ORGANISED ELECTRICITY: Volume One – An Axe To Grind

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It’s all well and good talking about music, but as a guitarist and self-confessed gear slut, I also want to talk about the stuff that actually makes the sound.  I love spending hours online reading about and listening to YouTube clips of gear, and regularly empty my wallet in exchange for new effects pedals, much to the distress of my girlfriend who would prefer I spent more of my pay cheque on her.

 We’ve decided to start a series of articles dedicated to talking about what makes the music that turns us on.  I’m going to kick things off with something a bit left-field: a guitar rebuild I did last year.  If you’re in a band and want to talk about the effects, guitars, amps, or oboe’s that make you excited in the pants, send an email to heavyandweirdblog@gmail.com and we’ll work something out.

Last year I was given an old Fernandes guitar by Thirteen Seventy’s bass player, Tony.  It had been found under a house somewhere and was, quite frankly, completely fucked.  Every bit of metal was corroded or rusted to the point of uselessness – if it was supposed to move, it didn’t, and if it wasn’t supposed to move, it did.  Despite this, or maybe because of the challenge, I decided to turn it into a working instrument again.  The end result is a little…unorthodox, but it works.  And it’s really fun to play.

The aim was to rebuild the guitar without spending anything on it.  I’m proud to say I almost made it, but had to cave in the end and spend $10 to replace the input jack, which was full of…something…  Unfortunately I didn’t take any before photos (hindsight’s a bitch), but it would have come out of the factory looking a lot like this…in vomit green colour:

Guitar1

The first step was to strip everything that didn’t function anymore.  So…everything.  The bridge, the nut, the electronics, the pickups.  The only things that survived were the tuners.  Just.

The Floyd Rose bridge was a lost cause.  The only bridge I had lying around was off a Telecaster, but because of the swimming-pool route for the Floyd Rose, I had no way to mount it to the body…unless…

Guitar2

A piece of sheet aluminium off an old external hard drive enclosure was retro-fitted and screwed into the guitar body to cover the hole, and I screwed the Tele bridge straight into that with self-tappers.  After doing this I realised the aluminium plate would cause problems with grounding the strings, so I soldered the ground wire directly to one of the screws underneath the aluminium plate.

Guitar3

(Image shows wire just before soldering to the screw).

The most difficult and time-consuming part of the whole exercise was actually cutting the hole in the single-coil Tele bridge big enough to take the humbucker from the Fernandes.  It turns out that steel is a lot harder to work with than aluminium.  Who would have thought?

The bridge and neck pickups from the Fernandes turned out to be reusable, but the poor middle pickup was beyond repair, so I replaced it with a spare Tele neck pickup given to me by a friend a few years prior:

Guitar4

Being a Fender guy, I really hated the sharp 80’s Ibanez looking horns, so decided to hack one off and see what happened…

Guitar5

(Photo by Geoff Wilson)

This was probably the most therapeutic part of the project.  There’s really nothing like taking a guitar and cutting it up.  I assume this is what it felt like smashing gear in Nirvana, only more planned and with a useable instrument at the end.  If only I had the money to saw guitars in half on stage with the amps plugged in…

A bit of sanding and the end result is below:

Guitar6

Guitar7

Speaking of ugly 80’s contours, that pointy headstock also needed some attention:

Guitar8

And who wants a guitar called ‘Fernandes’?  Some quick sandpapering removed the offending name from the headstock.  I ended up using the metal base of the locking nut system as a regular nut, and never replaced the locking bits.  Since it’s got a fixed bridge there are almost no issues with the guitar going out of tune.

As for the electronics….well I didn’t bother replacing them.  I wired all three pickups straight to the output jack.  I never liked active electronics anyway.

Guitar9

There’s only an output jack under that black plate.  The cavity behind the bridge is where the 9v battery compartment used to be.  I may yet add a volume knob, I’ve realised that I do use it quite a lot on my Strat to control feedback.

Anyway, here’s the finished product.  Ugly, but useable again.  And how does it sound?  Not pretty.  With a bit of overdrive or distortion it’s more like a chainsaw cutting through your skull.  The first time I took it to rehearsal the rest of the band covered their ears.  I think the aluminium plate is acting kind of like a resonator and creating some very harsh top end frequency response.  Thankfully it’s easily fixed by dialling in more bass on the amp.

Guitar10

Let’s face it, this $10 guitar is one you don’t have to be afraid of throwing around a bit.  It looks and sounds like nothing else.  If you want to hear ‘Frankentar’ in action it’s generally my backup stage guitar at Thirteen Seventy shows.

It’s been worth every cent.

By: Clint Morrow

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