Adjusting a 50 year old ES and another cool Strat overhaul

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Here’s a beauty. 1961 Gibson ES-335 dot neck.  An all time classic. Makes you smile just lookin’ at it. Only problem is…

After a couple of  previous refrets and some aggressive beveling (the angle at which the fret ends taper up to the crown of the fret wire), the high E string wants to slip right off of the edge of the fingerboard.  We discussed a few options to correct the issue with its owner, Barry.  We could A) refret it again, providing more level fret material at the edge of the fingerboard, B)  fill the high ‘E’ slot in the existing nut and recut it further away from the edge, or  C) do what we ended up doing. Tthe third  option was to replace the nut and cut it for a slightly narrower spacing of 1  5/8″ instead of 1  11/16″ .  We felt this was the least intrusive and most effective way to correct it, especially since the guitar’s owner Barry loved the way the neck felt with the low profile well-played in frets.

So I borrowed Becky’s rolling pin and knocked out the old nut. This was good, not only to correct the edge spacing, but also because this old nut had  been cut and filled a few too many times.  Heck, filling and recutting once is usually too many times. Perhaps I’m becoming a purist. Or just a snob. That’s fine. It suits me because I’m wearing a brand new shirt from the clothiers at Old Navy. The stitching is superb.

Here’s a shot of the bone nut blank, trimmed and shaped but not cut. The corners are still sharp, but we do that last. Next you’ll see the curious look of a compensated Earvana nut placed over top to double check the side spacing. They’re pre-cut to a variety of spacings and make great templates to test string spacing…

The slightly tighter spacing looks good, though not from this vantage point. This picture makes me a little squeamish. It’s just a test, that is not a graphite nut on a ’61 335.  Let’s move on. Since there’s some wear in the first 5 frets, we’ll crown and polish out those dents without removing any more height from the worn frets. I like to thing of ourselves as fret artists. No one else will call us that, but I’m hoping it catches on.

Here’s the finished bone nut all polished up and ready for final setup…

And here we are . You shouldn’t notice the spacing difference, and you really couldn’t feel it. We’re not crazy. Usually you would feel the 1 11/16ths shift to 1 5/8″ spacing. But becuase of the naturally rolled edges of the well played-in neck,  you really don’t on this guitar. The high E  just stopped slipping off the fret edge. And since the new nut slots are the proper size, the open strings have more definition.

And now, more pickups…

What you see here is…

Dimarzio Area 67 neck,  Gibson Firebird middle ‘bucker, Gibson Classic ’57 plus bridge pickup.  Push/pull volume pot to activate the bridge pickup in any position, mini toggle for out-of phase tones with middle and bridge pickups (more on this in a second), G&L’s PTB system with passive treble and bass cut circuit.

Wait a minute. This sounds a lot like the last post. What gives buddy?”

Well, after further consideration, the pickups on this guitar were rearranged to suit it’s owner Mike.  We also added  a few other options.

To add versatility to the double hum combination, we installed a mini switch to reverse the phase of the middle pickup. Since it’s a traditional braided wire, you can’t just make the braid the black and the center the white. It’ll make the pickup cover hum when you touch it.  So…you take off the cover, remove the black wire from the braid, splice on a new lead and you’ve got yourself a workable 2-conductor pickup for the circuit.

This is pre-mod. Forgot the next picture. What else is new. Now picture a nice braided wire paired with a cloth black wire coming from the back of this Gibson Firebird pickup.  That’s it. And there’s just a gentle breeze and the smell of pumpkin bread. And it sounds great out of phase with the bridge pickup. Now open your eyes.

This guitar also got a Hipshot Drop D tuner, GraphTech nut, Hipshot Trem Setter, GraphTech saddles and absolutely nothing else.

So now Mike can choose between the noiseless single coil tone of the DiMarzio Area 67 for great Strat tones, the Firebird middle ‘bucker, the Classic ’57 plus or any of the 3 together, including all at once. On top of that, he can put the neck and middle or neck and bridge out of phase with each other for killer funk tones. You can just hear those 9th chords now.

Click here to hear me play that whistling part of  new Britney Spears song on a dobro in open F#Maj. At about 13:35 it really gets magical.



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