Guitar Project #4: Shergold Custom Masquerader 12 string (part 2)

After finishing this guitar I am sure I made one of the best guitar deals in my life. Considering what I spend on the Shergold plus repairs, it was a great bargain. Although she’s not much of looker, no offense meant of course, it is a great to play electric 12 string.

Another quick recap; I bought this Masquerader 12 string on a local Craigslist-style site. It was strung as a lefty, the electronics weren’t working properly, a piece of neck binding was missing and the paint was likely stripped at one point in the past. Definitely not in the best shape and I had my doubts about the guitar when I made an appointment with the seller. I knew these 12 string Shergolds were really rare, so even if I didn’t bond with it I could always sell it quite easily. My expectations were met above and beyond. At first I couldn’t really play the Shergold since it strung in reverse, but I noticed the neck was super comfortable nonetheless.

After I bought the guitar I restrung it and cleaned the fretboard. Besides the obvious improvement in playability the string tension was also a lot better. Previously the thinner octave strings were strung through the body because of the left-handiness. With the thicker strings strung through the body the strings sound a lot fuller when played acoustically.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The electronics and the missing binding were fixed by a local luthier. He did a great job and apparently the electronics were quite fiddly. The soldering contacts on the pickups are small and finicky to re-solder. After I got the Shergold back I adjusted and intonated the bridge which was also a bit troublesome considering the bridge design and the extra set of strings to intonate. It was all worth the effort though, it transformed the guitar into one of the best electric 12 strings I’ve ever played!

I do have some complaints now that the Shergold is finished. It has some neck dive due to weight at the headstock and the light obeche body which doesn’t really compensate this. The neck pickup is also a bit woofy for my taste, but this can be tamed with some clever EQ’ing. I mostly use a combination of the bridge and neck pickup or just the bridge pickup anyway when amplified. In the future I may want to refinish it. The all-natural look is pretty nice though, just the backside is not that appealing with the different bridge routes clearly visible. I still need to find a switch knob since the original one is long gone. A Tele or Strat switch knob would probably not fit, so I’ll be on the lookout for Shergold parts.

After this project I’m curious how other Shergold (6 string) guitars and basses play and sound in comparison. They’re definitely quality-made instruments. Too bad you don’t come across them that often over here.

Another one of the list; next up the Ibanez Ripper bass! The Ripper is now at a luthier who is (trying) to install the electronics for this bass. I told him to take his time, plus he was busy himself with other repairs, so it might take a month (or two) before you hear from me again.

Advertisements

Bass Project #2: Squier Bass VI (part 2)

And we’re back! I finished this bass awhile back, but I forgot to update the blog. Or I’m just a lazy writer, take a pick.

Quick recap, I bought this Squier Bass VI a couple of months ago and while it was decently setup and hardware was more than OK for a medium-priced Squier, I decided to upgrade some of the parts. Recommendation for all (future) Bass VI owners; swap the stock strings as fast as possible. They don’t sound terrible or anything, the string gauges are just too thin to be playable. I replaced these with LaBella flatwound strings made specifically for Bass VI’s. What a difference, and not just from the switch roundwounds to flats! The low strings don’t buzz due to the lack of tension, which made the old strings worthless in my opinion. I’m still befuddled Fender (and D’Addario) supplies that set on any VI.

Other mods I did was replacing the bridge, tailpiece and part of the electronics. Not really necessary if you also happen to buy a really good specimen from Squier like I did, but I’d still recommend it if you have some extra cash to spend. From what I’ve read most Squier VI’s won’t intonate properly because of the small width of the Jaguar/Jazzmaster-style bridges, the original VI’s had much wider bridges. If you’re on a budget you can flip the bridge around, which will allow you to intonate the strings correctly. By some divine miracle mine had spot-on intonation with the stock bridge. I had already ordered a Staytrem replacement, so I swapped the bridges anyhow. The Staytrem looks a lot better as well and is not as finicky as the stock bridge saddles.

