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So yeah, I have this habit of modifying pretty much every guitar or bass I own. I think that the only guitar I haven’t tricked out might be my Robot Guitar, and that’s simply because it has some complex electronics that I don’t want to mess up.
So anyway, my MIM (Made In Mexico) Standard Tele, which I earned with Fender sales back when I worked for a major music store in 2002 or so, has been getting the Frankenstein treatment almost since the day I received it. I started by swapping out the plain white pickguard for the cool pearloid black one you see in the photo – and I didn’t stop there.
I think now that the only parts left on the guitar that are original are:
- Bridge plate
Everything else has been upgraded.
The pickups and electronics are one of the latest upgrades; I kept the original MIM pickups for a long time, and I had previously put in a 4-way switch. This allowed for standard Neck/Neck+Bridge/Bridge switching PLUS a 4th position for Neck+Bridge with Series (rather than Parallel) wiring. From Rothstein Guitars, I provide you with a well-worded understanding of the upgrade:
Adding a 4-way switch to a Tele is one of my absolute favorite mods. Without any visual differences to the instrument you get a totally different and really really useful 4th sound, namely bridge and neck pickups in series. Normally, when 2 pickup are combined in position 2 of a Telecaster, they are wired in parallel. This is a fine and very classic Fender sound. The nice thing about the 4-way mod is that you don’t lose this sound, as the classic parallel sound still remains in position 2. However, you gain this really beefy tone with the added series connection in position 4. It provides a noticeably thicker and louder sound that is a bit darker as well. In esssence, you’ve taken the 2 single coil pickups and combined them to become a humbucker in this position. I like to kick this position in for solos.
Visit that page for wiring diagrams and further information.
So, the pickups always sounded good, but my GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) kicked in, and I got a set of No-Caster Tele pickups. (The No-Caster was an early 50’s model of the Tele, so-called because Leo Fender had to remove the original name, “Broadcaster,” from the labels due to a trademark lawsuit over the name. Hence, the guitar had no “name” on it other than Fender, and became known as the No-Caster.) My new pickups are faithful recreations of the pickups in that guitar, down to the winding, wire style and gauge, and cloth covered wiring. And they sound fabulous.
When I was upgrading my Tele Bass (for another post) I came across a company called “ToneShaper.” They create pre-wired, modular systems for replacing controls on popular guitars. Wanting to upgrade to better quality electronics, I figured I’d take the leap; they even had a setup that allowed for the 4-way switching – AND the reversed electronics I favor (putting the switch for the pickups at the bridge end of the control plate, more like a Strat, and the volume knob at the neck side of the plate.) And the guitar sounds STELLAR – between the clean, improved wiring, and the excellent pickups, it sounds like a million bucks.
So what else have I changed out? Well, the tuning machines were average, and I HATE poking my fingers with the E-string when stringing, so I got a set of Fender locking tuners. SO much easier to re-string. Also, they stay in tune better, and have better tuning action. And they dropped right in, with no modification, and you can barely see a difference. Very “OEM” upgrade.
I also put a set of Graphtech saddles on the bridge, and put a custom neck plate (with classic 80’s Fender artwork) on the guitar. I also got a pair of knobs to replace the original flat-tops – they feature a glass jeweled top in almost exactly the same color as the guitar; normally I don’t like flashy knobs, but they look totally money. Finally, a set of straplocks to keep the thing from falling to the floor…
All in all, this guitar is finished. Plays well, sounds amazing, and has custom features and plenty vibe to spare.
Digital Din Studio is finally almost completely moved into its new location; I’ve been working hard to get things set up and operational so I can get back to work (but it unfortunately has to take the backseat to prepping the old home for sale and caring for my 2-year old.)
In any case, here’s some photos of the progress!
Here’s the new desk setup. A nice thick tabletop from Ikea, mated to a pair of 12-space racks on casters, makes for a much wider, more accommodating desk than I previously had. It also puts the vocal channel strips (Focusrite, dbx, Alto) and other mic processing a lot closer and more easily accessible. In the right rack case, I have my computer and the battery backup power supply for it, as well as the central power station, which houses a surge protector and separate outlets for all of the sub-racks. This allows me to power up without doing the “power switch dance” from rack to rack.
