||travails with my guitar.....part 3|
|1. travails with my guitar / april & may & june & july '09|
PART 3: Having decided that his life could only be improved by the building of a custom guitar to take the electronics from his Line 6 Variax 300, Ian now has to find someone he trusts to build a guitar that plays like his Stratocaster, has the variety of sounds of his Variax and looks great when he plays in front of the mirror…………
I searched for local Lex’s (my new generic term for Luthiers!) and drew up a shortlist. I immediately rejected any that had examples of silly paint jobs or anything that a cartoon thrash metalhead might be interested in – I wanted something that looked traditional, organic and wooden.
My shortlist was of ten men (I didn’t see or hear of a single woman guitar builder – what does that say about guitar building as a vocation?) I used some simple ‘filters’ to reach that list:
Reassurance on the last topic needed telephone conversations and so I hit the list. It was amazing how quickly the shortlist of ten became one of two. One asked me to email my requirements and thoughts and he would come back with a price. I did, he didn’t. The list was now a single name. Matt Longfoot from Peterborough. (view his website here)
I had spoken to him twice and each time was impressed by his openness to my want and wish list and his suggestions which were always sympathetic and improved on my ideas. He was younger than I imagined and over two hours drive away, but I didn’t want anyone else to make my guitar.
We spent a few weeks emailing example photographs and thoughts and came up with the ‘final’ plan. I say ‘final’ because as Matt warned me, I was bound to come up with more things I wanted.
My guitar was to have a Telecaster shaped ash body, Stratocaster type maple neck and Variax electronics bringing me everything from a Martin acoustic to a Les Paul via Strats, Teles Rickies and a banjo. It was to look like a traditional guitar with dummy pick ups. I liked the idea of performing and surprising my adoring fans with a 12 string acoustic coming out of a Telecaster………!
NOTE: Until the project is completed I will update as it goes along and then write it up as a final piece when the guitar is in my hands
April 6th :-
I took my Variax to Matt’s workshop so he could rip out the bits we wanted and this gave me a good chance to have a look around. This has convinced me I’d picked the right guy, it was tidy, well used and with some nice examples of his work around the workshop. He showed me the first guitar he had made and his obvious affection for it was reinforced by his inability to actually let anyone buy it.
Two days later, as Matt predicted, I’d thought of more things I wanted – one of which made his life much easier. I’d seen a great photo of a natural ash ’72 Telecaster deluxe with the bigger pickguard and humbucker pickups. With the bigger pickguard Matt could rout from the front and fit the Variax 300 electronics in one piece without breaking up the housing or having to extend bits of the internal wiring. I also decided I wanted a slightly darker stain to the edge of the body, a belly contour (my spare tyre now fits a large agricultural vehicle) and a personalised variation on the 12th fret inlays.
Two months of planning and dreaming had reached a conclusion as I handed over to Matt for the next stage of the project we had dubbed the “Longfoot Varicaster”
This stage is probably the hardest yet - waiting. I'm not good at waiting. There was a problem with the wood availability and although Matt told me that he was getting on with the templates and wiring I was feeling a bit aimless and was in danger of falling back in love with the strat as I was having to play this while waiting for the Varicaster. Interestingly I was playing it a lot but not doing any recordings which was a reassurance that the original plan was right.......... hoping the new guitars neck feels very similar to the strat though.
Seems like the wood still hasn't been delivered, so Matt is going to source it from another supplier if it doesn't arrive today.
Matt has discovered that both his normal wood suppliers are out of stock, I hit the internet and found another one who appeared to have some in stock and liked the samples on the website. Matt's had a look and is organising an account to buy from them - a very attractive birds eye maple for the neck is for sale and I've asked Matt to buy this for the Variacaster (once its been bought I'll put an image of it on here but not going to tempt fate or encourage someone else to buy it!) It's now been six weeks since I left my variax with Matt and I'm missing it's sounds and feeling a bit frustrated at the delays. I've shown the body blank that I like (to the left) and hopefully this is the one Matt can get from the website I found. Started working on a new tune tonight and want to record it - but it needs some of the Variax sounds!
