Monday, May 27, 2013

Alvarez T-style transformation

Here is my current project.

This is an Alvarez Telecaster style electric guitar. I am going to transform it into a Custom "Fender" Telecaster. It won't be an "real" Telecaster, but I don't think anybody would know the difference unless they looked closely.

So, let's begin shall we? First off, let's have a good look at this as it is. I've had this guitar for about twelve years now, and have played it quite a bit. I like it well enough, but I've always wanted to do some kind of customization to it.

Modern style bridge with vintage style bridge saddles & strings through the bridge. I'm going to change that to a string through body design which will give me more sustain and tone, as the strings will impart more vibrations into the wood of the body.

 This would look really good if all I did was to replace the pickguard with a white pearl, or tortise shell:

Here is the detail of the bridge:

Control plate & neck pickup:

Here is the new neck that will be going on the guitar laid over the old one:

Now for the deconstruction:

At this point, I almost decided to just wet-sand the clearcoat, and air-brush some flames on the body. That would have looked cool, but it would have also looked like a hundred other teles out there.

Next up: sanding!!

First round of sanding done. I'm going to have to do the inner curves around the neck joint by hand, that's going to be a chore! Actually the black on this body is paper thin, HOWEVER, the clear coat is so thick, it almost looks like they dipped the body into the finish. It's REALLY thick!

Some of the sealer still visible on the edges.

Second round of sanding is now done. I'm waiting to get a "flapper" wheel to sand out the inside curves on either side of the neck pocket, but otherwise, I have finally gotten all of the clearcoat, paint, and original wax-like sealer off of the wood. I had to go down to a 60 grit sand paper to get all of the sealer off because that stuff was so thick, and hard like a wax that it was almost impossible to get off with a finer grit paper. Except for where I need the flapper, I've also gone over the body with 180 grit. Once I get the flapper wheel, and get the inside curves done, I'm planning on using 220 grit, then 400 grit, and then finish off the sanding with 1000 grit. THEN, it will be ready for the refinishing to begin!  :)

I think now you can see more of the grain in the wood.

Now it's time to drill the body for the string-through-body change.

The original design of this guitar, as it came from the factory, was a string-through-bridge design where the strings were fed through the end of the bridge, went over the saddles, and down to the nut and tuners.

It looks like this:

I am going to change this to the string-through-body style, where the strings are fed up through the body, go over the saddles, then down to the nut and tuners.

Looks like this (NOTE: image is courtesy of

The ball end of the strings reside in metal ferrules inserted into the back of the guitar so as to keep them from working their way through the wood. Like so:

The end result of a string-through-body design is that there is more tension and downward pressure of the string on the saddle, which results in more sustain, and more of the tone from the wood going into the pickups because of more of the string's vibrations being transferred into the body.

First up was to bolt the bridge plate back in place to serve as a drill guide, since I don't have a custom jig, or anything like that:

Checking the size of the holes in the bridge plate, determined that  1/8th inch drill bit was the perfect size to drill the string holes.

Checking to make sure the drill bit was long enough to go all the way through the body.

Took my time, and made sure I was drilling a vertical hole:

My drill has a nice bubble level in the end, so you can be sure you are drilling vertically. I checked the table I was using to drill on to make sure that it was level in two directions before I started, So that when I lined up my bubble, I was truly vertical.

Six holes complete, but it looks like I was off just a bit on one of them. Not enough to make a difference.

 Now it's time to make the larger holes in the back for the ferrules:

The package that the ferrules came in, had no markings as far as size, so I tested a couple drill bits to get the right size. It's important not to go larger than the shaft of the ferrule or they will fall out whenever you change strings I used a 5/16ths bit as it was the diameter of the ferrule shaft.

Measuring and marking for depth:

I went with a depth that was just slightly more than the length of the ferrule shaft (equal to the thickness of the collar at the top of the ferrule), to allow for any manufacturing variations of the ferrules.

Here we go!

Making sure I'm still drilling vertical again!

I made starter holes first since I had no guide other than the string-through holes.

Slow and easy on the drill, I'm only going about 5/8ths of an inch deep.

First one's done! Now for the rest.

Checking the fit. Perfect. Fits snug, not too tight, or loose.

Clean up the edges of the holes a bit with some sandpaper.

Done! Now my guitar body is a "String-through-body" guitar!

Now that the string-through holes are done, I decided to fill in the holes for the pickguard and control plate as they were not in the proper positions, and it looks like the pickguard might have been replaced. I could have just filled them with putty, and been done with it, but I decided to put wood back in them. To do this, I chose to glue wood toothpicks in the holes, then sand them flush.

