Category Archives: Guitars

Charvel Model 2 Project PART ONE

New to Phoenix, with the itch to find guitars to work on, I have found one very surprising thing. What you can find on Craigslist in Phoenix is no where near what you can find in St. Louis. Perhaps it’s St. Louis Music/Ampeg being headquartered in STL? Not sure. All I know is I could consistently get my hands on great, cheap vintage and hard-to-find guitars in the midwest. In Phoenix all you get is a bunch of busted Squires and the occasional guy wanting $1000 for his sad-sack-of-shit partscaster. It’s alright buddy, I build them too.

Welp, old JT managed to find himself an awesome group of guys to play music with, and what’s really interesting is we are all in love with New Wave music. I finally get to play Duran Durn, Depeche Mode, The Fixx, Talk Talk…all the stuff I grew up with and listen to every day.

This got me in the mood for an 80’s guitar. Something somewhat flashy, but simple and refined. I was lucky enough to find exactly what I was looking for: a circa 86/87 Charvel Model 2.



I’ve always wanted a one-pickup one-volume guitar, and I finally found me one.


This guitar came completely gutted, with no pickup, no electronics of any sort or input jack. On top of everything else the original Kahler tremolo was totally trashed, like someone pulled it off the guitar and hit it with a shovel for a few hours.

Stay tuned for PART TWO!

Pine Barncaster Build Part 3

I gotta say, I had a lot of fun doing my first nitro spray. I started by picking up 3 cans of Behlen nitrocellulose musical instrument lacquer online. You really have to order this stuff- no store around the corner is going to carry it.


Nitrocellulose Lacquer was used early on by Fender, Gibson and all the other bastards making guitars back in the 50’s and 60’s. Basically each spray treatment ‘melts’ into the previous layer, forming a kind of crunchy candy shell (think M&M’s) as opposed to polyurethane, where each spray forms it’s own layer (think Gobstoppers).

Anyway- in order to use it, you gotta warm it up in hot tap water. Otherwise it will spatter and fart out big globs (which as it turns out it might do anyway).

Warm it up

Warm it up

The plan I developed was to spray 9-12 coats, 2-3 coats a day, 1-2 hours apart. From what I have read, this allows the layers to melt into each other. I would hold the guitar flat, spraying about 1ft from the body with the can at a slight angle. I started and ended each spray away from the body, doing a cross-hatch pattern on the front and back. Look up Will Kelly on Youtube for more details (I did).


Once it cured for about 14 days, I wet-sanded it using 800-2500 grit sandpaper, to get it smooth and shiny. I wet the sandpaper and the body down with a detergent/water mix.  Again, Look up Will Kelly’s videos. They really helped me out.


The end result was absolutely awesome. I love it. Just look at this monster.



Not sure these pics do it justice:

Barncaster 009

I even brought it in the house and put it under sexy lighting to show the ridiculous colors:

Barncaster 011

Close up of the ‘big red spot’

Barncaster 012

Next up, I’m gonna show you how I relic’d all the brand new shiny parts using melt-your-face-acid…so stay tuned…

Barncaster 007


Pine Barncaster Build part 2

Let me start by saying that I know there’s steps you have to take in order to seal in sap so it doesn’t mess with stain or paint. I’m not going to do that. I simply don’t care. Is this a mistake? Yeah probably. But, in the end I’m building it for myself as my Merle Travis machine, so as long as it doesn’t explode, I don’t care about discoloration or whatever.


That being said, I do care about how the guitar looks overall, and am critically concerned as to how I would like to stain it. I already decided it will get a clear coat of nitrocellulose lacquer, so picking out the stain will be critical. What I am interested in is enhancing all of the natural colors and features, while, if possible, making it “pop” even more.

One option is going with a kind of driftwood, bleached-out effect, which should pronounce the dark coloring more heavily. To get this, I mixed ebony and natural stain together at a 1:6 ration (respectively). Here’s a pic of the little stain guys and my bigger mixing bucket:


The result on my pine test board is pretty great, as the mixture really penetrates the grain brings out the hidden features well:

Ebony/natural 1:6 ratio

The other option I landed on is just going with a straight natural stain. I did this for my first guitar build, and it adds a slight “yellowing” to the grain. While it overall darkens the pine, it doesn’t necessarily show any kind of hidden details:

Natural stain

So after much hem-hawing, pissing and moaning I decided to go with CT’s advice, and apply the 1/6 ebony/natural mix. Here’s the results:

Barncaster fully stained front

This worked perfectly, as the ebony really penetrated all the cracks and imperfections, and even brought out a few features that were otherwise invisible.