Heard from Matt today - he's very pleased (actually I think that is probably relieved that I wouldn't keep hassling him!) to let me know that the wood is in stock from the new supplier and will arrive this week. He's managed to source the maple birds eye for the neck, and the swamp ash as we had always planned for the body. So the first cut on the wood of the guitar should happen by Friday. The pics of the body ash and the birds eye maple for the neck are alongside. The wood has been sourced from Tonetech Luthier Supplies (www.tonetechluthiersupplies.co.uk) Also I've been contacted by a local drummer interested in having a muck around - so hoping to time it with a test run for the new guitar.
Matt's let me know that the wood has arrived and he's really pleased with the quality, so thank you tonetech - Matt needs to get a bit of glue work and planning done (as in to plane a piece of wood - not is in I have a cunning plan!) to get the thickness needed for the tele shape as it was originally shaped for a strat. As we know the variax electronics will fit more comfortably into a telecasters thickness.
He plans to do this tomorrow, so - as he predicted - the first wood work has indeed started this week. Must ask him if there's a planned finish date. Probably unfair at this stage but as I've already said I'm really crap at waiting! I'll ask Matt to do a couple of pictures as he starts work so I can post them here
ANOTHER UPDATE FROM MATT!!! Yay!
- Wood has been planned and glued and back in his hands - Matt will start on the build on Monday - this is his main project for June with the expectation of completion by end of the month. He's being brilliant ( I knew I'd made a good choice) and will give me weekly updates and photos as we go. Which of course I will share on here.
Been a naughty boy and now have a new acoustic guitar to go with my impending new Varicaster!! (it's a Faith Jupiter and I love it). Actually it was an amazing present and an equally amazing deal at PMT Norwich. (Even if it does stand for Professional Music Technology - who really calls a music shop PMT???)
While I was there on Saturday (to look) and today (to buy) I was talking about the Varicaster and Matt. They asked for more details on him as they need to have luthiers they can recommend. I called Matt to ask him to send them some business cards and he gave me an update - he sounded really pleased with progress (the routing was well under way) and says that the wood quality is every bit as good as he thought and that the delays at the beginning may well have been for the best as the wood is much better than he would have normally expected.
As part of my research before the project started I was looking at the differences body woods might make to a variax based guitar - it appears very little from other's experiences. Having said that I watched a video with a direct comparison and a before / after section and I was aware of a definable difference. It will be interesting to see. My choice of swamp ash was to do with the look of the grain and back to that photo of Springsteen. I'm now thinking of getting a poster of the Born to Run cover to go on the wall behind the guitar stand that will be home to the varicaster..... I know it's sad, but that's me and my life :-)
Matt's been really busy and gave me an update this morning. Since last week he has
He's even talking about starting to lacquer by the end of the week - if so it's a bit ahead of schedule. Matt told me about a fun sideline he's been working on - Kitchen chopping boards in the shape of telecasters!! - I've downloaded a photo and put it on here.............
They cost £29.99 - which looks like a bargain to me - but hey please don't order until he's finished my guitar!!!
The plan is to use the machine heads from the variax but I'm wondering about getting some new ones like the locking Gotoh - think I'll do a bit of research and see if it's worth doing - better do it before Matt cuts the holes though.........
Looks like its been a slow-ish week with Matt so probably back on the original schedule. Cavities and truss rod to be routed and spraying of lacquer hopefully by end of week. He is going to take a couple of photos for me and email them this week so will update here before the next 'proper' weekly update.
It's been 10 weeks today that I dropped off the Variax at Matt's workshop - having to temper my impatience with realism and hope!
I've bought some new guitar strings (elixer nanoweb ones as you asked - on the basis that they reputedly last longer and I'm planning to do a lot of playing once the Varicaster arrives) Anyway had them sent direct to Matt for him to use when he's at that stage. He emailed me today to tell me they'd arrived and that he had now routed all the cavities, bolted the neck on and had taken loads of pics for me - which I hope to get soon to put on here. Tomorrow he plans to rout the infill strip for the neck truss rod and then start the prep for spraying.
