Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Friday, April 13, 2018

My Version Of the Gibson S-1

My first "good" electric guitar was a 1979 Gibson S-1, which my uncle purchased for me at the annual Employee Sale at the Nashville plant.

This is not my actual guitar, but  photo of an identical version that I pulled from the internet. If it's yours, let me know and I will credit you.
You can see from the picture that it was a really good-looking guitar, even with an unusual build for a Gibson. It had a Les Paul style slab body (mahogany, in this instance, though the early models were maple), and a maple bolt-on Flying V style neck. The pickups were designed by Bill Lawrence (a Gibson employee at the time), and basically emulated the sounds of the Fender Telecaster (lead pickup only), and the Stratocaster in other combinations.
I loved the look and feel of the guitar, but I never liked the sound . This is, by the way, the same problem I have with actual Fenders. In other people's hands they sound great, but I just can't really get anything out of them without using effects pedals. 

And, because of that, I always played through a variety of effects with that guitar and virtually always through an Electro Harmonix Big Muff distortion. 

A few years after I divorced, I sold the guitar (which I had modified with two humbuckers in an attempt to get a more traditional Gibson sound). I never missed the sound of the S-1, but I did miss the styling.

Recently, I decided to stop gigging with my black Les Paul Special, which I call "Cooper", because I had cracked the neck, again, during some stage antics. To that end, I bought a copy of a Gibson LP Junior double-cut (there is a whole other blog post...), and I decided to build a guitar which would look like my old S-1, but sound more like Cooper.

So, I started searching for a bolt-neck Les Paul copy with a slab body to start with. After about three months, this popped up on eBay:

 It's a Korean Hondo, from the early 1980s; just what I was looking for. The seller was in Kansas (quick ship time), and had a reasonable Buy It Now, so I pulled the trigger.

 Gibson used this "pancake" method to build bodies in the mid 70s.

 The neck from this guitar ended up on the skateboard guitar I recently built. I t was a nice neck, just had the wrong shape of headstock for this project.

The body is almost identical to my S-1, in looks and feel.

Once I had the guitar in hand, I ordered up a P-94 style pickup, a Les Paul Junior pick guard and a maple bolt-on Flying V neck. I had a trapeze tailpiece to match the layout on Cooper, as well.

The results were just what I wanted:

All of the things I liked about the S-1 are here, along with a sound almost exactly the same as Cooper's. I call it the S-2 Junior...

This guitar, the LP Jr copy (again, more about that, later) and my Flying V are my three main guitars, at this point. Many of my other guitars will probably go on sale, soon, as I hate to have them hanging around gathering dust!


Monday, February 19, 2018

President's Day Weekend Guitar Projects - Part 1

I was pretty busy over the President's Day weekend. I made some progress on a guitar for my buddy Jesse, and finished up a project for myself.

I am fixing up an old Teisco-built Silvertone for Jesse. This is a guitar I bought on eBay, a few years back, and ended up very disappointed. I was under the impression that I was buying a playable guitar, but what I received was someone else's project which had gone bad. Still, I wanted it badly enough that I didn't demand a refund/return, but I just set it aside as a future project.

Recently, I showed it to Jesse, and he decided he would like to add it to his collection of old Japanese axes. So, I got to work on it, Friday.

First, I removed the godawful mismatched junk tuners that came with it...

Then, I plugged all of the screw holes,

 and touched up the paint on the back of the head stock.

 After I installed new tuners, I turned to the wiring.

The pick guard and pickups that are on the guitar are not original, nor is the paint. When this guitar left the factory, it had 4 pickups, and was painted red. Someone in the past spray-painted the guitar black, and grafted on a two-pickup pick guard, which almost (but not quite) fit.

Inside, there was some of the worst wiring I have ever encountered in a guitar. The pots were corroded...

the rocker switches for the neck pickup were wired backward...

and numerous connections were just twisted together and taped. Other connections had big globs of solder on them, which I had to remove and replace.

