bookmark_borderInformation and links – Mar 25, 2020 – The GIMPening!

Stuff I have learned–or at least looked up–recently.

How to fade an image to transparency using GIMP

Short version:
Create a layer mask for the layer you want to fade. Apply a black-to-white gradient to that layer. The area marked as black will show as transparent.

This worked in GIMP 2.10 on my Mac. I found that the stupid black-to-white gradient did not allow me to adjust the fade–it’s just locked at halfway. I made that work.
Here is the first useful link I found about this.

WTF is up with that stupid grey “Tool Options” box that appears on the top left of my screen when using GIMP?

Short version:
This bug has been around for a while. It happens when you click (and maybe drag) inside the “Tool Options” tab in the Tools window. A grey box that says “Tool Options” appears on the top left of your screen, covering up the “File” and other menu items.


You can make it go away by clicking (and maybe dragging) in the Tool Options box. Try dragging the “Tool Options” text to the right just a little bit. This worked in GIMP 2.10 to 2.10.8 on my Macs running both El Capitan (10.11.6) and Catalina (10.15.3)

Here is the first useful link I found about this

I just opened a really big image in GIMP on my Mac and now I can’t right-click on anything with my mouse!

Short version:
Gosh, this sure is annoying. This happened in GIMP 2.10 in El Capitan on an old Mac Pro with 16 gigs o’ RAM.

You might be able to get regular mouse functionality back by opening the “Mouse” settings in System Preferences. All I had to do was open Mouse–that must make the OS check in with the mouse and give it a Stern Look.

bookmark_borderThe clicking is deafening!

I’ve been updating my Link Din stuff.

Every interaction with someone causes Link Din to automatically prompt you to send a thank you message.

Thing is, I’m the kind of person who does that anyway. Doing stuff on Link Din feels like when your mom told you to do something polite that you were already doing, and you thought “Geez Mom! How rude do you think I am?”

If they actually want this stuff to mean anything, they should make the default messages really rude. That way, you’d have to actually go in and change them to something you really mean. You’d have to actually BE polite, instead of having a chunk of code pretend you are.

And if you just clicked and sent the default, someone would get a message that says “I don’t need your endorsement, you ugly turnip-interfering squat!” and immediately know that the person sent it automatically.

This would also make it easier to be polite, because there are a limited number of ways to say “Thanks for endorsing my ability to sex walruses*” or whatever it is you do. If the computer types that for you, and you don’t even read it, just click “OK” then really the message you are sending is “Can not be arsed.”

Even typing out the most rudimentary “THX 4 the Ndorsnt” shows more engagement than clicking on one of the three words in Link Din messenger.

If you don’t think about it, there’s no difference between being rude and being polite.

(PS HIRE ME KTHX)

*not as rude a sentence as it looks.

bookmark_borderIt’s freezing in here.

Playing the guitar is relatively hard to learn.
No buddy, that is probably not his own hair.

Thanks to Equifax’s data incontinence and the flaming clown-car of death site they slapped together purely for optics, it’s a good idea for anyone subject to American credit reporting agencies to “freeze” your credit reports.  You can read more details on the whys and hows here.

We froze our credit reports from all three big reporting agencies yesterday. Here’s what I learned in the process. This has a pretty high snark content, because WHY AREN’T YOU MAD??, but I’ve tried to control myself, and the info will save you some time and annoyance.

 

General tips:

  • You can go to the site Equifax set up to see if your data is at risk, but if you’ve read anything about that site, you’ll know that it’s an untrustable waste of time.
  • I recommend using the phone to freeze your accounts. The Web sites for all three of these agencies are annoying at best, as is typical for sites designed by people who never use them.
  • Read the notes for each agency before embarking on the phone call.
  • I highly recommend using a land-line, so you don’t have to deal with as many screw-ups. You will still probably deal with screw-ups.
  • ALL of these phone systems try to use voice commands. ALL of them appear to listen for voice commands all the time, so it is REALLY easy to screw them up if you talk when you aren’t supposed to. This is difficult to avoid, as you will probably find yourself blurting out short words with hard consonants in them. Try not to.
  • As with everything, using a speakerphone makes it all much worse.
  • Use the keypad for anything with numbers. When (WHEN) these things screw up what they think you said, they will say they can’t access your report and you will have to start all over.
  • Speaking of which, when (when) these thing say they can’t access your report, just hang up and try again. We did a total of five calls to freeze three reports, and I think we did pretty well, considering how crap these systems are.

 


 

Equifax – 1-800-349-9960

 

Weeb

For this one, we actually went to the Equifax site and got our credit report from them BEFORE we froze the report. And yep, we printed it on many sheets of paper that we are going to eventually shred and recycle. If you go through the whole deal with setting up an online account with Equifax, you will need to supply:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • SSN
  • Some info about some credit you have open right now, like the price range of your mortgage payment

***You will have four minutes to supply all the info the site asks you for, or you will have to start again.***

Once you get to your report, there is a printer button on the top right.

 

“Monthly subscription fee” is not the same as “credit freeze!”

