Re-wiring my ES-137 (Non-Warmoth content)

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Say, have you ever wanted to witness the spectacle of a guy fumbling his way through his first time re-wirinig a semi-hollowbody guitar? Sure, we all have. Come on along!

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This has been a long time coming, by which I mean I've been putting it off for a long time on account of "dread". The problem was an intermittent loss of top end on the neck pickup which could be remedied by a quick flick of the tone pot. Over time it got worse until it reached a point where the neck pickup was always muddy and occasionally cut out completely. I stopped playing it for a while. A long while. Then I saw a video of Greg Koch demoing an ES-335 with Lollartron pickups for Wildwood Guitars.

[youtube]t9Os2lDPR6I[/youtube]

I was immediately smitten with the pickups and wondered how they'd get on in my 137. But that meant facing my deepest, darkest guitar re-wiring fear.... challenge: accepted.

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I took this opportunity to swap out the stock tuners with a set of Grover lockers.

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Here are the old tuners in back, new ones up front.

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I prefer the tulip buttons over the beans, so time for a transplant...

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Excellent! And equally excellent, they are a drop-in replacement. No modification necessary.

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Ok, no more procrastinating... I removed the Bigsby so as to have one less thing in my way. The roller bridge is secured with set screws so I left it.

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I'm not embarassed to say that I own the Stew-Mac knob puller, and it is among the best $8 I ever spent.
http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Maintenance/P-51_Knob_Puller.html

I was curious to see how the string ground was handled in this guitar, but soldered directly to the bridge pickup braid was not what I expected. Makes sense enough though.

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A successful separation.

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I fashioned a hook from a piece of stout-ish wire I had lying about; by inserting it in the output jack I was able to pull it through so as to have a way of fishing the new one into position.

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I had purchased some vinyl tubing to use with the pots, but found that, while the nuts and washers would clear the tubing OD in a test fit, it expanded too much with the pot shaft in it to allow the hardware to pass. I have since been informed that surgical tubing is the stuff for this. Duly noted...

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So I tried some Telecaster Bridge Pickup Coil Rope (aka: string), but it was far too large and slipped right off.

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So I separated it into it's constituent strands and that worked just fine.

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At this point, I officially considered myself "committed" to the project...

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Some construction highlights here. Maple top, mahogany center block. Observe the "wedge" of maple between the top and the block.

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Moving on. Clearly, all of the wiring must take place outside of the body, so we'll need a template to establish the component locations.

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I was surprised to find 3/8" shaft length pots, I'd expected the long 3/4"ers. Also, I'd expected a short body toggle switch, but it was a right angle. Glad I've got a garage full of parts to call upon...

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I had intended (past tense... foreshadowing?) to use 4-conductor cable to wire the harness, which meant there would be no metal braid to bond the pot cases. I used the same ground wire I would use in a Les Paul harness and was immediately leery of its durability, given what hardship I knew awaited it during installation.

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The 4-conductor cable made for pretty clean wiring, but the concerns about it's durability remained...

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I used two lengths of 2-conductor cable to run back along the harness for joining the pickups. This way I would not have to pull the whole harness if I wanted to change pickups further down the road. I also used part of a large zip tie to provide some structural rigidity to the harness. Everything was bundled with small zip ties.

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At this point I function tested the harness with a couple of donor pickups and, well, it had issues. There was a bit of discussion about it here:

http://www.unofficialwarmoth.com/index.php?topic=29128.0

I won't re-hash it all, but I ended up with the suspicion that something was communicating inside that 4-conductor cable that shouldn't have been. Ultimately, I decided that I didn't want anything even remotely questionable going in this guitar, given the high P-I-T-A factor of any future repairs, so I went back to square one and built up a harness using "vintage" style metal braid wire. I'm happy for it, as the new harness is far more robust and I have much greater confidence in it. I ran all of the wires through the clear vinyl tubing to prevent shorts and provide structural support.

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I finished that harness at about 1:00am and went to bed; the next morning in the shower it occurred to me that I was asking for trouble with that un-insulated braid on the wire to the output jack. So I de-soldered it, slid some heat-shrink on it, and wired it back up. Fully successful functional check out.

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A couple of days had passed between starting this project and having a harness ready for installation, and my nice neat component-fishing lines had turned into a rats nest. I decided to pull the volume pot lines, straighten out the tone pot lines, use them to fish the tone pots into place and then, because of wishful thinking, the volume pots would be right about where I want them. Yeah.

