In March, 2016, my good friend and consummate top bloke, Ben Baxter, was talking about an old beaten Kramer guitar that he had stashed somewhere. He asked, despite it’s condition, if I wanted it. I said that I did want it and the more beaten and damaged, the better. A great way to learn is to work on something that is deemed beyond repair. How can you fuck something up that is already fucked? You can’t, so the rebuild began. Here are a few shots of the guitar as I received it.
A basic Strat shape, odd pots and covers, one pickup missing, no saddles in the bridge, rusted pole pieces and pickup selector, no machine heads.
The electronics and components were all wired correctly but my first task was to pull everything out. I wasn’t going to keep any of the existing electronics or components. My first reasoning was that I had already decided to put 2 humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions and so I wanted to replace the existing 250k pots with 500k pots as 250k pots will lose a little of the top end. A good thing with single coils but not so good with humbuckers. I didn’t want a 2nd tone pot but there was a useful 3rd hole in the scratch plate that I was going to keep. I could therefore put something useful in here. Not being a fan of push/pull pots I decided that some sort of switch would go in here to fulfil some, as yet, undecided function. The original electronics from underneath are pictured here.
A short time later I had the neck off and all the electronics and components out. I then unscrewed the bridge posts, which were in excellent condition, and removed the whole bridge and tremolo system. I was stuck for how to finish the guitar. Was I going to re-finish it? Would I do a better job than just cleaning up the existing finish? Then I had an idea from a doodle I’d done many years ago. I’m not very good at drawing, but luckily, the design didn’t require this skill. I thought I’d have a go. I started by thoroughly cleaning everything and then sanding the lacquer off of the body. As you can see from the photo, the body has a white base coat before the blonde colour was put on the top. This was good, as, purposely; I wasn’t too careful when sanding off the lacquer in going through the top colour to reveal the white. It would give a contrasting background to the design that was going to go on top. After removing, cleaning and sanding everything I was left with my base components.
I could then start applying the finish. First in pencil and then going over the pencil in ink. This was going to take a while…
Once both the front and back, the design linking around the sides, was pencilled in; I could begin the inking in of the design. The whole thing took about 5 evenings mostly with Frankie Boyle stand-up and panel show appearances on in the background.
Next, I had to deal with the neck. The frets were in terrible condition as the nickel had oxidised quite severely. Luckily, nickel doesn’t rust and we can remove the oxidised nickel with sand paper and wire wool. The frets are a little dented but I’m going to wait to see if this will be an issue.
Now that most of the aesthetics were complete, or well on the way, I’d been thinking of what I wanted to put in to the guitar. As I said, 2 high quality 500k pots. It’s no good putting cheap components into your guitar. They will fail at the most inappropriate time. You can buy a pot for £1.30 but you’re way better off spending the £5 or £6 on a decent CTS pot. It will last a long long time. This goes for all of the components in your guitar or any other instrument. In the empty hole left by the omittance of a 2nd tone pot I decided to put an On/On switch so that I can flip the phase of the middle pickup. With this in mind, here is the scratch plate with the new volume, tone and phase switch bolted in.
I already had a good 5-way COR-TEX switch so I needed to get some pot covers and pickups. I wanted to keep the scratch plate and I wanted humbuckers for the bridge and neck positions so I began to look at humbucking pickups that would fit a single coil space. After a lot of research I decided on the DiMarzio Supr Distortion for the bridge and the DiMArzio Tone Zone S for the neck position. The Tone Zone is a dark sounding pickup that people usually use in the bridge position. I really want an ultra dark sound in that neck position and so am going to try it out. For the middle I went for the DiMarzio True Velvet, which is a single coil and should sit well between the neck and bridge choices. Wiring the True Velvet through the phase switch should give me some interesting choices.
This brings us to the wiring. After looking at lots of diagrams, finding the DiMarzio, Seymour Duncan and Ibanez sites very helpful, and a couple of mails to DiMarzio, I came up with the below diagram.
As a tip, most of the pickup manufacturers will happily answer your questions on wiring etc. They are very helpful and we’re quite lucky to be in a position where we can directly contact a tech via email, supply diagrams and thoughts and get answers and advice on wiring. I’ve also done this with Neumann when I had a question about a mic repair. They sent me a wiring diagram for the mic annotated with how to get into the mic safely. Have a question, just ask..
The diagram shows you everything you really need to know on switch and pickup configurations.
Above is the scratch plate with the pot covers and pickup switch fitted and with the Tone Zone and True Velvet fitted.
I think the Tone Zone was previously used in the bridge position as the cables were slightly too short once I’d put it in the neck position. This meant extending the cables which is no big deal.
Here are the extended Tone Zone cables in situ.
Fitted new saddles to the bridge, cleaned it all and refitted the bridge and tremolo system.
Next I had to look at fitting machine heads to the headstock. The holes were very small and I had to drill them out to accept better quality machine heads. Steve, at PJ Guitars (who is extremely helpful and where I get my pots and switches) told me that the narrow diameter meant that the guitar was previously fitted with pretty cheap machine heads.
He also gave me another tip of drilling the holes out from the back and only to the depth that would accept the wide part of the machine head. You don’t have to drill all the way through as this increases the chance of splitting the headstock. The threaded part of the machine head will hold it in place.
I also put my drill on the reverse setting so that the bit doesn’t grab hold of the neck and try to spin it as this will also split the headstock. When the guitar is all up and working I’ll probably get better machine heads and fill any unused holes from previous machine heads.
The Super Distortion finally turned up and it took a couple of hours to solder everything up and get the scratch plate back onto the body. I kept the tremolo along with the springs but I don’t want any pull on the term so I cut a block of wood and blocked the tremolo out. Bolted the neck back on and put on some strings. A slight truss rod adjustment and setting the action took another hour or so. I was a little worried about the frets on the neck, they were pretty battered and on getting everything back in there is an issue at the first fret for the A, D and B strings. It may need a re-fret (and a new nut), I’m undecided as yet.
The guitar all works as expected. The Tone Zone in the neck is extremely dark sounding. I wanted it dark but this is bordering on evil. As the old saying goes though, evil hands are happy hands… or something like that.
The phase switch works perfectly and it gives you avery odd sound in positions 2 and 4. I’ll have to think of where to use that sound. Here is the finished guitar.
Next task is to sort out the neck, or more specifically, that first fret. That can be a whole separate blog post though. Thanks to Ben for the donation, Steve at PJ’s Guitars for advice and components and, as Bender would say, “Kill All Humans”.