travails with my guitar.....part 2




 1. travails with my guitar / april '09










 PART 2 Having decided to act on his impending mid-life crisis with a new guitar, Ian has to find someone he trusts to make his dream into a reality. Not being certain about what he wants means a lot of staring into space and thinking…….

“What are you doing NOW?”

“I’m reading up on 60 inch chested amazon women with a liking for middle aged balding men from Norfolk”

“No you're not – you’re looking at photographs of guitars again aren’t you?”

She was nearly right I was staring at the cover of Springsteen’s Born to Run. There was my guitar. I wanted THAT one, a telecaster in natural wood - but I also wanted it to sound like a Strat, a Les Paul, a Rickenbacker, a 12 string acoustic and every other modelled sound I could get out of my Variax.

I loved my Fender Stratocaster but hated it’s noise levels when recording. I loved the sounds from my Variax but hated playing the guitar. So, I began to fantasize about putting the Variax inside the Strat.

I am the sort of person who buys all the magazines and reads all the stuff on the internet before I venture out to buy. So, it was out of character for me to pick up the phone within moments of deciding that my life would be better with a guitar that ‘played like a Strat but had the sounds of a Variax’.

I won’t do it again.

Having found a number for a guitar builder, I called someone who really should remain nameless, but let’s call him Lex Luthier. It’s been a long time since I was spoken to like that. Actually I can date it, it was 36 years ago and it was Mr Hicks who was my Headmaster. That wasn’t his full title he was Mr Hicks the Asshole Headmaster. Actually that makes him sound like he was headmaster to a small part of human anatomy……….

Anyway, I tell Lex that I’m thinking of putting the electronics from the Variax into my Strat and could it be done? I don’t remember saying that all the first born should die or that henceforth all chips shall be served without salt but I must have said something wrong. I received a lecture on body cavities (maybe that was why he reminded me of my old Headmaster?), faraday cages (which he managed to call faradeal cages throughout) and the relative impedance of copper wire (don’t ask).

I think that he sensed he was losing me intellectually, emotionally and as a customer because suddenly out of nowhere he announced “Well if that is REALLY what you THINK you want, I suppose I could do it of course”. In reality he had already lost me within moments of opening his mouth.

I made my excuses and left the conversation.

It was time to hit the World Wide Web.

The first thing that surprised me was that I was not alone (the internet often does that to me – but that’s probably a different story….). There are a lot of people unhappy with the general quality of the Variax 300. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad guitar as such, just one that doesn’t enthuse when you play. Nice variety of sounds but nothing about the body or neck that makes you want to pick it up. I can pick up the Strat and play it without plugging it in – I’ve never done that with the Variax.

I also discovered I was not alone in wanting to transplant my Variax electronics into a ‘better’ guitar.

Pretty quickly it became clear I had three options:

  • Transplant the electronics into an existing guitar
  • Buy a pre-routed body and neck to take the electronics
  • Have a hand built custom guitar that included the electronics

I was now ready to face the next ‘Lex Luthier’.

I found someone who featured a transplanted Variax on his website and called him. Putting the Variax electronics into an existing guitar was obviously too much like hard work and he promoted the idea of buying a pre-routed body and neck from Warmoth so he could charge around £150 to put it all together taking as much from the Variax as possible – tuners, bridge, etc.

He was fairly adamant that the electronics would not fit into a Strat body as ‘it’s not thick enough’.

Ten minutes on the internet showed that to be complete tosh. It might not be easy but it had been done – there were two selling on ebay for chrissakes.

My mind kept going back to the Springsteen photograph and the telecaster. The more I looked at it the more I fell in love with it. The more I fell in love with it the more I knew that my life would not be complete without it. This wasn’t Springsteen envy, I like the guy but can’t remember the last time I played Born to Run. It was this feeling that the telecaster was my iconic rock guitar. Honest, workmanlike, reliable and well, ‘authentic’.

I looked at pictures of Springsteen, Andy Partridge, Joe Strummer and Thom Yorke and the guitar definitely part of their iconic images. I challenge any reader to admit that the deciding factor in any guitar purchase is not image and self referential narcissism.

I now knew which guitar I wanted to look like.

Having made that decision made the next one very easy. Looking at the undoubtedly excellent Warmoth guitar bodies I discovered that they did not make a telecaster body that could take the Variax 300 electronics only the 500 or 600.

Although they all produce the same sounds it is only the 300 that has the controls mounted directly onto the PCB board thereby reducing flexibility, and Warmoth had chosen only to provide a Strat type body routed for the Variax 300.

I now realised that the only viable option was a hand built custom guitar, and I had to find a luthier I could work with and who could make me the guitar I needed.

As I was about to learn it was not as easy as showing a copy of Springsteen’s Born to Run and saying “make me one of those”.


PART ONE < ......... >PART  THREE