I really should stop looking at photographs of telecasters on the internet! Found a great photo of a variax transplant by Jeff Miller where he had a smaller pickguard than the one Matt and I had agreed on. Although the Telecaster deluxe pickguard has the shape at the bottom of the guitar that's needed to house the Variax electronics from the 300 model, I'm now thinking that the top part of the pickguard could be smaller to allow the beauty of the wood to show. So I spoke to Matt and emailed him the photo and he's looking at changing the pickguard shape to a amalgam of both shapes. He also asked about the pickups and we discussed whether to have 'live' ones or not. I must admit I had always assumed we wouldn't, but suddenly had to revisit this as an option. Being honest about it I'm not sure I can see any advantage of the p/ups working as the telecaster sound on the variax is so good. Additionally there's a lot of wiring for Matt, as well as potentially some awkward routing to get them in the right place.
All of which led to the decision to go with the original plan of 'dummy' pick ups and I've left it to Matt to source the shape and type which look best. As a side note I'm impressed that once again Matt hasn't promoted the 'easy option' for himself but asked what I wanted and didn't want my decision to be based on me thinking what was easiest for him.
Time-scale wise he is working on a schedule which will deliver the finished guitar by the end of the month. He's putting in a walnut 'skunk stripe' in for the truss rod today and once again said how good the birdsye maple is looking on the neck...... Hopefully I'll have the pics to put on here soon.
I apologised to Matt for my impatience and reiterated that I didn't want my impatience to get in the way of him putting in the effort and time he needs to do the job properly. This is a once in a lifetime guitar for me and I'd hate him to have to cut corners on finish etc purely because he feels pressurised by me to get it into my grubby hands at the earliest date. (Having said all that I've 'ringed' Tuesday 30 June on my calendar - I really should go to evening classes on how not to be a 'sad old git'!!)
The clear Nitrocellulose lacquer spraying will start today and this needs about a week to harden so Matt will be working on the pickguard shaping and the hardware stuff during the week. He seems pleased with the look so far but as he says "it doesn't start to look like a guitar until the lacquer goes on - it's only then you can really see the wood" . He's hoping to send the photos as he has taken loads but needs to transfer them to his PC. I think it will only really seem real to me when I've see the pics - up to now it's all imagination and as good as mine is.............
It's getting closer but not yet............... Matt emailed to say waiting for the lacquer to harden then a polish and a flatten (I didnt know what the latter meant but too embarrassed to ask!) and then he can put it all together and do the set up. He said hopefully end of week in the email. But I spoke to him this afternoon and he backtracked to say early next week. As I've got to arrange the time to go and see him and collect it, I've agreed I'll call end of this week and see where it's all at.
Four months after leaving my guitar with Matt and the end is in sight (ish) Spoke to him today and we're planning on me picking it up end of next week. The hardening is continuing and should be finished as a process today. Had a bit of a worry when Matt said that the plan of dummy pick up covers wouldn't work and I had to push him a bit - in that case to put in real pick ups even if not wired.
The problem is that the pick up covers would just have holes where the magnetic poles would come through. As I have always wanted (and told him I wanted) dummy pick ups so it looks like a traditional guitar this was a bit of a disappointment that it was almost left out as an afterthought. Also looks like it will have a Longfoot logo but not a Varicaster one which I'd also asked for - so will have to think about how I get that put on. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh.
Calling Matt on Tuesday to confirm whether picking up on end of week or on Saturday morning.
Spoke to Matt yesterday and I'm picking up guitar this Friday (10th) - so the end is very nearly in sight He has organised the pickups and will do the fitting on the scratchlate and the plate onto the guitar this week; and the stringing and set up on Thursday. He's had a thought on the logo on the headstock - as his logo is in white he's going to use the dye, that he used to 'tone down' the edge of the body, on the headstock to allow the white to show. Thinking about this - it should look pretty neat (god I hope so!)
Also he's planning to get the Varicaster logo on too - which pleases me. I did have a plan B if that failed, but would have meant taking off his LongFoot logo and replacing it with a copy and the Varicaster combined and re-lacquering the headstock.
Just a call to him in the morning to ensure we're all ok for Friday (May make that Thursday morning so he doesn't feel that I'm hounding him.)
