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...

If you like this video, please subscribe to Brad Angove's
DIY YouTube channel by clicking on the link below...

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, 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.

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