Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Screwed by Screws

So, I'm trying to get back to a project that has been on hold -- finishing up the final tweaks and repairs on three Squier Super-Sonics.

Super-Sonic number 1 is in storage, and is about as mint as possible, showing only slight finish aging that actually makes it look very pretty.

Super-Sonic number 2 also has some small bridge issues, and I've been trying to fix them. It looks like a previous owner stripped out some bridge saddle height adjustment screws and replaced them with some screws that weren't hex, and so they were a fugly mix that clearly was not original.

To fix this, I ordered a Fender set of replacement saddles. But here's where the story gets stupid and becomes all about metric and American parts. The saddles on the Super-Sonic look like traditional stamped Strat saddles, and are even stamped "FENDER." But although the saddles themselves are nearly identical to the USA parts, the screws are not. Of course, this isn't immediately obvious -- they are very close. Close enough that you can screw the USA screws into the Japanese saddles, but they are a little too loose. And if you try to screw the Japanese screws into the USA-made saddles, they won't fit, and since the metal of the saddles is so soft, you can easily ruin the threading. And the Japanese intonation screws also wouldn't fit into the USA-made saddles.

Anyway, as usual when screwing around with these Japanese parts I wasted a lot of time. The upshot is that the Super-Sonic now has Fender USA saddles, height adjustment screws, and intonation screws. It's nearly identical except that the screws are American gauges now. Does that constitute some kind of crime against authenticity that will ruin its vintage value? I don't know. I just know that it is a huge pain to try to find matching parts.

The next thing wrong with Super-Sonic number 2 is that the pots are really corroded and crackle and cut out very badly. I think they may be beyond cleaning. I have some nice new CTS 250K split-shaft pots to replace them with. But, of course, the pots on the original are smaller. The replacements won't fit through the faceplate, and the shaft won't fit the Mustang-style knobs. Ugh. What's my alternative? Cracking the pots open somehow without removing the soldered-on wiring so I can get in there with some spray contact cleaner? Get non-matching knobs and find someone who can widen the holes in the faceplate?

Super-Sonic number 2 also has some really poorly-behaving tuners. I have a set of locking vintage tuners that are supposed to be drop-in replacements for the Klusons... but I'm not optimistic that they will fit. For one thing, the holes in the headstock were drilled slightly too large, even for the tuners that are already in there. The bushings tend to fall out when you remove the strings. What's the repair that keeps the guitar as original as possible? I'm not quite sure.

The last thing wrong with Super-Sonic number 2 is that all the pickguard screws are corroded and need to be replaced. Pickguard screws ought to be as common as dirt, but I'm still looking for an exact match for the originals. They don't match the common Fender or Gibson sizes.

Super-Sonic number 3 has some more issues: the 3-way switch was cut down to a little stump by a previous owner. No 3-way switches I've been able to find will fit the very short body cavity, not even a special "short" Switchcraft switch. I think the answer is a switch from Allparts they call a Korean 3-way that looks like a match. If that fits then it's just a matter or careful soldering.

Super-Sonic number 3 also is missing its original string trees, so I'm trying to find string trees that match the Super-Sonics. They aren't quite the same screw size as any others I've been able to find, and use little white plastic spacers. If I want it to look original I have to find something that matches. Allparts has something that looks about right, but the Super-Sonic uses two different sizes of white plastic spacers. It's maddening.

I've also got a screw issue with one of my Squier Venus guitars -- it needs humbucker height adjustment screws that don't seem to match humbucker height adjustment screws from any other humbuckers I've seen. My local hardware gurus at Stadium hardware, which boasts a selection of thousands and thousands of screws, couldn't help me.

It would help if Allparts actually had measurements on all their parts, instead of blurry little photos.

This is not a hobby for the impatient!


strangerland said...

I used to fiddle with electric guitars in my youth. Hardware hacking. I wondered at some point if with a 6 channel low impedance preamplified pickup, one pickup for each string, could one apply analog to digital conversion of the output then sum the samples in a power series (truncated to a polynomial) in order to alter the wave form for a touch responsive guitar synthesizer. Then I wondered if piezo bridge pieces could be used to create feedback directly to the strings with computer controlled feedback level for some envelop control and really long sustain.

Paul R. Potts said...

strangerland, I'm not an EE, but I do have several guitars with 13-pin Roland synth outputs (which feed the guitar synth a separate output for each string). The Godin LGX is particularly interesting because it is 3-voice: electric pickups, a mixed piezo output to simulate an acoustic guitar sound, and the separate synth output. You can blend all three!

The Sustaniac (Google it) works something like that, and I've also used an EBow, but could never really get the hang of creating anything musical with it.

strangerland said...

It's been a long time since I dabbled with this stuff. The 80's. And I know the electronics have come a long way since then. I'd get back into it, but it's an expensive hobby, and I already have one of those now: computers.

Paul R. Potts said...

Some things have changed -- but it continually surprises me how most of the technology in a typical electric guitar (like one of these Squier Super-Sonics) is pretty fundamentally unchanged since the 1950s and the invention of the humbucking pickup... the humbucking coil was invented in 1934 and Seth Lover's pickup design dates back to 1955!