Barncaster side stained

I’m also glad that this mix didn’t mask the dark features.

Barncaster back stained

When we were living back in St. Louis, it would literally take at least 7-10 days for stain to fully penetrate my guitar bodies, given the heavy mid-west humidity. Here in Arizona that process cuts down to about 2-3 days, which is awesome.

Part 3 will cover my first attempt at a nitrocellulose spray lacquer finish. Wish me luck…


Pine Barncaster Build part 1

Moving 1500 miles cross country has proved tough for CT and myself, what with leaving family and friends, starting new jobs, and learning to live in a place that seems to be trying to kill you for several months out of the year.

So….guess what….I chose to reward myself with a new guitar building project! As of late, I have been fascinated with the recent revival of pinewood guitar bodies. Bill Kirchen (think “Hot Rod Lincoln”) recently posted an interview on YouTube, showing off his pine telecaster built by Carmine Street Guitars in New York. The sound and look absolutely killed me. Carmine Street actually builds these guitars out of 200 year old pine lumber, reclaimed from New York city buildings. I certainly can’t think of a better way to recycle.

When I hit Ebay looking for a body, it became clear to me that I needed to make a choice- do I get a piece of perfectly figured wood, or find something with more personality? I decided to go with a body filled with knots, worm holes and discoloration. A Barncaster.

Barncaster body front

So I picked this body up off Ebay from a very reputable builder. When it arrived, I was nearly speechless. Painfully cool. The colors are simply unbelievable. If you hold it up to the light, the corners glow amber from the un-cured sap.

Barncaster body side

Check out the blue/green coloring, and the details of the fibers.

Barncaster colors

The spot that you see is an almost translucent, hard sap

This spot is almost pure sap!

This spot is almost pure sap!

The character continues on the back of the guitar. Notice the rear-loading cavity.

Barncaster back

This guitar is absolutely gorgeous to me. I am a true believer that it’s our imperfections and limitations that make us unique and interesting, and that same thing can be said for guitars, or really anything we choose to create. Follow me unto the desert and join me in the worship of cactus as we await the spaceships.

For the past few days, I have been sanding this sucker down, starting with 220 grit, and ending up with 400 grit for finishing. I even bought a can of compressed air to blow the sanding dust out of all the cracks and worm holes.

Stay tuned for part 2, where I struggle with what stain to use, and make my first attempt at a nitrocellulose lacquer spray-finish!


JT’s Pigonse G40V Hot-Rod, Part 1!

I have a Pignose G40V I bought new a few years back and have since loved it’s simplicity and durability. Due to it’s portability, and the size of the venues Grand Beauty generally plays, this amp has seen a lot of action, mic’d through our PA. I won’t claim to know the official pedigree, but it supposedly was designed by someone who had something to do with the original Fender Bassman amplifiers. This sucker is tiny, with only a 10-inch speaker, and packs a massive 40-watt punch!

Pignose G40V
Pignose G40V

Being as cool as it is, I simply can’t leave it alone. Why? Well, it’s equipped with all Chinese parts. Don’t get me wrong- the Chinese are fine people- awesome food, impressive culture. Not necessarily the best folks to be mass-producing tone, though.

Vintage Jensen 10 inch speaker
Vintage Jensen 10 inch speaker

Step number 1 was finding an awesome speaker. CT and I happened on the Midwest Musicians Swap Meet in Saint Louis, where I found a great vintage Jensen 60’s 10-inch speaker in new housing. I also came across a couple of Soviet-era Sovtek 12AX7WB pre-amp tubes (to be seen in part 2).

Testing polarity with D-Cell battery
Testing polarity with D-Cell battery

Once I got the Jensen home, I had to figure out which terminal was positive, as neither one was marked. I used an old trick, where you electrical-tape both the positive and negative ends of a D-Cell (or 9-volt) battery with wire, and then connect to each wire to a terminal. When the speaker “sucks in” on connection, you have negative polarity. Reverse the wires, and you should see a “push out” of the speaker on connection. This will be your positive polarity, and you can now mark on the casing the + and – terminals, and connect it to your amplifier.

Jensen speaker mounted in the Pignose
Jensen speaker mounted in the Pignose

The mounting holes lined up great, and connections were secured. Success! Now my Pignose has a vintage Jensen speaker, rather than the cheap Chinese stock that it came with. Stay tuned for part 2, where I attempt to replace and bias the existing Chinese tubes with Soviet-era, mean-ass Sovteks!

