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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Tue Jan 09, 2018 5:12 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
Whoops! I miscalculated something!

I may not be able to use a push-pull pot in the bridge volume position if it interferes with the use of the whammy bar when in the pulled position. This will depend on the size of the knobs I ordered, which are narrower but taller than typical Fender knobs. They need to be narrower too, because I have the three volume pots so close together that it's hard to turn just one quickly otherwise. If I can't use a push-pull in that position, I'll reclaim the push-pull switch on the tone knob for coil tapping purposes.

It's a pretty small and correctable error in the grand scheme of things, and overall I'm really pleased with the way the instrument plays – not just for the money invested in it, but in general. I would not yet dare hand it to an expert guitarist, but I think that day is not far off.

I will also make another attempt to let the bridge lie flat on the wood, now that the saddles are much lower than they were before. If that doesn't work, I'll put in nylon screws and see how well they survive. [ᴇᴅɪᴛ: Hey, what do you know, it's perfectly happy with the bridge flat now that the neck has been straightened again, and the new (heavier) strings actually require the use of the truss rod, which is functioning properly.]


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:23 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
I decided not to bother with individual per-pickup volume controls. For one thing, I wasn't really using that function very much. For another, it made it impossible to fade in and fade out and do right hand tremolo unless using one pickup alone, it was a tight squeeze between knobs, and I had to know which one to turn. The whammy bar wasn't an issue with the original knobs, but it well may have been if I had the prettier, taller replacements in place. (I can't be sure, I don't have them yet.) So now it's one volume and one tone. The tone pot affects all pickups, so there is no need for a second tone control*. I put the volume pot in the position I drilled myself, very near the 5-way switch, and covered the other two holes with screws that have heads the size of dimes. This puts the volume pot within easy reach, but safely out of the way of the whammy bar.

*Default Stratocaster wiring is a tone pot for the neck pickup, a tone pot for the middle pickup, and NO tone control for the bridge pickup.

The last pickup finally arrived today, destined for the bridge position. Although it is quite noisy and has less output when used in coil split mode, it doesn't have that Stratocaster chime in humbucker mode. (I can get pretty damn close by rolling off the bass most of the way and turning up the presence, though.) Thus I have enabled coil splitting for the bridge pickup only. This is enabled by pulling the volume knob out. I also have a push-pull pot in the tone position, and pulling it disconnects the tone filtering capacitor entirely, for maximum brightness. This provides the same function as the original wiring did for the bridge pickup, which was not connected to either of the original tone pots. However, I'm no longer forced to use the bridge pickup at full brightness, and I can remove the tone filter from the circuit no matter which pickup(s) is/are engaged.

There is a significant difference between "tone all the way up" and "tone totally disengaged" (it's like turning the tone up to eleven), so this mod might interest other people as well. With just two knobs, it appears to be as simple as it gets -- and it is, if you don't know they can be pulled out. But since they can be, the whole setup is actually a fair bit more flexible than the original wiring.

I don't anticipate using the coil split very much, as I can achieve almost exactly the same effect with EQ and not introduce a bunch of hum, but I had the switch available so why not? My elegant wiring is considerably sloppier now despite the lowered parts count, because of all the de- and re-soldering making a bit of a mess of the contacts. I'll live with it, nobody is ever going to see it.

The remaining items on the agenda as far as electronics go are:
• Add a switch that enables the bridge pickup regardless of the position of the 5-way switch. Then I can effectively emulate the "middle position" (bridge+neck) of a Telecaster, or even run all three at once (though this usually does not work particularly well). This will go in one of the holes currently covered by a screw.
• Add a momentary kill switch (tap to mute). This will occupy the other hole currently covered by a screw.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Thu Jan 18, 2018 10:09 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
The fret crowning file arrived in the mail today. It's not bad, but only does the one thing despite having four surfaces that could have potentially been put to use. The flat sides are just flat sides, with no rasp. The two curved edges are exactly the same, when they could have been coarse and fine. That's what less than five dollars buys, though. It worked, so whatever.

Today's work was to crown all the frets I had already leveled. I covered the flat spots in Sharpie marker to make it easier to tell when to stop and where to concentrate my efforts. I polished each fret with 800 grit sandpaper, whether I used the crowning file or not, and paid particular attention to rounding over the ends for comfort. As for masking off the fingerboard for safety, I just did this one fret at a time and kept recycling the same pieces of tape until they wouldn't stick. I also used the same type (but a new piece, with no brass dust) of sandpaper to remedy the grain of the fingerboard that had started rising. I have a feeling this is going to be a recurrent problem with this instrument, as I don't expect the fingerboard is actual rosewood or pau ferro -- not at the price I paid for the kit. I suspect it's a much cheaper variety of wood, stained as close to black as they could manage.

