Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Axe Wives' Club - E'Bee

Hello yet again my fellow mod heads! I thought I'd dedicate today's entry to the first LP black beauty style guitar that I owned several years ago. Back in my heyday, I had purchased a used Epiphone LP that had a very unusual looking finish on it. Its finish looked like a cross between a honey burst and a quilted top; very sunny looking, typically orange for the most part.... but it had some brownish looking spots on it as well. No one at the time could give me a straight answer as to what type of finish it had, for it wasn't exactly a tiger stripe paint job, but rather a tiger spot finish! After researching it online, I came across the exact model, and it turned out that the color was actually a birdseye finish!


My first LP looked like this, except it had opened pickups on it
(without the chrome covers) since this sample image I found online
is actually a modded guitar with some Gibson pickups in it.

It was the first LP I ever owned, and I really regret mistreating her with all the modifications that I had done on it and all; mainly because I really wasn't aware of how the main three way toggle switch functioned with a three humbucker pickup configuration. Did I forget to mention that I had my tech rout out a spot in between the bridge and the neck pickup for a middle pickup? Well... try to imagine a regular two pickup Les Paul with an extra humbucker pickup added to the middle. And furthermore... imagine how hard it is (or was at the time... back in the late nineties/early millenium when eBay was still in its infancy) to find the right sized humbucker rings for not the basic two, but three pickups! So, taking this into account, you can blame my naivety when it came to what one could and could not do when it came to modding an instrument; for I was under the mistaken assumption of how a three way toggle switch would function with this type of setup. I thought it could easily be wired up in much the same way that a three way blade switch could; in that each position would select each individual humbucker pickup. However, that's simply not the case when it comes to three humbucker pickup LP stock wiring; which toggles between the neck and the bridge in each of their respective positions, and makes the bridge pickup go out of phase with the middle pickup in the center position. See the illustrated wiring diagram below, which can be found in StewMac's Guitar Player Repair Guide...



So, after a series of discussions with my tech, I was informed that there was an alternate wiring which could essentially turn the middle pickup on and off by a switch, be it in the form of a mini toggle switch or a push/pull (or a push/push) control pot. And that wiring diagram looks like this...


Click on the image above for a direct link to the GuitarElectronics website.

Of course, I wanted to see if there was a way to get more out of the wiring. And that's pretty much where the whole wiring proposal started getting way too complicated. I wanted a switch for each pickup to be coil tapped, whilst incorporating the aforementioned switch to turn the middle pickup on and off... and I think I even went as far as proposing that each pickup have a concentric pot to control both the volume and tone for each pickup at one point, which seemed pretty crazy and to this day, I don't even know if that kind of set up would actually work out or not. Either way, I can't exactly remember what wiring set up was it that I finally wound up going with, but I believe that it involved four push/pulls... three to coil tap each humbucker and one to turn the middle pickup on and off, which seemed pretty efficient with the real estate that was available at the time, which is a pretty small cavity to begin with! And what I wound up with... on one very fateful day was a needless drilling out of three mini switches (which didn't come out so evenly) instead of what I wanted. I even lost the push/push switches that I supplied him with in the process! And this of course, led to my parting ways with his services for a while.

So after this screw up, I had no other choice but to sell the guitar because the mod just looked awkward. I've only myself to blame, for the most part, for not getting more interested in how to wire up these mods on my own. And who can blame the tech... he was, after all, afflicted with color blindness--- which only begged the question as to how he could possibly even make the distinction between all the different color coded four conductor lead wires coming out of the Seymour Duncan humbuckers in the first place! I can't seem to remember what model pickups they were exactly, but what I do remember is that they are all pretty expensive pickups. Then again, that's what I get for buying brand name pickups! It's not like nowadays, when third party pickup manufacturers can put out clones that not only come close, but at times, even surpass the quality of high end vintage boutique pickups such as these.

