A Few Projects Are Coming Together

I’ve been extremely busy with a few projects at work so I haven’t had the time to fully complete some of my guitar projects. I finally have all of the parts arriving this week though, and should be able to assemble them soon! Here’s a mock-up of what they are going to look like - probably. I may change the necks around but this looks the best to me so far:

Special thanks to my friend Jaime who was able to supply a neck, floyd, and a fancy PJ Marx pickup for these.

Tale of Two Maple Fretboard Kramers

I’ve always been a maple fretboard kind of guy. If you know the Kramer collecting market, you know how hard they are to come by, at least in the “pointy” era (1986-1990). In years of collecting these, I have never been able to get my hands on one - the neck I lusted after the most, even more than the coveted “claw” neck; a maple fretboard pointy with the Kramer inlay on the 12th fret. Thanks to a wild stroke of luck, I now have two of them in the span of a week.

The Pacer Custom I

If you have read any of my previous entries, you might remember a project I started to a build - a white Sustainer body that I was able to find a maple neck with dots for on craigslist. The owner of that neck and I talked at length about our projects and guitars, so I knew he had a late Pacer Custom I with a maple fretboard. I’d been thinking about asking about it for several months, but never followed through. While on my way to the UPS center to pick up another guitar, I received a text message out of nowhere:

“I was wondering if you’d be interested in my transparent blue pacer custom?”

As you can imagine, I freaked out. I’d be thinking about that guitar for so long, and I even had a picture of it saved to my phone so I wouldn’t forget who had it. Of course I went for it, so not long after it arrived on my doorstep, original case and pickups included.

Not quite transparent blue - it’s more of a teal color. Even better!

An amazing neck, finally found after years of hunting.

An amazing neck, finally found after years of hunting.

I have another Pacer Custom from this era (only a few hundred away by SN#) with the stock JB/SSL-1/SSL-1 combination, and with the thin body and single volume control, I found it to be painfully bright, even after converting the JB to an Alnico II magnet. I eventually settled on a PATB-1 for that guitar which helped fill it out nicely while retaining bite - so I wanted something completely different for this guitar. I installed a Dimarzio Breed, recently discontinued, which I found at a musicgoround for $30. I’ve had this pickup for a while but never installed it - and after hearing it in this guitar I’ve already bought another. It is dark, smooth, and thick - even played through my aggressive sounding Mesa Mark IV. I can see why someone wouldn’t want this as their only pickup, but for a change of pace it is excellent. It really makes lead lines sound amazing, and with the treble adjusted on the amp itself, it cuts through nicely. I’m looking forward to installing some single coils, but for now those slots are empty. I’m thinking about the Dimarzio SDS-1’s, a true single with a darker character and more output, which sounds like it will pair nicely with the Breed.

The Sustainer

This one was a harder call. Another member of kramerforumz.com posted about this guitar, listed at a Guitar Center in Chicago, along with a few shoddy pictures. I couldn’t really tell what the color of the body was, didn’t know if it had a case, and had no way of knowing if the Sustainer circuitry actually worked. However, I saw the maple fretboard and 12th inlay in a blurry image of the front and figured I would take the risk - worst case scenario I could return it to my local Guitar Center within 45 days (thank goodness for this policy, GC used gear is roughly a 50/50 crapshoot).

Apparently these are quite fragile in working condition, so I will have to take very good care of it.

I’m happy to say that it was well worth the risk. The body and neck are both in impeccable shape, the Sustainer unit works wonderfully, and tonally it sounds nice and thick even with the stock JBJ installed (which I don’t plan on replacing after having a look at that electronics cavity). I did snip the capacitor off of the volume pot, I’m not sure what value but it made the tone extremely thin when rolling back the volume. I was also glad to see it was flip flop red when it arrived, it appeared as more of a flat red in the pictures and that would not have been as cool.

The first thing I noticed after my initial setup was just how much better this Sustain unit functions as compared to my ‘88 Hamer Chaparral sustainiac. It really hangs on to fundamental notes with more strength, and the harmonic functions are easier to control and less “screechy.” It also has an additional control that my Hamer does not that is really unique: a knob to control the intensity and strength of the Sustain unit. This really adds some cool dynamics to the sound, aside from the usual master volume and tone knobs. With this knob at minimum, notes are still sustained indefinitely but they vibrate very softly - nice for letting a note trail off naturally but not disappear completely. When at full power, the entire body of the guitar vibrates with force and the strings generate voltage as if they are being picked hard and constantly. For example, with the amp set to crunch, I can softly pick a note for a slight breakup then roll up the sustain knob and it will smoothly go into a thick overdrive, taking advantage of the dynamics of that channel on the amp. Of course the real fun is turning all of the knobs to full and using it on an improvised solo at the end of a song, and flipping the harmonic mode switch at the same time to make some really unique sounds with a seamless transition between all of them.

A great color combination.

Another pleasant surprise is the Schaller made Sustain Unit when used as a neck humbucker. Again compared to my Hamer Chaparral, that guitar has a single coil stuffed right underneath the sustain driver unit, which does not work as a pickup on its own. However this guitar’s sustain unit is a fully functional humbucker, which sounds pretty great to boot. It’s a bit higher output and darker sounding than something like a Jazz or ‘59, maybe more similar to the SH-7 Seymourizer II or something with more output than the usual PAF spec neck humbuckers.

