Guitarhacking

Handmade Fender style 'casters

Fingerstyle!

I’ve started trying to learn how to play fingerstyle guitar. Fingerstyle is a technique in which the high strings are plucked by the first three fingers and the thumb plays the bass line on the lower strings. The aspect of this technique which I find interesting is that  it allows playing the melody and the bass line simultaneously. Very competent musicians can also add in rhythm parts: playing rhythym, bass, and melody all at once. Here’s an extreme example – a video of Justin Johnson playing a three string guitar:

Although fingerstyle is often played on an acoustic guitar, I have also been trying some exercises out on an electric rig and what I find is that the pickups get in the way of my fingers! On a Strat, there are too many pickups and they are too close together. Somehow, Mark Knopfler doesn’t have the same problem although that might be because he is one of the best and most under-rated fingerstyle guitarists of all time!

And on a Tele, I find the front pickup also gets in my way. Therefore, I have decided to build a guitar specifically for my own style of fingerstyle – a telecaster with a bridge pickup and no neck pickup, to provide the maximum amount of room for fingers to pluck. Kind of like a Fender Esquire.

The next question to answer: with only one pickup, which one to choose? I found a very interesting choice in the Seymour Duncan P-Rails. This is a P-90 and a rail-style single coil combined into a package the size of a standard trembucker which allows switching between either the P-90, the rail single coil, or both in various combinations. This is what the pickup looks like:

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And here is the “Triple Shot” mounting ring, with switches that control the pickup selection. Options include serial humbucker, parallel humbucker and various others, depending on how everything is wired.

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Going with a single pickup means custom wiring so that is the next step – drawing a wiring diagram. In this diagram, I have assumed the P-Rails leads (white, black, red, green, bare) are all connected to the color coded pads on the Triple Shot mounting ring. So all I need to do is to treat the P-Rails/mounting ring as a single pickup and then use the leads coming off the mounting ring. Here we go:

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In the neck department, I ordered from Warmoth and it’s a special neck. They displayed it in their showcase and it caught my eye because it had no dot inlays in the fretboard. At first this seemed a little odd to me but it is a cleaner look, it shows off the wood fretboard, and there are smaller dots on the side of the neck facing the player. I’m hoping I won’t have too much trouble getting used to this. Here is the neck.

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And here is a close up of the Ziricote fretboard, unadorned by inlays.

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The body is made of mahogany with a Black Korina veneer and a satin (not glossy) finish.

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Here is the rear-routed mahogany body:

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Before I can assemble this guitar, I need to find some potentiometers for the volume and tone controls, which have an extra long shaft. The standard CTS pot shaft doesn’t extend far enough when passing through the mahogany body and the korina veneer.

The long-shaft pots have arrived from Stewart MacDonald and it’s now time to start assembly of my fingerstyle inspired Telecaster.

So next it’s the triple shot  – soldering the P-Rail leads to the Triple Shot connector pad then drilling holes for the mounting ring and installing the whole thing.

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Next step is to attach the bridge, first running the ground wire through the angled hole on the right side in the pic above. Then solder the components according to the wiring diagram. In the picture below, you can see the black cable from the Triple Shot on the far right, connecting to ground and to the first lead on the volume pot. The other black leads are the bridge ground and the plug jack ground. The orange capacitor connecting the volume and tone pots is part of the RC circuit implementing a tone control. Why is there a giant section cut out of the mahogany body in front of the volume pot? I don’t know.

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When I started to prepare the neck, the first thing I noticed is that the neck machine head holes are not the correct size. They are supposed to be drilled at 25/64 of an inch, which is 0.390 inches. My caliper says they are 0.365 inches in diameter. The tuning machine posts appear to measure 0.385 inches. Since there does not appear to be a straightforward fractional size size which corresponds to 0.365 inches (24/64ths being bigger and 23/64ths being smaller) my working assumption is that the holes were drilled to 25/64ths and then 0.01 inches was added around the interior of the hole from the satin finish. Sanding it out is a pain so I re-drilled the holes with a 25/64 bit.

To install the Schaller tuning machines, I am trying a new technique. I bought a small jig from Stewart MacDonald which is meant to help align the drill when drilling the pin holes for the tuning machines. Here is a shot of the jig and a Schaller locking tuner so you can see the extra pin.

