A Manga Family Portrait

A Manga Family Portrait, drawn by our 14 year old manga artist. We think it's a family self portrait, but we don't know for sure. For one thing, the artist didn't draw her younger brother as a bratty pest, which he usually happily admits to being. We all think the artist really captured the spirit of our family well! That is, if this actually is our family.

Restyling an Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior / Special, Part 2: Cutting a New Pickguard

The title of this post is kind of a misnomer, since this particular Epiphone Les Paul Special II never did have a pickguard. But a newly made pickguard is indeed "new", so okay, we'll leave that word in. Time to stop messing around with semantics, and pick up some cave man tools and see if we can get into some trouble.

In Part 1, we removed a couple layers of added artificial "aging" paint, one red coat and another of black over everything, and smoothed what was left of the original finish as well as possible:

For the moment, please ignore the pickguard mounting screws in the above picture; those were drilled after the pickguard was completed. As mentioned in Part 1, a WD single-layer cream Tele pickguard was placed over the Epi Les Paul Special body, with a surprising discovery:

Amazingly (hey, almost everything is amazing after a couple micro-brews at 11:30 PM), the cutout on the bottom edge of the Tele pickguard, to fit around a Telecaster bridge plate, nearly exactly fits against a Gibson P90 pickup cover. Also, the cutout for the heel of the neck is within  1/8" of fitting - cool!

The next step was to place the Epiphone Special body face down on the back of the Tele pickguard, align the neck pocket and pickup cutouts, and trace the outline of the body with a soft pencil. Here's a scan of the pickguard after that, and a rough outline of a possible pickguard shape were roughed in:

Then, a sheet of 8x10 printer paper was laid atop the back of the pickguard, and a tracing was done, and cut out:

That laid on the Epi body for a day, while I looked at it every so often, and tried to get used to the shape. I never did - it always felt like something was slightly "off" about the shape. The next day I took the pickguard off my beat up old '77 Gibson TV Special, and did this:

Getting closer. Using the TV Special pickguard as a guide, the paper template was modified:

Good enough. The cream pickguard was only going to be a temporary one anyway, until all the design kinks got worked out, and then a final pickguard would be made, done in whatever color seemed correct. The paper template was placed over the back of the WD pickguard, a line traced around it, and checked with the TV Special scratch-plate:

Okay, now it's time to cut the pickguard down to fit. Went to the local hardware store (we're really lucky to even have a local hardware store anymore, considering), and got new blades for the coping saw. And then, hate to say, but after all these years of fearlessly attacking any and every project, I suddenly got "performance anxiety". You might say I was, having never cut up a pickguard before, having difficulty coping with picking up the coping saw, and tearing into the 'guard.

This lasted a couple days, during which time I binge watched old episodes of Duck Tales in a darkened room, stuffing my face with Cheetos. Just kidding! The starter went out in the Isuzu Oasis, and that took a while to learn how to replace, and then actually doing it. But the truth is, I was nervous, so I didn't take any pictures of the pickguard slicing process, since I knew for sure that I would mess it up. But it turned out okay after all, and here instead are a couple shots taken while making the second and final pickguard, when it got easier:

As you can see, those cuts are rough, and final shaping had to be done with a sharp new blade in an old Stanley knife.

To create the bevels on the edge of the 'guard, hold the pickguard firmly with one hand, and grab the knife with the other hand, and slide the blade along the edge at an angle and gradually trim off the plastic. The trick is to not cut into the pickguard material, but place the blade perpendicular to the plastic, and "shave" it off a little at a time. This is easy to get the hang of - even if you've never done it before, it turns out well:

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This blog post is getting kinda lengthy. It's time for a late lunch, and the garden weed patch needs watering as well. In the meantime, here's a cute picture:

Okay, let's continue, and attach the newly reshaped Telecaster pickguard to this Epiphone Special body. Luckily, the Tele 'guard already had counter-sunk mounting holes. I had a Snappy brand self centering hinge drill bit on hand from my last Tele-Parts-O-Caster project. First, tape the pickguard down exactly where it needs to be. It's great to take your time doing this, since it's kind of an irrevocable act, no go-backs or do-overs, without a lot of hassle:

Look like it's in the right place? Okay, then chuck the Snappy bit (still made in the good ol' USA!) into the drill/driver:

The Snappy self-centering bit has, well, guess what? A self-centering bit! And it works, too. Just stick the bit guard down into the mounting hole in the pickguard, get the drill as plumb (straight up and down) as possible, and then, while squeezing the trigger on the drill (make sure it's cutting forward, not reverse), and gently push downwards on the drill. The actual drill is spring loaded, and not only does it start protruding from its outer tube as you push down, but it also automatically bottoms out, and not too deep for a guitar body, so no risk of drilling out the other side. Actually, it's easier to use than to explain the process:

And really, that's it. After drilling all the holes in the body, take the pickguard and tape off, clean out any sawdust there may be on the body, and then put the scratch-plate back on with some appropriate sized screws. I used some old screws I had in a parts bin, and this is what it looked like:

Now you can see a bit of my secret shame: I have a really messy workbench, full of junk and old crap and memorabilia and sentimental stuff too. In that picture is a 1950s wall clock, an ancient mechanical movement VOM, a painted plaster image of the patron angel of Maastricht, Netherlands (the mayor gave everyone in the band their own angel when we did a concert there),  a drawing my kid made of Finn from Adventure Time, a really great sounding old CTS 12" speaker that came out of a '60s Conn organ and is now in my custom made compact Leslie cab, a bunch of bicycle cable housing pieces, old books, paper covered output transformers, and a ton of other stuff too.

The next day I went back to the hardware store and got some really cool looking, real brass #6 x 1/2" screws. Put an actual pickup in, wired up some pots, stuck the original wrap-around bridge back on, and a couple strap buttons too:

Here's a couple more shots of the beveled pickguard edges:

And that's about the end of this installment. Next time, we'll get around to more or less finish putting the Epi Special together, at least enough to take it to a jam and work the bugs and kinks out. In the meantime, here's a photo of how it looks so far:

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As always, tap or click on any image to see a larger, higher def version. All photos (except the cute one) were taken with one of our four cute and handy Lumix and Canon pocket travel cameras.

What's That Bug Doing?

This morning I was heading out the sliding door into the back yard, and saw a small face with prominent round eyes, almost at my own eye level, but on the other side of the screen. Grabbed a camera, and took a picture of a very interesting green bug. Opened the door, and got another picture, but when I previewed that on the camera viewfinder, I thought "Whoa - what's that bug doing?"

Well, whatever it was doing, it seemed like a private moment, so I left it alone. Later, the little green bug was gone, but it had left something behind on the screen. It's either bug poop, or bug eggs, judging from the behavior I had (pardon me) witnessed earlier.

Let's zoom in:

I must say, if those are eggs, Madame Bug, you have some charming looking children. And if that's dung, Sir or Madame as the case may be, that's some very stylish excreta!

Shellacked Cotton String Wrapped Pickup

There's an old roll of cotton string hanging around in the junk drawer in the kitchen - bought at a hardware store in Colorado over 20 years ago, made it through a couple moves, used for a ton of stuff over the years, and now it's almost gone. Technically (but how technical can you get with string?), it's probably more properly called twine, 8 ply - eight smaller threads twisted together - very simple yet strong. One thing that's changed over time, due to being tossed around in the drawer and sometimes left outside, is that the string is getting kind of "fuzzy".

In a back corner of a guitar parts bin, there was a broken single coil pickup. I can't remember what model of guitar it came out of, but when I replaced it for a friend, I tossed it into the bin and forgot about it. The coil is taller than a Strat pickup, with flat top Alnico magnets and unusual scalloped mounting flanges. It has a whole lot of wire wound around the magnets, and back in the 1970s it was probably hotter than most other pickups.

Old dead pickup, old almost used up roll of string... Sounds like the ingredients for another experimental science project. I wrapped a layer of string around the coil; toward the top, you can see where I started the string wind, and some of the red-colored coil wire wrap is peeking out:

Wanted to do at least two wraps of string, but the magnet wire was wound very close to maximum capacity between the coil formers (bobbin, flatwork, whatever). Next, some amber shellac was brushed on liberally over the string, and allowed to dry for a couple of hours. Then, another application of shellac, and the pickup sat overnight.

