Ask Charlie...

Roll Your Own? Yes, You Can!

Hello Troubadourians! Have you ever found an instrument that was “almost” perfect, but that one little thing that made it “almost” also made the purchase a non-starter? Yeah, me too. Usually I get around that “almost” scenario by buying custom-spec instruments. Obviously, that can get expensive and it is that expense that has prevented me from acquiring the “special usage” instruments that I have wanted to add to my cadre of usable guitars. I decided to rethink my method (and attitude) and approach this in a way that is somewhat unusual for me. I knew that I needed a more reliable baritone guitar, so I started there and went shopping on the Internet to Dave’s Guitars in La Crosse, Wisconsin (http://davesguitar.com/). I’d purchased one of my PRS guitars there and I know they have tons of guitars and that they are honest. While I was shopping for the best platform to convert to a baritone, I found several other guitars that I liked and so I started thinking about what instruments I would want to have (I’ve wanted a dedicated open-tuning guitar for years), so here’s what I did…

First of all, since I knew I was going to modify every guitar for my needs, I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on the basic instruments. Mexican Fenders are excellent platforms for modifying since they are inexpensive and usually almost as good as the American versions. Where they are deficient are in the parts that I would replace anyway so why spend the extra money?

Baritone: I knew from my initial baritone conversion that I wanted a wider neck – even wider than the custom 1.75″ that I regularly use. Warmoth (http://www.warmoth.com/) makes an extra wide Strat neck that measures 1.875″ so I figured that my baritone 2.0 platform would be a Strat. I found a Blacktop Strat that came stock with two humbuckers. Perfect for a baritone. The guitar is Daphne Blue. Not a normal color for me but I liked the vibe that the guitar had, so I bought it.

Planned modifications: Warmoth extra wide Strat neck – mahogany with an ebony fretboard (no inlays), Clapton neck shape, 6105 stainless steel frets. The headstock is painted Daphne Blue to match the body. The vibrato bridge will be replaced with a Mann-made vibrato bridge like you’d find on a PRS. The electronics will be changed to 1 Volume + 1 Tone + 3-way toggle. The tone control will be in the normal place as the last control, the volume control will be moved down and over, and the pickup selector will be a 3-way toggle like a Gibson and placed linearly between the other two controls. A black pearl pickguard and chrome knobs finish-off the cosmetics

Open-Tuned: I like playing in open tunings such as drop-D, double drop-D, and open G, but I hate retuning my guitar in mid set. I also play slide in an altered tuning with the high-E tuned down to D. When I started engineering my custom string sets where each string had the same tension, I carried that over to the open tunings I use so that I wouldn’t have the detuned strings flopping around. Nothing sounds better for open tunings (in my opinion) than a Tele so I decided that I’d start there for an open-tuned platform. I found an Esquire in a really cool blonde finish with a creme pickguard. Not a Tele but, again, I liked the vibe so I bought it.

Planned modifications: Warmoth Tele neck – one piece quarter-sawn maple, 1.75″ nut, (no inlays), 6105 stainless steel frets, vintage tint. The electronics will be rotated so that the volume control is forward. I’m installing a Lollar J-Street Tele bridge pickup.

I’m going to set it up as a double drop-D tuning, which satisfies all of my altered tuning needs (with a twist of one tuner for open G).

Bad-ass Tele: I miss having a Tele. I love the ’69 Thinline reissues and I found a black one on Dave’s website at the same time I found the other two guitars but I didn’t buy it then. I decided that I’d think about it for a month and if it was still there I’d buy it. One month later it was still there, so I bought it. It had gone down in price by $50 by then.

Planned modifications: Warmoth Tele neck – mahogany with an ebony fretboard (no inlays), Clapton neck shape, 6105 stainless steel frets. The headstock is painted black to match the body. Lollar J-Street Tele Bridge pickup/Lollar Royal-T Neck pickup.

The tone control will be in the normal place as the last control. The volume control will be moved up and the pickup selector will be a 3-way toggle like a Gibson and placed linearly between the other two controls. A tortoise shell pickguard and chrome knobs finish-off the cosmetics

I have period correct decals for the headstocks since the Warmoth necks don’t have decals. Over time and if need be I’ll replace/upgrade the pots, caps, and jacks in addition to changing the switches that are already planned. I’m going to leave the tuners and bridges alone (except for the Strat bridge). I’m not convinced that aftermarket parts are always better and I know that the vintage Fenders that everyone is so in love with the cheapest used parts that they could get away with so I’ll use the stock parts until I know I need to upgrade them.

This is strange territory for me; I’m buying used guitars, I’m buying cheap guitars, I’m buying guitars that don’t have a sunburst finish, and I’m committing to having 60% of my stage guitars be Fenders with bolt-on necks. I’ve always been a set-neck guy and my custom Collings CL will always be my go-to electric, but I’m looking forward to having the options that these three guitars will provide. Two of them are still the mahogany/ebony neck combo that is my favorite but they are different, mostly because of the bolt-on construction but also because they all are the longer 25.5″ scale.

Last, my total investment in these three guitars will be less than $1000 each. The black Tele is the most expensive so far at just over $900, primarily because of the two Lollar pickups. At some point in the future, I’m thinking I’ll create a standard configuration Strat but I don’t really need it – nor want it – just now. BTW, that one will be sunburst…

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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