Trash-o-caster

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Posted in PlayGuitars

Introduction: Trash-o-caster

About: Go sit in the Faraday cage and think about what you've done...
During a recent storm, this abused electric guitar was found on the curb, buried in snow. Minus all the electrics except the jack, I resolved to bring it back from the brink. I've always wanted a 'Strat,' or something similar. That sweet single-coil sound is something a 'Gibson man' can't get. But a Peavey 'Predator' will come close...

NOTE: There's a video on the last page, showin' the results...

Disclaimer:
By following this guide you will refurbish a junk instrument into something decent. But some choices (type of paint, etc.) are NOT choices a professional would make. I.E., don't use these techniques on a vintage collectors instrument.

'Strat' and 'Stratocaster' are trademarks of Fender. This Peavey is 'Strat-like,' although both Peavey and Fender might be insulted by the reference.

This newer video was added, as the one on the last page was recorded before the guitar was tweaked. This is clean (no F/X), through my little Kay tube amp...


Before & After pix:

Step 1: First, Is It Worth Fixing?

Ask other musicians, check online:

Do people like the 'Predator?' General consensus is: Yes! Although definitely a 'starter' guitar, the 'playability' is high. (Ignore any 'psycho-audiotronics': when we hear something different if the name on the guitar changes...)

Other questions the modder should ask:
Is it modular? Can the neck, etc be removed easily?

One positive:
Despite the current fashion of locking tuners, the tuning machines on this guitar are solid, quality equipment.:

Step 2: Second, Can It Be Fixed? (And by a Amateur?)

After scoping it out, here are the problem areas--

-- Bad finish/paint (was partially restored by previous owner)
-- Pickguard missing
-- No electrics--needs pickups, pots, switches, wiring, etc.
-- Missing string guide on peg head
-- back cover (over tremolo springs) missing

All this is 'doable'--but is it worth it? Abandoned, but still with a full set of strings! So tune it and see how it plays--is the neck straight, action playable? Kinda, but...

On further examination:
-- Bridge pivot studs have cracked the body in two places--no wonder it won't stay in tune.

No idea how this was damaged, unless the pole pivots/studs were replaced at some point. The bridge itself fits perfectly in the routed cavity, and appears stock.

This is fixable, too! (Of course, each discarded instrument will have unique problems--give each a honest assessment before beginning the project.)

Step 3: Equipment Needed; Parts & Supplies

--Equipment
Power sander (vibrating will do)
files
Hi-speed rototool (Dremel)
clamps
soldering iron & solder, etc
Misc screwdrivers
Drill & bits

--Parts/Supplies
New string guide
New tremolo springs
New jack
New Electrics--
Ebay to the rescue--purchased an entire pickguard/pickup assembly with all the switches, pots and wiring (cheap!):

Step 4: More Supplies

Epoxy (I used 'West System,' any will do)
Paint, clearcoat (acrylic)
Sandpaper (both regular 100-320 and wet/dry 400-1000 grit)
rubbing compound
Spray-mount glue (Duro, Elmers, 3M)
Rubber cement
Foil (heavy-duty aluminum or copper)
Guitar polish

Step 5: Repair the Body @ the Bridge

Without this step the guitar will never stay in tune, the bridge will constantly 'sag' toward the nut.

1) Remove the studs
2) Prep the wood by roughening, and drilling holes so the epoxy can fully saturate the crack.
3) Apply epoxy, clamp with bar clamp.

After allowing two full days for the epoxy to harden, file smooth for fit (rat-tail file.) Now pound in the studs for a friction-fit.

Step 6: Reshape the Pickguard

This 'strat' shape won't fit on a Peavey, so the pickguard needed shaping with a hi-speed grinding tool. I used a Dremel tool for the job.

Most of the pickguard mounting holes (in the body) needed filling. I used bamboo skewers, fixed with wood glue. When dry, sand flush to body.

The new holes in the pickguard itself were made by first drilling a pilot hole of the correct diameter, then creating the conical shape with a counter-sinking bit. Do the drilling by hand--it's less likely to damage the instrument.

Step 7: Dismantle Guitar for Painting

The guitar had been partially refinished. Most, but not all the finish was sanded off. It had been sealed, at least twice (on the second coat the bridge & jack plate had been left on!) The 'blonde' finish is nice, but the laminates had been sanded through in several places, so the effect was not ideal. Better to repaint.

All hardware, neck, etc. must be removed before painting.

The 'refinishing' done by previous owner:
(new pickguard in place for fitting/testing)

Step 8: Painting Prep

Shaping
Due to defects in the previous finish, parts of the guitar needed shaping and smoothing. A combination of sander, sandpapering by hand and filing did the trick.

Initial sanding
At this point a sanding sealer should be used. Since the guitar had been clear-polyurethaned at least twice, I skipped this. Pits and dings can be filled with a wood filler.

Use progressively finer grades of sandpaper, up to 400 grit for the sanding stage. A vibrating or orbital sander is handy.

Step 9: Painting

Volumes could be written regarding painting guitars (and have been written.) We'll keep it simple.

