Refinishing a guitar – the hardware

I posted about actually trying to strip and refinish an Ibanez G10 guitar a while back, but I recently found this post regarding the hardware I put into it was still in draft state. So here is the how and why in regards to the pickups I put in the guitar. They cost more than the guitar did.

When I was refinishing that G10, I realized (shortly after the first coat of blue -you know, well before it started to look really cool) that it wouldn’t matter how awesome it looked if it didn’t sound great. The stock humbuckers really sounded pretty good as far as stock humbuckers go. I wouldn’t call them ‘meaty’ but there was definitely some well-designed, whey-and-soy-based-product there which simulated meat fairly well. They sounded resoundingly okay, but okay wasn’t good enough. Now that I have a guitar that I’ve taken down to bare wood, I figure a good part of my soul lives in it, so it needs to properly capture my emotions. Stock pickups just don’t do that.

I began playing guitar in about 1989. I started to get good at it somewhere around 1991. That is not to say that I woke up one day and had the skill to play, but more to say that Metallica’s Black album dropped on August 12, 1991. That album made learning to play the guitar easy. Easy, fun-to-play, crunchy riffs came one after another. Start to play with Enter Sandman, learn to double-pick with Holier than Thou, get a feel for weird time signatures with My Friend of Misery, all the while playing some fairly simple guitar licks. The next thing you know, the bizarre 7/5 time of The Four Horsemen’ (or the parent song, Megadeth’s Mechanix -though I have to admit the Metallica version is far better in sound, scope and lyric) doesn’t seem quite so bizarre. Oh my, how that album changed me.

Metallica, at that time, played on a multitude of instruments, but Kirk and James played ESP guitars fairly exclusively. They also used EMG pickups fairly exclusively. I’ve always wanted to have a set of EMG pickups in my guitar to see if I could emulate their sound. So, when it came time to choose the pickups to put in my still-in-restoration guitar, I obviously chose the John Petrucci signature series DiMarzio pickups.

This surprised even me.

Why the about face? I have no doubt that any higher-end pickup can handle some crunchy distortion with ease. I usually can’t tell a difference between major manufacturer pickups when it comes to the low-end grind. They’re deep, they’re meaty, and every major manufacturer can do it. While I’m sure that the same can be said for the clean tone coming from the neck pickup, I can also say that someone like John Petrucci probably has a bit more direct experience with the equipment than an in-your-face metal band.

I watched Dozens of youtube videos featuring the Petrucci signature set, the Dave Mustaine signature set, and the James Hetfield signature set (I never liked the way Kirk’s guitar sounded, so I didn’t look at those). What it ultimately came down to, for me at least, was two things. One was the amount of sustain that -literally any idiot- can get out of the Petrucci pickups. The same was not evidenced in a ridiculous amount of time watching videos for the other two pickup sets. The other was the artificial harmonics. If you’ve ever wondered why Jake E lee could hit a pinch harmonic at any point on any string, while you struggled to hit one on the seventh fret, the pickups are why. The Megadeth and Metallica sets of pickups were so focused on crunch that they seemed to miss part of the high end of the spectrum (at least in the dozens of videos I watched). The first thirty seconds of Dream Theater’s song ‘Pull Me Under’ kind of illustrates what I mean.

I think what ultimately sold me on the Petrucci pickups, though, was this video of Petrucci using them:

While I hate to urge you to skip past portions of his performance … If you jump in at about 6:30 you will see everything I mentioned above: amazing sustain, crunchy low-end distortion, pinch harmonics -literally anywhere on the string- and brilliant and bright clean tone…

Basically, if I can’t make it sound good with this set of pickups, I need to put the instrument down and move on. Which I may need to do. My results with the same pickups have not been as the video above suggests. However, I can nail a pinch harmonic nearly anywhere on the neck. Often even if that was not my intention. I’m damn happy with the choice. Jamaica — Fraud

Update 4/24/17

After making this post and sending a link to the company with this post, links to my social media posts, and my review on Tripadvisor (where I am slowly becoming an actual voice… level 4 reviewer with over 10,000 reviews read) they relented. They sent me an apology email this morning as well as a refund. That’s great. But they were still relentless cunts through the entire process so the reviews on all sites will stand. Stop jerking around your customers, assholes!

Original post 4/23/17:

VIP Attractions is evidently an airport service offered to those who arrive in (and depart from) Montgo Bay and Kingston, Jamaica. It is purported to be a ‘rush service’ through customs on arrival, and a bar to sit in while you wait for departure.