Of course, this post is not specifically meant to be about the birdseye LP... but rather about my second attempt at getting a guitar put together that had three humbucker pickups on it. It was actually my third LP style guitar. Prior to this one, I had a very schweet lookin' Eden sunburst guitar body with Gibson 94R and 94T's installed on it, along with a TP-6 tailpiece, Grover tuners, the whole nine yards, really. This was a pretty well put together guitar. Had I known how to actually drill in the posts on my own and know as much as I do now about soldering components and all... I might have very well done it on my own. However, drilling stud posts is not exactly my forte. I'm sure there's a lot of videos out there explaining this process, like this one below for instance...


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And as I got a little wiser about modding, I started taking a good look at what my tech had done to this guitar. I found out that he installed the bridge pickup backwards; and by that I mean that the pickup was physically facing backwards... not wired with up with the ground as the lead, which is what is actually required in order to make this specific set of Gibson pickups hum cancelling. The neck pickup is wired normally while the bridge is wired with the ground as the lead so that they don't intentionally sound too thin when played together. Upon further tinkering I found out that there wasn't even a main ground wire hooked up to one of the stud mounting posts for the tailpiece. And so I decided to just part this guitar out and sell it (piece by piece) on eBay, starting with the pickups, of course.

    
Here's a couple of shots of me rockin' out on my Eden
sunburst guitar.  Photo Credit: John Miller

The problem I had here was that if I spun the bridge pickup around, the wires connecting it to the pots were too short. I hadn't even found out about the wonderful invention of heat shrink tubing and its convenience when it came to extending wires and whatnot until much later. Had I known about how to fix this up properly, I most likely would have kept it. The other problem that I couldn't resolve in time; meaning before I up and sold the two pickups was getting the studs out of the body to keep the tailpiece, which I still have in my possession. The trick there, I found out though a trial, error, and a lot of elbow grease is to use the nail pulling end of a hammer, and use the rounded top as a sort of fulcrum to pluck out the stud from the body. You should place a thick towel or polishing cloth of some sort to protect the body and then just slide the end of the hammer underneath the studs, which should be screwed in all the way down in order for it to facilitate the removal process and not damage the body. But again, I'm just being nostalgic here... and I'm still totally off topic.

You see, this entry is not about either one of these two LP's of mine... but rather about my third, which was a black beauty clone which I named E'Bee, because not only did it sound like a girl's name (i.e. Evie) but because the spelling was meant to imply it's ebony-like color, with a touch of French je ne sais quoi; what with the added apostrophe and all! Again, the body was made by Eden, which meant that it required that the mounting holes be drilled and that the rear plate covers which never seem to readily fit had to be altered somewhat to be nice and snug. So basically what all that meant was that I had to go back with my tail between my legs and make peace with my bumbling tech so that he could put this beast together for me.  And why would I be crazy enough to take on his services again?  Well, let's just say that I couldn't rout out a middle humbucker pickup cavity to save my life... especially on the surface of an archtop!

So my hats off to him for getting that right, at least... however, this guitar also fell victim to having one mod too many. The problem with it started right from the get go, since it arrived with a nut that wasn't properly affixed onto the neck. Since it was loose, I figured why not upgrade it with a brass nut? Pretty good idea, except... that it takes a great amount of work (along with some good tools) in order to file something like that down! So, after informing my tech about how the action was affected due to this, he decided to lower the posts a little bit too much; to the point where it looked like the studs were actually sinking into the body! I figured it must have been some kind of old luthier trick, like some inside trade secret that could be done to lower a guitar's action, but it just didn't look right. And every time I looked at that guitar, I just felt like there was something wrong with it, because of this tiny little oversight. And for the record, it had a wraparound tailpiece with engraved compensated saddles on it, kind of like what certain high end LP Jr. guitars had on them. The guitar was also fitted with three Seymour Duncan Seth Lover pickups; two of which were neck pickups and one which was (obviously) a bridge pickup.


Here's a picture of my E'Bee in all her glory.

Eventually, I had no other choice but to part out this guitar as well... and I did manage to sell it to a very questionable (and maybe even shady) eBayer who insisted on shipping the guitar to a warehouse instead of his residence, which just so happened to be located in Canada.  Now the reason why he seemed shady to me is because it really puzzles me (even to this day) as to how he could have possibly even viewed this listing if its visibility was limited strictly to the US only, since I omitted the other countries on the list of places where I wouldn't ship to (because I wasn't planning on getting screwed over by the shipping rates, like I did with my Ibanez soundgear bass that I had to ship to the UK; but that's another story).  So I figured he must have found a way to get around the system somehow.  The ending result was a guitar with a broken neck, which was not due to my poor boxed packaging as he suggested, but rather because it was delivered and signed for by one of his warehouse workers, who most likely had a thing against him enough to want to damage any box that was addressed to him.  He probably deserved it, too...like a boss!

