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.

0217180149

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:

0217180149a02171801500217180202

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.

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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 BargainMusician.com.  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?