Equifax’s site pushes you towards their TrustedID service, which is a $22/month service that provides extra control over who can see what in your report. VERY VERY few people need this, but Equifax REALLY wants you to buy it–that’s how they make some of the money they don’t spend on keeping your information safe.

Nope, not giving them a link to it here.

 

Phone

To freeze your credit report with Equifax over the phone, you will need:

  • Name
  • State
  • Date of Birth
  • Numerical portion of your address (just know your address)
  • SSN
  • A credit card to pay the fee they are allowed to charge for this ($3 in NE).

Yep! They get PAID per freeze and unfreeze in most states. That’s nice work, if you can get it.

Once you get through all this, they will give you a PIN number, which you will need to use to unfreeze your account. WRITE THIS DOWN! You will also get a confirmation number, which you should also write down.

NOTE: Both of these are 10-digit numbers. You have the ability to have them repeat the numbers, and I recommend you do that. I say “write this down” because you probably can’t type it into your phone while listening.  Also, you shouldn’t.

They say they will also mail you confirmation. I suggest you watch out for that, because golly, if you wanted to intercept a bunch of communications between a credit-reporting agency and its customers, this would be a good time to do it. I am probably not the only person to think of that.

And yep, that PIN number is just the time that your PIN was issued, in the format DDMMYYHHMM.

Update: People noticed how dumb the PIN thing was, and Equifax are now using a different PIN scheme.

They are SO “taking this seriously.”


 

Experian – 1-888-397-3742

 

Weeb

If you have lots of time to kill and want to see how little testing goes into corporate web sites, you can bang around in circles on experian.com/report for a while and THEN decide to just do this by phone.

If you DO decide to try to create an Experian online account, you will need to create a unique username and a strong password for the site, which they will then undermine by asking you to answer a “security” question like the street you grew up on. I hope the irony of these questions in the context of a leak of 143 million user profiles is not lost on you.

When we tried to just set up a credit freeze on the site, we got a lot of broken links and stuff that circled back to trying to sell us CreditLock, which is Experian’s flavor of TrustedID–a service you pay for monthly that lets you do a bunch of stuff with your credit report that very very few people actually need to do.  After a few minutes, we said something like “Gosh, this isn’t very good. I hope the people at this company have a very rough time indeed!” and just used the phone.

 

Phone

You’ll need the same info as you did for Equifax, more or less. You will also need to listen through an utterly pointless list of all the states, arranged into groups of how much you can legally be charged for a credit freeze in each state. Why? Not sure, but I suspect it’s just Experian’s way of saying “This list is meaningless, unless you are willing to move to another state to save $3 -$10, but your time means literally nothing to us.”

Then you get to pay for the credit freeze with a credit card.

They will send you a confirmation thing in the mail. Again, I would keep an eye out for it.


 

Transunion – 1-888-909-8872

We just did this one by phone. You will need the same info as above.

You will also need to create a 6-digit PIN. And of course, you will need to pay.

This voice carousel is PARTICULARLY sensitive to any noise you make. Also, the fake-smiley voice that they have used for this sounds INCREDIBLY patronizing. Admittedly, we might have been a bit tetchy after 45 minutes of jumping through needless hoops put up by a scam industry run by horrible incompetent screw-ups. Obviously, I am totally over that now though…

They will send you a confirmation package in the mail. Look out for that.

Hope that helps.

bookmark_borderFix door handle 1998-2002 Toyota Corolla

The driver’s side door handle on our sexy, sexy base model 2001 Corolla broke. More accurately, the plastic surround that the handle sits in and pushes against when you open the door broke. The surround and handle are all one part, and replacing that part is very very easy on these cars.

Superfluous image
Your handle will break at one of the three points indicated in this diagram, but it is irrelevant, as the entire assembly is one piece. This image is therefore superfluous.

All the things you need to do this repair are already on the Weebs, so I’m just going to tell you what I did, and include a couple of tips that might make life easier.

 

A door handle, notebooks, a compressor--together they fight crime!
Serving Suggestion

1) MOST IMPORTANT THING: If you ask your mechanic (or Car Nerd Friend) about this job, and that mechanic is not familiar with this particular car, you might get the impression that this job is scary and expensive. It is not.

 

In a lot of cases,  replacing door handles requires removing the entire door panel, special tools, infinite care and patience, and the detached third finger of a blood relative. The average person would NOT want to do it.

For some reason however, Toyota made this job easy on 1998-2002 Corollas. If you can operate a screwdriver and open a plastic drink bottle, you can do this repair.

2) The parts are cheap. I bought replacements by Dorman. Driver’s side handle in grey is part number 79502, and passenger side is 79503. The front and back handles are the same on each side. I bought one for each side, because the shipping was almost as much as one handle, and spent less than $20. Make sure you match your color!

4) Howto videos are actually useful here. Do a search on your popular video site for the title of this post and you will see a few howto videos for this repair. They are all pretty much the same. I like the one with the kid in it the best. It will take about as long to watch two as it will take to do this repair IF you watch two howto videos.

An exciting picture of a car door partially open.
You can sit sideways and use both hands, and the door won’t move while you work.