Three hours after I started working on the wiring, I had both pickups and all of the switches working. The corroded pots were replaced with new 500k pots, and I trimmed the pick guard so that it fit between the neck and the bridge.

That night, I took it to Jesse so that he could play it a bit and see if he wanted to modify anything before we do the finish work. He wants a tortoise shell pick guard, for sure, but I want to make sure that he is happy with the pickups before I start cutting a new guard.

Once it is complete, I will post pictures of final build on the old Teisco.

Next up, Back To The Future! (I created an approximation of a guitar I once owned...)


Friday, January 05, 2018

New EDC Knife

I have carried pocket knives for the last 50 years. I got my first one for a nickle, at a flea-market in Nashville (and I still have it), when I was six. In school, I sneaked them in, and ended up getting a special "hall pass" to carry one in high school, because I got tired of sneaking around. I was able to convince the principal that I was responsible enough to carry a knife without misusing it. Teachers regularly came to me to cut packages open, etc.

A good knife is one of the most useful tools you can own, and I just can't seem to get through a day without using mine. The only time you will see me intentionally without a knife in my pocket is if I'm flying, attending court, or in some other setting where they are prohibited.

But, my Every-Day-Carry pocket load is a bit of a challenge, sometimes. In addition to my knife, I regularly carry:
nail clipper (another multi-use tool)
change (sometimes)

So, I prefer a small knife, to save pocket space, and one which can be opened with one hand. For quite awhile I carried assisted-opening folders with pocket clips. But, I found that the clips wore the fabric of my pants, and the knife would catch the edge of my hand as I reached in my pocket for my keys.

I also prefer less-expensive knives. Carrying something everyday lends itself to wear and tear, loss and/or confiscation (I have forgotten I had a knife in my pocket 3 times, within the last 5 years, as I was flying somewhere. So, I had to dispose of them at the airport.)

Last year, I started carrying small fixed-blade knives with flat Kydex sheathes. These are designed to be worn around the neck, hanging from a chain or cord. I carried mine, minus the chain, in my hip pocket with my sketchbook. I liked freeing up the space in my front pocket, and it was a comfortable carry, but I found that keeping up with the sheath was something of a pain.

So, I attached the sheath to the knife with a leather cord, so that I could pull the knife out and the sheath would stay attached. I t was a workable solution, but not ideal.

The other day, I was perusing knives online, and I saw a small neck knife that I really liked the blade shape on. Looking at the specs, I realized that it was even smaller than the knife I was currently carrying, so I bought one.  Minutes later, I ran across the Kershaw Pub, a friction folder that looked ideally suited to hip pocket carry.

Naturally, I ordered up one of those, as well. I figured I would choose which one I liked best, out of the two new knives, and try carrying it for a few days to see if I liked it well enough to make it permanent. The M-Tech fixed-blade was under $10.00, and the Kershaw Pub cost a princely $16.99, so I figured I could afford to try both out.

They arrived, today, and I pulled them out to compare them with the Shadow Ops knife (also under $10.00) I've been carrying for a few months:

With the pen to give them some scale, you can see how small all three knives are. The Pub is quite a bit shorter than the other two, and about the same thickness. That is a plus for the Pub...

The knife on top is the new M-Tech fixed-blade. I particularly like the shape of the blade. The point lends itself to drilling small holes through plastic or leather (something I use my knife for more than one would think). That's a plus for the  M-Tech. The Pub is much more like a utility knife shape.

The grip on the Pub is comfortable in my hand, and I can easily open it with one hand.

Plus, there is no sheath to worry about with the Pub, and it features a handy bottle opener and flat-blade screwdriver, which allows me to remove the Gerber Claw tool from my keychain. So, I am going to carry it for a bit and see how the blade shape suits me.

Knives ... yet another thing about which I tend to geek out.


