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Ibanez RG Project DAY 2: A Million Little Parts

Dec. 1st, 2006 | 11:44 am
wherzeeat?: From WalMart to my Living Room Floor (and back to my compy)
emotional status: "Destructive"
tunage: The Incessant Ring of my Cellphone

The easiest way to refinish or modify a guitar is to have someone else do it.  Barring that as an option, you want to break down the instrument into the most number of parts possible to increase the likelihood of losing some by the time you think you’re finished.  This will make all of your friends (( and readers of your Blog )) laugh at you and laughter is the best medicine. . . And daddy NEEDS his medicine…

Tools suggested for this stage are:

-Large Phillips Head Screwdriver
-Small Phillips Head Screwdriver
-Set of Allen Wrenches* (or allen “keys” if you prefer)
  ((also called “hex” wrenches or keys))
-Wire Snips or Pliers with a cutter… you know the type
-Pocketed Apron  (to make you feel like a craftsman.  Also because I think it looks funny & cute at the same time. . . And also because it gives you a place to hold all your little bits while you work.  Okay, okay, you don’t really need this at all but I impulse-bought one for like a buck and thought it actually came in pretty handy.  Plus it’s white canvas so you can draw or write swear words on it.)

* a note on Allen Wrenches:
if you don’t have a set of these, consider taking your guitar with you when buying them to find what type you need via a test-fit in the tool department.  There are two different types: “Metric” & “S.A.E” and wouldn’t you feel dumb if you bought one kind but get home to find you need the other?  Gas-waster to boot.  Knowing I would undoubtedly get the wrong thing, I strolled right into WalMart with guitar in hand (black leather jacket & sunglasses optional, but recommended if you like to get lots of interesting looks… it’s a winning combo) and fumbled with the different Allen Wrenches till I found what I needed.  What I can now suggest to you is to ignore those really nice swiss-army allen wrench sets that keep everything neat, tidy & together.  For most people, they’re likely worth the 5-15 bucks but while fitting for the various hexes holdng my guitar together, I realized that the handle of these nifty tools hinders (( at least in the case of an Ibanez RG )) access to the truss rod hex.  So you’d basically buy this for your trem system and still need an ordinary set for your truss rod.  The added upstroke here is that while these folding Hex Sets (which are either Metric -OR- S.A.E.) run upwards of three Lincolns, a 16 piece Hex Key set including both types was (( at time of writing )) a whopping 84 cents. 
YOU do the math.

Off the bat, I removed the plastic cavity covers from the back since I’d already taken off the truss rod cover in WalMart.

And in the process of that, I was surprised to find that the cavity plate over the pots was shielded with a foil coat.  Maybe not that big of a deal, but none of my basses ever came with shielded covers, so I thought it was a nice touch.  Nice Work, Ibanez ((of Korea))!

Next, I loosened the tension on my truss rod.  (( righty-tighty, lefty-loosy ))  I don’t know that this is standard practice, but it seemed a pretty good idea prior to cutting all the strings off and eliminating the reverse tension on the truss rod in all of 4 seconds.
honestly, this isn't as hard as most music stores would have you believe...

And speaking of string-cutting… that came next.

Heh heh heh…

And now I realize that every single thing I pulled out, lifted up, unscrewed or cut off has been photo-documented.  But isn’t that kind of boring?  Do you really need me to say “Next I did this” and “Next I did that” for everything?  Probably not.  I bet you’re a clever little monkey.

I’ll tell ya what.  Let’s split the difference, shall we?  I’ll put up some of the better pics and caption them and you’ll be grateful that I actually found a way to be a little less verbose for once.  (( don’t get used to it. ))

Removing trem-springs after loosening metal plate

Lots of tiny screws... this one holds the pickup selector switch

Just undoing the nut from one of the pots but c'mon... that's a neat ass pic

"Cutting the umbilical cord"

Kay, that's sort of funny & all, but I should mention that what I did here with the output jack was my solution to everything involving wires.  (( go ahead you guys... laugh at the n00b. )) Not having a soldering gun and being FAR too impatient to wait until I bought or borrowed one or took the whole project to a friend who knows what the hell he's doing with wiring, I just took lots of pictures of the wiring setups and snipped everything I had to so that I could pull out all the electric dodads.  As a final "failsafe" (( i hope )) I cut all my wires long on the pickup side, making sure to leave a small amount of the colored wire attached to the pots, switch and output jack as a final way of figuring out "what wire goes where" when I get to that point.  Of course, I'll need to get a soldering gun for THAT. . . I don't think duct tape & twine will cut the mustard.

Un-SCREWING the "bolt-on" neck

Allen-wrenching the locking nut right off!

"The Wire to Nowhere"

If you know electrical stuff, you know what this is.  If you're like me and the extent of your skill at electrical repair is...
1)bully it into working by hitting or shaking the device
2)yellowpages.  Electrical / Repair & Maintenance / Electricians
...then you might not know what this is at first glance without applying your highly-evolved primate brain and deductive reasoning or, alternatively, asking someone who's less of an idiot than we are.  I opted for the first choice since no one else was around... but whatever works for you. 

This is your "GROUND"  It's what completes the electrical circuit allowing your guitar to make the noises you want it to make while, theoretically, keeping it from making the noises you don't want it to make (( buzzing, humming, singing like celine dion. ))  You will notice that the ground wire is screwed directly into the wood of the routed pickup cavity with a wee little washer to increase the connection with the shielded paint.  I haven't looked into shielded paint yet.  I'm not sure what it's made up of exactly, but I'm guessing there's some sort of silver or copper dust mixed in with it to create the shielding.  I'd dash off and Google it right now if I thought it was that important, but since I'll be re-shielding with copper foil, I don't really care about the chemical makeup of shielding paint.

56 parts

As the more knowledgeable/observant amongst you will realize, these aren't ALL of the parts.  In total, there seem to be just over seven-thousand-million individual parts that make up the modern electric guitar when you count nuts, washers & the colony of screws required to hold it all together.  Don't lose any!

Common Sense should tell you this, but just in case he's on sabbatical from your office this week, I'll give you an suggestion:

When you sit down to tear apart a guitar, have ziploc bags, film canisters, little glass jars or some other small, seal-able storage containers on hand to store all your bits in until you need them (( to hand over to the guitar tech at your local music shop when you realize you bit off way more than you can chew. ))

Before I wrap-up for the day, I feel I should share some info I got from the always-helpful ((and extremely talented)) guys at the ProjectGuitar Forum.  (( http://projectguitar.ibforums.com/ ))  "Credit where credit is due" as they say.  Here's the dealy-o:

When I removed the neck from the guitar body, I noticed that the construction & routing for the pickups & neck pocket was a bit different from other guitars I've seen (( or currently own parts of. ))

Concerned that this area had been designed to be too thin & that there was a "tear-out" during the assembly of my particular RG, I posted this image on Project Guitar's forum and made my inquiry as to how big of a problem, if any, this might be.  Later the same day I had my answer; it's not a problem and is actually just part of the RG construction & design, so I won't be worrying about that at least!  Special thanks to "RG Man" & the rest who filled me in & eased my fears.

So that's it for "Teardown."

Join us next time when Vade endevours to strip the factory paint from the body!

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Ibanez RG Project DAY 1: "So What d'we Got?" (and by "we" I mean "me")

Nov. 27th, 2006 | 01:10 pm
wherzeeat?: "The hills of Austria" What d'you think? AT MY COMPUTER
emotional status: geekycuz I'm using the internets
tunage: Unamplified Electric Guitar

As mentioned in the last post, I'm not currently as knowledgeable on electric guitars as I am acoustics. It's all that damn folk music. (( I blame Ireland. )) But this project is a learning experience (( kinda like life, don't you think? ::cue cheesy after-school-special music & think of some trite inspirational comment.:: )) and hopefully I'll pick up a little more knowledge each day until I can honestly say at the end that I have a pretty good idea about what I'm doing beyond "Plug & Play."

Before one dives into the water though, it's advisable to know SOMETHING of what to expect. Are there piranhas? Razor-sharp rocks? The remnants of a 1934 Rolls Royce Station Wagon? To find out, I am using the same internet connection that allows me to share this experience with all of you to find out as much as I can about the RG. So here's what I know about this particular guitar ((WARNING! Technical info ahead that will bore the vast majority of the populace)):

Make:             IBANEZ
Model:           RG 270 DX
Serial#:         C01070749*
                           *this number is broken down as such C-01-07-0749
                            And tells me that this guitar was made in Korea’s “Cort”
                            factory in 2001, July and was the 749th instrument rolling
                            off the line that month.
                            Source: http://www.ibanezcollectors.com/discus/messages/5751/8404.html

Color:             “Dust-Attracting,
                        High-Gloss Black”

Woods:          Basswood Body
                        3-Piece Maple Neck
                        Rosewood Fretboard

Neck:              Wizard II
                            24 frets (jumbo)
                            25.5” scale
                            400mm fretboard radius
                            width at nut             43mm
                            thickness at nut      19mm
                                source: http://www.ibanez.com/guitars/guitar.asp?model=RG370DX

Inlays:                Sharkfin (aka “sharktooth”) Pearloid (aka “fake”) fret markers

Bridge:               “Licensed” Floyd Rose Floating Tremolo* in black (regular)**

                            *here, licensed basically means “manufactured by some company who has paid
                            to copy the Floyd Rose trem and stamp the well-known name on it, but that the quality
                            isn’t near up to snuff when compared to the actual beast.” Build and material quality
                            vary widely depending on which manufacturer slapped it out and when it was made,
                            though it is pretty much impossible to figure that info out.
                                source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floyd_Rose

                             **I cite here my first major screw-up. Originally I had said that the bridge was in "COSMO BLACK" and that "cosmo" basically meant "cheap painted hardware and not a nice quality finish." Turns out that the reverse is true. Cosmo is the quality finish and the regular (( what I have )) is the cheaper, crappy version that's just sort of slapped on. Thanks to the guys at Project Guitar for setting me straight!.

                And speaking of parts, I found a complete parts list for this guitar at Ibanez.com:

I have to say that the fact that they break down all the parts that went into the manufacture of their instruments is cool beyond words. You couldn’t want a much better source of detailed info on your instrument. If I ever want to replace any of the parts with the absolute original pieces, it has all the model numbers for everything from the neck to the mounting screws!

How did I find all this?
 Ahhhhh Google. Thou art a good and knowledgeable friend. Combinations of “Ibanez, 270, RG, DX, Floyd Rose, Licensed, Serial Number, Korea, Wood” and I’m sure some others that I can’t even remember typing in as they came to me. The same can, I’m sure, be done for any instrument though the older they get the harder it can be to get ultra-fine specifics. For example, the info I picked up on the specs of the Wizard II neck came from a spec sheet on the newer RG370DX, which is fine since according to the parts lists, both guitars use the same model neck!

If you’re searching for information on YOUR instrument, bear in mind that the official sites of the manufacturers are only the beginning. There are tons of guitar tech-heads out there that could likely rattle off all this info (short of part numbers, probably) just from memory and experience. Wading thru posts on forums and message boards will get you lots of good info as well as opinions on guitars and parts and probably some neat ideas too!
 “Standing on the shoulders of giants” and all that.

                And after all those specifics, here’s a few more detailed pictures of the guitar on trial

How important is all this, REALLY?
Truth be told, not a lot for me or for this project. But you never know when you might need some of this information. Also, it’s good to know what exactly you started with so that you can really compare at the end.

The more I think about this project, the more I’m leaning away from major hardware & electronic upgrades. The reason FOR this is purely financial. I have full access to better trems (tremolo units… get used to me using “trem” instead… it’s the official shorthand, in case ya didn’t know) tuning machines, pots and pickups in music stores, company websites and of course Ebay… but as much good as it WOULD do for the quality of the guitar. . . Find yourself a real Floyd Rose on Ebay and you’ll know why I’m gonna wait for that sort of upgrade! (ie: not-at-all-cheap) Will I eventually DO that upgrading? Most likely. For the amount of work I’ll be putting into this project, I want the final result to be as high-end as possible. What’s the use in it looking uber-cool if it doesn’t play or sound equally good? When I get to that point, I’ll probably blog about that too, most likely as a tack-on to this otherwise aesthetic overhaul.

As in “what AM I doing with this”?
Okay, fair enough. If you’re looking for something specific in this project to know if its worth your while to read, here’s more-or-less what I have in store (( as of right now, that is. I might change my mind on any element at a moment’s notice! ))

Reshaping the basswood body
This will likely include curving the sides and reducing the amount of material where the horns flow into the body. I’ve doodled up a few ideas, some subtle and some radical, but haven’t chosen a definite direction for the final look. I tend to work freeform in artistic endeavors and since I’m viewing this project kind of like sculpture, most likely I won’t know what I’m actually going for until I’m close to the end. For the record though, I think I’m going to keep it relatively understated so that the guitar still looks like a guitar when all is said and done as opposed to carving the whole thing into Michelangelo’s David or something like that.

New color/finish
What color am I going to go? Hell if I know. I’m a big fan of natural finishes or stains/dyes that allow you to see the characteristics of the wood but I’m willing to bet that the wood underneath all that paint isn’t the prettiest. Basswood isn’t ugly but it is bland. You don’t get attractive or interesting grain patterns most of the time so basswood guitars are almost always painted. I don’t think I have what it takes to carve the body and then add a flame veneer to the top so I’m gonna be stuck with covering up the wood just like Ibanez did. I have no thoughts on color yet, but I have considered applying a material finish to make things interesting. If I go that route, the limitations are almost non-existant. Whatever I can find at a fabric store can be glued to the surface of the guitar and covered with layer upon layer of clear coat creating a very unique final look. This idea is so different and nutty, I just might have to do it! Besides that, a material finish is something I would be comfortable doing myself whereas a paintjob I would almost certainly pay an automotive shop to do to guarantee a perfect finish... That I couldn’t take credit for.

Again I tip my hat to Crispy of “The Stagemaster Project” who’s guitar mod gave me the idea that I should shield my electronics to eliminate electronic buzz & hum. I’d never even considered it; you don’t think of things like shielding when you play acoustics without amplification! A’La Crispy, I’ll be doing it with copper foil glued into all the electronics cavities.

Scalloped fingerboard
I’ve always thought this was a really good idea on higher frets. I don’t chord that high up, but I do solo there and bend notes. Carving away some of the rosewood to create a scoop will allow for smoother and more extreme bending of notes so I’ll probably be doing that between the last 5 or 6 frets.

Sanding the neck
This is a trick I learned from my bass guitar teacher way back in the day. The high-gloss finish on most guitar necks causes the thumb to grip and stick especially with the moisture from a bit of sweat. Sanding the finish off (( or at least enough so that it’s no longer glossy )) will essentially “speed up” movement of the hand up and down the neck. I’m not a speed player per se, but the feel of a smooth sanded neck is infinitely nicer than a glossy poly-coat in my opinion. (( I will be researching potential dangers of no-finish necks and humidity though before I actually do it. ))

Refinish headstock
Now this one’s a bit of a kicker. I’m on the fence about the specifics here at the moment. One thing I can’t stand about the lower-end instruments is how the name of the manufacturer is not inlayed or glued, but painted on the headstock. It looks cheap cause it is and, to be fair, what else would one expect from an inexpensive instrument? Like any guitar part, logo decals are available online (( I’ve already found what I would need on Ebay )) to improve the look of your headstock or replace a decal lost or damaged during repair or mishap. But the question is: Do I want to replace the Ibanez logo -OR- do I want to make my own? Obviously, the color of the headstock will need to be changed to match the final color of the body but I might also choose to reshape the headstock just as the body has been reshaped. See where I’m going here? The headstock is something of the “signature” of a guitar company in many cases and if I go altering the Ibanez headstock much beyond the original shape, it makes little sense to put the Ibanez name back on it. This is one of those “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it” type of decisions.


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So I got this guitar. . .

Nov. 24th, 2006 | 08:09 am
wherzeeat?: Hunkered over a keyboard... where I'll probably be a lot.
emotional status: hopefulhopeful
tunage: None. The Guitar's not even started!

"No shit there I was..."
..visiting my sister at the house she shared with some mutual friends in the Steel City. Kicked back on the couch, I noticed something I hadn't seen before: a black Ibanez electric guitar tucked neatly in the corner created by the wall and the entertainment center. Being a pretty avid six-string player I had to get up and have a look (and a strum) and was surprised to find the poor little axe was covered in dust and sitting on a little pile of colonizing cat hair.

It wasn't a big deal of a guitar, a Korean-made job maybe five years old, but no guitar should be left to age untouched in a corner acting less like an instrument than an obelisk amidst a veritable warren of dust bunnies. No sooner had I picked it up and set it in my lap than my sister's boyfriend comes sauntering into the livingroom.

"Hey man, don't even bother. That guitar SUCKS."

And, not heeding his advice, I gave it a wee bit of a strum. He was right... sort of. On top of being painfully out of tune, I quickly noted that the action was about as high as the crowd at a Grateful Dead concert. But I thought that with a little TLC and a LOT of adjustment, it could be made at least "playable" and I said something to the fact.

"Dude, if you can get that thing playing, I'll sell it to you for fifty bucks."

I instantly accepted the challenge. I took the guitar with me, saying that if I could fix the action I'd gladly fork over the cash and if I couldn't, I'd slip it back among the hairballs when his back was turned.

And that's how I wound up with this little gweeter:

Not anything to write home about, perhaps, but after a few hours of tweaking on the Floyd Rose (licensed) floating tremolo and getting everything to pitch while at the same time creating a nice low and smooth action, I thought that I could make this guitar something worth BLOGGING about. Well, that's not exactly how it happened; I'm leaving out one or two important details that got me from "I'm gonna make this thing work" to "I'm gonna blog the shit out of this!"

Let me back up a bit and tell you a little about myself.
(Cause I can tell that you're all SOOOO interested.)

::step up to podium::

*a-hem* Hi, uh... my name is Vade.

other people
at meeting:    "HI VADE!"

Uh, yeah. "Hi." ::scratches back of head::

Anyway, I'm a guitarist but I pretty much only play acoustic right now since I'm in a folk band. We play Irish music. (we've even got a MySpace page and everything but this isn't about that) Anyway, I started by playing bass -mostly heavy metal stuff- and moved from a 4 string to a 6 for the extra low-end. Well, one day I was at a fleamarket (or car boot sale for all my folks back in the UK and Ireland) and found an acoustic guitar for about a hundred bucks. Being that I'm really into camping and that an unamplified electric bass is little more than a clicktrack around a campfire, I snagged it with the intention of expanding my musical horizons and having something to pluck while in the woods with friends. Within about a year I found myself playing 200 year old Irish tunes and I've pretty much never looked back.

Now, years later, I kind of miss really rocking out and I had thought about picking up my first electric (non-bass) guitar to, again, delve into otherwise untapped areas of musical creativity. Fortunately, one just sort of fell into my lap and I was pretty happy about it.

For most people, that would be the end of the story but I tend to take a perfectly good situation and try to make it even better. In this case, I thought that since I'd saved so much money on the initial cost of the instrument, I could afford to improve it with higher quality hardware and possibly a new set of pickups. Then I thought "If I'm gonna do that and have the guitar pretty much stripped down anyway, why not change the color? I've never really been one for shiny black guitars; they require way to much wiping down to stay looking good."

Well, the snowball kept rolling and pretty soon I was thinking about making all sorts of aesthetic mods until finally I had locked onto the idea of reshaping the entire body so that it didn't even look like an Ibanez anymore, or... at any rate... not like an Ibanez RG.

As an aside to all you loyal "Ibby fans" please don't think that I don't like Ibanez's. I actually love them! The look, the sound, the playability- it's all there in spades. I'm a big fan of Satriani and Vai myself so had pretty much planned on B-lining to the Ibanez guitars when I had enough cash to be "in the market." The 270 though is getting pretty close to the bottom of the RG barrel so I (personally) don't think that really going to town on one is that much of a sin. ...moving on.

I'm pretty big into researching the living hell out of anything that I consider a "major decision." Before I blow a lot of money on something, I make sure I'm getting the best of what my money will buy. If I'm going to get inked or pierced, I ask around until I find the BEST person for the job. And in a case such as this, I try to learn everything I can from those that have gone before me.

Surprisingly, I don't know anyone who has modded a guitar personally. And even more amazing, when I searched for this kind of thing on the internet, the documented mods I DID find were limited to refinishing, refretting, new electronics... stuff like that. The most out-there things I could find were still relatively tame like converting a floating trem to a hardtail or adding a Jem-style monkeygrip into another instrument (usually, strangely enough, an Ibanez RG.)

The plans I have for this go way beyond these mods... not saying that what I have in mind is any more difficult or impressive than, say, rerouting a body for a different tremolo, I'm not suggesting that! But the finished product will be a pretty different creature than what first goes down on the table. It is my intention to finish with an instrument that other players will regularly ask "What kind of Guitar is THAT?" ::crosses fingers:: Since none of my searches turned up a similar project complete with step-by-step "how I did it" and "things to watch out for!" I decided that I'll make my own. That way I'll have a record of the whole process and others like me who have the undeniable urge to "ruin a perfectly decent guitar" will have a little something to get them started!

If there's one thing I can say for myself its that I'm pretty different from most folks. After hearing people tell me that (in some form or another) time and time again, I came to realize that I don't just think of myself as "an interesting and unique person" in the way that all of us like to think we are. . . I really am way off in left field even when compared to those people that my friends used to call "the weird ones." Fair enough; I'm happy to be different from everyone else and I wear that badge proudly. And as such, I like a lot of the things I have, wear and use to reflect that difference, hence my desire to finally have a guitar that's "a little left of center" just like me.

A tall order, perhaps.

What makes it even worse is that aside from adjusting my own instruments and once cutting a guitar body out of a hunk of walnut in woodshop when I was 15, I have no experience with this kind of thing whatsoever! So yeah. It probably looks like I'm setting myself up for a grand and absolute failure. And you know what? If you're thinking that, you just might be right. If you've actually read all of this (I'm amazed) then chances are you're either a guitar builder/modder yourself or, like me, have thought alot about taking that step into the iffy realm of guitar customization.

I figure this:
Best case scenario, I prove that even without any training or prior experience, I have the raw skills required to mod a guitar beyond recognizability. At the end of it all, I'll have a one-of-a-kind instrument and bragging rights.

The worst that could happen is that I fark this thing up royally and prove that small steps IS the best way to learn this sort of thing, but even then I can hopefully make some people laugh by my grandiose failure and if I make a couple people smile, then it will have been worth all the extra hours beyond the mod project to photograph, photoshop and blog about the process.

Beyond everything else, I hope that you (the total nutjob who is actually taking the time to) read this and walk away with some snifty ideas of your own, a smile on your face or perhaps a little of both!

Wish me luck...
(...gods know I'll need it.)


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Why Am I Beta-Testing this?

Feb. 24th, 1994 | 02:43 am
emotional status: drunkdrunk
tunage: Seattle Grunge

"Live Journal" huh? I dunno if this is gonna catch on. I mean, if your journal isn't tucked under your matress wtih a little heart-shaped lock on it, who wants to read it?

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