Author Archives: JT

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.

Barncaster

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:

Stain

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…

Nitro

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!

 

Blah Blah Blah

I just had to tell someone: NO one rocks harder than Iggy Pop. What a blissful album. Such a grand mix of 70’s punk/post-punk sensibility with 80’s pop-kitsch. Good guitar work. Nice pants.

freaking awesome

freaking awesome

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!

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.

SIDE ANGLE

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.

CLOSE FRONT

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.

P1240278

1961 Silvertone 1458 Guitar and Amp

Picked up this odd package from a guy who had bought it new back in 1961. Everything in the original ad was there- the guitar, amp and case. Amp still sounds amazing, even with the strange RCA-to-1/8” input system.

The guitar is straight as an arrow, and required minimal adjustments. I did end up replacing both tuning arrays with period-correct replacements.

The electronics on the guitar, however were (as always) perfectly destroyed. You will rarely find original potentiometers or paper-in-oil capacitors in working order.

This package is another beautiful testament to the durability and wonderful design of these early Sears-brand guitars and amps, made in the USA in the late 50’s to early 60’s. A period when even a cheap, catalog-bought instrument was made with the utmost attention to quality.

See my Ebay posting here

1966 Gibson LG-0

Threw the wife and dogs into the car one night after work for a trip to Gerald, MO to pick up this one. For those of you who are not aware, as I was not, Gerald is about 60 miles this side of Jefferson City. Long drive up some dark, curvy roads. Ended up having to meet the dude in the middle of town. Fine little town. Quiet.

The wood on this guitar was dry as a damn bone. Acoustic guitars, just like anything made from wood, require oil and the right balance of humidity. Acoustics especially, will almost always crack right down the middle. Not fatal- in fact I have a 68 Gibson B-25 N which I play out many times a month that has a repaired crack. Still a wonderful guitar, can barely tell the damage:

The LG-0 had no such cracks. Plenty of finish checking, and the top was Johnny Marred pretty good, but no cracks. Applying the oil was a bizarre experience. The wood literally drank the moisture, so much that it drastically changed the appearance. Look at the contrast with the pick guard removed:

For a period in the mid-late 60’s, Gibson experimented with plastic bridges. Most of them were trashed in favor of a wood bridge, however this one was still in great shape. Long story short, I had found an all-original, perfectly working model that just needed cleaning up. Worth the drive. Up for grabs on Ebay- see it here!

Italia Mondial Classic Electric Guitar

Pretty good looking bastard. Bought this off a friendly hippie in Illinois.

Modeled after the old Kay and Airline models, this is really a beautiful work of art. The design of it is just perfect, but in a flashy sort of way.  I want to do weird things with it, like make it little hats and cook it dinner.

The strings were probably 10 years old, and rusted through. There was also an extreme gap in action all the way down the neck. Cut the old strings off and popped the neck off for a quick shim at the neck heel. That set the angle of the neck almost perfectly parallel to the strings.

The neck had this bizarre 2-screw system that actually works very efficiently.

Even with the beautiful finish, there was a lot of sweat and dirt to get rid of.

Next step was cleaning up the chrome on the pickups and tailpiece. An amazing little trick is to rub it with aluminum foil. Just check out the job it did for this pickup-

before

after

The sound has a typical humbucker range on the normal settings, but when you fire up the piezeo pickup, it really shimmers with the res-o-glass construction. lots of fun to play.

Up for grabs on Ebay! See it here!

Harmony Marquis

Just last week we rescued this Harmony Marquis from the Tower Grove area. I made CT wait in the car with it running, because I was certain the dude selling it was an ax murderer.

Anyway- didn’t get murdered. I did however pick up a great old guitar with a few issues. Chiefly among them- the electronics made a horrible noise when plugged in, and the neck was pitched so far forward it was impossible to play.

Step one: rip off the strings, and start some general cleaning. I generally only ever use warm water and a soft rag. When it comes to old guitars, removing dirt and sweat grime is absolutely necessary, as it can break down the wood. What you don’t want to do is use any harsh chemicals that can Johnny Marr the surface, and take away that amazing, aged patina.

Cleaning the neck is a delicate matter- as it collects the most sweat and grime. Solution is spit. Saliva actually the safest and most effective way to clean a fretboard. Cheapest cleaner in town. Once cleaned and dried, I rubbed in a thin coat of fretboard oil.

To fix the neck pitch, I unscrewed it to install a shim. A shim can be anything- credit card, pick, etc. In fact, the Fender guitar factory used to shim most of it’s guitar necks with guitar picks. I like to use a tone wood (in this case, basswood).

Simply drop the shim into the neck pocket like so, and screw the neck back on. This should pitch the neck angle backward, bringing the strings closer to the neck. Good way to test this is to quickly string up one string to see how it plays.

Harmony guitars were cheaply mass produced, with all of the electronics wired to the pickguard. When I tested the wiring away from the body, everything looked and sounded the way it should. Contact cleaner cleared up all crackles and noises.

When I placed the pickguard back on and plugged it in however, I got the same horrible noises. Upon further inspection, it looked as if the input cable was hitting the inside of the body cavity (impact scar pictured), effectively dispersing the current into the wood. Solution- I made the hole bigger, allowing for the cable to input without hitting the wood. It Johnny Marred up the inside surface a bit, but no one sees the inside anyway.

Here it is now, sounds great and plays easy. Before you would have sworn it was one of Jandek’s guitars (perhaps it was). Now it’s ready for the house, if I may make another obscure reference.

Up for auction on Ebay this week!! Click here

Lawsuit Les Paul

Picked this guy up in Belleville, IL as just a neck and body. Had enough pickups, pots , wire and bridge pieces in stock to bring it back to life. There are way too many gutted, forgotten instruments out there that need a second chance! Gotta recycle that rock & roll.

Finish is still amazing, white binding in great shape.

These are often referred to as “lawsuit” guitars, as many were built in the 1970’s, almost perfect copies of Gibson guitars. Obviously these companies were sued into stopping production, leaving a few of these great quality guitars out in circulation. A few, like this one, were produced without any kind of makers mark. Can’t sue em’ if you don’t know who made em’.

Currently up for bid!

See it on eBay here.