All of that may be true, but I wouldn’t know. I paid for the service, but never got to experience it. The company (linked above) absolutely refused to give me a refund.

I requested a refund about a week before my trip. The above-linked company said they could issue a refund if I filled out an ‘authorization to charge’ form for my credit card. I believe they did this under the assumption that I simply wouldn’t fill it out. But I did fill it out. Even down to figuring out how to digitally apply my signature and entering all other information, but approving them to ‘charge’ my credit card “-$160.00.

Less than five minutes later, I got a response from the above-stated company. The response said that they ‘couldn’t issue a refund because I had booked the service through MT vacations”. I have never heard of a company named ‘MT Vacations’, and have certainly never booked a third-party reservation through any company -especially one named ‘MT Vacations’.

I booked this service directly through the above-listed company. A fact I can prove with my credit card statement:

Do you notice how it says ‘VIP Attractions’ and doesn’t say anything about ‘MT Vacations’? I certainly noticed it.

Since VIP Attractions lied about my reservation in every conceivable way, and refused my refund request in every conceivable way, I can only assume the whole site is a fraudulent attempt to steal your credit card information.

Avoid this site AT ALL COSTS!

My first full guitar build: Semi-hollow body

So, after some promising but lackluster results with my attempt to refinish a damaged Ibanez G10 guitar I figured why not go whole hog and do one from the ground up? To add a ton to the degree of complexity, I decided to go with a semi-hollow body guitar for full build number one. To further add to the difficulty, I chose to dye the wood grain rather than paint over it. Because seriously, when you’re learning to ski, are you going to learn more on the Bunny Slopes or on K12? (and kudos to anyone who got that reference without clicking the link.

So I ordered up a kit and set to finishing it. The body looked like this coming out of the box:
The front had a beautiful grain that I figured I’d be able to finish without much of an issue. Seriously, it looked like I could just throw some blonde (or an equally light-colored) stain on it, lacquer it, and call it a day. That wasn’t my intention though. I bought this specifically to build for my oldest brother, Dennis, for Christmas. The guitar he is currently playing is a semi-hollow body one that I bought for him when I was about sixteen, and that is a damn long time ago. It is showing signs of age, and I thought he might like an upgrade. I was initially pleased with how good the grain on this one looked, because I figured it would be pretty damn easy.


The front of the guitar was a beautiful piece of wood in a butterfly cut, which made for a wonderful grain and some awesome symmetry. The back, on the other hand, looked like this. Since it is a sort of hybrid of acoustic and electric, the front appears to look more acoustic, while the back looks like an electric. That means that it is made of some nasty-ass basswood. More than that, the thought appeared to be ‘fuck the grain, just glue some shit together’. At least that’s what it looks like. I assure you that it looks every bit as bad as this photo (and probably worse). That was disappointing.

But since I figured I’d be able to get an easy home run out of the front, I started finishing the back first. I figured I couldn’t paint it, since I was only going to be dying the front, which meant I’d have to dye the back as well. This turned out to be a PROCESS.

I have to admit that after laying down the first coat of dye (I should mention that I’m using Keda Dyes for the entire finish. Mixed more or less as suggested) I was skeptical that I’d be able to pull this build off. After the first coat (which is still wet in the photo) it looked more or less like I’d taken a magic marker and ran it over the back a bunch of times. I think that may be my way of saying that I thought it looked pretty shitty. You can totally click through that image to see it in larger scale, though I wouldn’t suggest it.

But, after sanding back the black and laying down a coat of dark blue, it started to come around:

Those pictures were taken at the same time but from different angles and with different lighting. The dye was still a bit wet at the time, but I found it odd that one angle showed it a deep blue while the other angle hinted at it being almost purple.

Once it dried, the back began to give off a more even color regardless of the direction of the light. I sanded it back once more, dyed it once more (dark blue) and then layered it with about three coats of spray lacquer. The final result looked like this:

Not exactly the color I was hoping for, but there are enough interesting things going on in the cheap, basswood grain that it still looks totally finished (scroll up a couple photos to that first image of the back if you don’t believe me). The back came out pretty darn good.

Once I’d caressed the ass of this guitar to the point that I was happy, I had to start working the front. That was not such an easy process. I first thought I was going to do a sunburst pattern. Yeah, not so much. Here is the result of the first coat of stain toward that:

You’ll no doubt note the exceptional attention to detail as the dark blue around the edges very gradually fades to the light blue in the center. It’s like a gradient that’s using the full 256 million color capability of modern computers. Goddam seamless is what it was. A perfect sunburst pattern, but done in blue!

