Sunday, June 29, 2008

I made a strange looking guitar

This is a project I've been messing with on and off for a long time now. Since I've known my friend Daniel I've been learning about guitars, the forms they've taken, and musical things in general. One thing I've often tried to do is imagine strange configurations or ways of modifying guitars to make them elicit a previously unknown sound, this proves to be very difficult since there have been close to 80 years of people doing strange things to guitars to amplify them. It seemed like every time I would think up or imagine some combination of parts to make a guitar do something none had before Daniel knew of some obscure instrument that does just such a thing or my idea had been tried and wasn't of any real use.

During one of my idea-making moments though, playing with one of his guitars while it was partially disassembled, I came up with an idea he hadn't heard of before. The idea was to take a Stratocaster-style guitar, and move the middle pickup to the outside of the guitar, sitting over top the neck pickup. I figured it might make for a clean sound like a single-coil pickup, but also be useful in clearing up the "hum" that humbuckers "buck", or cancel out.

Between the two of us, we got a Squire Bullet from a pawn shop, a simple, no frills strat and set about figuring out how to turn it into something neither of us had ever heard of. We eventually came up with the idea that as long as we're modifying the guitar and since we'd have to route room in the body for switches to set phasing, turn on/off pickups, and run pickups in series or parellel we might as well make a spot to move the bridge pickup and modify the bridge to have an extra run of strings below the bridge with a pickup under it. This would allow for the guitar to directly pick up playing on this short and high pitched length of strings. To the left is what a similar Bullet looks like, and what the Hoverbucker started out like.

I quickly dumpster dived some white sheet plastic (shower wall panel) and made blank copies of the Bullet's original pick guard. A month or two later I cut and shaped an old aluminum "out of order" sign into a replacement bridge and made a mount for the exposed pickup from some scrap plexi-glass and wood left over from making the lightbox. There won't be much of an ability to intonate the bridge without filing it down, but we'll cross that bridge when it comes (holy-crap-pun-lol). Since I'm not familiar with the specifics of setting intonation (I can scarcely tune a guitar) I'll leave that to Daniel to advise on. I also removed the bridge saddles from the stock tail piece so it can be used for a tail piece at the bottom of the guitar.

After that, I posted pictures and the idea on the Harmony Central Forums, asking anyone there for their input and ideas, as well as finding a wiring diagram for a similar setup that allowed for a lot of choice with regard to the switching setup. From here the project sat untouched for several more months while other things in life needed more attention such as school and my nephew's guitar. It went in a bag next to my hand made longbow that needs to be tuned and set. Now that I've had some time to work on it some more and I already had need of a router thanks to the cigar box guitars I've worked on over the last week I figured it would be a good time to make the body modifications that the hoverbucker guitar needed. I got to try my hand for the first time with both a table and hand-held router and they both were nice to use thanks to Mr. John's assistance explaining their proper use.

As a side note, this blog is serving as a good motivator for me to finish projects that have otherwise sat half-done for a while. It's nice having somewhere to show off the stuff I do with the added bonus that someone might actually care enough to read about it. What ever will I do for updates once I run out of half-finished projects to finish for a quick post's worth of material? I might have to go back to building things from start to finish. :O

Anyway, I then went about cutting up another of the pick guard blanks into a cover for the bridge pickup, I just cut it into a rectangle, rounded the corners, and smoothed it with a file. I then drilled some holes for the switches to mount into, widened the hole for the kill switch from the original volume knob hole, and for the screws in the bridge cover. I put it all together and dummied up everything in place. I have to wait until tommorow to get a DPDT switch to replace the SPDT switch I have in place for the phase switch right now, but you can get an idea of how it will all look now. I'm still not sure how it will work or if it will unlock some strange, never before heard sounds, but it certainly looks interesting so far and even if it's just a strat with an extra weird pickup it'll certainly be a unique instrument.

(Update 1)
I finished the guitar, and it does some interesting things. After showing it off on this Harmony Central thread it seems to be getting a good recepion. Here's a couple videos of Daniel playing it. He seems pretty stoked about it too.

As usual, there are more photos on my Flickr page.

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