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 Post subject: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2018 1:17 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
I do lots of home recordings. Although I am not very skilled at playing guitar, I grew tired of the limitations of the synths I have been using and couldn't find samples to make my own, so I decided the only thing for it was to get a real guitar. I can play in snippets and paste it together, I do it on other instruments already.

Anyhow, I went with an Ammoon Strat kit, even though an assembled one would have only set me back about five bucks more. I figured I'm going to take it to bits anyhow, why not just start there?

Well I'm in for about 20 hours of labor so far, and more will be necessary when the new pickups and pots arrive, but it's painted, lacquered, the neck is flat, the action is acceptable, the intonation at the first fret and in general is sorted out, and nothing buzzes. I did employ one crude hack, and I'm sure I'll catch flak for it but it worked.

The neck had a back-bow and only a one-way truss rod. My oven is not big enough to cook a straightening jig, so I placed an iron directly on the frets and waited until i could feel the back of the neck starting to get warm. Then I put a piece of scrap 2x6 on the offending high spot (7 and a halfth fret, very Being John Malkovich) and stood on the block for a couple minutes. It actually worked! It wasn't enough, but it was obviously a step in the right direction, so after 5 more repetitions (taking out smaller and smaller curves), I had a flat neck. Unfortunately, the heat made some of the frets lift at the high-E end, which is on tomorrow's fix list. (Heat gently to melt the glue and then gently tap them down, then clamp until it cools, right?)

The kit seller is actually within 50 miles of me, but of all the other parts I ordered, the only one to be shipped from the U.S. was the nut. This was an unexpectedly lucky break, as that arrived today. It took me way too long to file out the nut slot to make it fit, but once I did that, getting it installed and the nut slots filed properly took maybe 20 or 30 minutes. It makes such an immense difference! The plastic nut that came with it didn't take well to being filed, it was far too easy to overdo it and blow the whole thing. Graphite is much better that way, so I was happy to see that package today.

Unfortunately, I managed to put a ding in the back of the neck when I changed the headstock to a 5+1 shape. I had to sand it out and re-lacquer the neck, which annoyed me greatly because I had it feeling really nice. It almost felt like raw wood. Oh well, at least I believe I can get that result again. (ᴇᴅɪᴛ: It was not at all difficult, and not even that tedious.)

Yesterday I felt pretty down on this build because it was horribly intonated and had fret buzzes and was just utter crap. I don't know how, but installing a new nut seems to have fixed everything (not electric). Today it plays in tune, doesn't buzz, doesn't choke out on bends (at least not the bends I can pull off), and the action is just spot on. 0.3 mm at the first fret, 1.5 mm at the 12th. It does have a significant fallaway past the 11th fret, but it in no way makes the guitar unplayable. I'm not going to tackle that issue until my fret file arrives.

tl;dr: I'm not really a builder, I'm a musician that wants a custom guitar but I'm too cheap to buy one. I bet that's how a lot of you got sucked into this. Hi.


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Last edited by Mal-2 on Mon Jan 08, 2018 10:03 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2018 10:03 am 
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Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2014 8:13 pm
Posts: 1874
I've not built an electric guitar, but i assume that both are fretted in the same way. To reset a fret, I clean out the old glue, work a little new glue in the slot, then set the fret with a small hammer or caul, just like it's being set for the first time. Sometimes it's better to just replace the fret with a new one, but I've been able to reset existing, undamaged frets.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2018 1:24 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
So after I wrote that and waited for approval...

The high E string came untwisted at the ball end, which explained it's sudden propensity to detune on - well, anything, really. It was the set that came with the kit and I sort of considered it sacrificial from the get-go, but I won't have a replacement until I get a package from Sweetwater.

It wasn't until I was dealing with the aftermath of the broken string that I realized what the key was to the intonation and everything coming together. Changing the nut helped, but it wasn't the primary cause. Instead, I had changed the trem spring tension quite a lot, making it float substantially, and then forgot all about ever having done that. I didn't realize until I set it back to being flat that the guitar is much, MUCH happier when the bridge is floating. I may just wedge the bridge so it starts there but isn't completely blocked, since I want the ability to use Drop D without having to touch up all six strings.

I figured I might as well work on the finish until I have my new strings then. I was unhappy with the headstock and wanted it to be gloss black, so I had to sand that down again. It was the time to do it, since I think I'll get a lacquer result that looks more like it was done in one pass rather than two. I was sloppy last night and had a run in the lacquer that didn't quite sand out, so I had to feather out an area (fortunately) very near the headstock anyhow.