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I started with the switch. That went in nice and easy, good confidence booster.

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It didn't take very long to figure out that the star washers were not going to be staying anywhere near their respective pot bushings, so I hit them with a dab of super glue. Just enough to keep them in place till they were in their hole.

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The time was upon me, time to pull the components smoothly and easily into their new homes. I led with the output jack, pulled by its wire. I followed by feeding the pots in one after the other. That was the part when nothing went right. The bridge volume pot (the last pot on the harness/first to go in) ended up curving up toward the top of the guitar rather than toward the bottom, where I needed it. I should have had a string on that one to lead it. Not that it would have done much good, because the strings that I did have on the tone pots both came off as soon as things got... fiddley. I had avoided “overly” secure knots to prevent issues getting them off of the shaft, I guess I got what I wanted! In the end, I used a combination of my fingers, toothpicks, wooden skewers and swear words to get them in. It wasn't what you might call "smooth", but ultimately everything was where it needed to be.

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I used the wire to prevent the output jack spinningwhile i tightened it; the pots I was able to hold with a finger.

I attached the string ground to the two leads I ran out for the pickups.

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The pickups were joined to the leads by soldering the conductors together, insulating it with heat-shrink, then joining the braid with a piece of wire.

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https://www.dropbox.com/s/ofbq8hujywrdewu/Photo%20Mar%2005%2C%2011%2042%2048%20PM.jpeg?raw=1[img]

A place for everything, and everything in its place!

[img]https://www.dropbox.com/s/5jyeymssygh4k6u/Photo%20Mar%2005%2C%2011%2045%2036%20PM.jpeg?raw=1

I am trying out a new string set on her, Thomastik-Infeld "Jazz Bebop" round wound....

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Whew! She sounds fantastic, I'll post some clips soon. Thanks for coming along!
 

bagman67

Senior member
Messages
8,349
I salute you!  Like you, I always rely heavily on swear words to get through the very stickiest phase of such projects.
 

Cagey

Senior member
Messages
24,425
Well done! Looks fantastic! And I agree, a little "construction talk" is a necessary thing.
 

BigSteve22

Senior member
Messages
2,798
Thanks for the tour and inside perspective! I always thought the ES 175, 295, 137, etc., with the Florentine cut were Gibson's prettiest efforts.
 

Sovereign_13

Senior member
Messages
311
Something satisfying about a well-sorted wiring job.  I can always count on this forum for pictures of wiring done right.  :icon_thumright:
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Bagman67 said:
I salute you!  Like you, I always rely heavily on swear words to get through the very stickiest phase of such projects.

Thanks! They've never let me down yet  :toothy12:
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
BigSteve22 said:
Thanks for the tour and inside perspective! I always thought the ES 175, 295, 137, etc., with the Florentine cut were Gibson's prettiest efforts.

Yes, I agree! Love the Florentine cutaway in this application.
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Sovereign_13 said:
Something satisfying about a well-sorted wiring job.  I can always count on this forum for pictures of wiring done right.  :icon_thumright:

Indeed, it tickles my inner OCD as well  :icon_biggrin: 
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
I got some audio captured tonight this morning, man am I ever in a predicament. I really, REALLY like what these pickups do. A lot. However I still have to say the jury is out on whether or not they stay in this guitar. I'll let the audio below speak to what I am loving about these pickups; the hang-up comes from the fact that the neck pickup into a dirty amp doesn't clean up anything like what I'm used to with PAFs and single coils. Instead of getting clear, it gets kind of muffled and indistinct. Not in the way of the typical tone-gets-dark-when-the-volume-is-rolled-off, I wire everything 50's style for that and love how it works on all of my other guitars. This one behaves differently. And that is something that I do with this guitar a lot: cooking amp, neck rolled back clean, bridge set to "kill", so it's a stumbling block. But the good stuff is SO GOOD......... Not a bad problem to have I suppose  :laughing7:

[soundcloud]https://soundcloud.com/vb-tunes/sets/gibson-es-137-with-lollartron-pickups[/soundcloud]
 

Cagey

Senior member
Messages
24,425
Well, I can certainly hear why you like it so much. Very tasty. Don't know what to do about that rolled-off neck into hot channel thing. You're right - it sounds like somebody threw a blanket over the amp. Even though it has the old wiring, you could try a treble bleed. Worst case, it doesn't help and you just cut it out.
 

rgand

Senior member
Messages
5,934
The cleans are amazing. Dirty, yeah the neck isn't quite so but still workable. I like the way they sound. Maybe they would sound the way you like in another guitar but then, maybe you'd not have the same clean tones.
 

mayfly

Senior member
Messages
8,300
I think I would go with what cagey suggested:  a treble bleed on the neck volume pot.