5) Location location location. This repair is easiest to do with the door open, so you have some room to fiddle. I did it in the garage, parked so that the door was half-open (a pessimist might say “half-closed”) and against the wall (with a piece of foam between) and that worked well.

6) Use two screwdrivers when you are removing the clip inside the door handle. Hook the door activator (thick wire thing you clip the handle to) around one of the screwdrivers, so that it doesn’t drop into the door when you take off the old handle. It’s not too hard to fish the activator out if you drop it, but easier not to drop it in the first place.

bookmark_borderThe Black Squier–Update

More pressing of words, less booking of faces.

This is an update to an earlier post about my beloved E-series Squier Strat from 198something.  It might be of use to you if you are thinking of modding or rehabbing a Stratty guitar.

Since that post, I’ve done the following:

  • Started playing in a band called “Pink Flamingos” (I KNOW!) in which I do a lot of “lead” guitaring using fairly trad-sounding clean sounds.  I am NOT trying to make this thing sound like a Tele, but I want Tele-ish elements to the sound. And lots of bonk.
  • Put in a Fender Super Switch, wired like this:
    • 1 – Bridge only
    • 2 – Bridge and Middle
    • 3 – Bridge and Neck
    • 4 – Middle and Neck
    • 5 – Neck only

This all worked out really well.  Lots of big warm bonk in the 2 position, fills out and gets wider in the 3 position, and still that lovely Stratty-Strat jangle in the 4 position.  I use the bridge alone VERY rarely, and never use the neck alone.

As you’ll find with most kooky single-coil experiments in their raw state, I DID have to deal with a bit of noise. To a large extent, this is just a fact of life with some single-coils.  YES!  I AM AWARE OF VARIOUS NOISELESS OPTIONS!  I even have some in other guitars. But for THIS guitar, and the pickups I have decided to use, noise is part of the fun.

But there ARE things you can do.  Like some basic shielding. I thought I would share with you my example of why this is a good idea, and how not to do it.  For sciense.

I had 3/4 of a sheet of adhesive-backed copper foil floating around for a few years.  It bounced around various shelves and boxes so much that the adhesive had pretty much kinda given up in a lot of places, and the edges had been dinged, ripped and folded.  It was way too shot to use on someone else’s guitar, which makes it just the kind of thing I would use on my own guitar.

On Thursday, I had about 45 minutes before Pink Flamingos rehearsal, which seemed like EXACTLY enough time to do the shielding on the Squier if nothing went wrong.  To ensure that something WOULD go wrong, I didn’t make sure I had all the tools I would need, grabbed the guitar, and ran to my work bench.

I picked up the amp I forgot I had opened up on my work bench and carefully stacked it on top of another amp, on top of a wobbly storage container, so that I would always be distracted by the fear it would fall over while I was working.  Can’t stress how helpful this step is. If you want to make your task more exciting, MAKE SURE YOUR WORK AREA IS AN IMMINENT DISASTER!

I slacked off the strings, then decided I should just remove and change them, then decided to just slack them off, then undid them from the tuners but didn’t use a piece of tape or Velcro to hold them in place, so that they would be sure to tangle.

I removed all the screws from the pickguard and actually put them all in a container.  Crazy.

Here’s a nice picture of the guitar all opened up. You can click on it if you want to see it more biggerer:

Putting on the foil, Coach!
Live Naked Squier!

This next bit is most useful.  First, I didn’t make sure I had my shears or even a pair of scissors in the room. That way, I could cut the foil by either snipping teeny bits with the end of my wire strippers or biting it and then tearing it unevenly with my hands.  If you find these methods too accurate, make sure that you hurry while doing them.

DON’T MEASURE ANYTHING!  Just slap the foil down and start pressing it in randomly. Then, when you discover that things are in the wrong place, just lift it up and move it a lot. Not only will this put lots of random folds and creases in your foil, it will also pull off any adhesive it had left on it.

Speaking of adhesive, for goodness sake don’t bother to reach across the bench and grab any of the adhesives you have there.  Just keep slogging away with the wrong tools!

The torn edges of copper foil can be quite sharp. But I’m pretty sure that’s OK.  Don’t worry about gloves.

Swearing is a great time-saver!

In what seemed like no time at all, but was actually about 15 minutes after the guys in the band showed up, I had the foil properly in place, and was ready to put the guitar back together.

Here’s a picture with most of the shielding in place:

Nice Wrok!
I think that went quite well…

Just to make life interesting, I put on a fresh set of strings, because how could that be a problem right before you play?

All kidding aside, my point here is DO THE PREP WORK!   This job SHOULD have been fast, and the old foil shouldn’t have been a problem, but by trying to hurry before I started, I ended up taking longer and having to do things about three times. Also, it REALLY hurt to play at rehearsal, and I messed my hands up for a gig tonight.

The shielding itself has worked out quite well. You can’t see it in the picture, but I just soldered a wire from the ground of the guitar to the foil. It’s probably never going to be a noiseless guitar, but it’s about 40% quieter than it was, and certainly not a problem when playing live.

And if you stretch them in properly, new strings aren’t a problem either.

bookmark_borderReverb replacement for the Fat Boy

You can take the "boi" out of "boing..."
Not working to spec

A few months ago, I noticed that the Accutronics 1BB2A1B reverb on my mighty Carlsbro Fat Boy suddenly started to sound terrible.  I just replaced it yesterday.

Yeah, you read that correctly.  I noticed this a few months ago, and only did something about it in the last 24 hours. If this gear belonged to anyone else I know, I would have been all over them to fix it. In fact, I probably would have dragged it home and fixed it. But this is MY gear, so I’ve been playing trucker music for months with no reverb.   Yay me!

While this is a simple repair, there is very little information out there about how to actually get the parts you need and do it.  I’m filling this post with search engine bait, so if you found it, that worked.

 

The big fail

The failure itself was pretty simple:  One of the wires that holds the spring mounts broke off, and it did so inside a mounting piece that is soldered in place.  A better person that I could probably fix this, but it is extremely fine and fiddly work, and I am pretty constantly reminded that I am not a better person than I.

 

The bigger problem

The main problem is that the stock reverb tank in the Carlsbro Fat Boy is a 1BB2A1B. That becomes a pain in the butt for the handy lazy person, because searching for 1BB2A1B and your amp name or “replacement” gives you pretty much no useful results on the major search engines.  Neither does “reverb spring repair” by the way. Lots of links for people who will replace your ‘verb for money, but you probably don’t need that.

Hopefully, your search now leads you here.

 

Reverb codes, briefly

Spring reverbs are a rare kind of product, in that there is a standard numbering system for identifying pretty much everything about them, and everyone in the industry uses it.

Apparently, that kind of standardisation is easy to do with physical objects made in different parts of the world over decades, but pretty much IMPOSSIBLE to do in software.  But I digress…

You can find a key for the reverb numbering system all over the place. Here’s one with information about Accutronics reverbs at the top, and the numbering system at the bottom. Seeing as most of the reverbs that come stock in amps are Accutronics, that’s a good place to start.

The chart tells you this about my 1BB2A1B tank:
1 – It’s Type 1, which means it has two springs and is short (9″)
B – Input impedance is 150 ohms*
B –  Output impedance is 2250 ohms*
2 – Medium decay time (1.75 to 3.0 secs)
A – Input and output are both grounded*
1 – No lock
B – Mounts horizontally, with the open side down

I liked how it sounded, but truth to tell, it’s a pretty cheap-ass tank.  Short, two-spring verbs can be kinda theeen.  Doesn’t matter though, because pretty much no-one makes this exact tank any more.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find any Type 1 tanks from anyone.

 

Getting tanked

My tank was an Accutronics, so I went to the Accutronics site.  I couldn’t find any info there about a 1BB2A1B, and I knew that some of the specs of my old tank needed to be matched on whatever new one I bought.  I was most concerned about the input and output impedance and grounding, which is why I marked them with an “*.”

I ended up calling one of their distributors, CE Distribution.  CE is a distribution company, but they run a few places that sell to end-users. They have the same support for all of them, including Antique Electronic Supply.  I talked to Sam on the phone, and he’s awesome.

 

A steady guide in some celestial voice

I’m not going to get into the What Kinda Reverb You Want and Why discussion here. This post is already way too long to start talking subjectives.

The important things when choosing a replacement:

  • The input and output impedance must either match your old tank exactly, or you must nerd out and learn what happens when they don’t
    (hint: avoid having to do that)
  • Same goes for the grounding
  • Check the size of the tank versus the space you need to install it in. Remember that you have to plug the thing in, so if you don’t have AT LEAST 1.5″ clear in front of the plugs when the tank is installed, you’ll have to plug it in BEFORE you mount it
    (hint: avoid having to do that)
  • For something that can be a big part of your sound, reverb tanks are pretty cheap

I couldn’t find anything by Accutronics that would drop right in, so I got a MOD 4BB2A1B to replace my 1BB2A1B.  Pretty much the same tank as the 1BB2A1B, but 17″ long, which is accomplished by doubling the springs lengthwise.  All the electronic specs line up, which is the important part if you want to be simple about things.

 

Installing a horizontal spring reverb tank

There never seem to be instructions for this anywhere, and most searches for it just point to to reverb tank reviews that say useful things like “installation was easy!”  or “installation is easy!”  Search is horrible now.

On the Fat Boy, and most amps with the ‘verb installed flat across the bottom of the amp with the open side down, installation is really easy! LAWL.  It’s nice to have instructions though. You should read all the way through them first.

Removal

  1. Open up your amp
    (hint: I dunno, look it up if you need to!)
  2. Look at the input and output jacks to the reverb. Note what colour each is.  Write it down.  I SAID WRITE IT DOWN!
  3. Undo the input jack
  4. Seriously!  There is NO colour-code standard for input and output.  LAST CHANCE TO WRITE IT DOWN
  5. Undo the output jack
  6. Remove the screws holding the tank in place, and keep them
  7. Remove the tank

NOTE! If you are inside a combo amp, your reverb tank is under a big ol’ magnet.  That magnet is going to grab the tank.  This is annoying.  You can’t stop it.

Installation

NOTE! Remember when I mentioned the big ol’ magnet?  Dude!  It was like, three lines ago!   That magnet’s going to want to grab the new tank too.  If the tank is painted, the magnet will scratch the paint.  It WILL.  I highly recommend that you hook up the new tank outside the amp FIRST, make sure it works, and then install it.  No-one wants to take back a scratched tank.

  1. Connect the inputs and outputs.
    SEE?  TOLD YA TO WRITE IT DOWN!  The magnet-wrasslin’ makes you forget
  2. Test that the reverb works
  3. (netdud only) Take out the piece of foam they put under the springs for shipping, stop swearing, and test again
  4. Turn off the amp, disconnect the reverb
  5. Make sure you have squishy grommets in the screwholes you are going to use, so the tank is physically isolated from the cabinet
  6. Wrestle new tank into place, scratching it on the magnet at least once
  7. Make sure you have room to plug in your input/output jacks
  8. Screw the tank in place (Heh.  I said “in place…”)
  9. Hook up the tank
  10. Test
  11. Close up your amp and play!

 

 

bookmark_borderGuitar repair/mod – The Black Squier

My friend Richard has had a lot of music gear, and much of it has been pretty interesting. A lot of it has been so interesting that, when he’s decided to sell it, I’ve bought it.

I played guitar in Richard’s band for a couple of years. After decades of playing bass, it was my first band being The Electric Guitar Player—or even AN Electric Guitar Player—and it was a lot fun.

One day I was poking around Richard’s tidy pile of stuff when I happened upon a black Strat with a black neck and fretboard and white pickups. A tuxedo. I asked Richard what it was, and he said that it was just a cheap Strat he had put together to match his Tele. He has (had?) an extremely nice Tele with a tuxedo color scheme. I tuned up the Strat and tried playing it, and found that the action was really high, and a couple of the frets were really chewed up.

At some point, Richard found the original neck, which made my geeky eyes bug out. This was an old E-series Squier Strat.

The Guitar – E-Series Squier Strat

Picture of a guitar
Tape was applied to protect the innocent

You can look up what “E-series”  means, starting here but in a nutshell, these are exceptionally well-made guitars built at the Fuji-gen factory in Japan. My friend Rob has a Fender Strat from the same period, and it is one of the best Strats I have ever played. I love the necks on these guitars. I LOVE them.

At the time, I only owned one electric guitar, so I asked Richard if I could put the original neck on the guitar and make it playable. He’d have a workable Strat, and I’d borrow it to bring along as a backup for shows. He said sure.

Problems

A lot of Strats from this period, whether Fender or Squier, came with Fender’s execrable System 1 bridge and string-locking system. This was Fender’s answer to the Floyd Rose, or more precisely, their answer to the question “How can we make a locking trem that won’t get us sued by Floyd Rose?”

The result was an epic collection of poor ideas:

  • They put a locking system BEHIND THE NUT, giving you all the rubbery crapness of a Floyd PLUS all the string-grabbing of a regular nut.
  • They built a bridge that was quite a bit higher than, well, anything without a railing.
  • They used the Floyd-like and inexcusable concept of locking the bridge pieces in place with hex nuts DIRECTLY under the strings, making setting the intonation a horror show.
  • The fine-tuners on the bridge stick way out at a 45-degree angle, so while they don’t actually get in the way, it always feels like they will.
  • That’s not a problem for long, because the fine-tuners also fall out and get lost very quickly.
  • Which is in turn OK, because they do kind of a crappy job of tuning finely.

I could go on, but I realize that I already have…

Rob’s Strat still has the System 1 bridge, but he had the lock removed from the headstock decades ago, and the bridge has been blocked in place for about 30 years. I think there are three fine-tuners left. Set up like this, the System 1 works pretty well as a hard-tail bridge.

Yep, that was irony you just read.

The upside for this guitar was that ALL of the System 1 stuff was already gone. The lock was off the headstock, and the bridge had been removed. All that was probably done when Richard had replaced the neck.

As I mentioned, the System 1 bridge is tall enough to dunk over Shaq, which meant that the necks on these guitars sit pretty high off the body. The replacement neck Richard bought didn’t sit as high, which made the action way too tall. Someone had put in a cheap-and-cheerful two-point replacement bridge to compensate for this, and the System 1 bridge was lost forever. Boo hoo.

But this created a problem when I put the original neck back on, because it sits a lot taller. Even with the bridge pieces up as high as they would go on the new bridge, the action was just barely playable without buzzing and fretting out. Things would need to be done.

Also, Richard had put a set of Fender Texas Special pickups in the guitar. I don’t like those very much.

Fixes – Bridge

Before I go on, I would like to make it clear that what I am about to describe is NOT what I would recommend to anyone. My fix here is most charitably described as “cunning but extremely silly” and I am only being that kind about it because I hold myself in such high regard. I have three things to say in my defence:

  1. I was operating under straitened circumstances, and just wanted to get the guitar working
  2. I was fine not being able to use the trem on this guitar
  3. Nothing I did was irreversible, apart from a couple of small holes in the body

It ended up sounding really good, and I can see no reason to change it, but you probably don’t want to try this at home. If you find yourself with a similar problem, you should just get $30 together and buy a better bridge. Or see the update about shimming at the end of this section.

To recap: The replacement two-point bridge was kinda crummy, and too low to be able to set the action to any sane height.

On pretty much any Strat-style trem system, the bridge ends up being a fulcrum over which you balance the tension of the springs in the back of the guitar with the tension of the strings on the front of the guitar. In this case, the fulcrum was in the wrong place, and I needed to move it and still have the system work.

The idea was to to set the bridge up higher by adjusting the height of the support posts the bridge rests against. Then I’d just block the bridge at that height.

You need to be very careful messing around with this stuff, ESPECIALLY with two-point bridges, and ESPECIALLY if the edges where the bridge sits on the support bolts are sharpened. Screw up those edges or the bolts, and you’re going to be consumed by self-loathing.

I slacked the claw off in the back of the guitar, and I detuned the strings a bit. This took some of the tension off the bridge from both sides, so I could move it around, but kept enough tension on the bridge to keep it from moving around too much.

I set all the bridge pieces so that they were about 1/4 of the way from their lowest possible position. That way, I would have room to adjust the action once the bridge was in place.

There was just enough slack that I could hold the bridge just off the support posts with one hand and do the next bit with the other. At no point was I turning the posts while the bridge was leaning against them with all the tension on it.

I then unscrewed the posts a bit at a time, in order move the bridge up to a height at which I would be able to adjust the action to about what I would like. Then I measured how high the bridge was off the body. I’d need to put something that same height under the back of the bridge, so that the bridge would sit flat.

The something turned out to be two Singapore 20 cent pieces. I stuck them under the bridge, tightened up the claw at the back and tuned the guitar to pitch, and the bridge sat flat.

Then I tried detuning one string, to see if the others changed pitch. They didn’t, which meant the bridge was sitting pretty solidly. I then drilled two holes in the coins and screwed them in place.

From there, I could set up the action and intonation with the bridge, as normal.

Yep. Pretty hacky. It worked though.

UPDATE: Richard eventually sold me this guitar–a great deal, because he is very nice that way.

I later took the guitar in to Linda London in Lincoln, NE. She’s who I go to for frets and acoustic repairs and anything else I need a grownup to do.

The guitar needed a fret dressing, and after we talked a bit, she also shimmed the neck a bit, which has made the guitar play even better. The shimming means that I COULD probably take out my hacky coin trick and of course, I could have changed out to a better bridge long ago. But I really like how this guitar sounds the way it is, and it plays like a dream. It ain’t broke…

Fixes – Pickups

Well, I have to admit, I’m still slightly on the horns of a dilemma here, but I’ll get to that in a sec.

I tried to like the Texas Specials, really I did.

I spend about 80% of my time in the 4 (neck and middle) position on a Strat, and while this worked OK-ish with the Specials, they just sound like they are trying way too hard. And the 1 and 2 positions were shrill and over-hyped enough to have their own talk radio show. No sir, I did not like them.

I have tried a whack of pickups in this guitar. So many, in fact, that for a while I was just holding the pickguard on with gaffer tape, to save time taking it off and putting it on. I figured that I would put the screws back in when I finally had pickups in it that I liked.

I got a hold of a Fender Tex-Mex bridge pickup at some point, and tried that. It was much better in combination with the middle pickup, and less annoying (though still annoying) on its own.

It baffles me how I can like something about almost every Tele bridge pickup I hear, and pretty much nothing about every single-coil-sized Strat bridge pickup I hear.

This was all pretty frustrating, because the guitar felt great to play. I’d put some combination of pickups in it and take it with me to shows as a backup. I would even use it to practice on with no pickups in it.

One day, I stumbled onto a Fender Vintage Noiseless pickup for next-to-nothing on eBay. Because the Tex-Mex happened to be in the bridge when the Noiseless showed up, I put the Noiseless in the middle position. This is the position I use the least–my other Strat is wired so that there is no way to just have the middle pickup on its own, and I like it like that. So I was expecting to try this, say “meh” and then try the Noiseless in the neck position.

Instead, I plugged it in and LOVED it. It was nice on its own, and really nice combined with the Tex-Mex in the bridge.

I had 15 minutes before I had to get to a rehearsal, and I really wanted to try this out with a band, but I HAVE to have that 4 position—I needed a neck pickup. I ran downstairs, grabbed a random pickup off the table and slapped it in the neck position. Then I headed off to rehearsal with a screwdriver in my case, so I could adjust the pickup heights as we played.

Turns out, the Noiseless and the mystery pickup worked together ridiculously well in that 4 position. Really stunning–my version of what a “Classic” Strat sounds like. I had never even bothered trying that mystery pickup before, because it was just some cheap goofy stock pickup from my Tickle Trunk of random parts. All I know is that at some point I metered it, because it has a piece of masking tape on the bottom on which I wrote “5.83K.” In this weird guitar, it’s absolutely the right thing.