Oh well... that's all ancient history, and these guitars all have a fond memory and place in my heartless organ that continues to beat in my rib cage. The wiring set up I had for this guitar involved three volumes for each pickup and one tone control, which once again was provided by the very same Guitar Player Repair Guide by StewMac...


Of course, this wasn't the end of my love affair with three humbucker pickup style LP's... more on that, later! But the moral of the story is the age old expression that goes: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself! I just had to hit my head against the same wall a few times to finally get the message very clearly. It's too bad that I had to put up with long drives out to the middle of nowhere, just to pick up a guitar that I didn't hear an immediate problem with until I took it home, several hours and several miles later. I'll never forget one of the last straws with this tech of mine, which involved a routed three pickup white Eden tele that had all its grounds soldered onto the shielding that I had placed on the walls of the control cavity. Yes, you heard that right, folks! Instead of the grounding being hooked up to the bottom of the volume pot, they were all soldered onto the copper tape lined up against the cavity. Go figure! This of course resulted in a great deal of highly unwanted static pops emanating from my speaker. Anyways, it's hard to think back at all this without cringing a little, so I'm just taking this stroll down memory lane with a grain of salt. And I do think that the aforementioned birdseye LP was modded a little more than what I can recall. I think it may have even had three individual volumes and tones added to it, with the main toggle switch replaced with a master volume switch, but I can't honestly say for sure anymore, since it's been almost a decade or so since I had that axe. Still... there's always the possibility that someone somewhere may have wound up with it somehow, since I did sell it to a guitar shop that went quickly out of business a few months after that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Strange Coincidences

Greetings once again, my fellow mod heads! Every now and again I stumble across something rather, how do you say? Entirely too coincidental, perhaps? And well... it just leaves me in amazement. This particular coincidence is none other than the similarity that can be noticed when you hear U2's City of Blinding Lights and a portion of the theme music from the main stage(s) of the Sega gaming classic  Space Harrier. Of course, it's a bit of stretch, really... and far be it from me to accuse any artist of musical thievery. For it's one thing to "borrow" a written piece of music from another song and make it your own to the point where the new generation isn't even aware of the original source material because it's just not considered "hip" to know a thing or two about musical history! Just look at all the ill informed people out there that dance to MC Hammer but have never even heard of Rick James or those that are into Vanilla Ice but don't have a clue as to who Freddy Mercury of Queen and/or David Bowie is, for that matter! But either way, just take a listen below and you'll see what I mean...





You'll notice that U2's song up above sounds almost identical to the passage at the 24 to 25 second mark of the Sega counterpart in the video below. This song of course came out in 2004, while the arcade has been around since 1985... it's still a matter of debate whether it's legal or not to do this without getting a lawsuit from the video game industry. Technically speaking, patent laws expire after 20 years... which is when works such as these are public domain, yet they released the song with just a year to go, so your guess is as good as mine on the whole legality of it all. Either way, I just thought it was interesting to point this out... in case you're a musical artist looking to score a Pac-Man hip hop song or something along those lines.






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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Anatomy of a Mini Slide Switch

One of the most essential components involved with much of the mods that I do involve the employment of mini dpdt slide switches, which are predominantly of the two position, (on/on) six pole piece variety. For those of you that are new to this, pole pieces are the lugs that stick out from the back of the switch, which is where the wires are soldered up to make a connection... much like how you would solder up the lead and ground wires to the lugs on a potentiometer (AKA: volume and/or tone controls) on a guitar. Then again, that's probably not a good comparison, but it operates on the same basic principle.


This image up above came from this page in The GuitarWiring Blog
which explains a great deal of how mini throw switches operate.