I did not remove the strings from the instrument. I just loosened them and used the outermost tuning pegs and the pickups to hold them out of the way, with the help of a little masking tape. I did remove the nut since it wasn't glued down anyhow, and put a little bit of foil tape on the underside of it to add a thou or two of clearance at the first fret, all the way across. The strip of credit card I glued in as a shim seems to be holding up well. The cowboy chords remain acceptably in tune. I have attached the test sequence I use to check the intonation of open strings versus fretted strings, and I consider this a pass. It's not the best it has ever been, but it's a pass.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Thu Jan 18, 2018 11:33 pm 
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Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2014 8:13 pm
Posts: 1982
Your recording sounds good. I own a Hosco crowning tool and the stewmac diamond crowning tool, both of which are pricey. Then I found the Thomas-ginex high speed fret crowning tool. They run ~ $15. It works like a charm, creating evenly rounded frets. I still use the other tools for individual frets that need attention, but for new builds or complete fret jobs, I use the Thomas-ginex.

I like the stewmac fret end dressing file. It's a tiny file with one rounded safe side, and the other with a flat safe side. It's great for getting those ends nice and smooth.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2018 12:42 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
The guitar sounds surprisingly like a semi-hollow when played unplugged. It's not loud, but it sounds good, and I can noodle on it for hours without ever plugging it in.

I have bookmarked the Thomas-ginex site if I should feel a need to upgrade tools. Right now I can't justify it since I don't see more fret crowning and polishing work in my foreseeable future, and I've taken the rough edges off the cheap fret crowning file with the help of my rotary tool. It's now fingerboard-safe, where it wasn't before. That doesn't make it any faster, but it does eliminate the need to use masking tape (not that this took all that long).

As for the Stewmac fret end dressing file, even Dave from the "World of Fun Stuff" swears by it, and he is well known to have a dislike of Stewmac in general. That means it must be pretty good. I might end up having to spring for one, because that is an issue I haven't addressed yet. I also happen to be fortunate enough to live about ten miles from a brick and mortar Harbor Freight, so I won't go ordering anything more until I can pop in and see what they have on the shelf.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2018 7:46 am 
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Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2014 8:13 pm
Posts: 1982
Mal-2 wrote:
The guitar sounds surprisingly like a semi-hollow when played unplugged. It's not loud, but it sounds good, and I can noodle on it for hours without ever plugging it in.

I have bookmarked the Thomas-ginex site if I should feel a need to upgrade tools. Right now I can't justify it since I don't see more fret crowning and polishing work in my foreseeable future, and I've taken the rough edges off the cheap fret crowning file with the help of my rotary tool. It's now fingerboard-safe, where it wasn't before. That doesn't make it any faster, but it does eliminate the need to use masking tape (not that this took all that long).

As for the Stewmac fret end dressing file, even Dave from the "World of Fun Stuff" swears by it, and he is well known to have a dislike of Stewmac in general. That means it must be pretty good. I might end up having to spring for one, because that is an issue I haven't addressed yet. I also happen to be fortunate enough to live about ten miles from a brick and mortar Harbor Freight, so I won't go ordering anything more until I can pop in and see what they have on the shelf.


I live 3 miles from a Harbor Freight. Their prices on f clamps can't be beat. They might have a set of needle files that you can use, but unless they have the diamond dust files, don't waste your money. You can find a cheap set on EBay.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 12:05 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
Every now and then, maybe a couple times a year, a conversation with my mother will start "I was at Harbor Freight, and I bought..." My first thought is always "oh no, what craptacular disaster am I about to be asked to fix?" But sometimes it turns out to be just fine, like the motion-sensitive night lighting she asked me to help install. Once or twice, it has actually been a lead-in to "...but I'm not going to use it, so do you want it?"

Harbor Freight is a curious mixture of decent, absolute crap, overpriced, and bargain, all mashed up in a seemingly unpredictable pattern. They sell enough good stuff to keep people coming back. They also sell enough cheap, barely usable garbage (which is overpriced at any price) to keep them in black ink, I guess. They have benefited from the general tendency of no-name Chinese goods to have diamonds in the rough, and the fact that the proportion of these actually seems to be increasing over time. The bad stuff is still really bad, but the chances of hitting a jackpot and getting something nice seem to be getting better every year.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 8:26 am 
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Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2014 8:13 pm
Posts: 1982
I remember when HF actually had decent tools at decent prices. 15 years ago, you could buy a drill or saw for home use, and it would last. I still have a couple of these tools.