... course you need to fish it all out again to install it...
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Cagey said:
Even though it has the old wiring, you could try a treble bleed. Worst case, it doesn't help and you just cut it out.

Mayfly said:
I think I would go with what cagey suggested:  a treble bleed on the neck volume pot.

... course you need to fish it all out again to install it...

9GA9g.gif

As much as I desire to be more proficient at fishing wiring harnesses back in to semi-hollowbody guitars, I think I'm not quite ready to work further on that skill at this juncture  :laughing7:  The way I hooked up the pickups, running leads from the pots out and attaching the pickups to those leads, pickup swaps will be a breeze in this guitar. Accessing the harness itself: not so much....
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Rgand said:
The cleans are amazing. Dirty, yeah the neck isn't quite so but still workable. I like the way they sound. Maybe they would sound the way you like in another guitar but then, maybe you'd not have the same clean tones.

That is pretty much word-for-word what my current internal monologue sounds like, repeating over and over  :icon_biggrin:
 

rgand

Senior member
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5,934
-VB- said:
Rgand said:
The cleans are amazing. Dirty, yeah the neck isn't quite so but still workable. I like the way they sound. Maybe they would sound the way you like in another guitar but then, maybe you'd not have the same clean tones.

That is pretty much word-for-word what my current internal monologue sounds like, repeating over and over  :icon_biggrin:
Maybe you should entertain Kevin's suggestion of the treble bleed. After you start to forget how much of a job it was to get everything in, though. :toothy12:
 

Cagey

Senior member
Messages
24,425
I know you don't want to undo/redo all that work, but the other two ideas I can think of probably wouldn't work out well. First, it could be a cable thing. Too much capacitance. Get a low C cable, and the whole thing might brighten up considerably. Problem there is it's an across-the-board solution that may have detrimental effects on the other tones, which I'm sure you wouldn't want to hear happen. I know I wouldn't.

The other solution might be a treble booster, but you have the same problem as the low C cable, albeit with the ability to switch it in/out with your foot. Thing is, it's tough to "conjure" frequencies. If they aren't there in the first place, what are you boosting? Usually noise. So, I don't like that one, either.

Of course, there's always the "piss on it" option. Many guitars have settings that just don't meet our needs. Ask any of the kids who install 142 knobs/switches on their guitars in search of the all-in-one "Holy Grail" guitar :laughing7:
 

rgand

Senior member
Messages
5,934
I am going to put a TBX I have lying around into a stomp box to see how that works out. Maybe you could do something that simple to use when you need it. Switch pickups, tromp the (preset to your liking) pot-in-a-pedal and keep playing.
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Rgand said:
-VB- said:
Rgand said:
The cleans are amazing. Dirty, yeah the neck isn't quite so but still workable. I like the way they sound. Maybe they would sound the way you like in another guitar but then, maybe you'd not have the same clean tones.

That is pretty much word-for-word what my current internal monologue sounds like, repeating over and over  :icon_biggrin:
Maybe you should entertain Kevin's suggestion of the treble bleed. After you start to forget how much of a job it was to get everything in, though. :toothy12:

I'm definitely entertaining the notion, just thinking of less, shall we say, "involved" ways of trying it out. I have a "mule" Tele that is routed clean through to allow for pickup swaps and wiring experiments without removing strings, pickguards, control plates, etc. I might load it in there and monkey with it... I was thinking I'd like to put the stock 498T/490R pickups back in the 137 anyway, just to kind of cleanse the palette so to speak, re-zero my ears. I'd also like to hear what those pickups sound like with this string set, as that's another thing that was changed at the same time. I don't have another set of these Thomastik-Infeld strings and nobody carries them locally; I think I could slack things enough to just remove the Bigsby and all the strings with it (Thanks, Callaham string-through main shaft!!!!), then put everything right back after swapping the pickups. Seems simple enough...
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Cagey said:
...Thing is, it's tough to "conjure" frequencies. If they aren't there in the first place, what are you boosting? Usually noise...

I agree completely. There is a pickup guru over on TDPRI that often says "a pickup is born with all the treble it will ever have...", that has always stuck with me when this sort of stuff is being discussed.
 
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