Anyways, one thing I found out through a lot of trial and error was that most of the wiring diagrams that are widely available could be slightly misleading because what one would automatically assume to be the correct wiring for one type of switch (i.e. a slide switch) doesn't exactly hold true for the other type of switch (AKA: a mini toggle switch).  If you were using slide switches, you would eventually notice that these wiring diagrams are essentially upside down.  So that's where common sense comes into play.  What it really all relies upon is the basic structure of the switch's contacts themselves.

You see, a throw switch (or mini toggle, if you want to get technical here) operates when the base of its shaft makes contact with the ends of the lugs.  And since this contact point is at the end of the shaft, it's only natural that that point is actually on the opposite end of where the tip is pointing, like a see saw, or a fulcrum.  Try to picture if you were holding a bat, for example... the point of contact would naturally be your hand, which would be located at the base of the bat, of course, and not the tip. If you were to point the bat upwards at an angle, your hand would naturally be below it, whereas if you were to point it to the ground, your hand would be above it.  The slide switch, on the other hand, tends to hover right above the contact points, hence the reason why you usually have to swap the wiring from the top and bottom rows of lugs (or poles) in order to make them work logically; with the on function being in the up position and the off function being in the down position.  Here's a diagram which will hopefully clear up all of this technical jargon...


There is one specific instance which I can cite where this argument gets completely thrown out the window.  And that's whenever one decides to wire up a switch (regardless of whether it's a slide or a throw switch, that is) so that it can be a series/parallel toggle.  For some reason, which I honestly fail to understand, the way that the series/parallel switch is wired (see the diagram below) can easily be applied to both types of switches in the exact same way that it is illustrated.  So there's really no need to swap the bottom row of soldered wire contacts with the ones in the upper row of lugs.


Image Provided by Rothstein Guitars

Another type of switch that belongs to this family of switches is a push/pull or push/push pot.  Structurally, they are basically the same 6 pole DPDT type of switch, except that they have the extra added convenience of being attached to a potentiometer, which allows modders to easily wire up some extra controls without sacrificing some precious real estate... in other words, you don't really need to drill holes into your pickguard to accommodate some extra switches!  And when it comes to wiring up controls such as these, the only thing you have to remember is that the lugs closest to the base of the pot are essentially the row that activates the switch... much like the opposite end of the aforementioned baseball bat analogy (or the base of the mini toggle switch, if you want to be more specific) or the row of lugs on which the slide switch hovers over when it's in the on position.

So basically put, anything that's soldered onto here is what gets activated when the push/pull switch is engaged (or basically put... when the knob is pulled up).  On the other hand, if the control was a push/push pot, then you would have to press it in order to engage and disengage the switch.  Pulling up on a push/push control could unintentionally damage it, so be careful that you note the difference beforehand.  Below are two sample custom wiring images, once again from Rothstein Guitars and Seymour Duncan.  Despite the fact that one wiring is meant to turn on the neck pickup while the other is meant to turn on the bridge pickup, you're essentially activating or better put... introducing the pickup into the circuit in either wiring; where it normally wouldn't be sounding by soldering the respective wires onto their indicated places.  However, it is interesting to note that the added jumper wire that eventually gets hooked up to the hot input (or leftmost lug of the potentiometer) is located on the row of lugs nearest to the base of the pot on the push/pull switch in the Seymour Duncan diagram while in the other example, this wire is located in the middle, whilst the respective leads of the neck and/or bridge pickups each share the alternating lug.  Essentially speaking, since these types of effects are basically doing the same exact thing, it is perfectly logical to solder them either way.  Now, if you wanted the effect to work in the exact opposite direction, what you would do is take the wire that's closest to the bottom and swap it out with the lugs at the top.  So that you would have the bridge or neck pickup turn off when the switch is thrown to the up position, or the knob is activated (i.e. pulled up).



Alternatively, if you were to wire up a slide switch using this Rothstein diagram (up above), the switch would only function when it was in the down position... because as I mentioned before, the slide switch "hovers" over the metal contacts, thus turning the effect on and off in the same exact direction, whereas the mini toggle switch would work in the opposite direction, since the base of its shaft is pointing towards the lugs that would essentially activate or deactivate an effect.  Also note that if you leave a row of lugs alone without soldering anything onto them, you're essentially breaking the circuit, because no circuit can be complete without a paired wire to complete it.  So you really can't have a ground or lead wire operating by itself without it's compliment; which clearly explains why the lugs that are not soldered are essentially the off or typically the down position sides of a switch.