The AVRI tailpiece was also more of a vanity addition. Although you can’t ‘lock’ the stock tailpieces on these Squier VI’s, if maintained and adjusted accordingly (plus getting those thicker strings!) they stay in-tune surprisingly well. Lastly, I replaced the stock Alpha pots with ones from CTS and upgraded the jack to a Switchcraft. These pots are quite a bit larger than the Alphas, you have to position them very precisely as to fit in the control cavity without needing extra routing. The holes on the control plate have to be drilled a little bigger as well, since the shaft on CTS pots is wider.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This Bass VI is the first Squier I bought brand-new from a store, after playing several duds which just didn’t play and feel right. I got really lucky with this one I guess, it really inspires me to play and make new music and sounds. The added upgrades were worth it and a big improvement to an already exemplary instrument. Try one out if you haven’t, these basses are a nifty, unique tool for most guitar- or bass-players looking to expand their musical horizon.

What’s next? The Shergold 12 string is also done, more on that in the next blog, and the Ibanez is on its way to a luthier, who can hopefully finish the electronics with the limited amount of space available. I’m very curious about the end result.

Guitar Project #4: Shergold Custom Masquerader 12 string (part 1)

I have always had a soft spot for Shergold guitars and basses. Something about these bespoke guitars, with their quirky headstock, hardware and Blackletter font, intrigues me to no end. Guitars like this simply aren’t build anymore. Their sound is strictly their own, complimented with the often elaborate electronic switching features. Although I had never played one IRL, when I got the chance to buy one for cheap I had to at least try it.

This Shergold wasn’t in great condition, but for the price I paid I would have been crazy not to pull the trigger. I had been looking for a good 12 string electric which, like the Shergold brand, are a rarity themselves. Coincidentally, I happened to find this Masquerader 12 string. I knew how rare the 12 string model was in and of itself, and to my amazement I was the first person to arrange a pickup with the seller. Not hassling down the price any further was likely the reason I got the upper hand.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As you can see in the pictures it has been modded and is not in the best of shape altogether. The finish was stripped at some point and a string-thru bridge added. At some point prior someone must have experimented with different bridges suggested by the two separate routs in the back of the body. Although the stripped finish doesn’t conceal any of these mods I do quite like the current bridge design. Lastly, a strip of binding on the first three frets is missing and the electronics need a checkup.

One weird thing I did notice is that it’s missing the two lower toggle switches for splitting/phasing the humbucker pickups. Besides the knobs being non-original, the control plate seems to be stock. If this was a custom ordered or a temporary lack of parts at the factory I have no idea.

How does she play? I didn’t really know what to expect, but whatever expectation I could have had would’ve been shattered. This is the perfect 12 string for me! The neck feels great, as do the contours of the body. The body is made from obeche, a very light hardwood from Africa, keeping the weight to a minimum. Besides the electronics that aren’t fully functional most of the time, I have yet to find any real complaints otherwise. Acoustically the strings ring full and its a joy just to play without an amp, which admittedly, I do most of the time anyway while practicing.

At the moment the binding and electronics are being professionally fixed, can’t wait to get it back in my hands when it’s all done. I am thinking of refinishing the 12 string at some point. The natural look is nice though, but there is no way of hiding the bridge routs in that case. If I would ever change the finish it would be one of factory colors, perhaps black or white, maybe cherry. For now I’m happy as-is.

As always, some (small) updates on the remaining two projects; I need to replace part of the electronics of the Bass VI and its done. I am lazy, so please excuse the long wait. I do want to record with that bass. The other bass, the leftovers to what was once an Ibanez Ripper, will hopefully be in the final stage of completion after I get the Shergold back from repairs. Finger crossed…

Guitar Project #2: Fender ‘Billy Corgan’ tribute Stratocaster (part 2)

Let’s start by saying I have a habit of underestimating the time it takes to finish a certain project, and not just guitars. It only took me another 10 months or so to finish this one. :/ Luckily finding a neck for this Strat wasn’t such a big endeavor as the Ronald Jones Jaguar, however the refinishing and rewiring took a lot longer than expected. Although, I did finish the guitar two weeks ago, so I could have been quicker if wasn’t such a procrastinator.