A look at the pick guard holes:

The neck side of the control plate was originally drilled really close to the edge of the rout, almost missing the wood entirely:

A little dab of wood glue, and in they go:


Give them a little twist while pressing down, and they are set:

All done, now to clip off the excess after the glue sets:

I let it sit overnight, then I used my small diagonal cutters to cut them off as close to the body as possible:

I'm left with some small bumps of glue and toothpick, but I'll get these flush with my sander before I begin final sanding on the body:

Okay! Next up, sanding the "bumps" flush, and final sanding.

Used my palm sander and 60grit to get the "bumps" flattened out:

Then started hand sanding, 150 grit, then 220 grit, then 400 grit, 800 grit, then finished it off with the paper pictured below:     :)

Okay, sanding is finished!!! Looks great, and is as smooth as a baby's bottom!

Ready for wood finish. I'm using Minwax #209 natural tint stain/sealer because I want to have a natural/blonde finish on this when it's done.

Once the stain is dried, I'm going to have nitrocellulose lacquer sprayed for that nice vintage finish and deep shine! Stay tuned for more

Two coats of stain applied! Now to dry thoroughly, then, it's off to be lacquered.

Now while I'm waiting on necessary things for the body, time to do some more work on the neck. The neck that I am using actually started out it's musical life on a Harmony Strat style guitar something like this one:

The headstock profile looked like this:
But since I am building a "Telecaster", I had to change the profile. Luckily, the Harmony headstock was big enough, that I had enough extra wood to allow me to fit a tele profile template on top of the existing profile and cut it out to the shape I wanted. I used a scroll saw to cut out the basic profile and then sanded, and sanded until I got the shape correct. What I ended up with looks like this:

(Note: I actually did this work on the neck and headstock profile prior to starting on the body, and I didn't think to take pictures until after.)

So, my neck looks like this:

I've already sanded the clear finish off of it, and smoothed it out. I am planning on reshaping the back of the headstock to match the Tele's angle where the neck meets the head, and I'm going to smooth out the shoulder where it bolts to the body even more than I already have:

Once this is all done, then I'll do some final sanding on it to get it as smooth as I did the body, then apply the same clear stain/sealer that I used on the body to at least the headstock (don't know if I want to put it on the rest of the neck yet), then I'll get it lacquered when I get the body done.

My plan however, is to leave the back of the neck unfinished entirely, and apply Tung oil to it when everything else is done.

Completed final sanding of the neck and applied the stain. The natural stain I am using gave the neck a real nice "yellowed" look. It didn't darken as much as the body did which is what I didn't want anyway. It came out really well. All that is left to do with this is give the stain a couple of days to cure, then just give it a little smoothing with 1200grit, then it's ready for lacquer:

I smoothed the heel and back of the headstock to give a smoother transition from the back of the neck in these ares which will enhance the playability of this neck:

Here's a couple of mock-up pictures so we can see how far we've come with this project:

Can't wait to get that gloss on there!

Okay, it's been about three and a half months, but my job has kept me from working on this. I picked up the body a few days ago and was looking it over and noticed some glaring scratches in the finish, nicks in the wood, and some of the original sealer residue that I had missed earlier. Had to take it back to sanding to get it all out, but it's done:

Now, have to reapply some clear stain, and finish-sand once again. Soon, I hope to be able to get this thing lacquered!

Stay tuned!!

Okay, all the prep work is finally finished! (Yea!!!) Re-stained clear satin, and finish sanded, and finish sanded again! But it looks great!

Now to apply the lacquer!

The lacquer has been applied!!!!

This is the end result of between 20 - 30 coats of clear gloss acrylic lacquer (automotive lacquer). I am currently letting it "cure" for a while to get it good and hard. Although with lacquer, it is generally cured after 4 - 8 hours and you can begin sanding, I'm not going to rush this. I'm going to be fine sanding to see where I'm at with this and see if I need more lacquer on it anywhere. For those of you who have never sprayed lacquer, it is quite a bit different than enamel in the way it builds up on the surface. Lacquer builds up evenly across the entire surface, so that your lows and highs are translated directly to the top. This means that if you are spraying on wood, and you have a crack in the surface, the depression of that crack will be noticeable along the plane of the finished surface. This requires more coats of lacquer to be applied so as to negate the effect on the final sanded surface. If you are applying a decal (such as a headstock decal) to the bare wood, you need to build up enough lacquer to the surface so that when you begin fine sanding, you don't sand away all of the lacquer on top of the decal. Here is an illustrated image of this:

So next up is fine sanding and polishing! Stay tuned for more.