoint Solutions

My experience with this product has been largely negative, but that might have to do with how it was implemented, so I’m disinclined to just dismiss it out of hand.  It’s only one of two in the list that costs anything, so you’ll need to take that into consideration.  I do know some folks who feel safer purchasing a commercial product – especially an expensive one – because they feel it’s more secure.  This could be.  I couldn’t tell you.  I just know that post-encryption, I’ve had better luck with VeraCrypt.  Honestly, the only trouble I have had with Endpoint is that it will suddenly and out of the blue simply disavow any knowledge of my passcode to decrypt the drive in order to use it.  This is frustrating in itself, but the process to recover it is not only a titanic pain, but – here’s the thing that throws giant red flags for me – with the recovery software, you are given a long series of numbers that will allow you to reset the password and, therefore, decrypt the drive.  Now, in a corporate environment – and one thing I do actually appreciate about the seemingly overly complex method for doing this that my employer uses – you can only access this recovery module after logging into the web portal, going to the “recover endpoint encryption” link and clicking it, then entering your credentials in, again, including a secret question, and only after satisfying this step will it allow you to embark on the rest of the journey.   Now, on the plus side, the price isn’t a deterrent.  Ranging from ~$20 for individual users to ~$5K for an enterprise license, it’s really not all that bad, comparatively.  That said, I trust VeraCrypt more.  Why?  Just because, really.  While the aforementioned folks feel more comfortable with a for-profit product, I prefer a product written by someone(s) whose only skin in the game is reputation.

Microsoft Bitlocker

I’ve never used Bitlocker.  It used to be only available on the Ultimate editions of Windows7 and, I believe 8.  I think it’s standard, now.  If it’s not, it should be.  At any rate, it functions very much like the above two solutions when it comes to encrypting entire drives.  You can encrypt your system (boot) drive with relative ease and, at this point in the game, I recommend that course of action. 

Symantec Endpoint Encryption

Now, I am pretty sure I haven’t used this, but I might have in a previous incarnation – I honestly don’t remember.  That said, from reading the literature and implementation documents, it seems like it’s on par with McAffee’s offering and does allow full-disk encryption.  I also boasts using PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) for it’s encryption of choice.  The company seems to be positioning this solution towards the enterprise customer, but you can get the Endpoint Encryption in a single license for $189.  So, again, I’ve not worked with it, so I can’t say one way or another if it’s the right product for you or your needs.  I’m just letting you know it’s out there and, frankly, the more encryption the better.

On-the-Fly / Individual file / Text Encryption

There are a long ton of solutions, here.  I’m going to focus on ones I’ve used and/or recommend.

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)

The granddaddy of all public key encryption, this has going through a slew of changes, purchases, open source projects and version.  It’s been entertaining to watch, if not a little frustrating to keep up with.  Basically, the majority of things I’ll be discussing fall under this category, in some way or another.


PGP, Inc. was purchases by Symantec, and so is included in the aforementioned Endpoint security package.  I’m mainly putting this here for completeness’ sake.  This isn’t to be confused with PGP Corporation.  Oh, wait…yes it is.  This is PGP if you want to pay for it.


Standardized in the mists of history (1997), OpenPGP is available for all platforms, including iOS and Android.  This is pretty much the standard and everything derives from this.  It’s free.  It’s mostly easy to set up – the hardest part is thinking of a suitably secure password.  Their site has email encryption solutions, keyservers, and even a section for developers discussing signing their projects.  The email section provides a long ton of options/solutions.  Check them out.


For historical purposes, only, I include the “international” version of the original PGP software and should be considered exceedingly outdated – it supports Windows 3.1/95/98/NT as well as the Amiga and OS/2.  So, why would I include it?  Because it’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come, really.  I love digging around in this stuff, so, I figured I’d share.


This is what I use.  Take that for what it’s worth…I use it.  That doesn’t mean you need to use it or should use it.  I just like the setup of GPG4Win and it’s easy for me to work with.  The binary releases, should you not feel like downloading the code and compiling (./configure ./make ./make install), support Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, OpenVMS, and RISC OS.  Integrated into the Windows shell, it makes encrypting/signing/decrypting documents, other files, directories and even drives painfully simple.  I recommend it.