Quick recap; I had the idea for a Corgan-inspired Stratocaster for quite a while. The Fender signature guitar would have been a nice alternative, but why make it so simple? Also the DiMarzio’s weren’t really authentic enough compared to the original 90s Smashing Pumpkins lineup of guitars. Although I really like those pickups, I’m not gonna swap them for Lace Sensors on $1000+ signature guitar.

Originally I had bought a ‘set’ of late 80s Lace Sensors, with a Dually Red humbucker in the bridge position. Not really what Corgan used back then but I figured it was a tribute, so what. After coming across a Fender Duo-Sonic (check out the blog on that one) I used 2 of the Lace Sensors to add to that guitar. I wasn’t pickup-less for long as I found an original Red-Silver-Blue Lace set from the early 90s, just as the man himself used. Because of this I could also change the pickguard. I had bought a Black Pearl HSS guard to fit the Dually Red humbucker. Not really enamored with this color from the start I opted for a simple white SSS pickguard.

The final ingredient was the neck. Luck turned in my favor as I found an early 90s American Std. Fender Stratocaster for cheap. I’m not an expert on the exact specifications of different models from Fender from this era, but this particular neck is a strange hybrid it seems. The tuners and string trees are non-original and the neck has 22 frets which was standard back then. The weird thing is that the fretboard is curved at a 7.25″ radius. I am used to this radius as this is the same radius found on old Mustangs, Jaguars and most other vintage Fenders till the late 70s/early 80s. As far as I’m aware Fender didn’t use this radius much after that period, only more recently on certain reissues. I could be wrong though, I would be interested to hear someone with more knowledge on 80s/90s Fender to fill me in!

The reason it took longer to finish this guitar was because of the finish (pun intended). I had to sand the body down to remove the previous lacquer which was one of the ugliest sunbursts I have seen. I knew a guy who could refinish it for free (minus the cost of the paint). He was pretty busy with other things and I should have brought it to him earlier. More my fault than his, but it’s done and he did a lovely job so I’m not complaining. The body is finished in nitrocellulose clear coat, followed by a few layers of vintage tint and more clear coat. I wanted to keep the nice grain of the ash body visible but give it that vintage 70s amber-like clear tint. I’m really pleased with the end result.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How does she sound? You can get pretty close to the classic Corgan tone. I am no virtuoso on guitar but with my favorite distortion/fuzz pedal I’m as close as I’ll ever get. Maybe I should get some floral paisley shirts to match the rest of the Corgan outfit haha. It also excels at its clean tones and takes modulation effects like a champ. I noticed a very Adrian Belew-esque tonal quality to these Lace Sensors, very responsive to your picking. I installed a CTS Blender pot instead of the second tone pot in order to blend in different pickups, like the neck and bridge pickup for that in-between Tele sound or all pickups at once. I’m really glad I chose this instead of a useless second tone knob, it adds a lot of extra versatility.

Glad I can finally take this one of my list of projects, but it was worth the wait. Let’s see what’s next on the menu… The Bass VI is almost done, I have all the parts to finish upgrading the bass. It wasn’t a big endeavor to begin with, so it should be done in the next few weeks. Same applies for the Ibanez (ripped-up) Ripper, although more long term probably. I have found a second mudbucker and all the other parts are in as well, I just have to figure out how I can fit the electronics in this bass with such limited space available. Any ideas/suggestions are more than welcome!

One project finishes, yet another starts; recently I bought a quite rare Shergold Masquerader 12 string electric from the late 70s for cheap. I’ll be tackling that one in the next blog soon, so stick around. I’m also going to start a new segment called ‘Guest Guitars’ as a companion to ‘The Low End’, in which I’ll discuss a weird or rare guitar model. Or maybe highlight a specific interesting guitar me or someone else owns. We’ll were this format goes, I do have a particular guitar lined up for part one.

Bass Project #2: Squier Bass VI (part 1)

I’m sorry for the long absence between the last couple of blogs. I have been busy with quite a few things besides guitars and making music. I’m trying to organize a lot of my unfinished projects, getting the parts necessary and finally getting around to finishing them. It doesn’t help that I also suffer from GAS-syndrome, which is why this current bass entered my life.

