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Noisy Gibson P90 Soapbar Pickups

So ever since I’ve had my 2015 Gibson Les Paul Special Double-cut, the soapbar P90 pickups have always been very noisy. They were making much more noise than the single coil pickups on my Strat. A lot of that noise would go away when I touched the string or bridge which indicates a ground problem.

My first step was to contact Gibson support to see if something may have been missed or broken on my guitar. They confirmed that only the bridge is grounded and further troubleshooting would need to be done by an authorized technician.

I decided to do an experiment. On Gibson soapbar P90 pickups, the two mounting screws fasten to a metal plate mounted inside the pickup cavity. I ran a wire from one screw on the neck pickup, to one screw on the bridge pickup and then would test by touching the wire to the bridge. This would ground the plates under the pickups to the bridge. Any wouldn’t you know it? The noise issue I was having went away!

So I soldered permanent ground wires to each plate and solder these to the bridge ground wire. Now the noise level is low and doesn’t change when I touch the strings or bridge. Nice job Gibson!

I got the idea to ground the mounting plates from looking at dog-ear P90 pickups out of the guitar. They are typically built with a braided outside wire and this braid is grounded to the baseplate, just like you would on a humbucker.

Now my Gibson Les Paul Special is as quiet as my Strat. There’s always a little noise from the single coil pickups, but I can definitely live with it now.

New Pickup for my Epiphone 335

After comparing the sound of my Epiphone 335 Pro to a Epiphone Sheraton with a Gibson Classic 57 pickup, I decided the tone on the neck pickup sucked and I needed to make some upgrades.

Luckily I had a Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Neck pickup laying around waiting for the next build, so I decided to drop it in and see if that was the tone I was searching for.

Now the Epiphone 335 Pro uses pots with little circuit boards and the pickups plug in as opposed to soldering. I used a plug kit from Scrinia Engineering to wire up my pickup. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to deal with a quick plug than soldering when it comes to semi-hollow or hollow-body guitars. No floss or tape or string!

Synsonics Pro Project – Finished!

All in all, this repair and setup took me about 4 hours to do. Here’s the list of what was done:

  • Fret level, dress, and polish
  • Adjusted truss rod for proper relief
  • Installed and adjusted new Graphtech Tusq XL nut
  • Installed new Wilkinson Tuners
  • Installed new Switchcraft 1/4″ jack
  • Cleaned pots/electronics
  • Adjusted intonation at the bridge
  • Set proper string height

Would I recommend doing all of these repairs/setup at a professional for this kind of guitar? No.

You would be much better served to spend $400 on a Mexican Strat or similarly priced guitar new than to fix up something like this. But I did this work for a friend and I wanted the practice at setting up and repairing a strat-style guitar.

Synsonics Pro Project – Part 2, Frets and cleanup

What a difference 2 hours makes!

First thing I did was pull out the last bits of the old nut and take a small needle file to the nut slot to clean things out and level out the bottom. It looks like the nut originally had a flat base so that’s what I’m putting in. I dropped the new nut in for now and I’ll do the final string height adjustments when I get the guitar back together and some strings on.

But before I put the nut back, I had to do something with these frets. First, a few cranks on the truss rod to get this bad boy flat. Then some 500 grit sandpaper on a leveling beam and a crowning file later, and wouldn’t you know it, a very flat fretboard and fret tops. I then took a buffing pad on my dremel to the fret and brought them up to a nice shine. These things feel smooooooth. Honestly, I can’t believe how much better the neck/fretboard feels now.

After making the frets all happy, some cleaner and fret board conditioner finish things off. I’m just waiting on a reamer to show up so I can install the tuning machines.

So I turn my attention to the body. Pulling off the pickguard and bridge saddles gives me a chance to do some cleaning. The pots and switch get some Deoxit, whether they want it or not. (but they did want it) Checking things on the amp, now I’m not hearing any scratches, all the pots work, feel smooth, etc. Don’t forget to check for plastic under the knobs. One knob was making a weird sound, like the pot was going, but in fact it was just old pickguard plastic protector rubbing against the knob. I’m waiting on the new Switchcraft jack to show up tomorrow. Once I get that soldered in, the body is ready to go.

So I figure I’ve got another hour worth of work to get the tuners installed, adjust the nut/string heights, fix the intonation and call it done.

Synsonics Pro Project – Part 1

A friend of mine came to me to see if I could help her fix and improve her husband’s guitar so he could play it again. Apparently he really enjoyed playing this guitar, but some things have broken on it and he hasn’t touched it since.

The guitar in question is a Synsonics Pro strat-style guitar. This guitar is definitely on the inexpensive side of the spectrum, but I think sinking $50 into new components to keep this out of the trash bin is good investment if it means he’ll play it again. I’m hoping that when I’m done with it, the guitar will play as good as something worth $300 or $400.

Here’s my todo list on this instrument:

  1. New nut. The original is plastic and broken, probably the biggest reason it’s unplayable.
  2. Fix the action. There’s too much relief in the neck and I hope the truss rod can help, if I find one.
  3. Dress the frets. The owner obviously played it because there’s dimples in the frets. A quick level and dress should make this play way better.
  4. Replace the tuners. Bad tuners make a guitar pretty miserable. A set will go far to make life better and keeping the guitar in tune.
  5. Replace the jack. This jack is corroded and loose. A new jack makes life way better.
  6. Cleaning the electronics. All the pickups and pots work. A good cleaning should get them functioning 100%.
  7. Clean the guitar. A shiny instrument always feels better.