Diplomat OpenPGP

I’m including this not just because they have their own OpenPGP solution for you, but a they also offer secure file transfer, which is nothing to sneeze at.  Now, while the OpenPGP product is free, the Diplomat File Transfer product is not.  It’s pricey, but when you look at what it does – securing file transfers, either P2P, FTP, FTPS and SFTP, as well as encrypting those files that are transferred with the private keys, meaning only the sender and the recipient can open the file(s) sent.  That’s pretty hoss.  This service will cost you, with the “basic” version *starting at* $595, the “standard edition” starting at $2,995 all the way up to the Enterprise version with the terrifying “Call for pricing.”  Still – if you’re worried about industrial espionage, how much is your data worth to you?

Again…make these folks work for it, where “these folks” can be, basically, anyone who wants to access your drive who isn’t you and, especially, without permission.  There are more solutions out there, but this should provide a good starting point. 

Cloud Storage

I know a lot of people that use either their own server or services like Dropbox to store files “in the cloud.”  There’s Dropbox,, and a whole slew of others, but they all share one thing: they’re searchable by the companies that set them up and in that light, anything subversive or  plain illegal in your file storage area can be found and you can endure anything from irritation all the way to outright pain.  That doesn’t sound fun.  So, let me recommend a few.  I’ve been using Keep2Share, of late.  It functions much like Dropbox, but I haven’t read any missives, recently, talking about k2c routinely scrubbing through user accounts looking for violations.  Let’s look at some other options, shall we?


This is a product that looks a LOT like what were talking about with Diplomat.  There are differences, of course, but as you get into the paid subscription versions, one of the big selling points is the end-to-end encrypted file transfer.  That said, the free version offers this, as well, just without as many bells, whistles and safeguards.  The free version features the ability to secure one cloud account, up to two devices from which to upload and save data, and Whisply integration which, for those who don’t speak weird corporate software naming practices, is their end-to-end file transfer encryption which will allow you to send out an unlimited number of links to the files you store there and these other folks don’t have to be boxcryptor users.  It also has a portable installation if you’re not wanting to, or can’t, install it one your system.


Aiming to not be a full service, encrypted cloud storage provider, it’s not free, but offers a lot of features.  Their claim, also, is that it would take 1,000 years to crack the encryption they use. I wonder if that will change with quantum computing?  At any rate, they offer a couple of tiers of service, with the personal level providing a terabyte of storage, access from 10 devices, password protected links and extensive file permission settings for file sharing.  The personal subscription is $30 per month, so $360 per year.  For small business and enterprise, it’s considerably more outlay, but is less per user.  Again, the enterprise model has the scary “Custom pricing,” which probably just means customizable for your business, but I still like seeing everything out in front of me.  One interesting thing that I like a lot is that it has a section for developers, offering a SDK to allow the end-to-end encryption to be integrated into your application.  The tagline, “No more data breaches” sounds good to me.  You have to request access, but I’m thinking that a software development company could benefit greatly from being able to tell clients/customers how secure their data will be.


LaCie’s solution was one I was going to discuss, but upon hopping to the site for more information, I got this:

<h2>Our services aren't available right now</h2><p>We're working to restore all services as soon as possible. Please check back soon.</p>Ref A: C544C6B0F1F84F22A420DB3DC53148B5 Ref B: F4B412192C8F55313E7D91E98DB04966 Ref C: Fri Nov 25 08:03:07 2016 PST”

so…you know.

nCrypted Cloud

This looks like another encrypted cloud service, though, it’s positioning itself more as a security layer on top of cloud storage.  Honestly, if the files are encrypted, I’m not sure I care how you get them there.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but you get the picture.  The personal version is free and for non-commercial use.  You get roughly the same features as on the company/enterprise-centric models, but without the longer audit trail, Active Directory integration and collaboration tools.  Now, there’s free, then there is the per-user cost for each level: $10.  The only difference is the number of users, at a minimum, that you are required to have: 25 for small business, 250 for medium business and 2,500 for enterprise-level. 

Honestly, I’m running out of steam.  For cloud storage alternatives beyond what I’ve laid out, here, I recommend this article.  It goes into greater depth than I have been and gives you pros and cons in a concise manner.  Concision has never been my strong suit.


Long story short, if you want to keep the government/hackers/pranking friends/ex-spouses out of your data/email/what-have-you, you need to secure it.  There are also ways to secure what you already have, for example, in Yahoo or Gmail. 

There’s an option for most webmail services to use two-factor authentication.  Use it.  You’ll be glad you did, especially when reports come out stating that Yahoo knew about data breaches as early as 2014 (and didn’t do anything until much later), and the recent Gmail breach. If it’s difficult for YOU, it’s going to be that much more difficult for anyone else.