Looks pretty cool. Although the shellac still has a wet appearance, it's actually quite dry, and the whole layer of shellacked string has glued itself together into a solid and very hard protective shell around the coil windings. If this pickup ever got rewound, it would need some protection, since it's too large to fit under a Strat style cover. Now, I'll consider having this old unknown pickup salvaged, and do the shellacked string thing over again.

Somewhere in the distant past I've seen a transformer that had a similar appearance; maybe in some antique military electronic piece from the 1920s (?). In any case, as an experiment it was at least a cosmetic success. Whether or not the hardened shellac has any tonal advantage or makes horrible squeals at high volumes, won't be known until it gets repeated on a working pickup.

Yes, we have achieved success with dead material; now it's time to see what happens when we experiment on a living subject - alive, I tell you, alive!!!

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Credit to James Whale and Colin Clive, and Boris Karloff's hand. Unseen off camera, Terri Garr gazes adoringly at the Doctor, a quizzical look on her lovely face - no wait, that's another movie.

Autumn 2017

I took a break from blogging for a while last year, and didn't get around to posting these photos from Autumn of 2017.

It's been mentioned a few times that this blog, like The Doctor and his wandering blue call box, exists outside the confines of time and space. We don't take liberties with linear time, so much as we simply disregard it. This ain't twitter. In a world, and universe, where we are literally surrounded by beauty, if we choose to see it, absolute linearity is not a virtue.

Maybe next week I'll post photos from the winter's big snow storm. In the meantime, have a Happy Autumn.

All photos taken with a Lumix DMC-ZS25 pocket sized travel-zoom camera. Program mode, ISO 100-400, flash off, color setting Vivid, no photoshop. Click or tap on any picture above to access larger, higher def images.

Aerial View of Edinburgh, by Alfred G. Buckham, 1920

Quite possibly the greatest aerial photograph ever taken. Photographed by Alfred Buckham only 17 years after the first manned flight, this image must have been a thing of wonder, truly mind boggling at the time; almost 100 years later, it's still breathtaking. To learn more about this photo, and about pioneering aerial photographer Alfred G. Buckham, go to the National Galleries Scotland website.

Most online reproductions of this photo have been artificially tinted in a faint sepia tone in order to, presumably, make the image seem aged. Although it may not be apparent to those who choose to ignore the obvious, keep in mind that when this picture was taken, it was new, and not old. It looks a lot better in black and white.

Restyling an Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior / Special, Part 1

This is the tale of an ugly little Epiphone Les Paul Special that no one wanted, and how it got a style makeover. And now, even though it's still ugly, it gets a lot of attention everywhere it goes, appreciated not only for its one of a kind uniqueness, but also for its lovely voice. And really, that's all any one of us could ever hope for in life.

Every story has a beginning, and this one starts with an ugly little speaker cabinet that no one wanted, until it found a loving home:

Long ago, possibly in a faraway land, this cab started life as a solid state guitar amplifier, and there's no way to know what brand or model it may have been. At some point the amp circuit died, and its owner removed the amp chassis and tossed that into a dumpster. Then, he put in a really unattractive hand sawn plywood baffle that filled the entire front of the cab. It was even uglier than it is now, with an unpainted baffle, no grill cloth, and a chunk of MDF hammered into the back opening and glued crudely into place.

When my friend David was rebuilding a late '60s Bassman head, he needed a speaker cab to test out his repairs and circuit mods as he went along, and found an ugly particle board cabinet on craigslist, really cheap. Besides its unsightliness, one reason it was cheap was that it didn't come with a speaker. I contributed an old Cerwin Vega 12", and that combination got David through his amp restoration project. Later he put the Bassman chassis into a beautiful JD Newell 2x10 combo cab, but that's another story.

Over the years, this ugly cabinet has had numerous 12" drivers in it, for auditioning various speakers, and as an extension cab for testing other tube amp mods and repairs, and it became known as The Test Cab. Which sounds better than The Ugly Cabinet. The Test Cab spent time both here and at David's shop, and when he moved back to Mass, I inherited it.

