Sunday, June 10, 2018

J Mascis Jazzmaster mods

The Squier by Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster is a totally decent guitar for about $450.  I recently purchased one because I especially liked the neck, cool anodized aluminum pickguard, and adjusto-matic bridge.  As with any new guitar, I have to upgrade it as soon as I get it, and I felt the electronics were especially lacking in this one.  The pickups are basically P-90s under a Jazzmaster cover and are too hot and dark for my taste.  The neck measured 8.2K and the bridge 8.6K.  I have never liked the upper controls on the Jazzmaster, so I'll be putting a series/parallel switch in there and using the rollers as master treble and bass bleed.  

my Vintage Copperhead Jazzmaster pickups

For this mod you will need:

(2) Schuyler Dean Pickups Vintage Copperhead (neck and bridge)
(1) 1M mini reverse audio taper pot (for the bass rolloff)
(1) 1M mini audio taper pot for the treble rolloff (you can reuse the one from the master tone)
(2) CTS 1M split-shaft audio taper pots (neck and bridge volume)
(1) Switchcraft jack
(1) .001 uF cap (bass rolloff)
(1) .022 - .047 uF cap (treble rolloff)
(2) .001 uF caps wired parallel to (2) 150K resistors (volume mod)
(1) wiring diagram.  I used a Rothstein Guitars diagram for this mod.  

Above is an example of an audio taper pot (A1M) vs. a linear (B1M) pot.  All of the pots we will be using for this mod will be audio taper.  

Begin by removing the strings, bridge, and posts (it helps to remember how high the posts are when you remove them so you can set the action again later).  Remove the pickguard and pickups, unsolder the two ground wires from the back of the pot.  Before you set the guitar aside, use some copper tape to provide a better ground between the shielding paint and the pickguard like I did here:

Remove all the old parts and install new parts including pickups.  As you are assembling the guitar, plug in an amp and tap on the pickups to check your wiring.  You don't want to get the strings on and then realize that you missed something and have to take it all apart again like I did!  

Install an extra piece of foam under each pickup for extra height adjustment.  My vintage-style pickups are a bit thinner than the stock ones, plus the neck angle is a bit different on this Jazzmaster to make room for the Adjusto-matic bridge.  With the strings at tension, depress the outside strings at the last fret.  You want to get the bridge pickup within 1/16" of the strings on the bridge pickup and 1/8" on the neck pickup.  

When assembling the bridge, use a small screwdriver to bend notches in the spring holding the intonation screws in place, this will make for a tighter functioning bridge.

See the full video on YouTube for the before, during, and after of this build:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Humbucker-size Pickup Shootout

In this series of videos, I tested six of my humbucker-sized pickups in the same guitar with the same rig and the same mic.  The guitar is an Epiphone Les Paul with 500K CTS pots played through a vintage Bassman (black faceplate).  A Strymon Flint is used for reverb, overdrive is a Fulltone OCD, and distortion is a Russian Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.  One SM57 is used to mic the 12" speaker cab.  I was very happy with the results and surprised at the variety of tones I could get from one guitar.  All of these pickups are available to buy on the "Hand Made Pickups" tab.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Thawing the Ice-Pick

getting a warmer tone from your Strat bridge pickup

For many players, the Strat has one good pickup in the neck.  The middle is simply there to occasionally get a weird two-pickups-in-parallel sound or to cancel 60-cycle hum, and the bridge is there only... ONLY for use with a fuzz pedal.  God forbid you would want to play your bridge pickup through a clean Fender Twin, you might ruin the hearing of everyone in the first row!

Here are a few tips to warm up the tone of that pickup in order of cost and simplicity.

1. Adjust pickup height $0- Make sure your bridge pickup is not too close to the strings.  Depress the high and low E at the last fret and measure from the top of the two poles to the bottom of the string.  Make sure the pickup is no closer than 1/16" and adjust the rest of the pickups to match the volume of the bridge.

2. Wire the bridge pickup into the middle tone $0- The classic wiring of Strats is to have a tone control for the neck and a tone control for the middle, and the bridge is left out of the tone circuit.  Most modern Strats have the bridge wired in with the middle control.  If your bridge pickup has no tone control, here is a wiring diagram to help you:

3.  Affix a baseplate to the bridge pickup $4- This mod is cheap, easy, and completely reversible, so why not give it a try?  Tele bridge pickups sound amazing because they have a baseplate to raise the inductance, lows, and volume, the same technique can be applied to Strat pickups.  Buy a baseplate from a guitar parts supplier and either apply glue or melt some wax to adhere it to the bottom of the pickup (wax is my preferred method as it is easier to remove later).  Any metal plating on the guitar should always be grounded.  Use a file or course sandpaper to scratch up a section of the baseplate and apply some solder.  Then solder a lead from the baseplate to the back of a potentiometer.

4. Replace the bridge pickup with a higher output pickup $85- single coils with a greater resistance (measured in ohms) with have more output, more lows, and less highs.  There is a wide variety of drop-in replacements out there that require no modification to the body.  Here is one of my Blue Dog pickups that measures 8.1K ohms in the bridge and uses steel poles and bar magnets like a P-90 for a fat, warm tone.