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Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

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Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:39 pm

Way back in 1988, in the murky mists and miasmas of Basingstoke, a young man called Tim walks into a music shop with a sheet of A3 paper and copies the body outline of a Telecaster. After much mysterious banging, sawing and chiselling, a one-piece mahogany body appears, to which Tim screws a bought 22-fret neck. After a trip to a car body-shop to have it clear-coated, and the appliance of electrics and hardware, on a dark and stormy night, a brilliant bolt of lightning strikes Tim's laboratory and the Emicaster comes alive!

Fast forward to 2010. Tim is a member of this forum with a user name of Emitime (hence my name of 'Emicaster' for the guitar). Some of you may remember him. He worked nearby (but lived far away) so we meet up for the occasional curry, I give him an unused 15" Studiospares powered sub, and Tim in response gives me the Emicaster.

It had been up in his loft for the past 20 years or so and hadn't fared well, The pickups had corroded to bits, the neck was rather warped and the frets were very uneven. It was also, just varnished mahogany body, and for some reason that really does nothing for me. But the rest of the hardware was good - proper fender bridge and control plate, with Grover vintage-style slotted tuners.

I couldn't get it to play at all well with the original neck (an all-maple affair), so I found a cheap used one on eBay with a rosewood board and fitted that. I sprayed the body red, using some Halfords' car acrylic spray paints, but omitted to sand back to the wood first, so the paint went on over the varnish (of unknown type). Here's the body after being sprayed red over some white primer.

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I fitted a Seymour Duncan Hot Tele Bridge (to the bridge position) and a Seymour Duncan Hot Strat pickup in the neck. the original Fender jack cup fixing was rather loose, so I fitted an Electrosocket in its place.

As I was playing a few Rolling Stones numbers in the band at the time, this became my 5-string open-G tuning guitar. If you look carefully you can see the gap between the scratchplate and the end of the neck. This shouldn't be there but was mainly covered up when the original 22-fret neck was fitted. The replacement 21-fret neck left this exposed, so I used a black Sharpie to make the gap less obvious from a distance. :) :

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Over time, I noticed that the finish hadn't hardened properly and was quite elastic feeling. Where the control and scratchplate was bearing down on the paintwork, the paint was squeezing out from underneath and bulging out the sides. Plus, I couldn't get a decent shine on the paintwork:

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So it was time to do something about it and thought a re-finish would be a good idea. But first I thought I'd look at the original neck and see if that could be reclaimed. Having done a fair bit of neck work on my kit guitar builds, I felt more confident about this and had a lot more of the required tooling.

I took the frets out (most fell out with the merest touch), then re-profiled the board using a 12" radius sanding block. Yes, it's now a Gibson radius for easier playing and string bending. I then fitted new frets (ones designed for repair work with extra-wide tangs). Some coats of amber-tinted lacquer then some clear, and it was time to put it to one side and concentrate of the body. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos at the time of the neck in pieces.

The body was stripped with a mixture of paint remover, a hot air gun and sanding.
If I was a famous artist, this could be worth millions. I could be the new Jackson Pollock...

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But I'm not famous, so the work of art disappears. I thinned down the body with a belt sander as it was over-thick for a Tele and also weighed a ton. It's now a lot lighter, but still has a substantial feel. The old string ferrules you can see here are now too short, so they got drilled out after I took this photo:

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However I got a bit too enthusiastic in the weight-reduction, so it's now thinner than it really should be. I enlarged the neck pocket so that the neck correctly sat nearer the bridge, and also added some veneer to the side of the pocket to fill in a gap:

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I decided to do a 'TV yellow' finish on it, so that it looked quite like a Gibson version of a Fender butterscotch blonde finish. The mahogany body wouldn't make an interesting standard blonde finish as it doesn't have the same interesting large grain patters that ash does (the standard wood for a Fender blonde finish) ,so I did the Gibson method of not filling the grain first but first sprayed on three coats of 'TV yellow':

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Then it was time for an application of dark brown grain filler:

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Which then gets sanded back until the paint reappears but the dark grain filler still shows in those pores:

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This gives a result that is far more interesting than just one all-over colour. The grain is a bit patchy, but that's what you get when using natural products:

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Whatever was in that 1988 spray coat still hung around in the wood, despite the huge amount of surface and finish stripping , and the paint kept bubbling up in places. It took many attempts (and lots of bad language) to get those areas patched up. So the finish is about about 70% nitro and 30% solidified swearing.

Once that was sorted out as best as possible (I'd decided that this was going to be a warts-and-all build) I sprayed on a few coats of amber-tinted lacquer and then several coats of plain clear lacquer.

That was then left to dry for a couple of weeks, before wet sanding the finish flat with P240 wet and dry, then P400, P600 and then up through the micromesh grits from 1500 to 12000. The photo shows the body and neck after it's first polish using T-cut:

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After that, it was then polished more using three progressively finer polishing compounds from Rothko and Frost. It didn't turn out as flat as I'd hoped after my initial sanding of the finish with P240 grit - when t looked really flat, but good enough for rock 'n' roll and certainly no orange peel. Here's the back of the body showing the new string ferrules:

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The neck's original brass nut had poorly cut slots (Tim didn't have access to proper nut files - which are very expensive for what they are), so I planned to fit a bone nut. But the nut slot was wider than almost all standard Fender-style replacement nuts, so I was planning to cut one down from a thicker Gibson style nut. But then I picked up a Fender-style nut from my parts box and found that this one was a real Goldilocks one and fitted perfectly! So that saved me an hour.