Use a mask when painting, especially indoors.

Painting
For my needs, a fast-drying acrylic from a spray can works fine. If this were a $10000 collector's item, then a compressor/gun/lacquer would be a must.

--First, hang the body from the hole drilled within the neck mounting section (that's why it's there.) Make sure the body is clean and free of dust.

--Spray successive coats of color, following the instructions for drying time between coats. Wet sand once some density is built-up. 4 or 5 coats should be enough.

--Follow the color with a couple coats of clear.

Finish sanding
When working at this stage, always lay the body on a few layers of cloth--old towels work well. It helps keep the work stationary, and prevents scratching the underside.

--Now wet sand, starting with 400 grit up through at least 800 grit paper. Wipe often with a clean damp rag and check your progress. Be especially careful on edges and corners, as it's easy to sand through the paint.

--If you do sand through, it's necessary to touch up the error by hand, wet sand, apply clear and sand again. But that's lots of extra time/work. Try a light touch on edges!

Rubbing out
Use a rubbing compound to restore the gloss which the wet sanding has dulled. There are many types, I used an automotive compound. 'Crest' toothpaste can be used as a finish compound.

Step 10: About Pickups

The 'new' pickguard came fully loaded with three pickups--but not really good ones.

No matter. If the guitar sounds halfway-decent and plays well, the pickups can always be upgraded. (Cheap pickups usually sound a bit thinner, with more treble. Well, since that's quite different from my Gibson, it's cool with me. If you're a veteran de-'Fender' then you might hate the sound.)

To quickly compare good vs. not-so-good single-coil pickups:

Better pickups generally have more coil winds, which result in more power and a somewhat mellower sound. Most use cylindrical Alnico magnets as posts.

Cheaper pickups have fewer winds, and have a thinner and somewhat more harsh tone. But there is more treble from the skimpier coil. A pair of cheaper (but strong) ceramic bar magnets are used to magnetize the steel posts. (not all pickups with the ceramic bar pair are cheap, however.)

Whatever--if you don't change strings every three weeks you probably can't tell the difference...once you filter and amplify.

I had one 'vintage' single-coil from the mid 70's, and tried it in the guitar. Unfortunately the impedances weren't well-matched for the phasing mix, so I reverted back to to the newer pickup.

Step 11: Shielding and Wiring

Most guitars, especially those with single-coil pickups need additional shielding to prevent noise & hum. Factory shielding just doesn't cut it.

Shielding Basics

--Remove the existing wiring, knobs, etc. Be sure to save all the parts.

--Cover the backside of the pickguard with foil. Use spray-mount glue, and heavy-duty aluminum or copper foil.

--Same with the routed cavities of the guitar body. Spray-mount could work here, but rubber cement is easier to control. The bridge/string ground can be attached directly to the foil with a screw--so it won't need to be desoldered every time the pickguard is removed.

--Separate the shield ground from the main ground. Connect to main ground at only one point (to remove any ground loops.)

Here's a great link describing shielding in detail: www.guitarnuts.com . This includes wiring for standard 'Strat' 3-pickup setup, and was my reference. Be sure to pay special attention to the sections on electric shock!

Wiring

Take several photos of the existing wiring BEFORE beginning. If you screw it up, you can always start from scratch.

One tip: once the wiring is done, tidy up the jumble with those little plastic zipties. Not only makes it less confusing, but seems to help the noise ratio (maybe my imagination; or could it work like a 'twisted pair' cable?)

Every guitar has a different wiring schema, so best not go into detail on actual connections. Here are a couple links with wiring options:
Acme Guitar Works
Craig's Guitartech Wiring
GuitarElectronics Strat diagrams

Step 12: Reassemble

Put it all back together; in some order such as:

--Reattach the neck. Begin by advancing screws partway for alignment, then clamp the assembly together (backplate, body & neck), firmly but gently so no gap forms between body & neck. Tighten screws.

--Solder output jack to electrics on pickguard.

--Install pickguard.

--Reinstall bridge at posts. Flip it over and insert the tremolo springs. I prefer 3 minimum, 4 is better.

--Add the knobs, etc you removed when shielding the pickguard.

Step 13: Replace Missing String Guide

The high 'E' string kept popping out of the nut when bending notes. Replacing the 'String Guide' solved the problem.

I left the second guide off. Guitar techs advise not to use it, if it's not causing problems. If you're aggressive with the 'whammy bar,' it might be helpful.

Step 14: Scope the Results

Stand back, and take it in...

This still needs some guitar polish, new strings and a bit of tweaking.

Step 15: Play It!

Well, what else would you do?

Here's a little noodling:


Note: this is played through an old 'Decca' solid-state practice amp--no filtering, at half-volume, and recorded with a consumer digital camera. So this is the worst-case scenario for the sound...

(shame: still has the original 'snowstorm' rusty strings in this video. They'll be the first things to go...)

And still needs a backplate/cover (over the exposed tremolo spring cutout.)