Being a fan of weird guitars and basses I am always looking out for the next instrument to tickle my fancy. The Fender Bass VI has been on my watch list for quite some time. Being a fan of both the Cure and Cream I always wanted to own one. Also the allure of a 6 string bass with a tremolo ticked all the right boxes in my head. A few years back the only way of getting one was finding an original VI from the 60s/70s or ordering one from the Custom Shop. This was even before Fender Japan started making reissues I believe, although I am not an expert on Japan’s domestic guitar catalog. Needless to say that was way above anything I could afford at the time and even now I wouldn’t want to shill out that kind money. There were alternatives like the Fender Bottom Master and Baritone Custom, but these were also quite expensive and not even really reissues of the original VI’s.

Besides the Japanese reissues, which weren’t really available in Europe at the time, Fender introduced the Mexican-made Pawn Shop Bass VI and the Squier VM Bass VI (made in Indonesia) a few years back. Although I really liked the Candy Apple Red Pawn Shop version it was missing the crucial switching system like the originals, replacing it with a 5-way Strat switch. I tried out 2 sunburst Squiers at different shops but both were quite disappointing. I might have bought a Pawn Shop one but most shops didn’t stock them at the time and when I finally wanted to really try one they were discontinued.

Fast-forward to the present and I developed a serious itch from that infectious GAS-syndrome. Most shops here seemed to have stopped stocking the Squier version, at least the black VI was nowhere to be found and the stores that had VI’s were all in sunburst finishes. My guess is the recent CITES concerning rosewood-use on guitars means Fender is replacing the entire Squier line, Mexican- and part of their USA-built instruments with different fretboard materials and the last rosewood models are being sold off before final replacement. Anyway, I preferred Olympic White over sunburst and I was able to find a shop which had a few left in stock. Luckily it also played better than the previous two I had tried out, so I happily bought it. I am really impressed by the build quality for the price, even though there are definitely significant flaws warranting a fix. After a few days I was adjusted to the smaller string spacing and using the bass with fingerstyle is no problem. It makes a fine bass on its own without the chordal options. The pickup options are also really nice, so far I’m glad I chose this over a Pawn Shop VI.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s not a project without any mods, so what am I going to be changing out on bass? First and foremost; the strings. Not a mod of course, but words can not describe how much I hate these stock strings. I really don’t know why Fender/Squier ever opted for a string set with such a thin low E string. The instrument is completely unplayable in my opinion. The rest of strings are fine, the A string maybe a bit to thin as well. Fretting anywhere on the E is almost impossible without bending it out of tune or hitting it hard without a lot of fret buzz. I haven’t settled on flats or rounds, I’ll be buying La Bella’s either way.

The real ‘mods’ are replacing the cheaper parts with higher quality ones to make it a better instrument overall, such as an AVRI tailpiece (for the locking function mostly) and a Staytrem bridge as well as CTS pots. I might also change the pickguard. I am a stickler for nice tortoise-shell pickguards but a Spitfire guard isn’t cheap and I don’t want to be spending more on this bass than the actual price I bought it for. We’ll see!

This project won’t take as long as it is just ordering the different parts and replacing them. I’m not in a hurry anyway although I would like to record and play with this bass when it is all done and setup properly. I still have 2 projects I also want to finish soon. The Billy Corgan Stratocaster is almost done. I know, I said the same thing the last time… Besides some minor polishing of the lacquer, it is only a matter of soldering the electronics and screwing everything together. Fingers crossed. 🙂 The Ibanez bass is on the back burner for now. I have found a mudbucker from a 70s Japanese EB-0 copy with its pots and wiring. All I need is second pickup and a custom pickguard to fit this weird bass.

Bass Project #1: Ibanez 2452DX / Ripper copy (part 1)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s… wait. What is that?!