Where did Paul go?

The new music station caused me to once again shuffle everything around in the Living Room but have no fear, folks, Paul is staying.

J:HOME Model (1)

(An updated furniture floor plan.  I don’t know what happened to those poche walls but it looks kind of cool.)

There are some pieces in the house that I really want to hold on to, others I keep around because they fit in for now or I’m still hunting down that amazingly-perfect-but-so-cheap-from-a-thrift find.  “Paul”, as I call my McCobb Planner Group secretary is a keeper.  He was holding up the ledges wall but has now moved over here to greet visitors at the front door.


This wall is looking a little bare but I’m slowly moving in artwork as the furniture continues to shuffle around.  What’s great about this setup is it gives us the “landing strip” they’re always pushing for over at Apartment Therapy.  The salon-style vinyl chair is a great place to drop my purse or my work bag and Paul gladly holds the day’s mail and the contents of JT’s pockets.


(View from the front door above.  That’s my Martin Sigma that I still don’t know how to play yet.)  Ironically the salon style vinyl chair and the four wood chairs we have around the tulip table were the things I thought for sure would sell at the Green Shag sale last year but didn’t.  Then I had each posted on Craigslist  and now I’m pretty glad they’re still here.  Go figure.

In the (much larger) world outside our living room, Google decided to close down its Reader.  I liked Reader so much that I even blogged about it (almost two years ago!  yikes!)  So what is a blog-addicted girl to do?  I tried out Feedly and liked the iPhone app but it wouldn’t work on the required Internet Explorer browser we have at work.  No blog reading all day long?  Not happening.  So I switched over to Bloglovin.  (Kind of wish they had a better name, makes me think of McLovin from Superbad).  It has a much more image-oriented format, which I am enjoying so far.


(Yep, that’s a screenshot from my Bloglovin account and I am a major blog addict!!!)

In the blog world, I’m afraid we may have lost JT from this site forever.  He set up a great new site for his band, Grand Beauty, here.  We haven’t all the way decided on things but I think he may start posting his guitar raids and fixes on the band website.  We’ll see.


At any rate, you should check it out.  He’s uploaded a bunch of their recordings.  That’s my husband singing “Beast of Burden” and if it doesn’t make you want to take your clothes off and dance around, you may need to have your head examined.  Cheers – CT


Alvarez Prototype Semi-hollow Electric Guitar

Saint Louis has it share of rock & roll instrument history, thanks in no small part to Saint Louis Music, who over the years have brought us brands like Ampeg, Crate and Alvarez.

alvarez advert

Alvarez is an odd brand in particular. They are almost always solidly built, and cheap as hell. But, they suck to look at. Boring design. Pisses me right off. There is simply no excuse for boring, bland design when you’re dealing with something that you present live or record with. Probably why they aren’t respected as well as they could be.


Which brings us to this find I made last year- caught my eye on Craigslist. It was super cheap and looked amazing. The gentleman selling it works for STL Music, and informed me that it’s a prototype. One of only 2 or 3 made (same design but different colors) they were built by Alvarez to send out to their biggest dealers, in an effort to test the market. Sadly, Alvarez ditched more classic, cool designs like this, in favor the now laughable super-strat, heavy metal designs that fizzled away once the hair bands started hitting the methadone clinics.


But wow, is this thing cool. The build is crisp, and the finish is beautiful. Honestly, one of the most incredible sounding and feeling guitars I have encountered. Doesn’t hurt that it has two Seymour Duncan designed humbuckers- one of which is the coveted Seth Lover model (bridge position).

To me, this treasure, this haunting, screaming muse is a sad, rare ghost of what could have been at Alvarez. Most working musicians cannot afford the high end Gibson/Guild/Gretsch hollow-body designs. This could have worked so incredibly well for so many folks I have met and listened to, who are world class musicians, but commonly are forced to save for years in order to posses a guitar that is worthy of their abilities.

Looking for the right home. See it on Ebay here.

P.S.- next long-term is a 60’s Fender Champ Lap Steel. Going to take a while, as I have to find the bridge/pickup assembly. Got it off a old country boy out in Troy, MO. I get a lot of instruments from these older guys out in the country, who bought them new way back in the day, but don’t have the market locally to sell them. They have a nephew post to Craigslist for them, and I can usually jump on them before most even see the post. Fun for me, though. I speak their language. I’m 100% hillbilly, going back about 200 years.