Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Story of My Number 1


My number 1 started out as parts. While living in CA and working at a music shop, I got the itch to assemble a guitar. One of the guys I worked with at the shop, Rick Torres (no relation to Dan), had a Chandler Alder top-routed HSH Strat body and he sold it to me for $100. He then helped me acquire the rest of the parts.

  • Warmoth Strat neck with boat contour, 6105 frets, maple fingerboard, compound 10"-16" radius. (This was pre Warmoth Pro contruction with the Gotoh side truss rod adjustment. At that time it was just called "Warmoth Construction").
  • Gotoh vintage style Strat trem.
  • Kluson tuners.

I had some pots lying around so I grabbed a 500k and set it aside. A 3-way blade switch I bought at the shop. Rick gave me a green switch tip and yellow "Tone" knob.

When the time came to decide on pickups, I was unsure. My buddy Johnny convinced me to get the Custom Custom for the bridge. Being tight on a budget, I put a Jackson JC90 that I had laying around in the neck for a while. Eventually, a Jazz neck would find its way there.

The pickguard was heavily EVH influenced. I got a sheet of tortoiseshell celluloid and cut a Frankenstein style guard myself. It was rough but it did the trick. The pickups ended up being mounted right to the body with the Custom Custom having a couple nuts under each tab to lift it up to the desirable height.

The body was finished in a couple of coats of clear polyurethane. The neck was at first finished in a couple coats of Watco Oil but a couple years ago I re-finished it with Minwax Poly Satin, wiped on with a soft cloth.

It has seen several pickguard and pickup changes since and the tuners were replaced a few years ago with another set of Klusons.

Final assembly took place in November 1993 at Rick’s house. He helped me mount the neck, mount the bridge, put the tuners on, and even cut the nut. I actually did most of the work, he just guided me through the process and showed me tips and such. The wiring I did myself.

Current Configuration: 
Seymour Duncan Screamin' Demon (bridge and neck)
WD Music Matte Black Pickguard


Thanks, Rick and Johnny.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tools of the Tech

Not long after I started playing guitar, I also starting tearing them apart. My first electric was a cheap Strat copy and I took that thing down to a pile of parts, much to my father's displeasure. He just said, "Get it back together.", and I did. It was a learning experience and one I don't regret. Since then, I have done pretty much all of my own repairs and regular tech work. Fret jobs is the only thing that I have not done, though that is about to change. Other than that, I do my own work and have done work for friends too.

The other day I was browsing the walls of one of the local locations of a very well known musical instrument chain. At one point I saw their "tech" go to their repair counter with a customer's guitar to work on it. The customer was there too explaining the issue. Then I saw it, and I cringed, and I wanted to say something, but I didn't because, well, he's the "tech". If he eff's up the instrument, it's his problem. What I saw was the "tech" using a power screwdriver to remove the jack plate screws. These are small screws and don't require a lot of torque. No power tool is necessary for that. That power screwdriver could slip and hit the guitar, leaving a nice scratch or worse. Just a big no-no. A simple hand screwdriver is sufficient, and the proper tool for the job.


Unless a new hole is being drilled, routing is being done, buffing a refinish and maybe stripping for a refinish, keep the power tools away. There are expert luthiers who use dremel tools to do inlay work and such, and that is fine, they are experts and trained in their craft. Since I like simple dot inlays, that's not something I see myself needing to do. I buy necks already done anyway. So remember, when working on your instruments, hand tools are your friends. Use them.


Here is a list of tools for a starter tech toolbox. A lot of these can be purchased at a local hardware store. Some of the more specialty tools, like nut files, can be purchased from Stewart-MacDonald or Warmoth.

  • Phillips screwdriver (#1 and #2 at least)
  • Flathead screwdriver (small and large)
  • Nut files
  • Rat tail file
  • Flat file
  • Feeler gauges
  • Allen wrenches (for adjusting saddles and Floyd Rose trems)
  • Small 6-inch steel ruler (w/ inches and mm)
  • Small needle nose pliers
  • Wire strippers
  • Alligator clips
  • Digital multimeter
  • Strobe tuner
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder (rosin core)
  • Caliper (dial or digital)
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Utility knife
  • Electrical tape

Friday, October 4, 2013

DIY Circuit: Marsha Valve

Back in 2005, I was knee deep in DIY and having lots of fun with it. Granted, I hadn't been doing it very long, maybe a year, but I was learning quite a bit and started coming up with my own ideas. One of them was based off a circuit named the Fetzer Valve from Runoffgroove.

The Fetzer is based off the first input stage of a Fender amp. I decided to take that idea and make one that is the first input stage of a Marshall amp, which is where the name came from. It came out better than expected and so I decided to share it with the DIY community. Turns out that several folks like it and quite a few had been made, even by beginners. It's an easy circuit to make.

I still have one of the first ones I built and just recently started using it again. There's quite a bit of boost to it. In front of a clean amp, you'll get a noticeable volume increase. In front of a slightly overdriven amp, you'll still get some volume increase but it'll saturate the front end of the amp more increasing the drive. Pretty typical of a boost circuit. I like the bit of Marshall flavor it adds to the sound.

In the PDF below, the schematic, perfboard and veroboard layouts are included, as well as a couple photos of the completed circuit.