I ended my last blog entry by announcing that the white primer was about to be applied which was intended to be a cliffhanger, indeed a primer, for this post. In retrospect it would have been much more effective had I followed up within a week rather than just over two months.
So lets get straight back in and pick up from where we left it. I used a white nitrocellulose primer, the purpose of which is to prepare the surface for the colour coat. I’m advised by those who are wiser in these matters that it also helps emphasise our chosen colour of sea foam green. Without the primer it seems that the final finish would be less convincing when compared to the original Fender colour.
I initially applied a generous coat of primer, allowed it to dry, then immediately sanded it off again. An act of madness you may declare, in fact this process helps identify the highs and lows in the surface in order that it may be sanded flat. The theory being that when the paint is gone the surface is completely level.
With a few decent coats of levelled primer applied, I decided to satisfy my morbid curiosity by setting the Vibramate bridge vaguely into position, attempting to get a feel for this rather Heath Robinson contraption. At this point I made a horrible discovery…
Now that I have piqued your equally morbid curiosity let me explain the source of my discomfiture. It may seem inconceivably early in the process to allow the subject of strings to enter the dialogue but they were at the heart of this trauma. A Fender Telecaster’s strings pass through holes in the guitar body, however, with a Bigsby tremolo such as the B5 that rests upon the Vibramate, this is not possible. The strings attach to the tremolo itself above the surface of the guitar. This is an unforgivably fiddly process which I shall come to later. The issue at hand is the 12 holes in the guitar body that are frankly, surplus to requirements. Radical action was required. The holes are clearly visible in the left and centre photographs above.
Dowels, glue and clamps
After measuring the old string ferrules and mustering up some suitably sized dowel rod, I garnered the assistance of some PVA glue, a mallet and two clamps to help disguise each offending orifice.
The gallery above demonstrates what a setback this became as the process of planing and sanding the dowels removed a sizeable area of primer. This was addressed by repeating the same stages as before, first with sanding sealer then building a few layers of primer until the patch was no longer visible.
Sea Foam Green
Leo Fender seems to have liked cars. Legend has it that he scoured new car brochures from America’s great car companies of the mid 1950’s and used any colours that caught his eye on his new guitars. Between the years of 1960 and 1969 Fender used sea foam green as per this marvellous 1956 Buick Special Convertible.
I’m led to believe that this particular Buick, was actually offered in the brochure as Sea Foam Green over Dover White. Perhaps this is why the white primer is so important in reproducing a reasonably accurate rendition of this colour on a guitar.
I would imagine by now you are wondering how I got on. Well I think it is best if I allow you to judge for yourself.
The colour deepened with each coat and I have to say I was pleased with the achievement as it progressed. Clearly this is not a lunar landing, I have no pithy soundbite to mark the moment, but given that I am working with aerosols and not a professional spray booth I feel no shame in telling you that I consider this to be one small step for can, one giant leap for excruciating puns.
Micro mesh and water
After a couple of coats of clear coat lacquer to protect our colour coat I allowed the finish to dry for three weeks. This was a period I could have used to update the blog, but no, as each of you hung on tenterhooks I was gallivanting around the UK and Ireland watching Ry Cooder concerts.
That aside the time arrived when polishing could begin and I had purchased some micro mesh pads to see how they worked. In short, they were great but in following the instruction that the pads should remain wet as one works through the grades I decided to use a small spray bottle with clean water. The result was that I learned a harsh lesson about wood, water and existing screw holes in a guitar body. I have provided a useful photo above centre with some cocktail sticks inserted to show the position of the holes. These were the original scratchplate mounts and as you can see from the right hand photograph the ingress of water caused the wood to swell and the nitrocellulose to crack!
I allowed it to dry naturally over the next few days and although mild cracks are visible they are below the new scratchplate… just.
I won’t be making that mistake again I can assure you.
So after a final buff with Virtuoso Guitar Polish the beast was ready for fitting out.
I began by populating the new white scratchplate with the original pickups although the middle pickup black cover was replaced with white. The TV Jones Classic Humbucker was installed into the Vibramate ashtray bridge along with a set of brass Gotoh “In Tune” Compensated Telecaster Saddles. These were then mounted onto the body.
Now the neck and Vibramate Bigsby attachment were added.
The Bigsby B5 was mounted to the Vibramate and secured with the nuts provided.
Just a bit of soldering and rewiring of the coil tap switch to suit the TV Jones pickup remained. This is the bit I’m trained in so I was quite relaxed about it. I’m happy to report that all went well.
Getting strung up
I am fortunate enough to own a 1963 Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman which, as most will be aware, is fitted with a Bigsby tremolo. Having purchased the guitar a little over a year ago I must report to my shame that the strings have not yet been replaced. Consequently this was my first ignominious restringing of a guitar with a Bigsby tremolo.
Each time I attached the string to the tremolo and wandered off to the other end to wind it onto a machine head the string promptly left its berth and followed me up the neck. For a short period of time in my own living room, using just two simple props in the form of a guitar and an Ernie Ball nickel plated string, I managed to create a one man tribute to Laurel and Hardy.
An internet search revealed a commonly accepted view amongst Bigsby aficionados that a third hand is required when replacing strings on these guitars. It is fair to assume that this time next year I will once again be apologising for not yet having restrung my 1963 Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.
One useful little tip I found did allow me to complete the task. This involved inserting a small piece of sponge below the string at the ball-end to hold it in place. I attempted this act of sorcery and it worked as per the photograph below. Hurrah!
The guitar plays and sounds great through my little Blackstar HT-5R valve amp. In fact if you will permit me to trot out a popular cliché it plays like a dream. Generally the guitar is very bright as per most Telecasters and the TV Jones Classic pickup is terrific in humbucker mode. When the coil tap switch is flicked the Classic loses a lot of its depth but that is to be expected. In my opinion in this mode it performs admirably as a replacement for a standard Telecaster bridge pickup.
So there we have it the end of another project and I must say I rather enjoyed it. Amongst the lessons learned it is clear that I would really need a sizeable workshop to take this hobby to the next level. I hope to have some news on that next time though.
Speaking of next time I was recently given a large chunk of swamp ash and an equally significant piece of mahogany so stay tuned.
Oh, and I bought this…