It is said by many that Rickenbacker is the epitome of handcrafted American electric guitars and basses, and after watching this factory tour it is easy to see why.
Occasionally a guitar part shows up that I genuinely don't have listed on any spec lists for any projects, and I don't remember ordering it. This is what happened with this neck I decided to do a heavy flame relic to. Think what you want about relicing guitars, it sure is a fun process for the builder.
Turned out pretty nice. Finished with a little boiled linseed oil. If there's any "trick" to torching with this little stripe-effect down the side of the neck it would be to first sand off almost all of the finish, leaving a thicker area where you want the striping down the neck. When you go to torch the neck, it will darken right up to the edge where the finish starts. Be advised, it will crackle, but if done right, it can yield a very cool burnt sienna coloration. Sanding down the transition area between the satin finish neck and the roasted finish is really important. It's a balance of sanding it down until its completely comfortable without losing the visual effect.
Here I've aged the fretboard with turmeric, after scraping an obscene amount of finish of with a razor. I have a lot of tricks when aging necks. One of my favorites that is pictured in one of the above photos is as follows: Save your old used tea bags. When you take the finish off of a neck or body and want to add some age, tape up the tea bag so you can make a little blotter with it. You can use this blotter with tobacco brown leather dye, or brown permanent stamp ink to create discoloration and the illusion of age. Dab a little turmeric on your tea bag and you have a really strong and really vintage-looking tool with which to add age to guitars.
Scott reached out to BlueHaus wanting to finally take the next step in his guitar playing and start learning songs from his favorite band, Tool. A man after our own heart here at BlueHaus, we knew he would need some humbuckers and a hefty overall build to handle all that sustain. We wanted to build Scott something that could handle high-gain effects yet wouldn't be intimidating to an intermediate player. We've all seen a prog-rock guitar that we didn't know if we should play or watch take-off into orbit. We wanted all the heft, without any intimidating and unnecessary components. Here's how Scott's build went.
For Scott's guitar I used the Epiphone Pro-Bucker pick-ups. (further down in the build I talk about my affinity for solderless pickups). These hum-buckers are designed to sound as close to the original Gibson P.A.F. sound as possible, and they really don't disappoint. I went with a Wilkinson wraparound semi-intonatable bridge, with a simple tune-omatic style set-up.
I also chose the classic Gibson LP style speed knobs, cuz they really are functional when hitting those quick adjustments mid-lick.
(I was rushing out the door and realized this photo was taken without the high E string, note that is for no particular reason at all, just forgot I hadn't finished stringing when I snapped the pic).
Here you can see where I left some of the original nitro pepto pink on the sides. I tinted some tru oil with the black mica dust and hit the exposed wood sides with a couple coats. Using tinted lacquers to show off old paint on restored bodies is something I started doing which is much akin to the way a film maker would put a memory scene in a different light to show that it is the character's memory. I think it works quite well.
As I've mentioned before I try to find the best built necks for each build. Necks are so important you really don't want to mess around with anything but a really well built one. This is a PRS style mahogany neck. I kept it simple with the neck with a ton of sanding so that it was velvetty smooth up and down, then a light hit of tru-oil. Locking tuners were going to be key to being able to play those Tool songs Scott mentioned so we found him some nice rotary style tuning machines. I also used a little black mica dust to exaggerate the grain in the headstock.
Here you can better see what I was talking about regarding the finish. This looks scratched-up, belt-rashed and roadworn, even slightly DIY. As a guitar builder I love the juxtaposition of that look with the fact that this back is in reality sealed, level-sanded, and polished to a beautifully smooth touch, while still looking like it might cut ya.
Also you can see here that I'm using a solderless pickup harness.
I love solderless systems. Let me first say that I have nothing against soldering, I learned to solder guitar wiring long before I ever touched a solderless harness. But given the fantastic and reliable systems on the market today, Solderless wiring harnesses really have shaken the stigma of being unreliable, and in my opinion truly come of age. I liken them to mashed potatoes. For years boxed mashed potatoes tasted like cardboard, then the technology got better, and now they're delicious! Same thing happened the last ten or so years with solderless pickups and harnesses. That being said, I also believe they serve the need of the client better most of the time. This allows the client to easily switch out pickups down the road as they see fit, and with zero sacrifice in performance, it really is a win/win situation.
Copper taping cavities, shields the guitar from unwanted buzzing due to surrounding signals floating around in the air. I also use shielding paint at times, for some reason i tend to decide on a case by case basis. I suppose i use copper tape on higher end projects, not so much because it's better but I think it is more labor intensive and maybe fits the description "hand done" a little better. Also there is one of my two doggies this one is Arrow.
No build is without its speed-bumps, back and top finished up, I had to break out the power drill to widen the routing between the neck and bridge pickup. The pickups were delivered after I'd already gotten a good bit of body-work done, or I typically would've checked this sort of thing prior to starting finishing work, cuz let's be honest, I get impatient. Whenever I have to do wood work on a finished body, its good to tape down some protection, here I was using a piece of grey felt to protect the body while I was widening the neck-bridge rout.
After level sanding I usually go straight to a grey brush-on primer, which I'll do usually two or three coats of to get a really even foundation. I like the three-dimensionality of acrylic paint and when finished with the right amount of tru-oil, I like the depth it gives, especially when brushed on. I own spray guns, and have a beautiful space overlooking the mountains in which to spray bodies. But the truth is you can get a perfect spray finish anywhere, what's hard to find is a cool, how do I say, slightly DIY so you can tell it was done by a buddy, kind of finish. At first glance it looks brushed, but deep, (I even wound up adding a hint of belt-rash to the back), but then upon closer inspection is silky smooth to the touch, and mirror high gloss in the light, yeah, that's what I like.
After nine Saturnian moon cycles of sanding the Ash top is looking nice. I typically start as low as 150 grit, and wind up in finishing grit sandpaper, usually 2000/3000 grit. With the back still basically untouched I pondered what to do next. In our conversation on the phone I threw out the idea of matte black for the back, and Scott seemed to dig it. I went through my paints and found an unopened bottle of a gun-metal brushed black acrylic I'd been looking to use, not exactly matte, but I had a good feeling about the overall look, so on it went.
I found this old LP style body online a few months back and bought it just because of the awesome deal that it presented. It originally had a nitro-cellulose finish, which would be great if it was at all intact, it was not, so it had to go. I know lovers of relic guitars are going to tear me a new one for ditching the nitro, but we're no strangers to nitro finishes at BlueHaus, I love them, but this one had nothing worth saving. Spoiler alert, we wound up saving a little nitro finish anyways, just because I'm sentimental. Hours of sanding later I realized I never took a photo of the original pepto-pink, so I paused to take this snapshot, and kept sanding.
This is another great example of what typically happens when building a guitar. We found this maple neck with a nicely-grained fingerboard and a bird's eye neck. The frets were in good shape but sharp. It was obvious that someone had tried to do fretwork on this neck and in doing so did some minor scratching and nicking to the side of the neck. (This is why if you're learning to do fretwork, find a fret file that has a "safe-edge" meaning it is designed so as not to dig into the fingerboard if it slips off the fret while filing). But because the scratches are not very noticeable and in this case did not affect playability, we went ahead and filed and polished, and leveled the frets. We then went on to sand back the glossy finish all over the neck. Re finishing the headstock and down by the neck pocket joint to high gloss, leaving the back of the neck a polished matte finish. This keeps the neck nice and smooth and fast to play on. Gloss finishes on the backs of necks can get "sticky" when quickly trying to move up and down the neck.
So where exactly do BlueHaus custom reclaim guitars come from? Is there a 7,500 square foot shop? are we turning trees into guitar necks? The short answer is no on both accounts.
First we typically order a body based on value, customer specification, rarity etc. Most often this results in an unfinished, generically cut and routed body, made of a quality guitar wood. Once in house, we modify virtually everything but the kitchen sink on the bodies. We spend sometimes weeks letting woods acclimate to local conditions to stop expanding and contracting. After the acclimation period. We add contouring like massive belly cuts and arm rest cuts, as well as lap cuts to most of our models. We will also add beveled borders and some other signature aesthetics, including the signature BlueHaus gold dusted chevron racing stripes against polished wood grain. (On custom commissions we can accommodate most color/decal requests, you're not stuck with our signature look). After the initial generic strat, tele, or lp profile cut and rout, we hand-sand, hand-cut, and hand paint the finished BlueHaus signature models.
Typically we will order a neck based on either customer specification, or general quality (and but never or) aesthetic value. It's important to note that a guitar neck is a very precise instrument part, and its imperative that it is perfect and of high quality to even begin to manufacture a quality sounding instrument. Its for this reason that we typically buy finished guitar necks that may require light refurbishment, or none at all. We match guitar necks to bodies, strats get strat necks, teles get tele necks, etc. But we do love to add relic, or completely strip and repaint necks to give them that reclaimed BlueHaus look. And we always set them up with all the love and care we can muster, what's the point of lookin' cool if it doesn't play and sound great!?
Components and Hardware:
Components and hardware are what varies the most in our guitar builds. This part is almost exclusively up to the customer. Yet when left to our own devices we tend to lean towards high-quality, professional grade parts that won't break the bank. Believe it or not there are plenty of great companies selling great hardware and components for reasonable prices. So whether you need tour-worthy gear, or a beginner instrument components are always quality.
I recently posted how excited I've been about these maple bodies that just came in. What I did not post is how even more excited I was to hunt down a couple of traditional necks to compliment these builds. I figured what better wood to compliment maple than maple! Not all woods work well as both necks and bodies but maple is one of the few that work well for both. Well a few days ago I got my wish and the strat neck was delivered. I immediately noticed something surprising, it was yellow, like really yellow. Not that amber vintage-ey yellow, like crayola crayon yellow. I showed my wife to which she looked at it and said un-prompted "Wow, that's really yellow".
So the decision was made to do what we had to do to strip it and and show some of the maple underneath and rid ourselves of "el crayon Amarillo".
At some point during the sanding process I realized it might be cool to leave a little Amarillo around the edges, a little homage to where she's been, and add a little of that relic look the kids love so much these days. So after a lot of sanding and a lot of Tru-oil coats later, this is how she turned out. I'll post how the tele neck turns out soon. Thanks everyone!!