UPDATE: I eventually put another Vintage Noiseless in the bridge and I am prrrreetttyy happy with it. The 2 position now gives me a near-Tele level of bonkiness, which I like a lot. I think I’m about as happy as I’m going to be without breaking out a router. I still only use the bridge pickup with crunchy sounds. I haven’t found a single-coil-sized Strat bridge pickup that I’ve liked clean yet.

Which leads to the dilemma I mentioned earlier: I KNOW I would be happy with a P-90 in the bridge of this guitar, but the body is cut for single coils only. Even though it has zero collector value by this time, I would never sell it, and it would be easy to just revert back to single-coils anyway, I still hate the idea of cutting a guitar that does a good job of being what it was made to be. They don’t make these E-series things any more.

So I don’t know.

bookmark_borderGuitar repair/mod – Festus the Mystery Guitar

guitar picture
Identities obscured to protect the ugly

One of my many annoying habits is sending emails to my musician friends about instruments I know they will:

a) love and not be able to afford.
b) completely hate.

I sent a link to a Craigslist ad for a guitar to a bunch of my friends. The guitar in the ad had started life as some kind of cheap Strat copy and been seriously messed with along the way. On top of everything else, someone had followed the time-honored tradition of writing a naughty word on the headstock with a marker.

Two days later, my friend John called me and asked if I was going to be around, because he wanted to drop something off. I said I would be. A few minutes later, he showed up with a terribly guilty look on his face, and from the back seat of his car, pulled the guitar from the ad.

“Dude! You bought the “F*ck*r!” My neighbors will never get used to me.
“I couldn’t help it. I had to go take a look!”
“Wow. OK.”
“I really like the neck though!”
“How much?”
“I got it for $25. I figured you know, in parts alone…”

We plugged it in. It had a couple of single-coils in the middle and neck, and some had stuffed a gold-colored humbucker in the bridge. That humbucker, in this guitar, sounded really good. Actually, it sounded disturbingly great.

Well, of course I would try to fix this thing up! How could I not? This is just good practice, and kind of fun, in a weirdo detective kind of way.

Over time, we’ve  beaten this thing into good enough shape that John actually plays out with it sometimes. I’m listing everything that’s been done to the guitar to this point in this write-up, and including some points that might be useful to anyone getting into basic electric guitar repair. Things that were changed after the original fix are listed as UPDATES.

 

Getting started

First, I cleaned off the body. Someone smoked a lot around this thing! Eww. Pretty much all the mess came off with vinegar and a cloth, which means that it probably wouldn’t have been there at all if someone had just run a cloth over the guitar from time to time. Or once a week. Or once in a while.

I took the strings off and then cleaned off the fretboard with orange oil and a cloth. It wasn’t really that nasty.1

There was an interesting collection of screws holding the pickguard on. I think two of them even match. I’m always amazed at how often people manage to lose screws and bolts and things while taking them off and putting them on.2

I got the pickguard off, and got a HUGE whiff of smoke. And I thought. They smelled bad. On the outside.

It became pretty obvious that this was not the original pickguard for this guitar, because there were a lot of holes in the body from whatever other pickguard used to be there.

At this point, I started referring to whoever worked on the guitar before as “Festus.”

 

Pickguard picture
The spiders had been given certain chemicals…

The electronics

I THINK that Festus took the original bridge pickup (or some other one) and put it in the neck position. The original leads on that pickup are about 2″ long, so he added a couple pieces of wire to it, using the worst soldering job in human history.3

The middle pickup might have been original. The magnet underneath it has some rust. Having seen the rest of the wiring, I had a theory on how that happened, but there was no discernible scent of urine, so that theory is probably incorrect.

The bridge pickup is a retrofit, obviously. It’s an Epiphone humbucker that was cut out of another guitar by a meatneck, so its pickup leads are about 1″ long. I wish people wouldn’t do this. Anyway, Festus connected it to some other wire, and it looked like he learned something from the neck pickup, because it was only the second-worst soldering job in human history.

There are a lot of ways to wire up a guitar. I’ve fixed some guitars on which it became obvious that the guitar was wired up one way, and then someone tried to add something based on a different wiring scheme. I may have even done that myself. Only once though. Really.

Sometimes it’s fun–or even educational–to try to figure out what wiring scheme was being used, and where it went wrong, and sometimes that’s like running a cheese grater over your brain.

In this case, all the pickup leads went into what appeared to be the last desperate act of a madman on fire.

My best guess is that the guy just kept connecting and disconnecting wires randomly until he got some output, and then soldered things where they were. There were a couple of wires that just came off the pots and don’t connect to anything, random grounding and stuff on wrong legs of pots. The end result was that the volume and tone knobs didn’t do anything, and only two positions on the five-way switch actually made any sound.

But despite the randomness, all the leftover wires were very neatly gathered up and bundled with a zip tie. It didn’t work, but it looked good. Just like me.

 

Physical stuff

The action on the guitar was high, but not too bad. The frets had very little wear, though they felt very soft.  The neck had just about the amount of relief in it I like, and no twists.  The nut was awful.