Ever wonder what the ‘ugliest’ guitar mod is you’ve ever seen? I think this bass will be quite high on that list… I’m still boggled and confused what happened to this poor instrument, since it seems so random and some parts seem to have been done by a professional while others seem to be more the result of some kind of industrial accident. Pictures of this transformation are down below, it goes good to worse.

The backstory: I was browsing the local ‘Craigslist’ and came across an ad for the weirdest looking bass with a matching title that was pretty on the noose: Ibanez Pole Bass (or Stick, depends which translation you prefer). The seller described the bass as “Ibanez Ripper lawsuit copy with structural weight reduction”, especially that last part made me grin. This mutilated bass looked like something Devo would have used live in the 70s. Being quite intrigued I contacted the seller and the price was so low I just had to have it! I was afraid this ‘Ibanez’ might not be constructionally sound after its weight-loss. The seller guaranteed me it was solid so I picked it up.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What is the situation? Well the bass is still built like a tank, the neck has a very nice profile and surprisingly the play-ability and sustain of this instrument is still pretty good. Neck dive is off the chart though. The action is a bit high in places and the D-string is buzzing around the 12th fret but nothing that can’t be adjusted for. What puzzles me most is the Ibanez was converted to a fretless bass, the fretboard being completed replaced by a newer ebony board, which was done professionally (at least to my eyes) but the body seems to be mangled by an amateur with a hack saw. The treble side and headstock for sure, the bass side is done fairly nice actually. The seller told me the bass was his brothers who got it for free in the early 90s (figures…). He had it converted to a fretless but it eventually ended up in this state. No idea what the exact timeline of abuse this bass suffered is but it must be quite a story.

Apart from the hack job it is missing all of its electronics, besides a lone ground-wire from the bridge. Originally these Ibanez Ripper copies came with a set of chrome ‘mudbuckers’ like those found in Gibson EB-0, -2 and -3’s. The two-point bridge design appears to have also been lifted from these same models, unlike the three-point bridges on ‘real’ Rippers. The pickup routes are large enough to fit almost anything but that leads me to the final question: what am I going to do with this bass?

I’m not quite sure yet. I bought it not expecting much but there is certainly much potential coming off this bass. The Devo vibe is also to good to be true, where is the rest of my new cover band?! I think I’ll start with adding some cheap pickups and electronics just to see what sounds I can get out of this bass before throwing any more money at it. Because of the lack of wood it’ll be quite a challenge adding the necessary pots and switches. Room for an output jack is routed on the lower half but I have no idea if this bass ever had much electronics in its then current state, if any. Suggestions much appreciated!

I’ll update this blog if anything progresses, I’m curious what will become of this strange, lanky bass guitar. Side note; the Billy Corgan Stratocaster will likely be finished in the coming weeks after I find a suitable neck and wire the electronics. Hopefully it won’t last as long as another certain project…

Guitar Project #1: Fender ‘Ronald Jones’ tribute Jaguar (part 2)

At long last! The final part of my first guitar project: the Fender ‘Ronald Jones’ Jaguar. What I thought would take several weeks to complete ended up taking several months…

Quite a bit has happened since I wrote the first part on Ronald’s guitar. After diving into the extended discography of the Flaming Lips I discovered a lot more audio bootlegs and videos with Ronald in the band. Also I finally listened to the ‘Heady Nuggs: 20 Years After Clouds Taste Metallic’ album which was a pleasant aural experience while completing this guitar. Furthermore I found out Ronald continued to play music after the Lips, which was a big surprise. He recorded with Richard Davies, with whom the Lips have performed as backing band as well as touring with Richard and his own band, the Moles. Check out this Lips live performance of them playing a Moles  cover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf7JHKwHqUA Anyway, the album Ronald played on is called ‘Telegraph’. It’s on YouTube in its entirety so check it out. It is really good standalone album, even you factor out the whole Ronald Jones association. Richard Davies has a lot more great albums (like ‘Cardinal’) I noticed, so thanks Ronald for introducing me to his music!

