Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dumpster Ibanez, part the last

This is the second time I've written this post -- the first time blogger did a fun little switcheroo with an identically titled duplicate draft and tricked me into deleting the whole thing. If it seems badly written and confused, it's probably because I was too fed up to write it any better.

This is the last of my interminable posts about the battered Ibanez EX370 that I found in a bin. So, the story so far. I found a guitar with a busted neck. I tried to fix said neck and busted it worse. Time passed, I got married. I made new neck, glued it together and fretted it. All that remained for me to do was paint it and set it up.

I was a little nervous going into this last stage. On the one hand, I knew it was be pretty damn difficult to irredeemably wreck the guitar at this stage, but on the other, there was the issue of my rather checkered record when it comes to refinishing guitars. I lack the patience, equipment, and time to make a good job of it. I still try, but I usually cock it up. Going into this project I had tried refinishing a guitar three times and buggered it up... well, three times.

This time I was determined to do everything by the book. I sanded the neck until it was as smooth as a greased-up teflon baby, then liberally smeared it with sanding sealer. A few days later I repeated the process and left it to dry. The paint I was going to use was some matt clear lacquer I had left over from another project (I say left over – it's more that I never wanted it in the first place. I made the mistake of placing an order with Montana Cans, who are a bunch of complete fucking shysters. Go with MTN Nottingham if you're looking for spray paint -- it's good paint and they won't try and rip you off.).

While it was entirely not what I wanted for the other project, the matt lacquer was ideal for sealing up the neck. I don't like the feel of gloss lacquered or oiled necks -- too sticky under my thumb -- but I knew that if I didn't put something fairly heavy-duty on it the neck would be coated in finger-skank before I'd played my first riff. I took advantage of a late summer warm spell to get to work in my spray booth (the end of the garden) with the neck placed my my special painting cradle (I dangled the neck from the branch of a tree using a hook made out of a bent coathanger).

Much to my annoyance, I discovered that it was very good paint. I hate to give a good review to such a staggeringly unethical company* but I have to say it went on nicely, dried quickly and gave a good finish. The neck was finished within three days. I didn't take any pictures during this stage for some reason, but there wasn't really a whole lot to see.

Once the finish was completely dry I put my maker's mark on the headstock. Since Kristen did about half the work, I figured I should give her half the name, even if Hollingmore does sound like a 1950s kitchen appliance company. I'd intended to do the lettering with one of my chunky italic pens, but it wouldn't stick to the finish so I had to use a sharpie. Suffice to say, calligraphy isn't easy with a sharpie marker. It's supposed to be based on a 16th century Flemish alphabet that I can do quite well with a pen, but with a sharpie, on a awkwardly shaped block of wood, the results aren't so hot.

With that done I wired in the old pickups from my brother's guitar (see this post for how they came to be not in his guitar). Again, no pictures of this stage. I can practically do with blindfolded now (although I still periodically burn myself on the soldering iron) so it didn't strike me as novel enough to photograph.

At this point, when I was just a few meters from the finish line. It all went to shit. Well, not all of it exactly, but an important bit. You see, when I strung it up the first time I didn't really bother with all the rigmarole that goes with setting up a Floyd Rose tremolo – I just ran the strings through the machine-screw holes in the back of the saddle-blocks and left it at that. As long time readers would know, I'm really emphatically not a fan of the FR. What happened next has made me even less of a fan.

To attach a string properly you need to wedge it between a little square block of metal an the saddle-block, then tighten the whole thing up with a set screw. I did this to the first string with no problem, but when I tried to do it to the second on the string pinged out when I tried to tune it up. I put it back in and tightened it about a half-turn more than I'd tightened it before. This caused the saddle-block to shatter like a piece of porcelain.

Now, in all fairness, this isn't exactly the fault of the Floyd Rose design. ‘Original’ FR tremolos (as in ones actually made by the company) are made from machined steel, and you'd need a colossal amount of force to break them. The fact that this one broke is mostly down to it being a cheap-ass die-cast licence made copy. Still, you can make a Fender tremolo from the cheapest materials possible and it still works just fine – I know, I've played an Encore strat copy.

Still. I was annoyed. I had no spare saddles and I definitely couldn't fix the broken one. After a great deal of rummaging around on eBay I managed to find a replacement set, but they were £30 and were probably no better made than the ones that were already there. I really didn't want to spend money improving a piece of hardware that I consider to be fundamentally flawed, and that I'd never use, but at the same time I really didn't have any other choice. After about a week of procrastinating I bought the new saddles and string it up. This time it went without problems, and while the saddles are a noticeably different colour to the old ones (new gold finish vs extremely worn gold finish) they seem to work fine.

I tweaked the action a little, adjusted the intonation (which takes fucking ages) and declared it finished. I then took pictures to prove it.

It sounds nice, and plays well. I think I might make a few more very minor adjustments to it at some point (the nut could do with being filed down about 0.5mm and the fretwork is ever-so-slightly buzzy on the top-e with the action down really low) but they're not really a priority. For now I'm just going to keep it in playable condition and, well, play it.

Perhaps I'll make a serious effort to learn some jazz guitar, just because the idea of playing jazz on something with pointy horns and a Floyd Rose tickles me.


*The whole German Montana vs Spanish Montana (MTN Color) affair is a fascinating story that I need to tell on here one day. Suffice to say it reads like a ‘big-business vs the little man’ story from a left-leaning children's TV show.