Also note my relatively new Adam monitors (they ROCK) and my homemade “grok box” cube monitors (based loosely on the Avantone MixCube monitors). All controlled by the Mackie Big Knob, right under the dual 19’s. And my computer keyboard wears the cool shortcut key stickers for SONAR that I recently got.
Just to the left of the desk is my main mixing board, the Mackie Onyx. It also acts as my interface, using Firewire to send the audio to my computer.
This is my newly reconfigured “Drums submix” rack. My Ashly stereo mic mixer is at the top, for submixing the tom drums into a stereo mix; underneath is a set of Urei gates, and compressors from Symetrix, Aphex and RNC.
To the right of the mixing desk is my keyboard/MIDI setup; they have covers on them in the photo, but underneath is the Alesis QS8.2 (88 keys, weighted hammer action) and Korg MS2000 (Analog Modeling Synth). On the left is an Access Virus (on loan from Din Within co-conspirator Josh). There’s a line mixer underneath so I can send everything to the main mixer on a single pair of stereo cables for convenience.
That’s a lot of strings. 4 basses, 1 guitar – 36 strings. The one in the front is my modified Galveston 12-string bass. Then comes my custom 6-string fretless by bass-builder (and friend) Karl Hoyt, and its younger fretted sister (which I affectionately call the “Monkey Bass” due to its inlay at the 12th fret). Then, the old workhorse – the 6-string PBC 356GTB bass which did all the heavy lifting during the Second Story gigging years. Finally, my nifty Gibson Les Paul Robot Guitar, which sounds great and saves me a lot of time by tuning itself. 🙂
And the drum set is totally set up; it’s an old (80’s vintage) Pearl Export Kit which I acquired from a longtime friend. I added the 8″ and 10″ rack toms (it was originally a 5-piece) and put new top and bottom heads on the entire kit. The stock snare is off to the side, the current fave is the Peavey Radial Pro. Most of the cymbals are Sabian, and the whole kit is racked up on a Gibraltar 3-sided rack (two curved bars, one straight one across the front.) A set of DW Double Bass Drum Pedals provides the kick. This is not a “high dollar” kit, but it sounds like a million bucks – the time I spent carefully cleaning, seating heads, and tuning the drums to their “home pitches” was absolutely worth the effort.
Finally – here’s the guitar/amp corner; the door to the left opens to a small storage area that I plan to treat with foam and use as an “iso-box” for guitar amp recording. My modified Fender tube amp, Line6 mini Franken-combo, and Vox mini combo are all ready to mic up, and out of frame is my Ampeg VH140C combo and Josh’s Line6 2×12. I also have a Line6 Pod 2.0 and M-Audio Black Box with foot pedal, which are both easily accessible from behind the main desk.
More to come as I make progress cleaning the place up!
So… yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. A lot has changed in my life, as well. The big one is that my daughter was born, which – cliches be damned – changed everything. And now, my family is still experiencing the upheaval of a move to (what should be) our final homestead. The new digs are only about 5 miles from our old house, and the new home has everything we have ever wanted, and more, including…
…an awesome place for my home studio.
Yes, Digital Din has moved once again; this new home marks the sixth place that my studio has resided, in one form or another. From its humble beginnings in the small front bedroom of my townhouse, through a divorce, many moves, a very brief stop in a duplex on a lake, and the most recent basement location, it’s been a pretty wild ride. My studio has primarily been for my own projects, but I’ve also recorded songs for a singer-songwriter, a young band, a comedian/singer, a small choral group, and a couple of other small-scale projects.
The new place is, thankfully, not subterranean – it’s over the oversized garage, and even features a kitchenette, a full bathroom, its own climate control system, and a separate entrance. I’m mostly moved in, but it still looks like a tornado hit.
