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Commissioning a new custom electric guitar: part two
From concept to concert: navigating the final stages of my custom electric guitar journey.
If you have just stumbled across this article, it’s best if you start by reading part one first (below) which gives you the essential information you need and lays the groundwork for the exciting culmination in the second and final part of the process involved in commissioning a custom guitar.
Stage four - final sanding and finishing
The guitar had a final sanding and was then finished using traditional nitrocellulose lacquer with a small amount of plasticiser (to prevent it from being soft and sticky). Only the first base coat was sanded to provide a smooth flat source for the subsequent coats. This was followed by many thin coats of colour, then clear which was left for three days to dry. It was then sanded, buffed and ready for the hardware.
Stage five: electronics, fret dressing and final assembly
I love the attention to detail. The electronics are laid out and soldered on a jig before fitting in the guitar and the soldering is really neat. The capacitors used are Mallory style by Cornell Dubilier which sound wonderful and work well with the 500 KΩ CTS potentiometers with very smooth roll-off.
Under the machine heads, Mikael used graphite cards by GOTOH which evens the pressure of the housing screws and makes the axis a bit more stable.
The Vibrola tremolo did cause a few issues as the angle from the preferred manufacturer varied from batch to batch and when folded back, wouldn’t go flat enough to fit in the case. The solution was found by using a ‘short spring mount tremolo’ unit from Advanced Music Products in good old Nashville.
The final stage was the fret polish/dress and then on to shipping which both the maker and client fear the most! Fortunately, the guitar arrived safe and sound via the fiendishly expensive UPS.
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I wasn’t going to have any motif on the pickguard as it’s not an exact replica of the Gibson Firebird, but as my other recent custom guitar - the Drake SC6 - has a monogram inlaid into the fretboard I thought it would be cool to add it. It ended up being a tough job as there is a lot of fine detail but Mikael persisted and the result is wonderful.
Tiago Cruz, our graphic designer laid out the SC monogram design and as a joke, added some extra text - Daniel Lanois is my spirit animal - as he knows how much I respect him as a producer and musician.
I decided to leave it on there as Daniel Lanois IS my spirit animal.
Mikael Springer was a joy to work with and as per the plan, the guitar arrived on the last day of August to great excitement.
I wax lyrical about the guitar in the video but want to emphasise a few points.
The build quality of the guitar is exceptional. Everything about it oozes quality. The machine heads are great, smooth and easy to tune - plus they have the Fender style hole for the string to go into making it a sinch to change strings. The Vibrola, natural bone nut and bridge assembly work great together and I have had zero tuning issues. Zero!
The instrument arrived with Springer’s custom strings (made by Skull) which were a little heavy for me at the bottom end (11-15-18-32-42-52). I then tried 10-13-17-26-36-46 which were too light and finally settled on Curt Mangan NickleWound 11-48 which worked beautifully.
Of course when changing gauges the truss rod needs to be adjusted. Mikael sets the neck with almost no relief, almost straight - around 1.25mm at the high E string, 12th fret and 1.5/1.75mm at the 12th for the low E string. He tells me some people like a bit more relief that brings a more even action on the whole neck length but it was all cool for me and the truss rod ended up with the original tension. I always do a whole quarter turn at a time so I know how to get back.
Being so light it has a very good unplugged sound, resonant and feeds back very well. As per part one of the article, there is a lot of bullshit talked about tonewoods of solid body electric guitars, but there is no doubt the way they feed back when loud is directly related to the wood.
The natural sustain is immense all over the neck, which when I play loud just carries on going, and when you move over to the cab it starts to feedback in a most pleasing way.
Finally, I have never played an electric guitar that is so in tune all over the neck. Even the feared major third sounds sweet.
I am very, very happy. Well done that man.
Watch the demo recorded in the Supertone studio.
Signal chain (for the mega geeks)
Supertone MinCap 6m cable
Gig Rig Three2One (no buffer)
GigRig G3 with input buffer enabled
Fultone Clyde Wha (off - true bypass)
Hudson Broadcast with a tiny bit of hair on it
Loop 6: Danelectro ‘The Breakdown’ (unity gain on position six)
Loop 8: B.K. Butler Tube Driver
Loop 10: Maestro Echoplex 1974
Amp one: Germino Classic 45 (KT88) through straight front Germino cabinet fitted with 4 x Celestion G12M Heritage (20W)
Amp two: Germino Club 40 (EL34) through Supertone/Matamp cabinet fitted with 4 x Celestion G12H Heritage (30W)
Microphones: two Royer Labs R-122 ribbon microphones into API 512C preamps direct to AVID HD/IO converters at 24/48
No outboard FX, compression or plugins (what are those)
I hope you have enjoyed this article and look forward to receiving your thoughts and questions. It’s easy, just subscribe - for free - and comment!
If you want to see the machine in action we will be releasing a live video of the multimedia event we played at The Met, Bury, England. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the bell icon to be notified of our latest videos.
Finally, here is the music video for The Voting Machine - the second single from our new album STARLITE.ONE which features both the Springer Firehawk and Suzy’s Mike Lull Custom Guitars Starlite T-4. Enjoy!
I always enjoy talking gear and would love you to give me your thoughts in the comments section below.
Next week, part two of…
Working on: catching up with the blog articles, some external producing work and starting to mix the new live record!
What’s cooking: Nothing! We are out to dinner at our favourite restuarant, Alcochetano which is suprisingly enough in Alcochete, a small village on the Tagus Estuary. It’s inexpensive, full with locals, few tourists and great fish - a real Portuguese experience.
Listening to: Billy Cobham’s Spectrum after seeing him perform and meeting him at the Porto Drum Show. Lovely bloke.