Monday, 8 April 2013

Jackson-Style Flying V - My First Guitar Kit

I finally completed my first guitar kit build this week. I'm no woodworker or luthier. Hell, I'm not even that good with a hand-drill, but this was a great experience (and relatively simple to complete) and I encourage anyone who is contemplating putting a kit together to give it a go. Guitar kits start cheap (in Australia you can source them from Pitbull Guitars or DIYGuitars) and everything you need except for sandpaper, paint, and lacquer is supplied.

The Kit

The kit was a solid basswood kit sold on eBay and shipped in two pieces with a bolt-on neck from Guitar Kit Emporium Australia. As the kit was a present from my brother, I can't tell you what it cost. However, I've seen identical kits with basswood bodies at Pitbull Guitars and DIYGuitars, so check those guys out to get an idea.


The style of guitar is a Jackson Flying V -  not the larger Gibson V - but smaller and elegant in its own way. The electronics did not come pre-soldered, but the holes for bridge and stop bar were pre-drilled as were the holes for the bolt-on neck. The kit was routed for humbuckers and came with volume and tone pots, and a 3-way switch. The headstock came un-shaped, and some effort with a jig-saw was required to get some kind of reasonable look to the thing. I didn't waste too much energy trying to think of something cool, but here's how it turned out.


With my limited woodworking skills this could have been a disaster (and almost was), but I ended up with an OK (but not very metal!) looking shape in the end.

Sanding, Filling and Inlay

The body was sanded from 260 through 360 and 400 to 600 grit. The pores were then filled with a Timbermate slurry, rubbed in with a cotton cloth and then squeegeed off. After allowing the filler to dry completely, I lightly sanded with 600 grit paper until only the pores were filled. After filling, I drilled and set inlay for the headstock and body of the guitar using a jig and router bits purchased from Blues Creek Guitars. The inlay jig works very nicely indeed and, if handled by a professional (ahem), would have allowed for effortless inlay insertion.


As it was, I did a very average job and there were quite sizable gaps between the inlay and the surrounding wood. Not to worry - these gaps were filled with 30 minute epoxy coloured with a little black Colortone dye from Stewmac. I ended up adding Maltese Cross inlays to the headstock and the body. Setting these inlays was the start of my masking woes. The moral: Never go too hard too soon! I should have been satisfied with the simple kit and saved more complicated finishing techniques for my next projects.

Painting

After my final sanding with 600 grit, it was time to get the colour on. I went with a simple black metallic paint and gunmetal grey stripes running down the centre. This was 'Power Plus' touch up paint purchased from my local Supercheap Auto store. Simple yet effective. I still like the look every time I glance at the finished guitar. The simplest finishing (if not the most original) ideas are often the best!



The problem, of course, was what to do about the inlays now that they were epoxied in. In the end I bought a frisket sheet, stuck it down over each inlay and cut around them to mask them off. Not as easy as it sounds as the process of cutting the frisket with an Exacto blade invariably left slight marks along the edge of the inlay in the epoxy. Another lesson learned. Also, I put too many layers of paint on in the beginning (4 all up when you include primer and colour) and this made removing the frisket all but impossible without damaging/ripping/gouging the paint in one way or another. Suffice to say it took me several attempts at masking and painting before I got a satisfactory paint edge around, but not covering, each inlay. Never again!


Sealer and Lacquer

With the whole inlay + painting ordeal, at least I was through the most stressful part of the finishing process right? Wrong. Now the application of the clear coats started in earnest and unfortunately that too would prove to be a real challenge. I decided to use Nitrocellulose lacquer in rattle cans from Behlen. It's great stuff - easy to apply and providing an even finish with little fuss. I also used the Behlen vinyl sealer that is recommended for use with this lacquer. I sprayed one whole can of the sealer onto the body and neck and then assumed (quite stupidly) that this would be enough to support some wet sanding to flatten the surface prior to adding lacquer. I was wrong (!) and proceeded to sand-through within 10 minutes of starting to wet sand with 800 grit.

It was back to the paint cans for the third time to repair the damage and start clear coating again. The moral of this part of the story is that you will need 3 times as much sealer and nitro lacquer as you think you need (if you are a first timer that is) so once you think you've finished - keep spraying!

In the end I got 1 can of sealer and 2 cans of nitrocellulose lacquer on the guitar before I was kind of satisfied with the look. I could have probably used 4 cans of lacquer, but 2 was all I had. The finish I ended up with is a little too thin I think and may not stand up to day-to-day usage. Given my experiences with sanding though I didn't event try to polish the lacquer and the end result is a kind of semi-gloss. It still looks pretty darn good however with the metallic black colour underneath.

Pickups

The kit came with two generic, white, uncovered humbuckers in plastic mounting rings. After all the effort I had gone to to get the guitar finished to this stage, I wanted something a little better (but not too expensive) to power it. I had heard great things about Alan Entwistle's pickups and decided to give a set of the Entwistle Dark Stars a go. I chose these as the guitar has a metal vibe (it's a V right?) and I thought they would be in keeping with the look of the thing.


Anyway, I found a pair of zebra Dark Stars on eBay in a cream ring mount. I liked the contrast they would bring to the simple black and grey guitar top. Black pickups and rings would have been ok too, but to my eye the cream looks even better. Long story short, the Entwistle pickups sound awesome. As good as any other pickup in my collection, especially for that heavy rock lead and rhythm sound. Amazing for the price, and I recommend Alan's product to anyone in the market for a great sound.

Wiring and Hardware

With the pickups chosen and in my hot little hands, it was time to wire this bad boy up and fit all the remaining chrome hardware. With the Entwistle pickups providing  wires for coil splitting, I decided to add a micro-switch to the setup to tap the single coils of each humbucker when desired. The 3-way switch remains to select between each or both of the pickups, whether in humbucking or tapped single coil mode. The bridge earthing wire gave me some trouble as the wire was cut as I hammered in the post, but i managed to get the wire attached in the end. The setup is generating the faintest hum, but I think maybe that is because i haven't insulated the pickup or control cavity. It's something to think about in the future when I have a spare second.





Anyway, that's the build. I'm very happy with how the guitar has turned out. It looks great, plays great (even without a decent setup), and most importantly of all - with the Entwistle pickups it sounds great. I couldn't be happier with it, and I haven't put it down since i tightened up that last screw.