101.8º Fever Two Hour Collage Challenge

"Happy Service Animals"

* Note: The following blog post was written in May of 2019. In it I somewhat humorously describe what at the time felt like a seriously life-threatening experience. However, for many others who came down with that same strain of the influenza virus last year, it was no laughing matter - indeed, between 30,000 and 60,000 in this country alone would never laugh again. This year's new and novel super virus is at this moment hitting the world like a modern-day Black Death plague, and it's all many of us can do on a daily basis to hold off fear and panic, and continue living our lives secure in some knowledge of, and hope for, a happy and productive future. As I write this, on Friday, April 3rd, 2020, our family is getting ready to celebrate the 20th birthday of our shining son, Take-o (nickname Tayo).

About a month ago I came down with a bad case of the deadly Influenza. The same disease that caused so much misery and tragedy in the early 20th Century, depopulating many towns throughout the US, it's still with us today. But now, we know how to deal with it, and very few people ultimately die as a result of contracting the ever mutating virus.

And no, it's not because of the "flu" vaccines that local supermarkets are happy to inject into you. Read the fine print on the label, and hidden in all the legalese jargon, it not so clearly states that the vaccine doesn't actually prevent contracting influenza, the manufacturer never specifically made any claims that it did, and you have no basis for any legal action or recourse whatsoever in case you sicken and die, so go talk to your own personal savior, amen.

What we actually do know now, that we didn't in 1918, is that the most efficacious method of recovery is to stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest in a clean and quiet place. So that's what I did, and it's hard to believe how many hours one can sleep through the course of a day when you have a fever over 101 degrees.

After almost three days of that, I felt well enough to sit at the kitchen table, and have a cup of soothing tea, while looking out at the springtime garden. There was a bundle of mail, and while going through it, a bunch of loose advertisements fell onto the table - stuff from a farm and ranch store, a couple pizza joints, an insurance agency, a store specializing in really crappy quality tools, a mail order cigar shop...

It was all so colorful laying there in a random mess; it was hard to stop staring at that cheerful pile of paper. It's been said that often, the most effective and compelling art is made during states of mental imbalance (or a short lifetime of it, like Van Gogh or Schubert). In my still feverish mind, I thought it would be fun to set myself an art challenge: What can be created from a very limited palette of material, in a very limited time, such as two hours?

I found a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and a sheet of blank printer paper, and got to "work". In spite of my best efforts, including making quick and imprecise cuts, the clock went about five minutes over, by the time the project felt done. So technically, I lost the self imposed challenge, but gained a strange and weird collage. It's the second collage I've done; the first was about a hundred years ago in a college art class. Since it's the product of a feverish (and thus unbalanced) mind, it must be art.

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Here's a link to a fine web (and print) magazine devoted to the art of collage: "kolaj". It's made and curated by real collage artists (unlike, let's say, a random half-crazed guy hopped up on chamomile tea), and features the work of today's best and brightest practitioners of the artform.

Restyling an Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior / Special, Part 4.5: Odds and Ends

This blog post in the series about the restyling of a really ugly Epiphone Junior / Special, is kind of non informative, just odds and ends of misc stuff, thoughts, and answers to a couple questions. So this installment doesn't even rate its own number in the series, and will be Part 4.5.

The first question might be: why does the guitar only have two skinny strings on it in the photo above? Honestly, I don't remember; but if I had to guess, I'd say I was in the middle of wiring up a new pickup, and put on a couple old strings to check the phase when both pickups were switched on. Or maybe I was tweaking the bolt-on neck alignment: put on a couple strings, loosen up the neck screws just enough to grab the neck and pull it into the proper alignment, and then re-tighten the screws.

Another question I've been asked is - why do I call this guitar a "Junior - Special", when it's actually a "Special II" model? Well, to me, this Ugly Epi doesn't feel like a Les Paul Special. I have an older Gibson Les Paul Special, it's technically a "55-77" model, and its design is based on a 1950s TV Special, "TV" meaning it's got a limed mahogany finish. Regular readers of this blog might know that my old Special has made occasional appearances, although so far it's not had a starring role:

Although it was made in the 1970s, and not the '50s, it's still a "real" Les Paul Special - it has a one piece 1 3/4" thick solid mahogany unbound body, flat top, no arched maple body cap, bound fingerboard, two pickups.

These days, Gibson has a dizzying array of different models of Les Paul, but not too long ago, there were only four: Custom, Deluxe, Special, and Junior. The Custom and the Deluxe were very nice and often beautiful examples of peak wood butcher's art, assembled and finished with great care. The Special was somewhat less so, with simplified appointments and features, and the Junior was a bare bones entry level stripped down hot rod, although still made with good attention to detail. The Junior had a lighter weight, slimmer 1 1/2" thick body, no fretboard binding, and a single pickup.

So, getting back to the beast in hand, the Epiphone Special II model may have two pickups instead of one, but when you pick it up and close your eyes and play it, it's a lightweight Les Paul Junior, and there's nothing wrong with that, at all.

And if you're wondering why I call this cute little guitar "Ugly", here's a reminder from Part 1:

Here's the Ugly Epi side by side with the '77 Gibson Special:

There are some noticeable differences, besides the Epiphone having a bolt on neck - the Gibson's body is a bit longer, the Epi a bit wider, the Epiphone has better higher fret access, and it's a lot lighter than the Gibson.

Here's an interesting photo:

Yep, a Fender neck fits in the heel pocket just fine. The screws aren't in the same places, but it's a thought for sure. Maybe a cheaper line Squier neck wouldn't feel too bad to make new neck mount screw holes in. And how's the intonation? Check this out:

Remember, most Epiphones have a 24 3/4" scale, and Fenders usually have 25 1/2" scale necks. Maybe not every wraparound bridge would have enough range of adjustment to fit, but this El Cheapo brand Leo Quan ripoff bridge would work. Like most low-end bridges, it may not have the best tone, but oh well.

One nice possible combo would be an Epiphone Junior or Special with the blond-ish yellow finish, paired up with a Squier one-piece maple neck. Anyway, just a random thought.

Ever see a P90 pickup without a cover on? Here ya go:

This sort of reminds me of how some steel guitar pickups look; those are usually 10 pole piece pickups instead of 6, but similar. A nice look would be a cotton string wrap, and wax potted or shellacked. Or, for heaven's sake, put some clothes on that pickup, for shame.

Another view of the really strange "not-wood" material that many, if not most, Epiphones are made of. Very moon-scape:

And lastly, a close up look at one of the fake-o "aged, worn" spots that a previous owner inflicted on the Epi:

Don't know yet what to do about those finish flaws; a new paint job seems excessive on such a low-buck project. In the meantime, I simply ran a large felt tip pen over the blemishes, and from any distance, it isn't noticeable, much.

That's about all the misc thoughts I have about the Ugly Epiphone project tonight; if I think of more, I'll post them here.

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To read more about this project, check out the other installments of "Restyling an Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior / Special", here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Click or tap on any photo to access larger, higher def images.

Restyling an Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior / Special, Part 4: Done Enough To Jam

In the evolutionary cycle of this Ugly Epiphone Junior / Special, we're almost at the point where it's complete enough to play, take to jams, and figure out what happens next, if anything. Last installment, Part 3, we installed a set of nice high quality Gotoh tuners, really necessary for playability - gotta have strings to play. With strings on, the Ugly Epi looked like this:

The Epi was put in the bare bones wreck of our living room, as a symbol - it was incomplete, and so was the room, while we tore the carpet out (I hate carpet in general, an unsanitary never totally cleanable societal plague), did a couple coats of pure white paint, and put in a wood plank floor - which will be a subject for another blog post. As seen above, the Ugly Paul had new Gotohs, no neck pickup, a Mighty Mite made in Korea P90 bridge pickup (with no cover!), mismatched strap buttons, two pots installed but only the volume wired up, and an original issue Epiphone wraparound tailpiece bridge.

That OEM bridge was a real horror story, and may explain why so many owners of these guitars get rid of them. The guitars, that is. Every time I or anyone else picked the Ugly Epi up, it was out of tune. You could literally tune it 50 times, and it would be all whacked out within ten minutes, every time. Within days, that was replaced with a Mighty Mite tailpiece, another really high quality Korean part:

The MM bridge is twice the weight of the original, and seems to add a lot, tonewise - girthier low twang, clearer high end, and more defined mids. The anchors were replaced as well, and after that, rock solid tuning stability, hooray. And yeah, I know, it's gold plated, doesn't match anything else, but for the time being that's okay. While the strings were off, the P90 got a cover from StewMac to hide its nakedness:

Also from StewMac, a pair of new nickle plated strap buttons, a gold "speed" volume knob, and a Gotoh nickle jack plate to replace the flimsy plastic one:

Next, a neck pickup was put in. Found a good deal on a gen-yoo-wine Fender Telecaster neck pickup on Reverb, and then puzzled out how to put it into a guitar that didn't have anywhere good to put it. The P90 neck pickup rout was a large deep swimming pool, and the WD pickguard was kind of weird - it had the modern 8 body attachment holes, but no mounting holes for a hanging Tele neck pickup. It would have relied on a vintage style screwed down to the body pickup arrangement, and that was a no-go in the deep P90 rout. So two mount holes were penciled in and drilled in the pickguard:

This project was full of "firsts" for me, not being very experienced with guitar hack mods. The only other Parts-O-Casters I've done were fairly easy to do, using parts that were meant to go together. In the background of the picture above, you can see a Bournes pull pot, which ended up doing a couple duties in the Ugly Epi. Here's the neck pickup mounted:

At first, only the volume control was wired up, and that was okay to get started, but with two pickups, there had to be a switch of some sort. I didn't have a three-way, so the pull-pot was put in and wired to kick the neck pickup on, and gradually blend it in with the bridge pickup - only two "switch" positions: bridge only, and neck + bridge, plus variable neck blending tones:

Interesting and different switching scheme, and then a tone pot was added, but still no 3-way switch:

That paper in oil capacitor sounds very decent; I guess the skinny on the .033uF value is it's supposed to sound very like an age drifted Sprague Bumblebee .022uF. Maybe. But still, quite decent tone. Also in the above photo, you can see the strange and crazy "not-wood" this Epi is made from; some sort of wild heat and pressure treated wood by-product creation, that actually has decent tone and stability. It's not the space age body and neck materials that hold Epiphones back (or down), it's the crummy hardware.

Okay, and now a word about "XGP" brand potentiometers. Another house brand at GFS, and the big question is: where do they find all the crappiest crap in the world, to mega hype and sell on their site? And no, I didn't buy these, a friend gave them to me to try out. I sometimes see folks on internet forums gushing about how great their GFS bodies, necks, and pickups are, and it feels like it's some kind of Bizzaro World equivalent of websites devoted to fine dining at McDonalds. And what makes a cheapo part deserve a label like crap? It isn't an unfounded value judgement - how about uneven taper, noisy even when new, and not zero volume in the off position?

The small control cavity originally had mini pots (and will again before we're through), and a previous owner did a creative hack job of enlarging the space enough to fit large pots, and still have mounting edges for the cover.

Well that's about it for now. Here's another view of the pickup and pickguard area:

Most everything "new" in one shot - note two new Gotoh large knurl nickel plated Telecaster dome knobs:

And a picture of the Ugly Epi hanging out with some new friends. Underneath all that junky old stuff, you might catch a glimpse of the newly done plank floor:

So the Ugly Little Epiphone Junior Special is done for the time being, while other things happen around the house and in our lives. But eventually, it's going to get some keeper stuff, like another bridge pickup, a non-gold bridge, a 3-way switch, some decent quality potentiometers, and a nice new faux red tortoise shell pickguard, if we can ever find and hunt down a faux red tortoise.

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All photos taken with either a Lumix ZS-25, or a Canon 790IS. Click or tap on any photo above to access larger, higher def images.

Here's a link to Part 4.5 in the series about this Ugly Epiphone Junior Special.

Restyling an Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior / Special, Part 3: Installing Gotoh Tuners

In Part 2 we created a "hybrid" Telecaster + Gibson style pickguard for the Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior - Special. This time, let's see what we can do to improve the looks of the headstock, while also getting a set of high quality tuning machines, which this guitar so far hasn't yet had.

When I first got this Epi Paul in a trade, it not only had been badly "reliced", but also had all black, low end hardware installed. The first thing I did was to remove all the cheapo pieces and throw them in a dumpster give them back to the previous owner. The tuners were a bit hard to remove. Really crappy quality low rent GFS brand stuff, I didn't even bother taking any pictures.

The original tuner holes had been enlarged with an electric hand drill to a US size just a bit too small for the metric sized machines, and they had been force-fit into place by torqueing down with a ratchet wrench. Ouch. Luthieristic violence. After removing the top nuts, pushing down on the tuner shafts with a thumb while holding the machine bodies and twisting did the trick, but left some divots in my thumb.

Once the tuners had been removed, this is what the headstock looked like:

As you can see, using an electric drill to enlarge tuning machine holes leaves some scars. More violent luthiery. I was going to use 10mm to vintage sized conversion bushings, but they wouldn't quite cover the paint chipping at the edges of the holes. That meant having nice vintagey Kluson style tuners wasn't going to happen. Knowing that cast tuner washers would cover the blow outs, I got a set of really nice Gotoh tuning machines with Grover style "butter bean" knobs:

As with many things made in Japan, these can be described as "Jewel Like". Or as I sometimes say about our MIJ Isuzu Oasis car, "Totally F---ing Precision". However, even though 10 x the quality of the previous GFS tuners, they also wouldn't fit into the raggedly enlarged tuner holes. Next step, put some blue painter's masking tape on either side of the headstock and press down to make sure the tape adheres to the finish well, then slice out the tape around both sides of each hole:

The reason for putting the blue painter's top around each tuner hole is to ensure that no further wood and finish chips or flakes off, which the original owner should have done.

Here's what we're going to use to slightly enlarge each tuner hole, an ancient round rasp "rat tail" file, Yankee engineering, made in New England some time in the previous century. Note that unlike files made for use on metals (which have smaller teeth), this particular file was specifically made for woodworking:

Instead of using a round file, the preferred luthier's tool in this case would be a violin peg hole reamer, but this file was on hand, and with judicious and gentle handling, it should get the job done. File slowly and evenly, with periodic checking with a tuner, to make sure only enough material is removed in order for a not too loose and not too tight fit:

I'll mention again that the filing be done slowly and carefully, on the down stroke only on each side pf the headstock (never towards you), and always bearing down on the wood closest to the side you're working on. If possible avoid filing on the opposite side, to minimize wood and finish chipping on that side.

And it worked. Forgot to take a picture of the holes after the tape was removed, and immediately placed all the tuning machines on and barely tightened the nuts, just enough to hold them during the next step:

Let's talk about the placement of the machines. Usually, a factory install on Epiphone guitars has all the tuners with their shafts parallel to each other. Which is good for guitars that have straight sides on the headstock, such as Fender and Martin. On a curvaceous Epiphone headstock, this results in making it very hard, sometimes impossible, to use a string winder - the winder keeps banging into the headstock when winding the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th strings. However, placing the tuners to follow the curve of the headstock makes that a non-issue. And looks cool, too.

Okay, let's attach these things. At the local True Value hardware store, I found some nice brass (real solid brass, not just plated) slot head screws:

Measured the shank with a precision German vernier caliper (no batteries required, ever!):

1/16", right in the middle of the threads. Grabbed a sharp, almost new 1/16" drill bit, marked off the drilling depth with some tape, and chucked it into the drill:

Made sure that each tuner was properly placed, and center punched guide marks under the mounting flange holes. Yes, that's a machine screw, which makes a good self-centering punch:

Next, gently and evenly drill out the mounting screw pilot holes in the headstock, as plumb (straight up and down) as possible:

Sharp eyed readers can see that the drill bit in the above photo isn't exactly plumb - I wasn't actually drilling when I held the drill in one hand and a camera with the other. Anyway, here's a nice new hole; notice also two older holes left over from the first two sets of tuners:

Next step, dip each screw into a bar of soap for lubrication, then run each screw down until it stops naturally, never over-tightening. That's one great reason to use slot head screws - not only do they look cool and vintagey, but it prevents the use of a power driver on a phillips head screw, and so no stripped out heads:

Also - always use a hand held screwdriver for total control. The previous set of tuners was installed using a power driver - three out of the six screw heads broke off when I removed them, which indicates a) the pilot holes were too small, b) the screws were tightened down with no lube and too much force, and c) the screws used were inferior quality.

Here's a shot of the top of the tuners at this point:

Next, do the final tightening of the top nuts. A good tool for that is a 10mm socket on a 1/4" drive handle:

Once again, go gently and slowly. No need for a great deal of tightening torque, just until the washer is fully seated against the headstock, and no more - usually until the handle of the hand driver slips between your fingers, holding it fairly lightly and loosely. Tightening too much creates divots in the finish, and really excessive force can result in stress riser points, which may eventually become a locus at which a crack can form. In any case, no need for gonzo tightening torque - we're not installing the heads on a car engine. I mean, what exactly do you do with that guitar anyway?

Okay, almost done, and here's that same picture that's at the top of this post:

Time to string the Ugly Epiphone Special II up.

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Next time, in Part 4, we'll get around to installing all the other bits and pieces, and finally have a working instrument.

As always, click or tap on any photo above to access larger, higher quality images.

A Manga Family Portrait

A Manga Family Portrait, drawn by our 14 year old manga artist. This may be 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: Making 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! So now, we'll focus on creating a hybrid Telecaster + Les Paul pickguard, and eventually have a guitar with a P90 pickup at the bridge position, and a Telecaster neck pickup, as well as a very unique look.

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 in Part 3, 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.