The real reason I went for this guitar was the neck though, and it does not disappoint. It has the thickest slab of maple for the board I’ve seen, and it is noticeably thicker than even the other neck with the same inlays from the Pacer Custom above. It has a comfortable profile, almost no fret wear, and the bound headstock is a nice touch. This may be “new guitar brain” talking, but this is my favorite neck on any guitar I own right now.

Now to fix that chrome volume knob…

Double NGD: Charvel Model 5 and G&L Invader Plus

Well, I’ve done it again. While cruising the web, I found two guitars I just couldn’t pass up for their relative prices, so after some light talks with the sellers, both arrived at my home this Thursday.

First up, the Charvel Model 5. I originally purchased this mainly as a flipping opportunity, due to it’s great condition coupled with an irresistible price. Additionally, I’ve always wanted a neck-through guitar and a Charvel model 5, 550, 6, or 650 is right at the top of that list - with the added benefit of trying out some pickups I’ve never had before, the Jackson J80C. I did hope that the bridge pickup was a J90C or J95, but I wasn’t quite that lucky, both neck and bridge pickups are J80C’s.

The guitar interestingly has a 5-way switch despite having two pickups, and I just learned about this feature. It’s the Jackson JE-0005 “super switch.” Essentially, a standard 5-way switch has a few terminals and the way it switches sounds is by combining the outputs from each pickup in different ways, while this “super switch” has individual terminals for each possible switch position, so in theory you could wire it a multitude of ways impossible on a standard switch. There is a helpful write-up here on the JCF forum: https://www.jcfonline.com/threads/90074-Jackon-Special-5-Way-wiring-tutorial.

This guitar is stock, so the switch goes from neck (series humbucking), neck single coil, both pickups series (all four coils), bridge single coil, and bridge (series humbucking). It takes a little while to get used to it, but I think I prefer this arrangement more than the usual selector + coil tap mini switch. It’s certainly much quicker to use and requires a bit less fiddling when making quick transitions between humbucking and single coil sounds. This switch was also available on the Model 3A and 3DR of the same era, as well as the Predator later on.

It also comes equipped with a JE-1200 mid-boost circuit, which offers up to +6db of boost at around 650hz. On my Model 4’s and 475 Deluxe, I considered this boost an “always on” item that was required to avoid overly bright/shrill tones with the J50BC pickup. However, the J80C’s on this guitar have much thicker mids, and the boost is not as obvious - and certainly not required. That’s great, because I can leave it rolled off for rhythm or clean tones, then roll it up - though a clean amp I get a nice volume and edge-of-breakup sound, fantastic for soloing, and through a distorted amp I get just a little bit more saturation and push. This is a big advantage for me, as with the Model 4’s I’ve always felt like the mid boost feature was kind of worthless because it didn’t give me any extra options - it had to be on all the time. Next I need to get my hands on a J90 or J95 humbucker to try out, since those should have a little bit more output and thicker mids based on the specifications.

More details here: https://www.bretmcgonigle.com/guitars#/1986-charvel-model-5/

The G&L Invader Plus was a lucky acquisition, as I don’t usually look for guitars made past about 1990. I didn’t know much about this model, so I did a lot of digging and research on features, specifications, and values prior to purchasing. Everything came back looking like exactly my type of guitar, so I went for it. The quality of wood on this guitar is truly impeccable, and with quality hardware it’s truly an elite instrument. The figuring of the top is really nice, and a bit more interesting than some of the more common quilt or flame tops that look to me a bit too perfect. The grain gives a sensation of depth even though this top is not that thick, and the natural binding around the edges gives a nice separation between the cap and the mahogany body. The neck is really where it ramps up though, with some strong flame figuring on the player’s side of the neck that' is really nice to look at. The fretboard and neck is constructed entirely from a single piece, so the fretboard also possesses much of the same figuring. The flame is accompanied by a strong birds-eye figuring as well, so the neck really has a lot to appreciate.

I was hoping for a different bridge pickup (this has a Duncan JB, of which I have 7 or 8 at this point), but it sounds very thick and warm in this guitar so it’s hard to deny it’s a great sounding guitar. The JB can be a bit touchy depending on the guitar - for example, my ‘89 Pacer Custom I had a JB originally and it was so frustrating to have such a nice guitar sound so thin and harsh on almost all of my amps. The ‘59 is a neck pickup I’ve never had the chance to own before, so it’s nice to be able to play one of the bread and butter pickups so commonly discussed among guitar players. It has a great sparkle through a clean amp that none of my other guitars can quite match.

That said, the neck on this one is quite thick in comparison to my other guitars and I’m a bit surprised myself that I’m reaching for the Charvel above more than this instrument. Part of that is the G&L is in impeccable shape, with not even a visible scratch on it - it arrived with the original case, hang tags, certificate of authenticity, and even the plastic film still present over the plastic cavity covers. I’m almost afraid to play it for fear of marring its perfect form. Still, it has one of the most toneful clean sounds I’ve ever heard from an electric and I expect to be using it for those styles - perhaps this would be a good guitar to try some lower output pickups in (perhaps a Pearly Gates, or ‘59 Bridge?).

More details here: https://www.bretmcgonigle.com/guitars#/2002-gl-invader-plus/