Seems really strange after all this time that I shall get my grubby mitts on my guitar and press the pound notes into his hands in exchange.
OK I couldn't wait - I phoned him today and he's put fretts in and flattened them (That's what he meant!! - see June 29th) and is polishing the neck and body today / tomorrow morning - so all in place for Friday afternoon collection. I am so excited......
Weird coincidence there's a CD I've been waiting to happen for around 30 years and it's going to arrive at around the same time - so it's a time of long wanted things arriving
Feeling like a child on Christmas Eve (now where am I going to find one of them!) Just had a quiet word with my strat and explained that there's someone new in my life and although it will always have a special place in my heart, we wont be spending much time together in the future, and that I understand that it may leave me to spend time with someone else who appreciates it's finer points.
But like all men in this situation - I think I'll see how things go with my new love before letting go of the old one completely!
Father Christmas didn't come down the chimney! Took afternoon off work and made the trip to Peterborough only to find disappointing news that there had been a delay and Matt hadn't managed to complete the job. So it's staying for a bit longer to finish. Pleased I didn't tell my Strat that it was over.....
I am very pleased with what I saw though - the guitar looks great and 'feels' excellent. So now I don't have to imagine I just have to wait a bit more.
Another email from Matt - apologised over wasted journey on Friday hopes to be finished in a couple of days and then will courier the Varicaster to me. Breath bated but not held!!
Happy with all the adjustments that we have agreed and now I know what the guitar looks like I can imagine it round my neck and my playing ability somehow having improved enormously (I can dream)
Matt left a message yesterday - his Dad (now I feel old) is over in my 'neck of the woods' tomorrow (Monday) and will be dropping off my guitar. We had discussed a courier to save another day off work and cost, but this way he can be sure it's delivered safely .........but I bet part of it is he probably wants the cash straight away too! :-) He sounded more positive about the look too, so hoping that the flaws and unfinished bits we identified are now all complete and looking good - better be or his Dad can take it back!!!!
Not coming today - being rearranged for later in the week. Did promise photo to prove its finished!
And as Promised here are the photos just received from Matt:
WOW - IT'S MY GUITAR!!!!!!!!! All I have to do now is wait three more days and I can play it
Matt assures me the guitar will be delivered by his Dad this afternoon - but then again he did assure me that would be the case on Monday and Wednesday too! As I have wondered a number of times over the years - if I practised being a stroppy bastard would I get better service? If it doesn't come this afternoon I may get to try that theory out.
Anyway watch this space...... update on arrival will appear within half an hour of it's arrival - if it does arrive (Breath still bated but not held)
5pm - Having heard nothing, I called Matt with prepared outraged rant - and was told the guitar is on the road but left later than planned. Getting to the point that I will only believe it when it's in my hands. Really don't understand why this is proving so difficult............... bearing in mind that I was originally 'booked' to collect finished guitar two weeks ago. A four week build has for many varied and increasingly frustrating reasons taken almost 16 weeks. April 6th I left the variax and my deposit, July 23rd and I'm looking out of the window waiting for my guitar...........
July 24th (Guitar Day +1)
Spent most of the night playing the Varicaster - it's a thing of beauty. Weird sensation that I'm playing better and not sure if that is a reality or the elation at finally having my guitar in my hands. It seems so long ago I had the idea and then the dream ( that may be because it HAS been a long time!)
It's weird looking back at the early notes on the blog and seeing how the guitar changed as we went through the process but I am so pleased at the final 'look' of the guitar - the chocolate burst was not something I'd thought about or the darkened headstock and Matt's suggestions on both of those were spot on. The weight and balance are absolutely perfect - which was always a concern because although the swamp ash is quite a heavy wood and the Telecaster shape is quite a big 'lump' of wood, there was an awful lot of routing to fit the electronics - so the outcome was never really clear until it was finished and to my delight it is perfect.
The guitar however isn't quite perfect; there are a couple of small things (and one biggie that needs some careful attention).
The Small Things:
Although Matt has put a very small IO on the 12th fret dots - what I had wanted was an I and an O instead of the dots - it was only a small personalisation and frivolous, but I am disappointed it didn't work out.