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    198 Comments

    Oh come on now, if one of us "Gibson men" really wanted that single coil sound we could sell one of our Gibsons and be able to afford 10 Fenders. :) There are valid reasons why Jimi smashed all of them strats on stage you know?

    19 replies

    Cool, a Ford vs. Chevy argument, I love those. I actually play my Les Paul very little these days. It's always seemed more of a balls-out rock guitar, not so great for more subtle things... But that may be more of an "amp thing" than a "guitar thing" (although few would admit it.)

    Who's arguing? Gibsons are typically more valuable than Fenders. That is a simple market fact. Like what you play matters. B. B. King seems to manage with his Gibson:

    http://www.worldblues.com/bbking/prairie/lucille.html

    I don't think Jimi Hendrix was ever driven to smash any of his Gibsons either ;) He used a Les Paul to play Little Wing among other things. I guess he just liked the Strats to smash.

    But then again maybe you are onto something about Gibsons and rock:

    http://www.guitarsite.com/news/images/artists/Jimmy_Page_metal.jpg

    He is after all Mr. Rock and Roll.

    He may have figured out your coil issues too:

    http://www.higgs.com/images/guitars/page-schematic-sm.jpg

    gibson'a are good but like the best company is paul reed smith

    Never heard of them. Best is highly subjective. Something tells me I wouldn't pick one of those over select Gibsons.

    Why would I have ever heard of some rinky dink guitar making outfit? I'm sure more people want my guitar than any of theirs:

    http://img214.imageshack.us/img214/9188/guitard.jpg

    So I'm good.

    You are truly missing out on something special if you haven't tried PRS Mr Gibson. BTW i do love gibson and fender aswell

    first of all thats probably an old model witch isprobably vintage, second of all PRS takes more time and effort in making their instruments and the quality of parts than gibson does.and third of allthey also setup their guitars at the factory, which Gibson and Fender don't do, which requires you to spend an extra $50 to have the guitar tech do it

    I suppose my guitar is a vintage model with upgraded components. I really like the DiMarzio Super Distortion Pickup I put in the lead position (no mods were done to the guitar itself though I did have to fabricate a custom bracket to mount it). Hot hot hot! I got it with the gold Grover tuners on it. Oh I made the head nut, I did that so long ago I almost forgot. I still have the originals kicking around someplace, I see them from time to time. Something tells me the mini bridge on it isn't the original either, but I'm not sure. Again it came with it when I bought the instrument used.

    With my tool and skill set unless it involves human surgery I'm really not required to do much of anything today that I cannot do for myself. Guitar tech, don't make me laugh! I do all my own tech:

    http://img412.imageshack.us/img412/7867/testout.jpg

    "Blackie", a mongrel Strat built out of the best parts of 6 Strats Clapton bought in 1970, just sold last year for a shade under $1 million. Maybe you should fall off the Gibby high horse and open your eyes and ears. I'm starting to wonder if you even own a real Gibby. You really sound ignorant when it comes to instruments. I love my 81 LP Standard, but my 92 Strat is just as nice in other areas. PRS can be just as nice and lately the quality at Gibson hasn't been up to par with the price tags, just better than what Norlin was churning out in the 70s.

    Maybe it was who owned the parts of that Strat that made it worth anything? Maybe the quality of Gibson today has no effect on my vintage one? Maybe I don't care what you think?

    I heard it was a 'spiritual detachment from possessions' thing with Jimi. He said you have to 'sacrifice the things you love' so he set fire to his fav guitar.... apparently.

    Yeah well, when you're getting all of the equipment that you want for free, you don't have to be too concerned about it I guess. You don't think Jimi was paying for his guitars do you? Because he wasn't! Marshall built special amplifiers for Jimi too. They rigged them so they only went up to 7, along with some other modifications, like using silver solder in them exclusively. The 7 thing was because Jimi just cranked amps up all of the way. Even Marshalls can fail if you do that all of the time. That looks bad when it happens on stage too. Companies give artists like Jimi all of that equipment for free because that is what sells equipment.

    People are still buying strats today because Jimi played one. So it is a good investment. I bet if the true percentage of how many were influenced to buy a strat because Jimi played one was known it would be a staggering amount. 9 out of 10 would not surprise me.

    I should add that the one bit of kit that Jimi did spend his personal money on was effects. He was known to go to Mannys and buy whatever struck his fancy at the time. Although a lot of Jimi's effects were later modified specifically for him too. Rodger Mayer is famous for having done that.

    There's nothing I hate more than a "Macs are better than PC" or "PCs rule!" thread. I'm sure Fender fans could find just as many examples to show their love, too... I've owned my Les Paul Custom now for 35 years. I don't need to justify that by looking down on other perfectly decent guitars.

    Well then stop doing it then because I never said it is because they're better. Just that you can typically get several Fenders for what one Gibson is worth is all. I can agree with you with the Macs are better than PCs hating there. Macs suck! Oh yeah and if your Gibson is so lousy I bet you can pawn it today for a few bucks. I wish I'd have sold my SG now last year. I could probably buy 3 today for what I could have gotten for it then!

    Have a nice day.