The hope is, now that the studio will be instantly accessible, not dreary, and able to be used most anytime I need to, that my musical output will increase substantially. My main musical goals are for three separate projects:
- Complete writing and recording the new Din Within album
- Complete the re-mixing, mastering, etc. of the never-released Second Story album
- A special vanity “cover” project that I’m not yet releasing details on
Our 20th Anniversary Concert, mentioned in an earlier blog post, went down on June 11 – 20 years, almost to the day (June 6) after our very first public performance as a band, at Bonnie’s Roxx in Atco NJ (long since closed down, razed to a parking lot, and remembered as a much better venue than it actually was.) The concert was held at the Auction House Arts and Music Center in Audubon, New Jersey – an excellent venue run by some very cool folks!
We played just about every song we ever wrote together, including a few that had only been played live one or two times, so they were “new” to even some of our most dedicated fans. Among the relatively unheard songs were Father and Buried in the Bottle. We also brought along a sampler, which allowed us to play old audio clips from the archives, including introductions from our friends Mark and Cheryl (lifted from when they played our song on their college radio station), and clips from call-ins to when we were on the radio at GSC (Rowan) – several people who were in the audience for the concert were surprised to hear their voice from almost 20 years ago!
We also used the sampler for our new intro clips for our song Liquid Faith, featuring some of the many insane statements of Glenn Beck (his lunacy replaced that of Robert Tilton, whom we had samples of back in 1993-94, carefully timed on an audio-cassette to sync up to our live performance). Finally, we had a couple random “Easter Eggs,” like the original “I did that on purpose!” ending for Break Down the Wall – a humorous outtake that appeared on our original 5-song “Seeds of Time” cassette — but was omitted on “Timeline.”
Another fun moment – one of our last songs featured a surprise cameo by our friend Kevin, who performed the whispered “Goodbye” on the studio version of The Hunt – we got him to reprise if for the concert (though he didn’t know it was coming.)
A playlist of our entire 2 hour concert is posted at YouTube across several separate videos, linked together for ease of watching uninterrupted. Enjoy!
(We sure did!)
When I was 16 years old, my parents got together and purchased an electric bass for me as my combined Christmas/Birthday present (my birthday is two weeks before Christmas). It was a big deal; we weren’t “made of money” by any stretch, so it meant a lot to me – and changed my life, musically. My dad is also a bassist, so he was able to “vet” the purchase with knowledge of getting a “good” bass for the money. It was an Epiphone (by Gibson) Rock Bass, a four-banger with J-bass pickups and a slim neck. While a relatively humble instrument, Dad picked out a really good one with excellent resonance, clean electronics, and he set it up to play well. I played that bass for many years, onstage and in rehearsal, with several different bands. Some songs I wrote during the period only felt “right” on that bass. I later upgraded it with a set of EMG pickups and it sounded amazing.
When I felt like making the jump to a five string, I found a fiver made by an (at the time) unknown brand called “Samick” at a local music store for $350. It was nifty, with a modern body style, J/P config active pickups, a pearlescent white paint job, and cool Saturn inlays on the fretboard. Again, played the hell out of that bass, and also upgraded to EMGs, this time with 18v electronics and their BTC circuit. Sounded, played killer.
In times of low income, or desire for new gear, regretfully I sold these “firsties” to other folks. They both went to good homes – the four-string went to a co-worker who wanted to learn to play bass, and the five-string to an online bass forum friend, who bought it as a backup bass (but later admitted that it took first-call duties over his formerly “main” axe because it played and sounded so good.)
Now that I’m older and have a bit more spendable cash, I really wish I had both of those basses back. I almost have contact with the old co-worker (I’m friends with his friend and have emailed his spouse on Facebook, but not gotten directly in touch with him) and I’ve tried to locate the email address of the guy who bought the Samick (but lost the original email trail in a computer crash several years ago).
Recently, the band where both basses got lots of play re-formed for an anniversary concert (see my last blog entry for details). The show was a great time for both us and the audience; I’ll post links to the YouTube clips soon. I really would have loved to have both of those basses for the show, but I had neither. So I recreated them; I got a black Epiphone just like my old one (but not quite as good) and found a Samick that was pretty close; I played the Samick for the show. It had the feel and sound of the old white one, but I still wish I had the old one back.
I went through all that to say this: gear has to be sold to make way for new gear. But if at all possible, try to hang on to your substantial “firsts,” even if they’re cheap Epiphones, Samicks, or otherwise inexpensively obtained instruments. I can say from experience that you’ll probably regret it.
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