Continuing with the completion of the Jaguar. In the previous installment I didn’t have all the parts and the electronics weren’t wired up yet. Anyways, soldering was a pain and at first it didn’t work and shorted out somewhere. Luckily it only took one attempt at trouble-shooting. The top rhythm controls turned out to not be properly grounded, luckily an extra wire to the bridge ground did the trick. After plugging it in an amp everything seemed to be working OK. Not to shabby for a quite complex circuit like a Jaguar! The vibrato tailpiece is a new AVRI Jaguar/Jazzmaster tremolo. It was pricey but a whole lot better than the cheap Chinese tremolo that was on this guitar before I bought it. The AVRI also has the ability to lock the vibrato spring making it more stable when not in use. The electronics and vibrato were finished a while back as I am writing this blog. A while back meaning early November… The guitar was working but I couldn’t play the damn thing! The neck was the final pieces of the puzzle.

I was going to buy a new Jaguar neck from Stratosphere on eBay. Originally I wanted to find an original Jaguar neck from the 60s or 70s but you can’t really find these locally and prices are too high on sites like eBay. But long story short, it was also quite pricey to get a new one shipped from America to the Netherlands with added shipping and import costs (the dollar is also relatively high to the euro). My quest for a neck therefore began locally. I didn’t find one for a long time which is the reason it took so long for this blog to be updated. The Universe seemed to magically disappear any neck I would find. 3 different Mustang necks from ’65/’66 all slipped through my fingers because of stupid reasons, i.e. the seller not responding to my messages after awhile. Very frustrating when you want to finish the damn guitar! Finally this ’78 Fender Mustang neck came along. Although I was hoping to get a Fender neck from the same year as the  60s pickguard and neck pickup like Ronald’s original Jag(s), I do like these slightly chunkier 70s Mustang necks. It must have been faith because the guy who sold it to me was also named Ronald!

The neck wasn’t complete though. I had to buy new tuners and string guides since both were missing from the neck. These 70s reissue Fender tuners aren’t really like the original chrome Klusons found on Jaguars but adding these meant having to drill new holes on the neck. 60s and 70s Mustang guitars had this same style of tuners but with white plastic buttons on top. At least the added chrome parts with the reissue tuners matches nicely with this Jaguar.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How does she sound? I had to adjust the Jag quite a bit to get it to play comfortable and to match the different pickup outputs. The ‘stock’ Jag neck pickup is loud enough by itself, but the Hot Rails are really high output in comparison. Finding a bit of a balance was essential. I might not go for playing both pickups on at the same time, at least when switching between both I think I have it setup pretty nice now. I haven’t had the chance to play the Jag a lot but she sounds great clean or with overdrive and a ton of effects. I get why Ronald used Jaguars with Hot Rails, you get the best of both worlds with this combination of pickups. The neck is really comfortable to play, very smooth and fast profile. I might want to change the strings to something a bit thicker but I’m satisfied at the moment.

This January I went to a Flaming Lips concert for the first time ever. I was much too young to have seen them live in the 90s, even-so Steven said during the show he didn’t remember the last time they performed in the Netherlands. Probably even before he joined in ’91 or not at all… I’m not the greatest fan of their recent album(s), the show was amazing nonetheless so it didn’t bother me. It were mostly songs from previous albums, although I disliked the Lips didn’t play any songs prior to ‘Soft Bulletin’. Speaking of concerts, Future Heart posted a little backstory of Ronald’s final concert with the band: https://thefutureheart.com/2016/08/25/flaming-lips-ronald-jones-guitar-guitarist-reading-1996/ Interesting read, more-so because they also posted a couple of songs from that last show. Great audio and the performances were stellar from a band that was about to splinter…

Lastly, someone made a ‘short’ documentary on Ronald Jones and his time with the Flaming Lips. It’s nothing officially or anything by the way. Not for everyone I guess but I certainly found it interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kgj2-R5ci8E

Well, I’m so glad I got to finish this guitar after all these months. It has been almost a year since I first had the idea to build this tribute, too bizarre. Thanks Ronald!

(PS: the Billy Corgan Stratocaster is also coming along for any one who was curious what happened to that project! I have also recently acquired a chopped-up Ibanez Ripper bass. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in awhile and that’s an understatement!)