The cavities and underside of the scratchplate were then all foil screened, and the electrics re-wired.

Because the body was now a lot thinner (and I also took the heel of the neck down to stop it sticking out too far from the thinner body), I initially tried using cut-down neck screws, but two of them wouldn't hold. So I used the original long screws, but have used two neck plates to stop the tips of the screw poking through the top of the board. It doesn't look too odd.

Putting it together, I somehow gave the body and headstock a mysterious couple of dents, so it's already slightly reliced, and I added a couple of tiny edge wear patches.

Then it was strings on, set-up and play it time. Took a bit of time because the truss rod is at the heel end of the neck, which means taking the neck off each time you want to adjust the rod (the 22-fret neck is also a PITA as you also have to take the neck off to remove the pickguard). But finally is was all done and it was tie to just plug it in and enjoy it. And here it is:
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Finish niggles aside, I'm really happy with it. Action is really low and the bridge and mid-positions sounds are great and twangy without being over-harsh. I really like the overall 'TV yellow' look. Fender, but yet not Fender.

I will be upgrading the pots shortly as the volume pot is a linear one and should be an audio taper. It also measures 200k instead of the nominal 250k, so is dropping a bit of output, and the tone pot is physically notchy to turn, though the response is smooth. And as the neck pickup is rather dull sounding ('hot' pickups often are), I'll be trying a spare Bare Knuckle Strat pickup in there to see if that gives a bit more clarity.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:58 pm

Once again, lovely work Wonks - I hope this success has lifted you out of the dumps! :clap:


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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby arkieboy » Fri Aug 30, 2019 6:57 pm

So the finish is about about 70% nitro and 30% solidified swearing

:bouncy:
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby BJG145 » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:09 pm

Smashing, everyone needs a butterscotch blackguard in the rack. :thumbup:

(Mine is about my favourite thing.)
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby John Egan » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:59 pm

Great work again, Wonks. That Tele has real character! If you're looking for a traditional Tele bridge pickup (my favourite), I have used a DiMarzio Twang KIng in the past with really good results.
Regards, John
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Folderol » Fri Aug 30, 2019 8:28 pm

That's a lot prettier now - would be worth doing even if it didn't improve the performance.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby adrian_k » Fri Aug 30, 2019 10:32 pm

Major improvement :thumbup:

Aside from obligatory swearing I hope you found the process enjoyable!
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby zenguitar » Fri Aug 30, 2019 11:21 pm

Another great project nicely done Wonks :clap:

You’ve well and truly got the bug :D

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Sun Sep 01, 2019 8:36 am

Well, I've now replaced the pots and the SD SSL-3 neck pickup with the BK Irish Tour pickup. The pickups are like chalk and cheese. The BK is far clearer and a lot more detailed than the muddy SD.

But now the BK makes the bridge pickup seem a bit ordinary. It seems to have lost a bit of its high-end with the pot swap. Maybe the old 200k pot tuned it that bit better than the 250k pot now in it (though in theory it should be a bit brighter as a result).

So the neck pickup and bridge pickup now don't sound too dissimilar. I can see a new bridge pickup being fitted in the near future. But I need something with a bit of grunt to match the neck pickup as that's a 6.2k DCR job, though manages to be both hot and clear, unlike the mid-focused SD. The SSL-3 has a DCR of 15.8k though a lot of that is down to the thinner wire used, as the output levels don't really sound that different.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby ManFromGlass » Sun Sep 01, 2019 9:22 am

Buckets of character. Even in the photos it says pick me up and play me right now!
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Sun Sep 01, 2019 9:29 am

It is indeed a lovely guitar.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Mon Sep 02, 2019 7:41 am

zenguitar wrote:Another great project nicely done Wonks :clap:

You’ve well and truly got the bug :D

Andy :beamup:

And I owe most of it to you and this forum. :thumbup:
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Dynamic Mike » Mon Sep 02, 2019 10:40 am

This thread has inspired me to start a new project. I'm thinking about refinishing my squier telecaster which still has the original black finish. What's worrying me is that I'm pretty sure that the body is plywood and I've never worked on one that wasn't solid before. Is there anything I need to be wary of?

BTW yours looks great, but it also had a certain charm before too.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Mon Sep 02, 2019 12:02 pm

It depends on how old the Squier is. Some of the really cheap versions in the past were plywood, but I think anything more modern is probably solid wood.

I'd take the control panel off and have a look inside the cavity. Normally not too much paint there, so you should be able to tell if it's plywood or not.

Even if it is plywood, there's not too much to worry about. I'm not sure how easy it will be to get the existing paintwork off. It will be some kind of poly. Hopefully polyurethane rather than the much harder polyester. You'll want to get every trace of the old finish off for best results (ignoring the pickup and control cavities).