Also, don’t use fingerprint or simple-pattern unlocking on your phones.  While a long PIN is a pain in the butt for you, just think how much of a pain it will be for someone who doesn’t *know* the PIN.

Stop using common passwords. While “ihatemyjob” is funny in ads, it’s horribly insecure and will take even an average computer a few minutes, if that, to crack.  Even throwing in a “!” at the end will delay the “crackening.”  That said, I’m a big fan of using symbols and numbers.  “Ih4t3myj0b!” will be that much more difficult to crack.

Above all, just don’t make it easy.  The more layers of security, the better.  The heftier the encryption, the better.  It doesn’t make you a terrorist, it makes you a pragmatist. Remember – This isn’t about hackers, anymore.  It’s about our government.

Metallica – “Hardwired … To Self-Destruct”

The last time Metallica released a studio album, George W. Bush was still in office.  This release will precede President Donald J. Trump by mere weeks.  So what, right?  Well…it is *8* years.  We were given “Death Magnetic” and we, the Metallica faithful, were mostly sated.  There were production (*mastering*) problems that squashed dynamics and prompted several versions of “remixed/mastered/EQ’d” from the Guitar Hero III stems.  Much better.  So, we come back to today – the official release and while the vinyl hasn’t arrived at the door, the videos links have arrived in the email box.  I did a song-by-song deconstruction of “St. Anger” when it came out, but, sadly, it’s been lost to the mists of history – even can’t find it.  So, I thought I’d do that with this one, the new one, the shiny one, the one where the first three singles gave Metallica fans around the world hope that there might be a return to their thrash roots.  Let’s do this.

The Songs

01 – “Hardwired”

Churning.  A snare that sounds like a snare – that’s a positive.  Very punky vibe, but with enough chugging to make a metalhead happy.  Nice delay on the vocal – well placed and not overbearing.  Nice chorus. The solo breakdown feels like a solo and the post-solo section is solid.  I dig it.  I’m also digging the double-bass.  *Finally.* This has a good vibe to it.  I’m enjoying it a lot.  The slowdown at the end is really nice.  Good song.

02 – “Atlas, Rise”

Decent enough intro. It’s reminding me of the punk-infused stuff we used to get in the early-80s.  Decent riffing.  The vocals are good.  Pre-chorus is a not bad, but serves it’s purpose – it feeds naturally into the chorus.  Chugging is pretty good, lead fill keeps from getting overly repetitive sounding.  This feels NWOBHM-ish and I’m digging it.  The solo starts off like something from “Load.” OK – better movement but pretty wah’d up. However, the harmonized solo is really nice – reminds me of 7th Son-era Iron Maiden.  The ending is solid.  Good song. I can dig it.

03 – “Now That We’re Dead”

Mid-tempo chugging.  I can dig it. Even the drum fills seem to work.  Slow to build, though.  Reminiscent of mid-80s hard rock.  Very simple verse – it works.  Wow – the pre-chorus feels so very 1987.  Nice.  I’m trying to think of who this reminds me of.  Kind of like some of the mid-tempo stuff Armored Saint did around that time.  This isn’t a bad thing.  The chorus is a bit creepy, but nice riff underneath.  It’s keeping things very simple, and it’s working.  The song is growing on me.  The solo is pretty solid – not TOO wah-y with good movement.  Ooh – interesting post-solo crunch.  It’s like what would have happened if “Outlaw Torn” had more bite.  The ending…hmmm…pretty solid.  Another good song.  Cool.

04 – “Moth Into Flame”

Nice intro into fantastic chuggy riffing.  Where’s this been the last couple of albums?  Nice movement under the verse which is also pretty solid.  Pre-chorus bliss!  Really enjoying the riffing. Now that’s a catchy as hell chorus! The guitars are constantly moving.  Nice!  Back to the verse and it’s just got good chunky riffing.  Man.  Well structured song.  It’s funny how it almost *feels* mid-tempo, but sure as hell isn’t.  Oooh, nice breakdown.  Down picking heaven.  Solid bridge that feeds into the solo.  Not a bad solo, either – THIS sounds like KRK.  Nice re-entry riff and double-bass thunder.  Easily my favorite song, so far.  Just beastly riffing riding you off into a crescendo ending.  Excellent song.

05 – “Dream No More”

Doom-y.  Sluggish, but not plodding.  Meaty doom riffs.  Verse…interesting harmony.  Sounds like “The Cure” but is a boatload more listenable.  Pre-chorus is pretty decent.  Oooh.  The chorus *chugs*.  There’s no other way to describe it. So far, the chorus is the the best part.  Still doomy.  Huge sound, though – definitely a good thing.  Middle is pretty good leading to the solo.  Decent solo – interesting slower section, gaining nice harmonization.  Building to something – the sludgy, sloggy chugging.  Cthulhu imagery throughout is always a good thing.  This song will probably grow on me. Right now, it’s a good song.

06 – “Halo on Fire”

Nice harmonized intro.  Harkening back to 1987, it feels like.  Pulling back into a light acoustic trot.  Verse is sung nicely and builds.  The chorus is a little jarring, but gets bigger and is pretty good.  Nice break.  Good tone on the solo – fits the vocals.  The pre/chorus is growing on me.  Middle breakdown riff is nice and chunky.  The bridge is pretty good even with two parts; they work, I think.  Nice chunky riffing after the 2nd bridge.  This sends us into the solo, which starts with some nice harmonization and then pulls to the middle and isn’t too bad.  With the solo over, we riff and then back to a short acoustic break.  Solo 2 – almost sounds like Het’s tone. Nice movement into what was bridge 2 and now a slowly building solo that is over a nice galloping riff.  The ending is really taking off – I like it.  The song ends…and it’s a good one.  I like the movement within the song.

07 – “Confusion”

Marching – which I think is the point.  Crunchy.  It is nice to have a snare that sounds like a snare, again.  Ooooh – fun riffing going on, here.  Slows down to a mid-tempo.  Nice vocals in the verse, and gives way to the chugging which, in turn, gives way to the chorus.  Interesting. Nice transition back to the chugging.  Nice little solo before a solid bridge. Really touching on the PTSD aspect – heavy.  Good transition back to the chorus.  Bridge 2 is driving home the PTSD with a frenetic staccato bit of riffing.  Moves into a neat section that finishes off and drops us into the solo.  It’s not a bad solo – it really conveys a “barely in control” vibe that works.  That is just a sick riff.  Ending  on the marching.  Solid song.  I like it a lot.

08 – “Manunkind”

Acoustic meandering – nice bass working underneath.  Aaaand – heavy!  Mid-tempo?  Slogger?  It’s kind of giving a vibe of both.  Nice groove.  Sort of disjointed riff under the vocals which have a sort of urgency going on.  Feels southern rock-ish, but with a heaver touch.  I like the harmonization – I’m a sucker for a good harmonized vocal line.  Breakdown time.  The bridge is even more urgent, the exaggerated delay helps it out.  Not too bad.  Do we call this bridge 2?  It’s decent enough and leads to the solo which, after started kind of slowly, becomes a sort of wah assault.  It reigns it in to feed back to the bridge 2 thingo.  Very southern groove.  Reminds me a bit of “Ronnie.”  The ending is a repetition of “Faith in man-un-kind,” until it ends.  Not too bad.  This feels like one I’ll have to listen to more to get into.

09 – “Here Comes Revenge”

Definitely setting up a mood, here.  Feels dirty and sludgy.  Gives way to a pretty solid riff.  The solid riff becomes riffier and has a decent hook to it.  Dirty drums, slightly dirty guitar, interesting verse, leads into the what I’m assuming is the pre-chorus which makes good use of riff #3.  Decent chorus with a sort of stop and go thing that ends nicely enough.  Back to the verse.  I like the transitions.  Decent movement in the song.  It’s not dragging.  The hook-y riff gives way to a mid-tempo crescendo that leads into the solo.  Nice riffing underneath.  A more restrained solo that works well.  Galloping towards the end with the hook-y riff with some nice double-bass work underneath with the dirty, wah-soaked guitars we heard in the intro.  A solid song.  I dig it.

10 – “Am I Savage?”

Starting slow with clean tone and understated bass and drums.  Gets dirty quick.  Not bad – building towards a really sludgy riif.  This feels like something Sabbath – mid ‘90s Sabbath – would churn out.  And we now just hopped into an interesting off-tempo walking/talking part.  The chorus is decent.  Returning to the doomy, sludgy riff.  Definitely a sloggy feel, but not draggy.  The off-kilter pre-chorus is disconcerting which, I’m fairly certain was the point. Honestly, it has a “Loverman” vibe to it but, thankfully, is a vastly more interesting song.  Oooh – sludge.  The breakdown leading to the solo is chewy as hell.  Nice solo work – it’s a nice counterpart to the riffing underneath.  As it heads to the end, it chugs along, and I do mean chugs.  Pretty good – I definitely to listen to it more.

