I was the type of little boy who took things apart to see what made them work – these days I take things apart to see if I can make them work! For those who are a little rusty on their Shakespeare, the workmen who are putting on the play in “A midsummer night’s dream” are described as rude mechanicals. I like to apply the term to myself to reflect my enthusiastic but perhaps a little unskilled approach to things like graphic design, luthiery and electronics. Given my age (32), family commitments (a nutty daughter aged 1 year) and the general lack of available apprenticeships for such specialised subjects, the only way to learn how to do these things is to just bite the bullet and do it.

I’ve been a bass player for twelve years, and figured out pretty early on that paying to get instruments set up is a loser’s game. Fortunately, I started learning at university (Bachelor of Science with a Geology major = original School of Rock) with a T3 internet connection, so I had a world of advice readily available. Armed with the “Gear issue” of Bass Player magazine, I did my first ever truss rod adjustment, set my intonation and adjusted the pickup heights. Nothing broke, and I never looked back.

My first major work was to reset some loose frets on my old Korean Stewart Spector Design NS-4, and give it a fret dress & level. This was achieved with nothing more than a good quality builders level (to use as a straight edge), some double sided tape, super glue, lots of sandpaper and a sharpie pen. The bass passed muster for sale two weeks later, and I bought myself a Fender Jazz bass to use in one of my musical projects at the time.

That Fender bass became my first modification project, and has since had a complete shielding job done, new SD Basslines Hot Stacks put in, a No-load tone pot installed & the stock bridge swapped for a Gotoh 201B. Further work will include replacing the 250K volume pots with some Gotoh push-pull 500k pots, but that’s something I’ll detail later as it happens.

Looks stock except for the reversed control plate...A more recent project was the complete gutting & re-wiring of a Squier Affinity Butterscotch Blonde (hereafter known as BSB) Telecaster. It received a full shielding job, a 250K CTS volume pot, a Gotoh 5-way Strat switch and a modified Fender TBX tone pot (treble cut one way, bass cut the other). The 5 way switch allows for a series mode (high output, humbucking) and a fixed treble cut neck position mode in addition to the normal 3 modes. There’s so much tonal versatility in the guitar now, from plinky bridge tone to monster rythm to a fixed wah sound – I love it!

The most important thing about the BSB Tele project was that it was the first time I had to truly understand why the schematics worked the way they did – the Japanese 5-way switch is reversed on one side, making simply copying a wiring diagram impossible. I made the necessary changes, and the guitar worked perfectly the first time I plugged it in.

A few days later, I obtained an Ibanez PM-7 Phase Modulator pedal via eBay; cheap as only two modes were working. A switch had been stepped on, breaking contacts on the PCB that with much patience and a little bit of jumper wire I was able to fix. It was starting to sink in that maybe, just maybe, I was gaining a little competency in this field.

So, what’s next? Let’s make a list – that’s something my wife would approve of:

  • Replace the dodgy switch on my 1977 EHX Big Muff pi with a true bypass switch.
  • Break out the internal trimpots on my reissue EHX Bass Balls to the outside of the case.
  • De-fret my Ibanez maple fretboard ATK300, install position markers & coat the fingerboard.
  • Build a DIY sustainer driver & circuit; install into my old Japanese Les Paul copy.
  • Find a cheap Strat to butcher!
  • Refit the BSB Tele bridge with compensated brass saddles.
  • Build an fx looper with hi-pass circuit; re-house my Ibanez FC-10 Fat Cat Distortion & build a parametric mid circuit; all to be mounted in a one rack unit case & switched remotely.
  • Build a Telecaster Thinline out of offcuts from my Ikea kitchen bench tops.

That’s not in order, but those last ones will be tricky, so I’ll put them off as long as possible. My aim is to document these (and other) modifications with pictures, so as to provide a reference for other beginners.