This is a decent task list and I’m sure if my friend had taken this to a regular guitar tech, he would have told her that the labor cost was worth more than the guitar, which I believe to be the case. But because I want the practice and she’s my friend, I’m going to only charge her for parts and take the experience as my payment.

Now I won’t put super cheap parts back on to a guitar, so I’m going to toss a few extra dollars at some new parts:

  • Graph Tech Black Tusq XL Nut – $13-$15
  • Wilkinson 6 Inline Chrome E-Z LOK Post Guitar Locking Tuners – $29
  • Switchcraft Jack – $4.50
  • Strings – $5-$10

This should keep the budget for the restoration reasonable, but make the guitar stay in tune significantly better which should hopefully encourage her husband to pick it up more often.

Guitar Updates – Tuners and headstocks

Since I’m seemingly never satisfied with my guitars and that I feel a deep desire to modify them, I’ve been making some small but substantial updates over the past few days.

On my custom walnut guitar, I was getting annoyed at the height of the saddles on my bridge. When playing in certain positions, the corner of the low-E saddle was digging into my hand. The only solution was to route the neck pocket deeper so I could lower the saddles and keep the action at the same height. It was a nerve wracking minor surgery. It always feels a bit off to take a router to a finished project, but it had to be done.

While the neck was off, I took the opportunity to sand the back to 1000 grit to make it feel super smooth. I also worked on the inlay I made with shapeways.com a year ago. I took my personal logo and had it printed in nickel. I made it just oversized from my forstner bit so with a bit of sanding, I could get a super tight fit without any gaps around the edge. I think it really made the headstock look classy:

And for another quick upgrade, I wanted to swap out the tuners on my Gibson Les Paul Special. Mine had come with the robo-tuners installed from the factory. I never had a particular issue with the robo-tuners except I would have to lookup how to restring the guitar because I would forget the button sequence. And really, I’m not swapping out tunings that often so really, they weren’t doing much for me and they’re pretty ugly.

I swapped out the tuners for some super sleek HipShot open back tuners. The headstock looks loads better and I think I saved a bit of weight as well.

Another Shaper Origin project: Valet tray

Here’s my first project working with the Shaper export tool inside of Fusion 360. This is a valet tray about 6 inches long by 4 inches tall. The wood I used is pau ferro (also known as morado, http://www.wood-database.com/pau-ferro/) which is close to a rosewood. The finish I used is a Minwax satin wipe-on poly.


Weekend Project: Tie and belt rack

This was a quick weekend project to organize my ties and belts. A few months back I installed new closet systems and I haven’t had a good way to hang my ties or belts since.

I started with 6 pieces of reclaimed pallet wood. Using the table saw to joint the sides, I got everything square. Then a quick glue-up, rough sanding, and dark stain.

After the stain dried, I started on the Shaper Origin part of the project. I screwed the workpiece down to the waste board and put on a bunch of location tape. The trick here is to the point the Origin at the center of the workpiece as you move around the edges. They always seem to demonstrate the Origin with the tape running horizontal, but it works in any orientation. This kept my waste to a minimum.

After cutting my design, I added a decorative strip of maple using both CA glue and wood glue. The CA will hold it quickly and the wood glue will give it strength. Of course, the nails going through will also hold everything together.

Here it is mounted in my closet. I wanted to dress it up a little bit which is why there’s a hexagon design. I used a piece of 1/2″ plywood to make a quick french cleat on the back and to make the rack stand proud of the wall.

I think it’s going to work great and I can’t wait for the final coat of finish to dry so I can start using it!

 

Christmas gifts made with the Shaper Origin

Here are three different gifts I made this holiday season with my new Shaper Origin.

The picture frame is made out of pau ferro and curly maple. I carved the words in with the engraving bit to give it angled sides to all the cuts.

The Team StraitJacket is a solid piece of walnut with my team’s logo carved in using the 1/16″ bit. I needed to use the small bit to deal with the tight corners and details. It seems like 1/16″ is the smallest bit you can find with a 1/4″ shank. Any smaller and you would need a collet reducer.

The last item is the Christmas ornament I designed for our family this year. I carved it using the 1/8″ bit at two different depths. After some finish was applied I drilled tiny 1/32″ holes and added fiber optics with an LED to put “lights” on the ornament. With a regular button cell battery, it seems like these things go for at least 4 days.

New Tool Day! Shaper Origin

Last night I received my Shaper Origin. For those unfamiliar, it’s a handheld CNC router. It basically works like a router where the templates are stored in the onboard computer and servos in the tool auto-correct the position of the cutting bit while you’re moving around the design. It uses this stuff called “shaper tape” which allows the device via computer vision to understand where it is on the workpiece.

Creating the design files is pretty easy. Using different colors you tell the Origin whether you want to cut inside the line, outside the line, or on the line. Also you can add blue lines to your design to help guide and position the design on the workpiece. Here’s my design for my test piece. The blue lines allow me to center the design on the wood and position it correctly.

And here’s the finished test piece. There’s a bit of squiggle because I didn’t set up the design perfectly for the cutting bit I was using, but that’s what it’s a test!