Monday, 28 September 2015

Telecaster Makeover

So I've not yet completed the Les Paul, but I've embarked on another project. It all started when I won a Bigsby B16 on ebay.

The B16 was for a telecaster I had bought from the Music and Video exchange in Notting Hill back in 1987 for £140. In Today's money that would be £350 for a second hand guitar. You could buy two brand new Squier Telecasters or a Fender modern player for that money today.

Not Long after I bought it, I installed a humbucker in the neck position and shifted the neck pickup down to the middle. The humbucker had two slider switches for series/parallel and phase and there was also a phase switch for the middle pickup. I replaced the three way switch with a 5 way strat switch.

Of course I kept forgetting what all the different options sounded like and would fiddle around with the switches until I got a tone I liked and then pretty much stuck with it. I'n fact I forgot what the switches were for entirely when there were 40 different combinations of switch and many duplicate sounds.

Its one of the reasons I have wired the Les Paul with the 11 way switch much simpler to remember the different sounds with a simple switch that progresses from treble to bass.

My Telecaster during rehearsals for the Influx reunion gig.

I decided the old Tele needed a makeover so I installed the Bigsby and got a sparkly new scratchplate for it. Fitting the Bigsby was for more effort than I thought it would be. The first problem was that the pickup didnt fit inside the pickup slot. I had to take a dremmel and run it around the pickup hole until I was able to get it to fit.

The second problem that I encountered was that the hole in the guitar body for the bridge pickup wasn't aligned with the bridge pickup when assembled in the Bigsby. I had to use the dremel to carve out a bit more space for the pickup to sit in.

The other problem I encountered was that the Bigsby raises the bridge pickup quite high. So I chose to mount the pickup flush with the bigsby, but this meant that the height adjustment screws that came with the pickup were too short. I managed to find some 1inch #6/32 UNC countersink screws on ebay. This allowed me to get them almost completely flush on the Bigsby.

I had a rolling bridge in my parts box that I was able to install but that gave me another problem. With a Wilkinson style bridge and the height of the bridge pickups, I needed to install a shim to allow me to set the action low enough to play comfortably. So chopped up an old plastic membership card and placed it in the neck pocket. Bigsby used to ship a fairly thick aluminium shim with the tremelo but because I had made the pickups flush I could get away with a much shallower angle.

The Bisgsby, bridge and pickguard installed.
I bought a new white pearl pickguard to give it a little extra bling factor and using the old pickguard as a template I cut out a new slot for the middle pickup.

So far looking very smart. After seeing what a horrible job 17 year old me had made of the wiring, I decided to completely change the wiring.

Ideally I would like to simplify the wiring. but the thhought of trying out over 200 different combiniations of the 4 coils was daunting. It was bad enough attempting that with 3 coils.

In the end I decided to add a six way rotary switch to give me all the strat options plus neck and bridge together. And then I could use a five way lever switch to control phase and coil splitting options.

In terms of the number of different tones that can be achieved this is clearly still too many but it does at least have the advantage of being a bit more memorable than a five way selector and 3 toggle switches.

Lets see if I have changed my mind by the time I write part the next post on the wiring. 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Wiring the 11 Way Switch

Given the choice of tones selected (see previous post) I used my spreadsheet to narrow down the wiring options and create a wiring guide. Rather than attempt to draw spaghetti I use a simple colour coded matrix that tells me which lug on the switch gets connected where. I have picked the wiring options where the bridge pickup is always wired to Jumper "a" and ground. So only the middle and neck pickups are wired to the common lugs of the switch

Fortunately the wafers on my switch are white so I was able to mark the wafer by each lug with the colour code from my spreadsheet so that I didn't have to keep referring back to it.

With the switch colour coded, all I needed to do was connect all the lugs of one colour to each other. Eg all the red lugs connected together.

One of the lessons learned from this was to make sure that the colours of the sharpies I was using to mark the wafers matched the colours of the wires I was using. Also make sure the colour coding on the spreadsheet was the same. It just makes things easier

I didn't have a yellow sharpie so I ended up substituting green for yellow on my diagram.

Like the six way switch I wired to my Gretsch I decided to use solid core jumper wires because it makes for neater wiring. I wanted to use a continuous wire to wire up each of the colours rather then trying to wire point to point. Doing so meant that each lug was only soldered once and the wire could hold itself in place. My first attempt with the green wire was a bit fiddly. I tried to strip a gap in the wire at each point where I would need to solder it. This worked but was very time consuming. I think the result looked quite good.

But then I realised I had no black jumper cables, so this time I came up with a different technique. I used a bare wire and threaded on a piece of heat shrink between the lugs after each weld. This made the process a lot quicker. So I used the same approach with the blue wire and some blue heat shrink.

For the red wire I didn't have any heatshrink so I used the insulation off a thicker red wire to create sleeves.

A lesson learnt from wiring the six way switch on my Gretsch was that it is much easier to solder the wires to the lugs if you pre-tin the wire and the lug. When I was using the bare wire I simply heated the wire and melted some solder along the whole length of it. You don't need a whole lot of solder just a thin coat. The same with the lugs, just add a small amount of solder. If you don't pre-tin, then sometimes the solder will not flow around the wire and lug very well and things will get hot.You also run the risk of getting an intermittent connection.

When wiring the lugs together, you need to try and pick a route that doesn't make it hard for you to wire up the remaining tabs. There are some ways of making things easier.

You don't have to start your wiring run from the first switch position. You can start and end anywhere. So you can avoid the longest cable run or an awkward join by using those lugs for the start and end.

If you are joining lugs on the same wafer you don't have to go around the edge, you can put the wires through the spaces between wafers. But take care not to block the operation of the switch.

If you need to join lugs between the top wafer and the bottom wafer try and do so via a lug on the middle wafer so that the wires run on diagonals. Of course if you have already soldered a lug in between your unsoldered lugs then you can go ahead and fly over the top

The aim is to try and keep everything neat and tidy and use short cable runs where possible. There is not a lot of room inside the cavity for the switch so the more compact the better.