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Christmas Blues and Bruise

On the Friday before Christmas, I was riding my new winter commuter build to the coffee shop, trying out the new gearing, when I hit a patch of particularly slick ice at about 18 mph. I hit the ground hard, left knee first (closely followed by my ribs on that side). I don't think anything broke, but the knee swelled up pretty big, and I have some bruised ribs for sure.

I hit the ground right at an intersection, and slid to the second house from the next intersection. The ice was hard enough that the bike slid as far as I did; the pedal never even dug in and slowed or stopped it. As I got up, I knew that I was hurt, but I continued on to Kaladi Brothers for my morning coffee.

I stopped on the D.U. campus and took a couple of pictures, then went to the coffee shop. As I sat, I flexed my knee, periodically, in an effort to prevent it from becoming too stiff to ride home. I didn't want to bother anyone, calling for a rescue, and i knew that it was going to be a challenge to ride, even if I kept the knee flexible. Every time I flexed the knee, the pain would make my vision start to go black, and I would feel nauseated, so i would let up and do it again, a fter a few minutes. It was a strange visit to the coffee shop...

But, it worked, and I was able to ride home, in a slow and ouchy sort of way.

I took last week off, at work, in order to recuperate. Eleven days later, the knee is still tender to the touch, and I have a limited range of motion. I can bend it to sit in a chair, or drive, but I can't make a revolution of a bike crank. (And, yes, I have been icing it and taking ibuprofen.)

Needless to say, I didn't get a lot of projects done, since I was trying to stay off of my feet, for the most part. By Thursday, I was able to bend the knee enough that I could install my new anti-gremlin bell on my motorcycle. Carol got it for me, for Christmas, to replace the one I lost when I broke the clutch cable on the Scrambler.

I used a stainless steel zip tie to hold it on. The copper wire, which held the original, is in my tool

I also got Ted's school-desk tabletop guitar finished...

All I had to do was design and cut the pickguard, and do the final setup on the bridge. It came out really nice.

By Saturday, with the help of an afternoon nap and numerous shots of Wild Turkey as we played, I was able to get through our show at Englewood Tavern with little discomfort. It was a hoot playing there, and we will be returning. I just need to arrange it.

Needless to say, no New Year's Day Bike Ride, this year. I'm hoping to be able to ride within the week. I figure that I will wait until the scab on my knee is gone to worry about the knee joint, itself. I figure it will take at least as long to heal as the skin over my kneecap will take. If it's still a problem after the scab is gone, I will call the doctor.

More, later...


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

New Icy Commute Build

I think we all know the N + 1 formula for how many bikes one needs. In honor of that, I recently built a new "fast" snow bike for icy commuters. This bike replaces one I sold, last Spring, in an effort to thin the herd, a bit.  

That didn't last long!

The bike I sold was a red and black late 80s Specialized RockHopper. (It started out all red, but I had custom rattled-canned it a few years ago.) So, I replaced it with another red circa 1988 RockHopper frame that I have owned for 10 or 12 years. During that time, it has been built as everything from a full-on bagged tourer/commuter to a fixedgear montain bike.

I tried to build the bike with no cash outlay by utilizing parts I had hanging around in my shop building. I ended up buying grips and a set of brake cables and housing, plus some $22.00 platform pedals from eBay. When I was done, it looked like this:

The rear rack is from a Huffy 3-speed. The brakes are generic V-brakes I bought for another project which ended up with different brakes, The crank is a RaceFace from a 10-year old build I did for a friend who ended up trading the bike back for a fixed townie, Wheels are a disc-hubbed Sun Rhino on the back, and a RedLine hub with a Ritchey rim on the front. The cog, on the original build shown here, is a 20-tooth Tomi-Cog which bolts to the disc carrier, with a single 20 tooth cog on the freehub on the other side. Mary Bars and a leather Brooks clone from Asia provide contact points, and old Deore brake levers (early 90s, I think) pull the brake cables.