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You bolt the jig into a hole and drill through the top. Here is the jog aligned for the first drill. The jig supports various geometries but Schaller tuners are drilled in the singleton hole immediately above the three holes. I am using the front of the jig to align the jig with respect to the neck.

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Now the tuning machines are easily installed using a 10mm wrench, 3 long ones on E, A, D and 3 shorter ones on G, B, e.

After bolting on the neck, I installed the low E string and it was immediately apparent I would need to shim the neck – the string was way too close to the frets. I won’t write about shimming the neck, I’ve described that here and here.

After shimming the neck and bolting back on, the basic neck setup is straightforward and I’ve described it before. Which gets me here.

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Now for some fine tuning. One of the things I noticed was that the tone control doesn’t really have as much effect as I would like. I swapped caps, installing a 0.022 uF capacitor instead of the 0.047 uF and that helped a bit.

But my early impressions of the P-Rails pickup are not super excellent. Dirty, it sounds great but clean, all the settings seem a little light in treble. And furthermore, there isn’t a dramatic difference between the 4 settings.  I think I will need to pull out the pickup and double check the connections from the P-Rails to the Triple Shot, just to make sure I haven’t screwed anything up there. For now though, the neck seems very playable and it turned out very nicely – I don’t detect any fret buzz. Onwards.

Edit: I pulled the P-Rails and cannot find a problem yet I continue to be unhappy with the P-Rails sound and I am slightly annoyed because switching pickups is clumsy with the tiny (and cryptic) switches, so I have decided to get rid of this goofy system and to swap in a Seymour Duncan JB Trembucker, instead of the P-Rails.

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I also tried one more attempt at fancy pickup control. The JB has the ability to isolate one of the single coil pickups from the humbucker. I have modified the tone control so it no longer functions as a tone control but instead, moving the tone control adjusts the pickup source. At full tone, this is a SD JB humbucker. At zero tone, it is one single coil of the humbucker. In between, heaven only knows what is happening 🙂  The Seymour Duncan web site refers to this as a ‘Spin-a-Split’. So far this appears to sound better to me than the P-Rails and is less complex.

Rereading this, I don’t think what I am saying in the above text is obvious nor is it clear how this works, so let me try to explain. To explain, I’ll first refer back to my original post on humbucking pickups. From this post one can see that humbucking pickups are no more than two single coils of wire wrapped around magnets in specific orientations. So it should be possible to deactivate one of those pickups and have a resulting single-coil sound, which is the style of pickup (and sound) favored by Stratocasters and traditional Telecasters.

To explain what I did using the tone control, let’s start by looking at a schematic of the pickup with the tone knob in one position and another schematic in the other extreme position.

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In the bottom configuration, the electric signal generated by the two inductive coils flows in a loop, leaving the top section of the ‘jack’, flowing through the amplifier, and then back into the bottom part of the jack, then to ground. No signal flows through the 500 k Ohm variable resistor, or ‘pot’ because the signal takes the path of least resistance. This configuration operates as a humbucker.

Constrast this with the top configuration in which the signal from one of the coils is basically shorted directly to ground as the variable resistor is set to provide zero ohms of resistance. This configuration operates as a single coil pickup.

So all I needed to do was to use the tone control as my variable resistor. Luckily the Seymour Dunction JB Trembucker provides a wire tap from between the two coils, just for this purpose.

I am happier with this setup because I can easily hear the difference between the two settings and there is less clutter on the guitar, which was intended to be as simple as possible. So for now, I will keep it like this.

Edit #2: I have decided the chrome tuners and the chrome bridge don’t match the look of the guitar so I am changing tuners and bridge to black pieces. Unfortunately the new black tuners require an ever so slightly larger hole so some drilling was necessary. And in so doing, I have destroyed the neck. I don’t know whether the Black Korina wood was too soft or my drill bit was too dull but it tore our big chunks of wood and now I need to replace the neck.

After replacing the neck, the tuners, and the bridge, here is where we are now.

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Ciao.

Categories: guitar #7

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2 replies

  1. Front dots are obviously useful from the seated position (if one is hunched over the guitar), but they’re much harder to use while standing (hence the side dots), and this makes me wonder why front dots are so popular, as it could be argued that people should only use the side dots, for uniformity? Finally, I believe that a classical guitar will have no more than one [side] dot, but usually zero (?), so I think that you’re set. 😄

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