The 'string through body' holes aren't perfectly aligned - one is out by a little - again not a big thing but it should have been right.
The BIG thing:
Something isn't right with the electronics - the variax 12strings - either acoustic or Rickenbackers - are 'wrong'. So is the Sitar. Now as they both involve the modelling of a second string either in octaves (12strings) or a harmony (sitar) it is obviously something wrong there. I've rebooted and reset the Variax firmware and its the same. I'm coming to the conclusion - and this sounds ridiculous - that as far as the electronics are concerned the strings are 'upside down' so the top E and the B G all have octaves virtual strings rather than a sympathy note, while the low E, A and D don't have the expected virtual octave note. So I think that the electronics are 'upside down'!! - need to talk to Matt and also do some research on this...........
But overall ....I LOVE IT! - it is a thing of beauty and it plays so well - it must do I think I'm playing better than before.
I can't help but keep on playing it, and when I'm not I'm looking at it across the room. Matt's looking into the 12 string issue and thinks it should be easy to sort.... so fingers crossed there.
Now of course I'm thinking maybe I need a better amplifier..................
Sending the guitar back to Matt today - two things need some attention. The electronics issue on the 12 strings seems to be a general problem and narrowed it down to a likelihood that the connector from the piezo saddles on the bridge unit to the main electronics was reversed during the Varicaster build. I did see if I could open it up and do the switch-a-round myself but I thought 'Hey this is a Matt derived problem and if I screw it up, it becomes mine.....'
However, talking of screwing up - Oh I have!
In a moment of staring lovingly at my new guitar I thought 'mmmm it'd be good if the selector blade switch had a black end rather than white and the strap buttons were black too'
So off to the guitar shop and bought some locking strap buttons (in black of course) started to fit them and the screw sheared. Not just the bit where the screw driver fits into screw head, no the whole screw........
So having 'fessed up to Matt about it he is going to drill out the bit of the screw left sticking pout of the body and put on the black strap buttons. This whole thing reminded me why doing a build myself was always a non-starter. I'm not safe with a tool in my hand (insert grubby comment here) - I break more things trying to fix them than I get right.
So I'm going to be without guitar for a week I guess. Out comes the Strat again......
As at every stage - life with the Varicaster has not been straightforward. It took a week for DHL to get sorted and collect the guitar (18th August) and then its been with Matt and then sent to Line 6 (Variax manufacturers) to see if they could find the problem. It turned out that when Matt looked at it that the likely cause of the problem (the reversed plug) wasn't the case. Line 6 agreed to have a look at it (which is pretty bloody good when you consider that the whole reason for the Varicaster was that the Line 6 Variax body was disliked so much)
Anyway, they've looked at it and have identified that a new cable is needed between the bridge and the PCB board - so the problem was in the area I thought at least. Only problem is that their new cable is thicker than the original and the hole that Matt cut in the body to take the cable is too small. So............
Matt is going to cut a new hole and fit the new cable. The guitar should arrive back with him in Peterborough tomorrow (Monday 21st) and he will then re-bore the hole and refit. He has also promised a re-set up too as it would have been pulled around a lot over the last month or so.
The plan therefore is that by this time next week I shall have the guitar back with me. Off to buy a new amplifier tomorrow (news on that soon) so hope there's not another one of these strange 'time warps' that seems to happen everytime on delivery / pick up / manufacture / repair. If you think about it I have actually had the guitar in my hands for only just over two weeks out of the last five and a half months!
Guitar was back with Matt on Thursday (24th) and he has now fitted the new cable. He called on Saturday to confirm would be collected by DHL today to be with me tomorrow. (17:00) I just called and checked it has been collected so should be with me by this time tomorrow at the latest.........
IT'S BACK!!!!!!!! and working perfectly :-)
Lots of playing and lots of falling back in love with it. Strat is back in the corner feeling left out! All sounds are now working correctly - So a massive thank you to the guys at Line6 for brilliant support which was above and beyond duty and expectation. I will make sure any future purchases that has Line6 products as an option will go their way as a thank you. Did a new recording last night and the 12 string sounds sooooo good. (Are you getting a feeling of enthusiasm here?)
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