When I took off the strings, the bridge went right back flat against the body and sat level. That meant I should be able to make it just stay there when I set the guitar up later. As long as you don’t want to use the trem (YOU DON’T ON THIS GUITAR), that makes life easy.

 

Fixes Part 1 — Pickups

Because John is cheap and lazy (he LOVES when I say that), I was just going to get this thing going with the same pickups that were in it.

I re-did the solder joins on the pickup leads and taped them off, so that they wouldn’t ground off on something when I put the thing back together. After the guitar was back together and hooked up, that Epiphone pickup sounded ridiculously good, particularly in combination with the middle pickup. And the other two pickups sounded just awful.

UPDATE: I found a crazy deal on some Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups. I really like those things. I put them in the middle and bridge, and now the guitar sounds great in every position. It’s kind of annoying how good it sounds.

 

Fixes Part 2 –Electronics

I knew I was going to take the electronics right down and re-do them, partly because it’s good practice, partly because all the existing parts were cheap and nasty, and partly because trying to figure out what Festus was trying to do–or what he ended up doing–would be flirting with madness.

He’d used 500K pots on a guitar that’s mostly cheap single coils and high-end squealiness. That’s not the best idea. If there was any thinking behind this, it was probably that 500K pots are usually used with humbuckers, and he had put the humbucker in the bridge. Regardless, it was a bad fit. I had some pots that I had metered, and came out in the high 200 to 300K range, so I used those. There is space here to mention whatever famous guitar hero you want who uses 300K pots. Go ahead, the rest of us will wait.

Got that out of your system? Awesome.

I wired it up in a pretty standard Strat configuration (volume, two tones, five-way switch) with the new pots and new wire.

UPDATE: Even with the new electronics, this thing was really noisy. That probably had a lot to do with the original pickups.

Also, John has some freaky X-men static buildup ability. I am not making this up. The second finger on his picking hand hits the guitar quite often, just below the middle pickup. Every once in a while, there is an audible “pop” when it does. I’ve seen this happen with him on a bunch of different guitars, which have been worked on by different people. It’s weird as hell. John bought some aluminum tape and stuck a piece on the guitar where his finger hits. That worked really well at making the end of his finger turn black.

I ended up lining the cavity and the underside of the pickguard with aluminum tape, connected to the ground, and the problem went away. It stayed away after we put in the Fender Noiseless pickups as well.

 

Fixes Part 3 – Setup and whatnot

There were three springs in the back of the trem. I just screwed the claw in as far as it would go, and that was enough to hold the bridge flush to the body. You can whack the low E, bend whatever strings you want, and not hear any movement.

The frets on this guitar were in OK shape for the kind of action John likes. I don’t think they will last very long, though. The nut is pretty awful: No real radius to the cuts, and very high. John plays a lot of acoustic, and he’s fine with higher action and more neck relief than I am, so his preferences worked nicely within the limited options this thing has for action. I just set it up as low as I thought I could and set the intonation. I think John has moved the action back up a bit.

It sounds great, plays in tune and he loves playing it. That means it’s set up right, as far as I’m concerned.

Aesthetically, it’s the kind of mutt I just love. Crappy-looking cheap pickguard with a chunk of aluminum tape on it, two different colors of pickups, mismatched screws, ugly, ugly wood on the neck. A player.

John couldn’t live with “F*ck*r” written on the headstock, so he took that off with some alcohol. You can see the faint outline of the original “Behringer” label.  And now he calls the guitar “Festus”

Potay-to potah-to

 


1) Musicians are generally disgusting. Clean things before you work on them. Better yet, tell people to clean them before they bring them to you, and THEN clean them. It took one experience of picking up a stringless neck in a basement and not being able to get the smell off my hands for a couple of days to get me into this habit. Learn from my disgusting mistake!

I always start with the weakest possible cleaners and work up. You usually want something astringent, because most guitar grossness is either oily or sticky. Just plain white vinegar works on pretty much any guitar finish, and rubbing alcohol is USUALLY (test it!) OK as well. I use citrus-oil-based cleaners on open-grain or unfinished stuff, but again, test first. I use old cloths that I don’t mind throwing out or recycling. Have lots of these. Paper towels are a bad choice for cleaning guitars.

2) If you’re going to work on ANYTHING with small bits like screws, wires, nipples, or electronic parts, make sure you have a bunch of containers for things.4 “Containers” are things with a bottom, sides and a top. You can put things in a container and pick them all up at once.  You can use empty pill vials, or little bowls, or little boxes or envelopes or whatever

An Altoids tin in an example of a container. An area on a table that you are pretty sure you will remember is not a container.

As you remove each piece, put it in a container, and then label the container. Label everything no matter what.

3)If you do not know how to solder, you should learn. And if you learn, you should learn to do it well. Seriously, this is a cheap and easy skill. It’s like knowing how to change a tire or stop a tap from dripping: You don’t HAVE to do it yourself, but it will probably save you inconvenience and maybe money, and you will know if whoever you pay to do it does a good job.

4)I freely admit that the use of the word “nipples” was gratuitous.