I will admit that I'm not sure I'm ready to take on a kit acoustic. This electric was supposed to be the easy mode, and it's still an awful lot of work. I might be better off buying cheap and/or used and polishing it up as best I can.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2018 3:46 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
Today (originally Jan 3), I installed Hot Rails pickups in the neck and bridge positions. I don't have push-pull pots yet so they are always in humbucker mode right now, but they are totally worth the money like this. They are pretty microphonic -- tapping one with a pick causes quite an audible thunk from the amplifier -- but they sound good. I did get them to feed back, but I really had to work at it. I don't have the third one yet, so the middle pickup is original, and it's almost as much noise as tone. I also put a couple screws into the wood under the back side of the bridge, to keep it from ever laying flat (that's buzz and choke-out city). I should probably figure out how to silence the resulting metal-on-metal *click* when the whammy bar is released too fast.

With the high E broken, I decided to tune the remaining five in NST and feel around. I immediately started chugging metal riffs and was lost down that rabbit hole for a few hours. I don't think I'd want to play lead in NST though. (I did establish I can do whole step bends on a .011" E string though, and that's a good thing to know.)

Since one of my stated goals of getting a guitar was to start making songs for my fictitious band Der Pütinflüffer, chugging metal riffs is an extremely useful ability to have. However, doing NST properly requires significantly different equipment from standard tuning. And that's when I realized... I need a Les Paul next.

Help. :)


Last edited by Mal-2 on Fri Jan 05, 2018 4:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2018 4:00 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
Today's update. I have a miserable upper respiratory infection, and I still decided to tackle the electricals today (save for the pickup I don't have yet). I had to add a hole to the sparkly new metallic blue pick guard because I'm going with 3 volume and 1 tone for controls. Rather than risk splitting or cracking it, I punched the extra hole with a soldering iron and then reamed it out from both sides with a tapered file. I needed to grind a new face on the soldering tip anyhow. :)

The 5-way switch is still behaving exactly as expected, or would be if the middle pickup wasn't missing. I installed 500k push-pull pots in all four positions. On the volume controls, each connected to a single pickup, the switch enables coil tapping on that same pickup, which is really intuitive I think. On the tone control, the switch disables the tone filter entirely for maximum brightness. I can't actually hear a difference between that and the 10 setting on the knob, but it does make it easy to switch back and forth between warm and bright.

The 500k pot on the tone control was the right move. Now the entire range of the knob from 0 to 10 is musically useful. But on the volume, 500k was not an improvement. Now it basically only makes sound at all between 5 and 10 on the knob, defeating the purpose. Stick with the 250k pots it comes with.

Also, don't bother with coil tapping. These cheap Hot Rails sound remarkably good in humbucker mode, but they are absolute garbage in coil tap mode. They're almost but not quite as bad (as single coils) as the crap that comes with the kit. I don't even know why they bother providing a coil tap; it's not a usable feature. So you don't need push-pull pots for volume either. Just tone. If you want to replace your two tone pots with 500k, you will notice a positive difference, but leave the volume alone.

I will probably leave the 500k pots in, and leave the coil tap switches as they are, but only because I spent the day doing a really pretty point-to-point wiring job, using single-strand copper wire, and I don't feel like undoing it. I wouldn't advise anyone else to bother with it though. The stock wiring is actually acceptable. Change the pickups, wire them as humbuckers only, and call it a day.

The only warning about the Hot Rails is that they (necessarily) don't have a cover like single coils do. There's just no room because they're so heavily wound with wire. This does mean they'll be more susceptible to damage, and also the end that goes through the pick guard is ever so slightly larger (because it's less round on the ends) and has to be forced through the hole. Once clear it's OK, the coils behind are a bit smaller around, but it does make them moderately annoying to mount and unmount. But for $8 apiece, I'll overlook small annoyances like this. It's a good design, it works well, and it's cheap. That's all we can really ask for.

I also did a second pass of fret leveling, and reset the two frets that had started to lift using heat-and-clamp, not even a tappy-tap-tap. I gave up leveling somewhere around the 17th fret, as the way the fingerboard falls away past that makes it a pointless exercise. A high fret is not going to cause a buzz or choke out, and I can't chord up there, so I'll leave it alone.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2018 11:29 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
No new parts arrived today, so I had only to work with what was present. A set of nut files did arrive, but I already set up the nut with a triangular file days ago.

I went back to the original pots on the middle and neck pickups today, and simplified all wiring. I moved the bridge pickup to the middle position, and then removed the coil-tapping abilities from both pickups so they are permanently in humbucker mode. When the third pickup arrives (which has a different color scheme, so it should be the "odd man out"), it will go in the bridge position and be the only one that can be coil tapped, just in case the Strat "spank" is required despite the extra noise. I just need a 250k push-pull instead of a 500k, but I'll live with the 500k for now.