Now, all this talk of comparisons is getting me slightly off topic, for I wanted to focus this blog entry on specifically the slide switches that I use for my mods.  I first became acquainted with these styles of switches through GuitarFetish, as they include them in the custom pickguard wiring kits that are designed specifically for their Brighton Rock line of pickups.  Of course, I would like to point out that I don't want to sound like I'm endorsing this company and/or Seymour Duncan for that matter, especially since the lack of quality control on the former has put me off from ever ordering anything from them again... which leads me right to my discovery of an alternative, which I'll gladly share with you all.  But going back to when I first got this kit and couldn't make heads and/tails of their wiring diagram which was incorrect in some areas, I wound up burning some of these switches unintentionally (and who could blame me for trying?) for they are really small and harder to work with than the regular sized Fender style slide switches; which are bigger real estate-wise and are more comfortable to work with.  This type of slide switch, however, really takes some skill to get used to.  In fact, I can say that I really cut my teeth wiring up these types of switches.  Of course, not until I purchased an extra set of switches only to have them delivered to me without any mounting screws... prompting me to get a hold of their lame excuse for customer service and demand that the missing set of screws be sent to me... which explains my whole ongoing love/hate relationship with them all, doesn't it?

Anyways... after looking around eBay, I came across this seller from the far east (i.e. China) whose storefront is only an extension of a main business website called Uxcell.  And this website has a very similar type of switch which is a great alternative to the more expensive ones sold by the aforementioned unmentionables (whose name I will only utter if I follow it up by turning my head and spitting).  In fact, they are so cheap that you can buy them by the bulk, and still get a lot more bang for your buck than anything the US vendors can offer.  Ain't capitalism grand, dad?

There is of course, are one or two small technicalities though.  One of which, is the peak hour at which the main website is operating.  I'm guessing it must have some low bandwidth issue, which is why the pages take an infinitely long time to load.  And the other technical (or should I say physical?) setback is that the switches don't come with mounting screws.  I actually had to try my luck with StewMac to get some suitable screws for that one.  And while the mounting screws for the regular Fender style slide switches did seem to work for the three way slide switches; which are the metric type tele screws (which are short and have a mushroom style head on them rather than the conical tapered ones) sometimes they were slightly a bit too thin for the two way 6 lug slide switches, so I had to purchase the CRL and Oak-Grigsby style tele switches which are slightly thicker and a bit harder to thread into the switches themselves.  So much so in fact, that the majority of the time, the mounting screws are threaded slightly off and go into an angle.

This slight incline tends to make the screws crash into the PCB board area of the switch (i.e. underside of the shaft of the switch) and either damages it completely, or simply leaves a circular melted chunk at the edge of these boards, due to the high velocity impact of the electric drill I'm using at the time (and trust me... it's a lot harder to screw in by hand, especially when you've just made an impromptu hole in the pickguard!).  The latter of these two possible outcomes is easier to live with, though all this can easily be avoided if I just find a good hardware store that carries just the right... however, they usually don't have them, since these are technically specialty type screws, so I'm sure you easily can see my ongoing dilemma here.


Notice how you can just make out the top screw's threading
marring the edges of the small contact board.



And in this shot, you can see how these five way switch mounting
screws' threading can essentially take a small chunk out of
the housing of the contacts on the slide switch due to the angle
being slightly off due to the mounting hole being slightly smaller.

The other thing I've noticed about the difference in between the two; aside from the metal housing on one and the black housing on the other is that the shaft of the switch for the aforementioned turn your head and spit company is slightly longer than these highly suitable and less expensive counterparts from China.  There's a seller that offers both of these variations on eBay. The same is true for the replacement slide switches that they offer for the bigger Fender style Jazzmaster type of switches.  Aside from the usual established company name branding and all,  I always wonder who makes these decisions when it comes to designing something that's just that much slightly off and enough to distinguish it from the original.  I'm sure it has a lot to do with avoiding a potential patent lawsuit, don't you?