I presume you'll be looking at some kind of solid paint finish? The main thing is to get each stage of finishing as smooth as you can. So the bare wood should be as flat as possible. Use normal filler for any big holes and grain filler for much smaller hole end-grain filling. No point in sanding much beyond P180 grit for the wood as you don't want it 'shiny' before painting. The top and bottom surfaces of the plywood should be closed-pore woods, so won't need grain filling.

Probably best to use some primer, as it allows you to sand that down with dry paper once you've got a few coats on (don't wet sand primer). Spray a light mist coat first, as then it's easier to see the low spots remaining after sanding.

Then your colour coat. You need to add enough coats to build up a thickness to allow you to sand it down flat again and get rid of any orange peel effects, so there are no glossy spots remaining in the paintwork. Hold the body up at a very low angle to a bright light to see these. It's best to wet sand here, but beware of existing holes in the body where water can get in. This causes the wood to swell and this will split/crack the finish around the holes.

There's never an easy way to fill these holes to stop this happening. You could try blu-tac, as you can then dig this out afterwards.

You can spray clear coat on top of the colour coat for extra protection, or just polish up the colour coat.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Dynamic Mike » Mon Sep 02, 2019 12:42 pm

Thanks for such a comprehensive reply. It was an early 30th birthday present so it's probably around 28 years old. It plays just fine but I quite fancied trying a bit of inlay work. I've done a bit of marquetry in the past and figured the tele body is pretty flat so might lend itself to similar. I was hoping to rout a couple of places to accommodate it but if it's plywood I'm worried it might tear. I'll check tonight and see what I'm up against. I've got a few designs in mind but fancy building a Wile.E.Coyotecaster!
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Mon Sep 02, 2019 1:25 pm

Work with what you've got. If it is plywood, then if you want to do some marquetry work, do you leave the plywood bare and just clear coat the whole lot once you've done the inlay work, or do you still try and paint the body, then cut out the inlay space? Though the body might look pretty manky under the paint when you strip it, and you just want to cover it up again.

You can cut a small indent for the marquetry to go in, leave the marquetry work slightly proud, then build up the paint on the body so that it reaches the top of the marquetry, then sand it all back a bit so the marquetry and the paint are level. I've done this with some abalone inlay stuff on headstocks and it works quite well. Your veneers are typically 0.6mm thick, so even if 2/3 buried, it doesn't take too much paint to build up a 0.2mm + layer.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:00 am

Well, with Arkieboy and Dave B round on Saturday for the "The SG" try-out, the Emicaster was also played and it was agreed that the SD Hot tele bridge pickup was just too hot and dull sounding. The neck Bare Knuckle 'Irish Tour' Strat pickup is brighter sounding than the bridge.

Also confirmed that whilst interesting, the combined position is out of phase, despite both pickup's black wires being connected to ground as per their respective wiring diagrams.

So I've now ordered a Dimarzio True velvet Tele bridge pickup and a switched pot. The recommended Twang King seemed that bit too bright as I already have another very twangy Tele, but the True Velvet is still a vintage style but with a bit less cut to the sound. The switched pot is so that I can reverse the phase when I want to. I thought about a 4-position switch, but I've had one before and whilst the series sound is reasonable, I never used it. Plus with the phase reversalswitch, there would have been one really unusable position.

I've also sourced some M3.5 x 25mm machine screws for mounting the neck pickup. The standard length is 20mm, but with the pickup down low, it is literally hanging off the very last thread on both sides. The bridge is quite high, so I want to remove the small shim I put under the neck so I can lower the bridge (I installed it because the neck pickup had to go so low), but this will mean a slight lowering of the neck pickup. I don't know why the standard screw length is so short, as many Tele and Strat pickups need to be quite low to avoid string pull and wolf-note issues. There is plenty of depth in the pickup cavities for a longer screw and it also makes fitting mounting springs and installing the pickup that much easier. Leo Fender penny-pinching again, I'd imagine.
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Re: Refurbishing the 'Emicaster'

Postby Wonks » Sun Sep 22, 2019 8:41 am

The Dimarzio True Velvet bridge pickup has now been installed. It's a nice sounding pickup. There's now a 'proper' difference between a bright sounding bridge pickup and a darker neck position. The DM 'Twang King' pickup would have been far too bright for me, as the True Velvet is still very bright and I like it best with the tone control rolled back slightly.

And if course, it was reverse polarity with respect to the BK neck pickup. So I swapped the wires round for the neck pickup, forgetting that the Irish Tour pickup had an aluminium baseplate. This turned out to be connected to the black wire connection and with the cavity shielding tape touching the (now longer) mounting screws, everything got shorted out. So that had to be reversed and the wires swapped on the True Velvet instead. Luckily this comes with a separate ground wire for the copper baseplate, so there were no issues in swapping its wires over.

The plan to fit a switched pot to allow a polarity-reversed mid position had to be shelved due to lack of space in the control cavity. I bought the shortest CTS switched pot available at just 25mm deep. It just fitted the cavity vertically, but also totally fitted the width and was impossible to get any wires past. I really didn't feel like trying to create an undercut channel for the wires, so it's been left as standard.
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