Out of all the 12" speakers that have been in The Test Cab, one of the best tonal combinations has been with an ugly old vintage speaker that no one wanted:

That's a Fender labeled CTS, original equipment in an early 1970s Deluxe Reverb Amp. I had replaced it with a late '60s Jensen C12N; a friend in Colorado now has that amp, but doesn't want the CTS back at all - he's a guitar player, not a vintage hound or collector. I'm not a collector either, but old stuff seems to find me, and I always have too many 12" speakers. I've tried selling that '70s CTS a few times - Reverb, eBay, craigslist, and nobody ever wants it. A real 40+ year old vintage Fender speaker that still works well and sounds great, for a low price, and no one wanted it.

That is, until a couple months ago. I put the CTS up for sale again on local craigslist as a combo deal with The Test Cab, since there's now more than one empty cabinet in my shop for testing. Only $35.00, and no bites for over two weeks - until someone answered the ad, and asked if I was up for a trade, and sent this picture:

Hey, I've seen that Epiphone Les Paul Special II before, and I know that out-building, which is a cozy music studio in a little town a few miles west of here. I had some clue who had answered the ad, and I replied: John, you don't have to trade that Epiphone, you can just have that speaker cab, I'm happy it's going to a good home.

But John loves to barter and trade for stuff, almost as much as he likes making music and building unique and interesting guitars. He wanted that ugly old cab with the unloved speaker, and wouldn't accept them as a gift. So I did end up with that funky Les Paul, but I took all the hardware bits off and gave them back to John, keeping just the control pots and switch.

Although these inexpensive low-end Epiphones are made of some strange space-age faux wood, they're really okay, except for the low-quality tuners, bridge, and pickups. This particular guitar had a neck I really liked, with a chunky, solid feeling '50s profile, and no fret wear at all. Almost unplayed, and pretty much like new, except for the badly done "relic" job on the body:

I'm not a fan of the whole relic thing in general - you know, if you want a beat up looking guitar, get a new or used one and play the shit out of it, and in the process become a better guitar player too - but I'm also a believer that whatever you own, you have the right to mess it up. And mess it up is what the original (or second?) owner did, to this poor Epi LP Special.

First, he sprayed red enamel over the original finish, without sanding or putting a primer on first, then applied a black coat on top of the red. After that, all layers of finish were sanded down through to the top veneer wood in a few spots to simulate wear, probably with an orbital sander. The final step in the uglification process was to apply a very tough epoxy-like clear coat over those areas that were sanded through.

Soon after I got this guitar from John, I noticed that small paint chips, red on one side and black on the other, were being left behind wherever I'd lain the Epi down - on the couch, the kitchen table, or the workbench. Since the relic job didn't include a primer or sanding between coats, the new finish was beginning to lift off. One night I absentmindedly started picking away at it with a fingernail, and a whole bunch of paint came quickly off:

At the same time, I grabbed an unused Telecaster pickguard and placed it on the Epiphone body:

Wow and amazing - the Tele bridge plate cutout on the 'guard perfectly fit the P-90 bridge pickup rout, and the neck cutout was only about 1/8" from fitting. The bottom horn was way too big for the smaller Les Paulish body, but still, it's something to think about.

Next day, I set up a couple sawhorses with boards laid on top, and started scraping off the ugly new finish:

Here's a picture taken as soon as the bulk of the relic paint was removed; I kept the two bridge mounting studs screwed in, to keep paint chips out of the stud anchors:

Next step was rubbing it all down with steel wool to get the last paint remnants off, and smooth it all down:

Here are close up shots of two of the fake worn-through spots on the body; note the tough clear coat that resisted scraping:

In the next picture, the top had been steel wooled as much as possible without wearing the original finish down too much. It's hard to see the wood grain of the top veneer layer beneath the semi-transparent black satin finish (possibly called "Worn Ebony"?) in this outdoor shot, but it's a very nicely done, subtly attractive top coat:

The last five pictures are slightly out of sequence - a pickguard was made after the red and black paint was removed, but before the body was steel wooled. You can see the newly drilled pickguard mounting holes if you look closely.

In Part 2, we'll make (or actually, adapt) the new pickguard, and look at a couple other mods that might work with the Epiphone Les Paul Special II. In the meantime, we'll end this installment with another view of the restyled ugly little Epiphone: