#1
Six years ago I saw Taylor Momsen using a weird, humbucker-equipped, carved top, set neck Fender Telecaster. I love any guitar which isn't a standard/classic/etc, so I knew I had to have one. But by the time I found enough information to identify it, they had been out of production for several years. In fact it seems they were only made for one year, possibly one and a half; every photo or record of one I can find carries a 2004 serial number.

I never gave up on searching, though, and a few weeks ago I finally found one for sale. Six years of constant searching was over.

But we have a problem. These guitars were never collectors' pieces. These were guitars for gigging; anybody who bought one beat the hell out of them. And with so few coming up for sale—this one was literally the first one I've seen in six years—it's not surprising that the only one up for grabs would be in a sorry state.

Guitar arrived, and a quick check-over revealed the following:
  • Original cream DiMarzio pickups and mounting rings replaced with mystery black pickups and rings. (Though I was aware of this before I bought it.)
  • Original oversized chrome/nickel knobs replaced with smaller black knobs.
  • Push-pull pot for coil splitting removed.
  • High E saddle replaced with God-knows-what.
  • Pickup selector switch totally worn out.
  • Rusted and inconsistent jack.
  • Totally dried out fretboard on the verge of splitting.
  • Nut cut far too low.


It's also scratched and chipped to buggery, but considering the original guitar I fell in love with has gigantic bare-wood gashes in the top, cigarette burns, and several stickers, I'm happy to live with some scratches.

Ordered new mounting rings, knobs, Switchcraft jack and toggle switch, Bourns push-pull pots, and a Graphtech nut blank.

Sadly, the pickups are simply impossible to properly restore. The guitar originally would have had DiMarzio H4s for both the neck and bridge, an OEM pickup made for a small number of MIK Fender guitars around 2003-2005 and not something which can be ordered now. DiMarzio categorically will not make them anymore, even as a custom shop order. They also won't mock up anything 'near enough', either. So with no chance of getting the pickups back 100%, I ordered a 'near enough' bridge humbucker from Axesrus, and a very different but more-suitable-for-me neck humbucker from Oil City Pickups.

On to fixing this mess.

Got the old strings off and gave the fretboard a proper clean and condition with Dunlop's products. I can't recommend Dunlop enough. The full range cost me a total of £28 four years ago and after more guitar builds, restorations and general maintenance than I can keep count of, I'm still only 1/4 through each bottle and they work superbly. I've found I only need to condition any rosewood fretboard no more than once every 18 months, and ebony only needs it once every 24 months. This stuff keeps raw fretboards in perfect condition for ages.



Time to get these mystery pickups out. They sounded awful when I first tested them, so what will they turn out to be? What did the previous owner choose instead of the rare, specifically-made-for-this-guitar DiMarzios?



... Oh, Epiphone pickups. Stock Epiphone pickups. Not even the okay ones from the mid-range Epiphones, either, but the most basic ones from the lowest range of Epiphones.

I'll reiterate that for those keeping score: the previous owner replaced specially-made DiMarzios with the cheapest Epiphone stock pickups.

Some people just should not be allowed to touch guitars. Or breathe. Or be born.

This is the DiMarzio pot they put in place of the original push-pull. Yes, they took out DiMarzio pickups but put in a DiMarzio pot. No, I don't understand the logic, either. Just look at this crusty solder job, anyhow:



Burnt out, scorched, and totally matte; obvious cold solder. Shameful.

The upside is they had already drilled out the rear control hole to accept larger pots, saving me the bother. Only had to open up the front control, which was drilled for a metric pot.

Getting the job done with a rounded file. I don't like enlarging pot holes with a drill because I've had a few unfortunate occurrences of wood splitting where the hole has been right on top of a body join, which then splits when you take a drill to it. Instead, I do it by hand. Some people like to use a bit of wood dowel wrapped in sandpaper, but I find this slower than a rounded file, and it's a waste of sandpaper. Sure, sandpaper is cheap, but why waste any material when there's no need?



Lot of pink sawdust. At first I thought this was simply a layer of sealer/primer, which is often tinted red, but after fully opening up the pot hole, I saw it was actually the wood that has completely gone this colour. No idea what that means. It's meant to be some form of mahogany, but I've sure never seen neon pink mahogany... maybe the sealer just soaked all the way through? Maybe the wood was stained red before they decided to paint them all black?



The total mess of wiring I ended up with. It looks worse than it actually is because I only bother to keep red and black wire in stock; red for hot, black for ground. It would make more sense if I simply had more colours. In any case, it is still a bit of a birds' nest. The front control reverses the phase of the neck pickup, but is a volume control for the bridge pickup. The rear control splits both pickups at the same time, but is only a volume control for the neck. So both pickups have to go to both switches and then backwards to their own control pots. (One of the pickups' bare shield wires looks brown and rusted in this picture, for some reason. It isn't actually, just an odd photo.)



Next I realised one slight cosmetic problem: every company uses a different shade of cream. Cream pickup from one company, cream mounting ring from another. The bridge pickup & ring match, but this neck pickup is a noticable shade paler. The pickup matches the current Gibson cream, and the ring matches the more common cream you find on brands made outside of the US. I can't say it bothers me enough to change it again.





Now, yes, I am capable of making my own guitars from scratch, and yes, it would have been cheaper and quicker to do so. But that's not really the point, is it?

Plugging it in, I can't recommend Oil City pickups enough. This neck pickup is their BrassKnuckle model, which is basically two Stratocaster single coils together.
The phase switch is on the neck pickup because this also allows me to switch between each coil when using the coil split in addition to changing phase vs the bridge pickup. I tested the coils with a multimeter and orientated the pickup so the slightly hotter coil is closer to the neck. By using the coil split and phase switches, I can get a Jazzmaster-ish tone from the north coil, or swap to the south coil for a more standard Stratocaster sound. As a full humbucker, it sounds like an old Fender Wide Range.

The bridge pickup is an Axesrus Hot Iron, basically their take on your standard hot alnico 5 humbucker. The original DiMarzio pickups were also very overwound A5s—allegedly DiMarzio's take on the Seymour Duncan JB kind—so this fills that role just fine. Axesrus' pickups aren't as nice as boutique winds, but they do well enough and I can't notice much of a difference between them and the common brands like Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio. The interesting thing is this Hot Iron split to the slug coil sounds a helluva lot like a P-90. Split with the brighter coil of the neck pickup, the resulting middle tone is shockingly similar to a normal Tele's middle tone. Not something I expected or was chasing, but sure, I'll take it.

I also highly recommend Bourns' push-pull pots. This is the first time I've used them, having used CTS or Alpha for all other guitars, and these feel far better than either. They're not as stiff as CTS and not as loose as Alpha, the pull action feels more definite, and the taper is a slightly smoother take on the usual logarithmic curve. I've gone for 250k pots, since both pickups are getting their own volume with no tone control. (I hate tone controls and replace or simply cut them out of every guitar I have. Taylor Momsen's original guitar has no tone control, either, so for this guitar it's totally appropriate to not have a tone.)


So, after six years of searching, six days of waiting for replacement parts to turn up and around six hours of work, she's complete. Six, six, six.... huh.

The original and my completed copy



(Okay, not everything is 100% yet. You can see the high E saddle is still different from the rest. I've not replaced it as I'm waiting for a full set of Graphtech ferraglide saddles to come in stock. I've been told it'll be a month before they arrive, and I'm not patient enough to wait before stringing this up again. I also haven't decided if I want to copy the stickers. The Punisher logo on hers is pretty iconic of that guitar, but I'm more DC than Marvel...)

And just for fun, because I've already been playing Purple Rain on it and I have a purple sheet here, did a bit of an 80s moody high contrast photo.



Probably needs more soft focus and diamonds scattered around, but you get the idea.
#2
Nicely done!

Also, the pink "wood" that was removed looks like automotive body putty to me?
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Charles Darwin
Last edited by Arby911 at Apr 29, 2016,
#3
How long did that take you, start to finish?

It looks great - I actually like the contrast of the cream hardware - it makes the pick-ups stand out.
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#4
Damn, true that. 6666, the number of... harmony and balance, according to Google? Mmm, don't think too many heavy metal classics will be written about that one...

Quote by Arby911
Nicely done!

Also, the pink "wood" that was removed looks like automotive body putty to me?

Ah, good point. Wouldn't surprise me. The recesses for the knobs aren't perfectly flat—even before anybody mucked about with it, it obviously was never a clean routing in the first place—so a bit of hard epoxy putty to fill in a bit of gouged wood before painting seems plausible. It really does look to be pink all the way through.


In any case, had a bit more of a play this afternoon as I've also been tinkering with my amp, and I can not get over the pickups. I'll say it again, Oil City can not be recommended highly enough for the neck pickup in particular. Between the 9 possible combinations of coils and phase, I've now got pretty much every permutation of tone I could ask for. The split bridge humbucker sounds like a P-90 by itself, but I've now found that adding in just a little bit of the split neck pickup out of phase turns it into a traditional Tele sound. I've been going back-and-forth for a few hours between this guitar's various options and my LP Junior, one of my Teles, a Strat, an LP Special and a regular LP, and this guitar impersonates all of them perfectly, as far as live sound goes. I'm sure if I were to sit down and record everything one-by-one and compare then I'd notice small differences, but standing in the room with the amp blaring live, this does everything. This could easily be my new go-to default guitar.

Now I'm tempted to get one of those Tronical tuning systems to really make this a proper all-rounder.

Anybody looking for a do-anything axe, look up Oil City's BrassKnuckle for your neck pickup and pair it with a JB or JB-copy for the bridge, 250k pots, split and phase switching, and I promise you this combination will do everything you need. I've not been this blown away by a guitar's sound since the Gibson Custom Shop I used to have.
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