My first task is to decide on the specifications for my guitar build. There are several main aspects to the build. Firstly, since this is a beginner’ s course, the organisers place some limitations on the build to keep it manageable. These limitations are:
- Flat top guitar without binding
- Set neck (glued)
- Strat, Les Paul or PRS body shape and scale length
- Dot inlays or none at all.
- Standard electronics configurations
- Oil finishes
- One piece necks or prepared laminates
Most of these are fine; I might just try to push the boundaries a little bit, as I’ll mention below. So here, briefly, are the main areas of my design. I have discussed my design with Crimson Guitars, and also with the good folks on the Rob Chapman forum, my favourite guitar-related Internet hangout, and I am grateful to all for their input, whether their ideas made it into my design or not.
I want to make my guitar unique in some ways; I don’t want to just build a copy of something that I could buy in a shop, cheaper and probably better built. Hence I’ve actively tried to design something with specs that are out of the ordinary. You’ll see how I decided to do this below.
My initial idea was to make something like one of the guitars that I’ve been gassing for, which is a PRS P245 Semi-Hollow. That was a bit optimistic since it breaks several of the limitations above (apparently you need at least twice as much time to build a semi-hollow). So I’ve simplified the design, and the basic shape of the guitar will be a PRS-style double cut, with a 25″ scale length. There will be several differences between my guitar and the normal PRS models, though. It will have a fixed bridge, and a string-through body. The cosmetics will be quite different too.
Given that they mention oil finishes, I’d like to find something really nice and distinctive, so I might have to find an expensive bit of wood for the top in particular. I would like to have either an exotic wood or a very distinctive maple (maybe spalted) for the cap, and I’m keen on natural ebony for the fretboard. I have discussed this with Crimson Guitars, and most likely I will just choose woods from their stock when I get there, but we’ve agreed that I will call them a month before the build to check that they will have some suitable options in their wood store. If not, then I will still have time to order something from elsewhere.
I have a slightly optimistic idea of using a bit of purpleheart to create a coloured stripe down the middle of the top, which isn’t particularly difficult to do but it adds an extra step to the process, so we may have to see how quickly the build progresses and whether I have time to include that.
Following my original idea of the P245, I decided that the main distinguishing feature of my guitar will be a piezo pickup. After some research, I decided to use a Schaller Hannes Piezo bridge + preamp for this purpose. The bridge looks well designed and comfortable to play; Schaller claims that you can use the piezo without a preamp but I’m advised that it’s far better to include it, so I went for the pack that includes the bridge and the preamp. This also includes the controls for the piezo side so it makes installing the electronics fairly simple.
The Schaller pack is rather expensive, so I decided to go for mid-priced pickups in order to compensate for that extravagance. After looking around at a number of options, I picked two pickups from Irongear – a Rolling Mill humbucker for the bridge, which gives classic rock/blues tones, and an Alchemist 90 (P90-style) for the neck. The Irongear website has sample sound files for all of its pickups, and I liked those the best.
To keep the electronics manageable within the limitations of the course, whilst optimising the options available from my choice of pickups, I decided to stick with a single Volume and Tone pot for the magnetic pickups. I will have a 3-way selector for bridge-both-neck, and I intend to make one of the pots a push/pull to split the bridge humbucker (the Alchemist 90 is a single coil pickup, of course, so only one pickup can be split). In addition, there is a volume knob and a 5-way selector for the piezo pickup (Raw / Preamp / Mix piezo+magnetic / magnetic / none). In total, then, I will have two selector switches and three control knobs (piezo volume, magnetic volume & tone), which is reasonable for a guitar that I hope will be rather versatile!
The tuners, or machine heads, are another key component of the guitar. I prefer locking tuners and I wanted tuners that would go visually with the other components, so I chose tuners from Schaller with the same finish as the bridge (Ruthenium, which is a rare metal similar to platinum). I have several different types of locking tuners on my existing guitars, and I’m not very convinced by the ones with a big wheel on the back of the tuner, so I went for the Schaller M6 toplocking machine heads.
To contribute towards the uniqueness of this guitar, I’ve ordered 4 left and 2 right tuners, so we will have to design an asymmetric headstock. I have plenty of guitars with 6-in-a-row or 3+3 tuners, so this will differentiate it again.
I have also ordered a matching jack plate and I will order matching strap buttons. I ordered the pickups with a gold finish, and depending on how they look on the finished guitar, I might consider doing something to dull or distress the finish (if they are too shiny). Everything else – the electronics, frets, wires and strings etc – will come from Crimson Guitars, with one exception…
I have a thing about control knobs. Specifically, I find it a great shame when you see an expensive, custom guitar (yes, PRS, I mean you! among others) with cheap-looking, plastic control knobs. Therefore I want to put wooden control knobs on my guitar. My ideal solution would be to make control knobs with two levels, a main body and a cap, similar to the construction of the guitar body but with the cap made out of an offcut from the fretboard, which will tie them in nicely from a visual perspective. Going further, it would be rather splendid to inlay a line, like a clock hand, to show the position of the knob, but that might be going a bit too far!
In fact, it might not be possible to make these control knobs within the week, although I’d be willing to perform some of the finishing at home if that frees up enough time to make them. Another reasonable alternative would be to buy wooden control knobs.
So that’s about it for the design. I am very excited and I can’t wait to see this take shape in my hands! 🙂