11 – “Murder One”

Nice clean tone interrupted by a fairly urgent heavy interruption.  Main riff is pretty fluid and gritty.  Interesting – the verse and vocals are pretty solid.  Pre-chorus? Bridge? Chorus?  Not sure.  Leads back to the verse. This takes me back to 1989.  It’s got a good vibe.  We’ll call that the pre-chorus – it compliments the chorus well.  Oh, my.  Well, hello, Kirk. A jarring solo, with very little transition.  It settles down and then feeds back into the pre-/chorus.  A decent hard rock groove feel.  I’ll have to listen to this more to get more of a feel for it.  It doesn’t feel as strong as most of the songs, but it’s not bad. We shall see!

12 – “Spit Out The Bone”

Frenetic intro – drums, bass and guitars chugging along and after a brief pause uses that riff to take us to a bit of machine gun-ish riffing.  Interesting melody interspersed.  Now it’s a homogenized, sick riff.  Hello, angry verse!  Barked lyrics with speed chugging underneath.  I really dig that main riff.  Need to harmonize it, though.  Man, this is moving.  There is a definite urgency, but not haphazard.  Breakdown to Rob’s solo. Cool.  Leads back to some more gymnastic riffing.  Digging the bridge and here we go into KRK land – the first part of the solo is kind of like the rest in terms of wah, but churns down to a nice slower, melodic solo.  The middle section is really nice.  New riff – solid.  Slowing down a touch with some chugging. I can dig it.  Slower still chugging.  What’s it building up to?  ‘cause it’s building!  Ooooh – channeling some of the Kill ‘em All energy, this solo is much more satisfying to me.  Enough old and new Kirk working together to make for a solo that works.  Frantic chugging and barking vocals – angry Metallica is good Metallica.


Wow.  I’m a bit drained.  That was a killer ending to a solid effort that had many more high points than low.  Actually, come to think of it, I don’t really recall there being anything that could be considered a “low.”  To be completely honest, “Am I Savage” might be the weak track on the album, but even there – if that’s your “weak one,” I’d say that’s not too shabby, at all.

The riffing

There is plenty of riffing to be had.  Wow.  From open to close, there’s no shortage of chunky, chewy, ripping riffs that all work well with the songs and don’t feel forced.  What I mean is that some of the “speed riffing” on “St. Anger” seems like it was put in with the intent of showing us they were still heavy.  It felt like they were trying too hard.  This?  This sounds like a natural, organic album where there riffs don’t feel forced.  Even some of the riffing on “Death Magnetic” felt a little shoehorned.  Not here.

Review / Summary

I’ve been having a hard time NOT jamming to this album.  From the opening notes of “Hardwired” to the last shimmer of reverb at the end of “Spit Out The Bone,” it’s nonstop.  It’s funny – I read some comments, somewhere (I can’t remember where…) that the album had four ballads.  I’ll have to check my impressions of the songs, above, but I’m pretty sure there’s not a single ballad on this album.  There’s a dynamic that offers a good balance of “acoustic-y intro” to “all out thrashing,” so that might have been what they were talking about.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that this is the most consistent and solid album since, if I’m to be completely honest, “The Black Album.”

What about production?  I gave Metallica endless amounts of crap for something that wasn’t their fault, last album.  “Death Magnetic” was butchered in mastering to a point where all dynamism was flattened out and it was a wall of sound with no nuance.  What do we have this time around?  Well, it’s not mastered to death, thankfully.  Now, when the first three singles hit, I noticed there wasn’t much by way of “air.”  I had hoped that it was like the “The Day That Never Comes” where the album version was much more alive than the single/video release that just seemed dry and brittle.  Well, “Hardwired…To Self-Destruct” is much, much better sonically.  My only complaint is the aforementioned “air.”  It’s still pushed pretty hard and you can hear the compressors groaning under the might of the riffs.  That said – it’s so much better.

So?!  Was it worth the wait?  Eight years is a darned long time.  I’ll admit that really pushed the expectations high.  I wasn’t thrilled with “Lords of Summer,” but it wasn’t bad, so there was hope.  Then the date getting pushed back and pushed back.  But, it’s here. It’s tight.  It’s solid.  It’s a *Metallica* album.  It’s not “Master II” nor should it be.  This is a more mature thrash but there is thrash to be had.  So, I’ll say it’s worth the wait, but implore the fellas not to make us wait this long, next time around.