I also left the 500k push-pull in the tone circuit because the resistance is a good match. This left me with an extra pull switch, so I used that to choose the cutoff on the high pass filter (it switches between the stock 473 capacitor, and a 103 I had lying around). In the "out" position, it really doesn't do that much to the tone, but it rolls off a lot of the high-frequency noise.

This necessitated all-new point-to-point wiring of course, and it looks much less crowded now because there are only two push-pull pots rather than four. I made a concerted effort to keep all wiring runs as short as possible while still leaving just enough slack to accommodate vibrations and not break solder joints. For some reason, the 5-way switch isn't working properly in position #2 – it should mix the bridge and middle pickups, but no middle pickup is actually coming through – so I might have to replace that after all.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2018 11:47 pm 
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Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2014 8:13 pm
Posts: 1874
I hope you're feeling better. Even with being sick, it sounds like you're getting a lot done.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2018 8:05 am 
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Posts: 104
Thanks for the support. Electronicals and angry pixies are things I understand fairly well. (I do have a ham radio license.)

Really it looks like this build is close to done. It needs one more pickup, a new set of strings, and to have all the frets polished (after I re-crown the ones I leveled), all of which are waiting on something to arrive. I would like locking tuners, but once I stop putting the strings on and taking them off repeatedly, it shouldn't bother me so much to not have them. As far as intonation and action go, it's as good as I need it to be (and I'm pretty demanding about intonation), but I may end up lowering the action some more just to see where it does start buzzing at me. I'll never be a shredder – that sort of performance technique is much more amenable to forgery by synth, which is why I employed it so much in the past – so I don't really want an insanely low action anyhow. The light top strings normally associated with shredders are right up my alley though. I can bend on 11s, but I don't really want to when Hybrid Slinky (9-11-16-26-36-46) is a thing.

Once I settle on my string gauges for certain, I'll probably get a set of Elixirs and play them for a year or two. I didn't go down that path up front because I am not certain of what I liked before, or if I was choosing wisely then, and would prefer to use cheaper strings until I'm sure.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:33 am 
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Posts: 104
Here is the state of the electronics currently. Everything is prepared to drop in the last pickup when it arrives, although I expect to replace the pickup's own wiring with a color scheme that makes more sense to me (black for ground, colors for hot) as I have already done on the other two. The grounding is a star configuration centered on the bridge coil tap switch, and consists of one continuous exposed strand of copper connecting all five pots/switches and a common ground line for all pickups. I really should have connected the pickup ground to the same point as the other ground, and I might yet move that.

The connections out to the jack are press-on, so that they can be disconnected for service without having to desolder anything. The wire grounding the tremolo spring claw (and thus the bridge) is attached to the jack ground so it also does not have to be desoldered.

The tone pot (lower right) has a push-pull switch to select which filter capacitor to engage: the bog-standard 473 (green), or the 103 (brown) I found in my parts box which provides a higher cutoff frequency. The default (knob down) is the 473.

The layered tape shims are to put a slight gap between the body and the pick guard, so I can jam a couple picks under it for storage. You can also see where I had to fill the holes from the previous pick guard, as exactly zero out of eleven matched the new pick guard. Many of them were off by just the width of the hole, so I had to fill them quite solidly to provide meat for the new hole. None have been painted over, as they are not visible after assembly.

Although I have dispensed with shielded cables (except for the last leg to the jack), the cavity and pick guard are fully shielded and the pickup wires are secured to the pick guard shield with more aluminum tape. The pickup common ground also makes contact with the tape where they all meet and are soldered together – I have deliberately chosen not to insulate that point. The only extra insulation I thought necessary was the hot lead going out to the jack, and that's more for purposes of strain relief than insulation because it was already electrically safe. (That's the black "liquid tape" application on the hot lead connector.)

I would have chosen a wider variety of "hot" colors for the pickups if I had them available, to make it easier to trace lines, but all I had in solid copper are white, a very pale pink, light blue, yellow, green, red, and black. I chose not to use the pale pink because it is almost indistinguishable from white.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:40 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
Reassembled, strung, tuned, properly set up (.0625" [4/64] at the 17th on the plain strings, .078" [5/64] on the low E, with A and D taking up the difference, .012"±.001" at the first fret). Note the new headstock design, and the fancy pick guard that cost me $4 on eBay. Of course exactly zero of eleven holes were in the right place...

Still remaining to be done:
• Install bridge pickup (waiting on delivery) - easy
• Install new knobs (waiting on delivery) - super easy
• Finish fret work (waiting on tools) - tedious but not terribly difficult
• Install locking tuners (waiting on delivery) - also tedious but easy
• Change strings to Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinky (waiting on everything else) - easy
• Check and possibly adjust setup for increased wound string gauge - easy


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