Tires are cheap Innova studded rubber. The front is half of my first set which I bought back in 2007, when I was doing the every-day bike commute. It is a 2.1" The rear is a 1.9", which replaced one of the original tires after the sidewall blew out. I never liked the smaller tire, but it was all I could find, at the time.

I rode to work on it when we had a little snow, a couple of weeks ago. It was a good shakedown cruise and I found a few things I needed to change. The front fender, which is a rear 29er fender in reality, kept catching my foot. The 34 x 20 gearing was way too low for the conditions, I have the fat-front geared like that so I can push through 8 or 10 inches of snow, but I don't need that capability on this bike. Also, the grips I bought were too small for my hands, so I figured I'd have to buy some Ergons.

Also, I decided to bite the bullet and buy some new studded tires. The small tire on the rear has never suited me, and they are 10 years and 8 years old cheap tires. So, i splurged on some Kenda Klondike 2.2" tires from eBay. One was used, and one was new, but I ended up only spending as much as the new tire lists for, retail. 

While I waited for the tires to arrive, I worked on the other problems. I turned the fron fender around, and put the long portion of the fender in front of the fork. This prevents it from hitting my foot, and also hugs the radius of the tire better.

As i was working, I found an old pair of Ergons I had cut down to use with GripShift. So, I cut some pieces from a round grip to make them full-length, and installed them.

One of my tires arrived, over the weekend, so I put it on the rear rim. While I had the wheel off, I swapped the 20-tooth cog for a 16-tooth version, and removed a link from the chain. The old rack bag I used with my XO-2 is zip-tied to the rack, and I borrowed the frame bag from the Surly.

I might get to use it, this weekend, if the weather-guessers are right!


Monday, November 06, 2017

Semi-Hollow Tabletop Guitar is Complete!

Yesterday, I decided to finish the semi-hollow tabletop guitar and see how it plays. I didn't even think to take pictures as I was working, since I was kinda solving problems as I went.

My original plan was to install a Les Paul Jr.  pickguard that I had ordered for one of my guitars. It turned out to be the wrong variant for the guitar I have, so I figured it would be nice to get some use out of it.  With the pickguard in place, I planned to cut a hole in the guitar top, and mount the volume pot and output jack to the top of the guitar. The pickguard would cover the hole and the channel I cut for the wiring. 

Unfortunately, the depth of the guitar body didn't allow for inserting the fittings and sliding them to the mounting holes. So, I had to come up with an alternate plan.

I cut the top, and trimmed the pickguard to allow for mounting the pot and jack directly to the pickguard, itself. It was a little bit different from the original plan, but worked out nicely, all the same.

I mounted the Gretsch-style toaster humbucker in the lead position, and strung the guitar with Ernie Ball Slinkys. The electric tone is, as expected, somewhat more trebly than the solid body tabletop guitar I originally built. Oddly, the acoustic tone is, as well. I expected the semi-hollow body to produce a deeper acoustic tone.

My theory is that the strings are affecting the tone. I put Fat Bottom/Skinny Top strings on the other guitar, and I think that the thicker strings on the bass-end mellow the acoustic tone out, somewhat.

Regardless, I played the thing for about an hour after I got the intonation in good shape, and it is a fun little guitar to play. I reminds me very much of the old Japanese guitars that I played all the time in college.

I'm thinking that I should sell one or other of the tabletops. I don't really need both. It's kind of a "Sophie's Choice" situation, trying to figure out which one to let go of, though...


Friday, October 27, 2017

The Semi-Hollow Tabletop Guitar Build Progress

If you watch my Instagram or Facebook feed, you have seen most of these photos, already. But, I want to go into a bit more detail about the build, and gather the photos into one place. So, here we go...

Awhile back, I saw a guitar on the Antebellum Instruments blog, and decided that I had to have one like it. So, I built my own version.