Yeah, even I wasn’t believing that bullshit and I tried really hard to believe it. To be fair, I knew it would be pretty stark with the first passing and I would lightly sand it back. I’d then cover it with lighter coats of just the light blue until it got to the point where the transition was seamless. I think I could have pulled that off, but I had to give up on the idea because … At the bottom of the photo (if you were holding the guitar to be playing it, it would be just above the top ‘F hole’. There are several areas the dye just wouldn’t penetrate. My assumption is that there was some sort of glue or solvent still present that the dye simply couldn’t touch. Regardless of why, I knew I couldn’t continue with the sunburst finish.

So I sanded the whole thing back. Not to bare wood, but enough that the light and dark blue no longer appeared to be separate colors. It took a lot of sanding, and I don’t have photos of it along that particular path, but once I’d sanded it back a reasonable amount, I layered the entire front in dark blue. And here is the result:


I put about a dozen arrows on that image to highlight the flaws, but they in no way point to ALL the flaws. The thing was fucked even after sanding it back and laying down a new coat of dye. It was just that bad (which is all my fault for not sanding enough in the first place. The surface looked so good to begin with that I started with 220 grit and worked my may to 600 grit. I never considered that I might need a coarse sanding).

The next step was unquestionably the most difficult part (mentally) of the entire process. I had to admit that I was never going to finish the project without basically starting over. I put some 90 grit paper on my orbital sander and, with a tear of regret, destroyed my masterpiece. I took care to sand heavily in the problem areas, but tried to go light in the unaffected areas. I also made sure to leave areas of blue amidst the fully sanded area with the hopes that the contrast would pay off later. After an hour or so (the first half with 90 grit, then 20 minutes with 150 grit, and another 10 with 300 grit) this is what I had:

While I’m not going to take the time to highlight every one of the problem areas again, you will note that I sanded all of the problem areas back to bare wood (a few of which I did highlight. Bear in mind that I was using wood DYE so there was no way to get it back to bare wood). Anyways, here is a photo pointing out a few areas I sanded back to wood while leaving other areas a much darker blue:

I want to note that I spent a lot of time making sure this sanding phase left light and dark areas. It was only when I had to sand the whole thing back that I decided I was going to call the project “Blue Velvet”. I hoped that leaving enough light and dark areas would allow me to pull off that effect in the end.

The good news is that my sanding worked out great. Here it is after a couple coats of dark blue dye and a bit of time to dry:

That is a pretty accurate photo of its state at the time. Probably the most accurate photo of any yet posted. The waves of color came out really well, but there was no … what? Pop? Luster? Sheen? I don’t know. It just lacked something.

When I began this project, I decided that I wasn’t going to finish the front with any sort of lacquer. Instead, I was going to finish it exclusively with Birchwood Casey’s Tru Oil. I arrived at that decision after reading tons of reviews and recommendations about finishing a semi-hollow guitar. Tru-Oil, they say, dries in such a way that it will add luster with each thin coat. The result of that will be that after 20 or 30 coats (and I easily put 50 coats on the front of this thing) each coat will dry differently and give the finish something approaching iridescence. Yeah, I was skeptical too. But after rubbing in a coat of Tur-Oil every half hour that I was awake over the course of two or three days, the finish really started to pop.

Here are a couple images of the final product (the dye and Tru-Oil was completely dry by the time I took these photos):

After all the time spent dying and Tru-Oil’ing this thing (it was definitely dozens of hours and probably hundreds) I was very pleased with just how well it came out. I did buy the gold pickups, gold bridge hardware, and gold knobs aftermarket (the kit came with silver accessories and different colored knobs). And trying to finesse all of those things into place through the f-holes on the guitar was extremely trying. Thankfully there are a lot of youtube videos to help you through wiring a semi-hollow guitar. What there aren’t a lot of youtube videos of is what to do when you try to finish a guitar and part of it simply won’t accept wood stain. I limped through it pretty well, but I wish I had been vain enough to video the process. I think you’d have to agree that from the photos at the top of the page to the photos on the bottom, I really nailed this one.

As a final note, The Fret Wire (the place I bought my guitar kit) featured MY GUITAR BUILD -dubbed ‘Blue Velvet’– on their website on January 2, 2017. So it may not be me blowing my own horn when I say the final product looks pretty damn good.