Then, the prices started going up and you played the tool lottery. You either get a great tool or a total dud. You have a 50/50 chance. There doesn't seem to be anything between. Now I've noticed that their prices equal, or actually exceed the prices of tools with good reputations and actual warranties. No HF motorized tool comes with more than a 90 day warranty; you have to buy the extended warranty. That's not how they operated 20 years ago.

Don't get me wrong, it's one of my favorite haunts. I get my clamps, tape, and other doodads or things I can repurpose. But when I need machinery, I do my research and buy the best that I can afford.


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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2018 12:05 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
More electronics tweaking today.

I decided I wasn't going to use the coil splitting function because of all the hum the bridge pickup suffers from when split. I spent quite a bit more time than I should have making a cable that I could insert passive components into, to see what value capacitor and resistor would give me the single coil chime, but without all the hum, and finally settled on a .0022µF capacitor. I used a 250kΩ pot and measured it afterward to get my permanent component value. It tested at 150kΩ but I didn't have any 150kΩ resistors so I tried a 178kΩ resistor and was happy enough with it. The lower the resistance, the more bass is allowed through the filter, so it's a bit brighter than it would have been at 150kΩ. I have a 2.2MΩ resistor set aside that I can put in parallel with it to reduce it to 130kΩ if I change my mind.

The filtered bridge pickup is really twangy (just like the pickup is when coil split), but the tone knob still works to roll off some of the highs. Turning the tone too far down ends up almost muting the pickup though, as the high-pass and low-pass filters end up meeting in the middle. Ordinarily, the high-pass filter is bypassed and I get the normal bridge pickup humbucker sound (which is still pretty bright) unless I pull the tone knob for twang. The tone filter can no longer be completely disengaged, as there is no longer a need for maximum brightness and I needed the switch.

The switch on the volume knob acts to tie the bridge and neck pickups together, changing the function of the 5-way switch. The third (middle) position still engages only the middle pickup, but the first and last positions both produce bridge+neck, and the second and fourth positions both engage all three pickups. All of them together doesn't sound that much different from just the middle and neck, but the bridge+neck combo (the Telecaster sound, especially with the bridge pickup filter enabled) was the whole point.

I don't have a killswitch in place yet, but I know exactly where it will be, both physically and electrically. It is included in the wiring diagram attached. For someone using this diagram who chooses to forgo the killswitch, there will be an empty hole left in the pick guard. I would recommend putting in another 250kΩ pot and wiring it in place of the 180kΩ fixed resistor, which yields something resembling the stock "one volume and two tone" configuration except that the tone pot affects all pickups (while the bass roll-off control affects only the bridge). If you do this, you may also wish to make it the push-pull pot that bypasses the filter, or not even bother with a push-pull switch because you can just dial the effect down to zero. Also, you may find it preferable to wire it "backward", to optimally use the audio taper at the cost of the control functioning in the opposite of the intuitive direction.

Needless to say, you may change any of the component values to suit your needs, particularly the .047µF tone capacitor (Fender, for example, uses .022µF here). If you like the function of your tone control as it is now, then use whatever capacitor you already have! The 180kΩ is also a matter of personal preference, if you use a fixed resistor at all. As for the .0022µF cap, bear in mind that a smaller value will raise the cutoff frequency of the high-pass filter and a larger value will lower it. Also note that .0022µF is the same value used by G&L in its bass roll-off circuit, although they pair it with a 1MΩ C-taper pot. (Good luck finding one of those -- it's basically an A-taper in the reverse direction.)


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Last edited by Mal-2 on Tue Jan 23, 2018 3:00 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Me and Billie
PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2018 11:50 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:56 am
Posts: 104
Protip: Don't buy the $12 locking tuners from eBay. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but they suck even harder than the non-locking set that came with the kit. Out of six, two arrived with the sleeve that holds the center post stripped on the inside, and a third had a retaining nut with threads so screwed up as to not thread into any of the tuners.

To fix the stripped center posts, I had to completely dismantle the two tuners and crush the center columns a bit with pliers. I have no idea how long this fix will work before they strip out again. For the retaining nut, I had to borrow one from the original tuners. Fortunately those are interchangeable between the two sets.

The locking tuners are somewhat more resistant to detuning under duress, but they feel really scratchy and are necessarily an open back design so can't just be oiled, they have to be greased (which I haven't gotten around to yet). They arrive dry. There are no instructions saying to grease them, or anything else for that matter because there are no instructions, period. I'll leave them on, only because they're marginally better than what was there before and there's no value in removing them.


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