Category Archives: Gear

The white Strat

White Stratocaster
Probably should have taken more pics before I modded this…

In the mid-late 80’s, my friend Rob bought a Fender Strat. It was, I think, his first “good” guitar. There were two things about this guitar which were unusual:

  • It was the first “Made in Japan” Fender that anyone I knew had ever bought
  • It was one of the best-playing, best-sounding guitars I’d ever heard.

Despite all the characteristics described below, this guitar rings really nicely. Notes hang around about as long as you expect, the whole thing responds to how and where you hit it. It’s a real player’s guitar.

I now own this guitar. It’s been through a lot of changes, and will probably go through a few more. I’m going to write about the work I do on it in a series of of posts, focusing on things that might be useful to other guitar fiddlers. I’m going to try to keep each post focused on just one problem or solution, and the information or issues involved.

This post covers the basic technical details of the guitar up until it arrived at my house.

The basics

Based on the serial number (A + 6 digits), this guitar was built between 1985-1986, most probably at the Fuji-Gen factory in Japan. It is the worst factory color for a guitar (white), and has a maple fretboard. The neck is a soft “D” profile.

I haven’t measured the fretboard radius, but it feels a bit wider and flatter than my other Strats.It has big frets which are ground down and very nicely even. Fretless wonder kinda thing.

The guitar is ridiculously stable. String gauge changes have never bothered it. The tuners are not great (low ratio), but once in tune, it stays there with almost disturbing reliability.

The guitar did unfortunately come with one of Fender’s legendary tragicomedies, the System 1 trem system. Much time has been wasted on the System 1—more by the poor suckers who bought it than by whoever “designed” it—so I will spare you yet another rant about it. 1

Life before netdud

Pickups and electronics

Early in its life, Rob replaced the stock pickups with EMGs. This was certainly the style of the time, but as I recall, Rob mostly made the switch because the stock pickups were noisy and didn’t sound that great. The EMGs really suited this guitar, the sounds Rob was after and the way he played, and stayed in place for decades. The original pickups disappeared somewhere along the way, and are completely unmissed.

A couple of years or so ago, Rob got curious, bought a pre-wired pickguard from GFS with a set of their “Gold Foil” single coil pickups, and put it in this Strat. Please click here –> 2 <– if that statement made your eye twitch. He liked them.

Rob also started a mod to convert one of the tone controls into a blend knob for the middle pickup, so it could be added to any regular switch position. This was not completed, but didn’t interfere with the regular use of the guitar.3

Bridge / action

There are two sure-fire ways to use the System 1 trem system reliably:

  • Replace it with literally anything else. You will be better off.
  • Remove the stupid string lock, block the bridge in place so that it can not move, and use it as a hardtail.

Rob had done the latter for decades, though he recently had the bridge set up so that he could use the trem (floating) , still without the stupid string lock. This apparently worked OK for him. We will see if it works for me.

Rob is a really fine player, with a freakishly light touch. He can make strings sound heavier than they are. He likes to have a trem, but uses it for subtle trem effects—a Bigsby guy, not a Floyd guy.

The nut on this guitar is cut really low, the action is really low, and the trem is easily wiggleable. The end result is a guitar with ridiculously soft feel.

Where I come in

A long long time ago, I told Rob that he was never allowed to sell this guitar, but if he did, he had to sell it to me. So that’s what happened.

I got the guitar with the gold foils in it, and the pickguard with the EMGs in it as well.

Before this came up, I would have said that I absolutely do not need another Strat. I guess I did. But now, I don’t need any more guitars and I TOTALLY MEAN THAT.

1 What a piece of shit though, eh? I mean, really.


3 Unless you are one of those weirdos that actually use the regular tone controls on a a Strat. LOL @ you, weirdo! Also, please tell me how you do that in the comments, because I am 50% sure I am wrong.

The HurtZOMG! and friends

The HurtZOMG!

There are a lot of cool old amplifiers out there which can be rebuilt into excellent guitar amps. One of my amps, named the “HurtZOMG!” was rebuilt out of an old portable phonograph, and worked out really well. This post is about how it came to be, and what makes it so useful

Let’s start at the beginning, which is

The End Result

The HurtZOMG! is a small, simple, single-sided tube guitar amp, very similar in basic design to a Fender Champ. It has a regular speaker out and a soaked (line level) output that you can plug into the input of another (following) amp or DI box. This allows the HurtZOMG! to act as either a small amp head or as a preamp.


  • Volume (Vol) -This is basically the input gain. It’s a click-on knob that also switches on the input, though the amp is always on when plugged in
  • Tone – Also a click-on knob, so you can disable this part of the circuit completely
  • Master volume – This knob only affects the output level of the soaked output

Ins and Outs

  • Input – instrument in here
  • Speaker Out – speaker out here. Min 4 Ohms
  • DI Out – to following amp or DI

The Story

Chapter 1: An Old Beginning

How it originally looked

I saw an ad on Craigslist for two old tube amps for $35. Neither of the amps had started life as guitar amps, though both were basically the same design as guitar amps.

The amp that became the HurtZOMG! was originally part of an old RCA transcription record player. When the turntable part of the player gave up the ghost, the amp section was removed and fitted into part of the original record-player case. A couple of 1/4″ jacks later, someone had a small and fun little amp head. That was the shape the amp was in when I bought it.

When I got the amp home, I took a look at the tube complement and realized that it was interestingly similar to a Fender Champ.

  • 12AX7 preamp tube
  • 6CM6 power tube
  • 6X4 rectifier tube

The Champ is tube complement is usually 12AX7, 6L6, and 5Y3, but the tube variations in my amp are often used in modifications of Champs and other guitar amps. This little amp would make a good basis for an interesting build.

The Plan

I’ve been a fan of Big Sugar for a while, and fundamental to Gordie Johnson’s huge guitar tone has been the mighty Garnet Herzog. In a nutshell, the Herzog a modified Champ circuit with a soaked output. You plug your guitar in to the Herzog, crank the snot out of it, then run the soaked output into another guitar amp. You can adjust how hard the Herzog output hits your next amp, and enjoy the awesome power of cascaded low- to medium-gain stages.

You can read more about the Herzog here. It’s a pretty cool thing, and you have probably heard one without knowing it.

I figured that I could recycle this cool old amp into a very useful single-ended Champ-like amp head that could also be a device of crunchiness. So that’s what we did.

The Process

After a bit of thinking, I took the amp to Michael Saklar at Echoluxe and told him what I wanted. As always, Michael had some sane advice on how to make this idea better, and then he did the rebuild.

The amp had been glued and jammed into worn-out, smashed piece of the original RCA record player’s cabinet, and Michael had to break that open in order to do the rebuild. As always, his rebuild went very well. Michael kept as many original parts in the circuit as possible, replacing only things wouldn’t work any more, or would have been dangerous to keep.

He also changed the layout around a bit, which improved things, and changed the orientation of the chassis relative to the “cabinet.”

I was absolutely determined to reuse that same crappy “cabinet” the amp came in, so I spent an hour or two cleating and glueing and reinforcing and hacking it all back together.

It’s not pretty, but it’s honest work

At some point, I’ll probably cover the whole thing in Tolex, so no-one will know it’s in the original bit of RCA box but me, but dammit I’LL KNOW!

It’s upside-down and backwards now, which is right-side up and frontwards

So How Does It Sound?

It sounds GREAT.

As a little amp

Because I am normally a nice, polite fellow, I usually run this though a single, open-backed 12″ speaker. I have used it a lot with both a Celestion Vintage 30 and a WGS G12c/s and with either it sounds big and full and throaty with cleans, but keeps that open uh, squonkiness that we love in small amps.

Because the HurtZOMG! is small and enthusiastic, it works up a bit of a sweat whenever it is running. This means you always get that nice push and responsive-yet-forgiving feel without being as loud as you might need to be with a bigger amp. That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but not all small amps actually work like this, and a lot of them only sound good in a narrow volume range.

it’s very easy to find a sweet spot tonally with just the volume knob on the HurtZOMG!, without getting so loud that the tone blows past you, or can’t be heard at all.

That having been said, it can get surprisingly loud1 and there is a lot of clean headroom. I have used this amp for rehearsals with bands in which I pretty much only play clean guitar, with people who are quite loud (STEVE!) and I could be heard just fine without having to push the amp to a point where it didn’t sound like I wanted it to.

But let’s be honest–clean sounds are not what most people use small amps for–especially if they already own bigger amps.

No, the reason to have a small amp is so that you can turn it up and make it unhappy.

And this amp gets wonderfully unhappy. As I said, it is pretty similar to an old Champ circuit, and once you open the taps a bit, you start to get that cool single-sided breakup. It’s quite controllable–again, you can get a variety of overdrive sounds based on how much you turn it up.

BTW, you are soaking in it!

Which brings us to the HurtZOMG!’s extra trick: Plug your guitar into the HurtZOMG! and then plug the soaked out of the HurtZOMG! into the input of another guitar amp.

This gives you some nice options:

  • Turn the HurtZOMG! waaaay up to get the crunchtastic fun and then run that into your amp the same way you would an overdrive pedal
  • Set the HurtZOMG! up so that you have that sweet spot where it breaks up when you hit hard, and cleans up when you lay out a bit, and run that into your amp to make that sweet spot even bigger
  • Use the HurtZOMG! as an extra gain stage, and run the master volume up high, to drive your following amp into crunch land

So far, I have just stuck to running the HurtZOMG! straight into a following amp in order to get various levels of crunchy overdrive. With a boost pedal in front of HurtZOMG!, and running into a good following amp, there are many options, and they are all easy to set up.

But wait, there’s more!

You can also run both the speaker out and the direct out at the same time, so there are tons of possibilities for using the HurtZOMG! in series and/or parallel with a second (and third) amp and effects. Add in stereo effects, and the chances of you making it out of the basement before dawn approach zero.

But seriously, folks

Despite all these options, I have used the HurtZOMG! most simply as a really good-sounding small amp head. It’s great for rehearsals, and it’s easy to use live.

And now, the bummers

This is really the first iteration of the HurtZOMG! and I’ve learned some stuff about how I prefer to use this thing. There are some downsides, which are minor enough that I am happy to live with them.

It’s a bit noisy

When you turn it up to full stupid, you will hear some noise. Michael actually re-did the circuit in order to pull the power stuff to one side and the audio stuff to the other, which helps a lot. But we are dealing with a 50+ year-old circuit in a small box, and I have the mentality of a 13 year-old, so yeah, there is noise.

That having been said, I have certainly used purpose-built guitar amps that were noisier than the HurtZOMG! when turned up to full stupid. Relative to how loud you are, the noise is not a problem.2

It’s tricky to carry around

This is a common problem when rebuilding amps that were not originally designed to be portable. It might take some thinking to come up with a solution, but this should not put you off doing a project like this.

After I get the tolex on it, I’m going to add a handle and some protection for the back of the amp—maybe some kind of screen. I might look at putting in an IEC jack so that the power cord is removable when hauling the amp around.


For less than the cost of a meh-quality new amp, I have a great-sounding and versatile piece of gear that makes everyone who plays with it happy. And I kept some stuff out of a landfill. If you have the opportunity to do something like this, you should do it!

1 By law, you HAVE to say this about every small amp. Always. Honestly, I am no longer surprised by how surprised I am by how loud a small amp is.

2 Both the power and rectifier tubes in the HurtZOMG! are the (probably original) Westinghouse bottles it came with. This might also contribute to the noise.


The daxophone is a relatively new instrument. Like the electric guitar, it uses analog pickups to amplify sounds the player creates with a simple physical interface. This is the type of instrument I like most.

This video shows how the daxophone is played and some of the sounds it can make.

This album by the remarkable Kazuhisa Uchihashi is super fun music music played brilliantly, and probably the most accessible example of what the daxophone is capable of as a musical instrument.

The daxophone is a pretty interesting way to get sounds in general.

Using the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 with Linux Mint

If you found this page by searching, then you, like me, are trying to figure out a problem with your Focusrite Saffire Pro 14, a Firewire audio device which you are trying to use with Linux. I will cut to the chase. After quite a few hours of reading (mostly old) posts and articles and trying different solutions on and off over the course of a few weeks, here is how I arrived at a workable Linux recording machine with the Pro 14:

Cat not required, but recommended

In a nutshell:

  • Air-gap the Saffire Pro 14
  • Add an audio interface that works with Linux and is not terrible.

Yep, I just gave up.

If you are just trying to get some recording done and have the option of giving up on the Pro 14, I really recommend you do so, and stop reading here. If you are determined/have to make this thing work with Linux, maybe the rest of this will be helpful in some way.

First, I have to be clear about something: I hate wasting stuff. I hate replacing things that still work perfectly well. Which means I usually hate audio interfaces for computers.

Or maybe just the companies that make them.

Most audio interfaces themselves are fundamentally cool pieces of gear. When you consider how many different bits you need to fit into one of these things, and how well most of them do all the things they need to do, they really are wonderful, powerful, useful things. Or at least, the hardware part of them is.

Audio interfaces have a lifespan imposed on them by the people who make them. If they didn’t, I would still be using the UA-100 I got in 1998 or so, which could do everything I wanted the Pro 14 to do (and more). Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the Pro 14.

But at some point, your interface will no longer be supported for the computer you want to use it with, and the countdown will begin to the day you will need to discard this perfectly functional, mostly non-recyclable piece of equipment and buy pretty much the same thing, hardware-wise, again.

Sometimes, you can work around this by using Linux. I’m not going to get into the details of that here–if you’re reading this, you probably already know what I mean–but in the case of the Pro 14, it’s juuust annoyingly not worth doing. Really close, but not worth it.

There are three main obstacles to running the Pro 14 on Linux:

  1. It’s a Firewire device
  2. It’s an audio device on Linux
  3. A bunch of its cooler functionality is tied up in proprietary controller software

There are also fundamental issues with the Pro 14

  • The input preamps are really weak, and kinda noisy
  • And so are most of the outputs

Cumulatively, these issues just make running away a great option. I’ll go through them in order.

At time of writing, I was trying to use the Pro 14 with LInux Mint 20.3 Cinnamon on a Late 2008 Mac Pro.

1 There was no problem running Firewire. I added Jackd2, Jackd2-firewire and QJackctl when I was installing/setting up the machine, and those made it easy to get the Pro 14 set up as my input and output device in Audacity and then other DAWs just by mashing buttons in QJAckctl and then in the application’s preferences.

2 That meant that the “audio device on Linux” part was taken care of as well. It all pretty much Just Worked. Over the last 20+ years or so, I have developed a really solid repertoire of rants about audio on Linux, and I didn’t get to use a single one. I was really impressed (and disappointed) with how easy this part was.

But seriously, when I was your age, we made our own .conf files–out of dirt and bits of our hair–and we were HAPPY!

I’d go into more detail about the settings/routing, but that would all be specific to my setup, and you’ll be better served if you search for information about settings for your stuff. Also, by the time you read this, you might be using Pipewire or something. These kids, with their fancy audio on Linux, amirite?

3 All the cool routing stuff you could do with the Pro 14, including the ability to use all the inputs and outputs, was controlled by some proprietary software that Focusrite made. It was not made very well, never made for Linux, support was dropped at some point due to some unforeseeable, insurmountable issue like an operating system being upgraded or a new product being released.

Thanks to the work of [not the manufacturer], your Saffire Pro 14 will work on Linux, but it will never be able to do all the things it’s capable of. It won’t work at all on most other current operating systems I guess, so uh, yay for us. But you still have to do deal with issues. If there isn’t a switch right on the box to turn something on or off, you might not be able to turn it on or off.

For example, in my last attempt to use this thing, I noticed that the “inst” light was lit on the channel 2 input, and was out on the channel 1 input. Basically, I had one channel locked at each input type. I have no idea whether there is some way to switch the input type without the software, but the next two points made me quit before that fight even started.

The Pro 14 is just not very good to use its own. The preamps are really weak, and they get noisy and start to clip if you turn them up. I don’t know if an external preamp would help, or if it would just make the clipping worse. It might also help to use a separate (15VDC) power supply. But adding more gear in order to save bad gear doesn’t make much sense.

The outputs seem to suffer from the same problem: Very low output, and they get uglier as you turn them up. You can fix this problem by turning up whatever you are using to monitor, and the power supply might also help. But again, you’re throwing more gear after bad.

I have gear lying around that might fix these issues (not the power supply, I’d have to get one), and I was almost ready to try them, but I did a test recording with the Pro 14 and noticed some regularly-spaced sizzling noises in some tracks, with no common source (sometimes in a mic recording, sometimes line, sometimes channel 1, sometimes channel 2).

It’s just not worth trying to troubleshoot that (Firewire? Interface? Buffer? Power supply? Random electromagnetic something? New shampoo?) in order toend up with a device with limited functionality. Not to me, anyway.

I hope someone can find a use for this thing. It could have been cool.

If you have solutions to any of the problems I found, or tips to get the Pro 14 working with Linux, please comment. I will add anything helpful to this post. I would love to keep these things working if we can.