Notice the difference in the length of the switch shaft
between these two switches which are exactly
the same but sold by different vendors.
Additionally, the holes for the mounting
screws vary in size as well.

Anyways... below are some links (that'll probably take forever to load) for certain mini slide switches.  I wasn't exactly able to find the 6 lug type that I usually use for my mods from Uxcell, but as I mentioned above, they can be bought from user friendstore1682010 (though I can't really vouch for it, since I'm not quite sure if it's the exact same size as the ones I have).  Another eBay seller you should check out to get these switches is hongkongsuperseller.



3 lug on/off mini slide switch with black chasis



3 lug on/off mini slide switch with metal chasis



6 lug on/off/on mini slide switch with black chasis

The last link above is for a three position slide switch (yes, I was just as surprised to when I found out that there were actually making three way mini slide switches now).  What you'll immediately notice with your naked eye is that there is a grill on the side of these switches which contains a small ball bearing which is needed to essentially lock the switch in the center position to prevent it from easily sliding to the up and down positions only.  So it's basically a divider mechanism to toggle between the selected lugs.  Other than that extra piece of hardware, the components are nearly the same for each type of switch (i.e. on/on vs. on/off/on).  The on/off/on switch has no springs for the metal strip contacts that slide or hover over the lugs' contact points, instead it just has one spring for the aforementioned ball bearing; which makes sense, since this is what is necessary to provide for the right amount of friction for the switch to function in the housing itself.  The on/on switch, on the other hand, has two small springs for each contact strip (which are longer).  Refer to the images below to get the bigger picture (no pun intended, unless you click on the thumbnail links that is!).


Components of an on/off/on mini-switch. Note the one spring for the ball bearing
which is housed in a hole on the side of the switch itself.  The other thing to note is
that the metal strips are smaller and wrap around the lug contacts whereas the
ones on a mini on/on switch (see picture below) appear to be much flatter.


And here are the innards of a mini on/on slide switch.  This one has wider strip
contacts and a pair of smaller springs (one of which I lost when I took this photo!)
that are housed in a pair of trench-like channels directly beneath the tip of the switch.

There is another variety of a three way on/off/on switch that is available in the standard Fender Switchcraft size can be found on StewMac, however it's designed for Mustangs or Duo Sonics and has eight lugs instead of the six found on the aforementioned three way mini switches.  The only difference when it comes to wiring up the two; (say in a coil splitting set up, for example) is that you have to wire the center lug of the three way switch twice for the Switchcraft, so the two rows in the center would essentially be soldered together.  Here's a few images which can illustrate that fact a bit better...


This image above, which can be found on the StewMac product page
for the Switchcraft style slide switches explains how the two variations
(i.e. on/off/on and the on/on slide switches) work when they are wired up.


And here is a side by side comparison so that you can
see the difference in scale between the two switches
which each have the same function, but with
an extra lug on the bigger switch only.


And here is a wiring diagram provided by GuitarElectronics for
wiring up a four conductor humbucker pikup into a coil selecting setup.
What's really odd about this diagram is that even though it specifies that
the wiring is intended an SPDT on/off/on mini toggle switch, the layout is
essentially what a modder would be using for a slide switch, because the lead wire
is at the top and not at the bottom; as it should be on a regular mini toggle switch.
So this is a perfect example of a slightly misleading diagram that I mentioned earlier.

So there you have, my fellow mod heads--- I know there's still a lot more to cover, but we've all got to start somewhere. I keep wondering when parts manufacturers will successfully produce an on/on/on slide switch; but I think that would be a feat in engineering, in and of itself. Definitely a lot to ask for. So in the meantime, stay tuned (no pun intended) for our next installment...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rexon - Short Change Hero (Cover) Borderlands 2

What's that you say? You've never heard a mellower sounding band than the one fronted by the Tori Amos/Danielle Harris hybrid piece of eye candy (also known as Kelly Jean) with the There's Something About Mary hairdo and the Elfmanesque drummer (AKA: Matthew Webb) to boot? Well then, feast your eyes on this DIY student film turned viral sensation/rocking team combo over here; hitherto known as The Rexon Band...



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