 I used my old Truetone parlor slide guitar's body as a template, traced it onto the top of a vintage end table I had bought at the thrift store, and cut out with my jigsaw. Once it was sanded, I treated it with Cherry-tint Danish Oil, installed a P-90 at an angle to match the manufacturer's stamp on the underside of the top (which I used as the top of the guitar because I liked the stamp and the row of staples), and installed a neck I had bought for a project, which never got built, last year. The tailpiece is from a junk Harmony, and the bridge came from the same defunct project as the neck. The tuners were just in my general guitar parts bin; part of a batch I bought when I first started building cigar box guitars.

When it was done, I had used up some of my surplus parts, and I ended up with a guitar which sounds surprisingly good as an acoustic. It's great for sitting in the porch swing and playing, or for working up new songs. Plugged in, it sounds like an amplified acoustic, on the clean channel, and gets nicely raunchy if you add a bit of gain to the amp signal.

Having "gone to school" on that build, I wanted to refine my technique by building another, similar, guitar. But, I didn't want another of the same version, so I decided to build a semi-hollow version using as many surplus parts as possible, and buying the fewest parts necessary.

I did end up buying a bridge and tailpiece, just because the ones I had lying about didn't suit me. Those two items cost me about $12.50, together, so it didn't add a lot of cost to the built, but I think they added a lot of value.

For this version, I used an old Epiphone Les Paul Junior single-cutaway body as my template, traced onto another thrift store table. I flipped it to produce what is, essentially, the body size and shape of an early-60s double-cut Melody Maker, like Joan Jett famously plays.

I then traced a second outline about a half-inch inside the original outline. Once I had cut the shape out, I cut along the inner line to produce the sides of the guitar.

The end result gave me sides I could glue the top and back to, without having to use purfling. My goal was to keep it simple, as if it was built by a Mississippi farmhand, in the barn. Professional luthiery was not my goal.

Once I had the sides cut out, I sanded the finish off of the wood, so that the TiteBond wood glue would penetrate. Then, I cut the top and back panels from some furniture-grade 1/8" plywood I had bought 3 or 4 years ago, using a cardboard template of the same shape as the side piece, but slightly larger, so that it would overlap.

I glued the back on, clamped it up, and set it aside for a few days to let the glue cure.

The next time I had a chance to work on it, 5 days later, I took the remains of the tabletop and cut the center block for the semi-hollow construction out of that piece. Once the finish was sanded off, it gave me a center block the same thickness as the sides, making it a simple proposition to glue the top on.

Once the glue was on, I clamped the edges, and weighted the center to facilitate the bond between the center block and the top and back panels. A few days later, I pulled the clamps and began working the edges of the plywood back to be flush with the sides.

After some experimenting, I found that the wood rasp was the easiest and most effective tool to use for cutting back the edges. After about an hour, I had the rough shape and I was ready to start sanding.

Just as I had done with the solid version, I sanded everything with a pretty coarse sandpaper (80 grit), to leave a certain "rustic" look to the wood.

In the meantime, I removed the paint from the neck of the same Epiphone LP Jr. whose body had served as a template for the semi-hollow.

Once the paint was off of the neck, I got out the Dark Walnut Danish Oil and applied it to the body.

I will be staining the back of the neck after I finish sanding the back of the headstock.

I stained the front of the headstock, just to see how it was going to look with the body. I am very pleased with the look. Danish Oil lends the guitar a weathered, somewhat "vintage" look which will improve as the guitar is played. The Danish Oil will wear down in places where a player comes into contact with it, and that will lend a bit of character to the guitar.

I had to put  little wood putty on the back of the headstock. Once it has cured so that I can sand, I will stain the back of the neck, and start assembly. I am still contemplating how to cover the wiring and mount the Volume pot and output jack.

Who knows...? I might have the guitar finished, this weekend. Then again, it might be another couple of weeks, depending on how much free time I end up with.

Once this one is complete, I have to figure out which one I like the best, semi-hollow or solid, and sell the other. I have too many guitars as it it. I can't keep everything I build. Plus, I like to pass them along and see what other people accomplish with them.