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:

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.  

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.

Lacquer Potting Pickups

Most modern guitar pickups are potted to prevent microphonics.  This can be done with wax or lacquer.  Wax is my preferred method for potting pickups as it is easier to work with and penetrates the coil better, but many vintage pickups from Fender and other brands are potted in lacquer.  Potting in wax also allows you to pot pickups with the cover attached, potting in lacquer should only be done with the cover removed.  By dipping a pickup in wax or lacquer and letting it dry, you are creating a hard casing that holds the individual parts and winds together.

I use a process incorporating lacquer and wax on my Fender-style exposed-pole pickups.  Potting the bobbins in Lacquer insulates the magnetic poles from the winds, this way a short is prevented if the coating on the winds is thin or starts to corrode.  Once the pickup is completed, it is dipped in wax to prevent microphonics.

Lacquer-potting bobbins is very simple.  Once the top, bottom, and polepieces are assembled, you can dip the bobbin in brushing lacquer from the hardware store and hang it to dry for 24 hours.  Once drying is complete you can wind it just like a normal pickup.

Common Myths of Scatterwinding

Myth 1. Scatterwinding is just a bunch of hype

Is good tone just hype?  Scatterwinding is putting the most space between each consecutive wind as possible, thereby lowering the capacitance of the pickup.  This is achieved by the winding pattern and the tension of the wire, which is usually done by hand, and takes years of experience.  This is, in my opinion, the most important aspect in pickup making next to resistance and magnetism.

scatterwinding a single coil

Myth 2. Scatterwinding can only be done by hand

Nope.  Although hand-guiding the wire onto the bobbin is probably the best and easiest way, you could get the same results from a machine.  I have heard that when Jason Lollar was starting out pickup winding, he made his own machine that would turn the bobbin and guide the wire automatically.  A pickup can be scatterwound in this way as long as the motion and wire tension are calibrated.  The problem is that machines are consistent and the point of scatterwinding is to be inconsistent, it is hard to replicate the motion of the human hand.

Myth 3. All handwound pickups are scatterwound

Not really.  The winding pattern and the tension are still dependent of a number of variables: machine type, speed, wire type, and most importantly, who is winding the pickup.  All will make a pickup sound different.

Myth 4. Scatterwinding just means randomly guiding the wire onto the bobbin

Wrong, it almost has more to do with wire tension, which takes a lot of time to perfect by hand.  If the pickup is too loose, you won’t get the correct number of turns and the pickup will sound thin.  Too tight and it will sound dead.  Here is a useful tool for figuring out the proper tension.

Myth 5. Scatterwound pickups need to be wax potted

Not always.  Microphonics are screeching sounds coming from winds of wire and little parts of the pickup vibrating together.  This can be a big problem when playing at a high volume on stage.  A lot of it has to do with the quality of the parts used, the age of the pickup, and how it was wound.  If you use a pickup that has been made with quality parts that fit together tightly and that has been carefully scatterwound, you do not need wax potting, and that gives your sound extra openness and clarity.  I have been testing this myself for years.

Myth 6. Single coils are scatterwound and humbuckers are not

Traditionally this is the case as most humbuckers are wound on a machine.  Personally, I prefer all pickups to be scatterwound.  Anywone who plays a with a humbucker in the neck position knows that it doesn’t really cut through the mix as well as the bridge in a band situation, try using a scatterwound humbucker!

How to solder

Here is a quick video I made showing basic soldering skills:

Some key points to consider:

1.  use a quality soldering iron with adjustable temp control.  If your temp is too low you might cook the internal parts of the potentiometer before you melt your solder.
2. get in, solder, and get out as quick as possible to minimize heat on delicate components.
3. score the area you are soldering with 80 or 120 grit sandpaper.
4. tin your wires and lugs, ALWAYS.

Acid-aging guitar parts

using muriatic acid to make parts look 60 years old!

Depending on their environment and how often they are played, guitars can start to deteriorate in appearance.  This can make a guitar feel and look more “played” and “broken in”.  You can replicate this look on a new guitar in a number of ways using sandpaper, and various metal objects.  I personally prefer a subtle bit of aging that catches the eye, it’s easy to go overboard.  
Muriatic acid replicates years of oxidation in a matter of hours, and can be purchased at your local hardware store.  Be mindful to use gloves and goggles when handling it, this stuff will burn your skin!  A respirator is also advised since the acid puts off gasses when aging metal, and do it in a well ventilated area away from children and pets.  
You’ll need a plastic container (the acid will not eat away at plastic).  I used these old food containers.  I’ve got a 4 oz perforated with holes for the top and an 8 oz for the bottom.

Arrange the parts on a single layer in the perforated 4 oz dish.  Nickel parts age nicely, chrome and gold also work.  Place the 4 oz dish in the 8 oz dish to catch the acid.
carefully pour acid over all of the parts.  The liquid then drains into the bottom and the parts remain suspended.  I have found the gas does the best aging, rather than submerging the parts in the liquid.

Carefully place the lid on top to trap the gasses, DO NOT PRESS DOWN, exerting force on these containers could split the side, then you’ll have acid all over!  Not good.

Let the parts sit and check on them periodically.  When they are to your liking, rinse them in water and dump out the used acid, or save it for another use.  Keep in mind as the parts dry they will oxidize a bit more.  I would not recommend doing this with tuners or bridges as the oxidation will eventually seize the parts together.  I also only age covers, poles, and baseplates, the pickup coil would not last long in acid.

Stereo Guitars

Why would you need a stereo guitar?

If you have ever listened to music on a car stereo or headphones you can probably appreciate the importance of stereo.  Have you ever panned all of the music to either the left or right side?  It sounds like something is missing right?  Well once you hear a guitar in stereo, mono will never sound the same again.  It is a fuller, richer sound and opens up a whole new world of possibility.

Guitars are typically wired in mono, but a few companies are making stereo guitars these days.  These are usually two-pickup guitars with a jack for each pickup.  This means you have to have two cables hanging from your guitar while you play!  As far as I am concerned the only thing worse than one cable is two.

A normal mono cable on the left and a stereo cable on the right

The Skyliner guitar has one jack that you can use either a mono cable or a stereo cable in.  Plug in a mono cable and it operates just like a normal guitar.  Plug in a stereo cable, the included A/B footswitch, and put the guitar in stereo mode and you are ready to conquer the universe!

The footswitch has one input for the stereo cable and two mono outputs, one for the bridge pickup and one for the neck pickup.  You can run the two channels independently to select one, both, or none, and the LED indicator lights tell you if the channel is active.  This way you can run separate effects and amps for the two pickups.  This gives you the fullness of two guitars when only one is playing.  Here is a demo of the Skyliner Stereo guitar: