Seraphina

Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
All my guitars have names. And for this one, I arrived at.... “Seraphina“. The name is the feminine form of the Latin name Seraphinus. The biblical word seraphim means "fiery ones", and the seraphim were an order of angels, described as having six wings, and continuously singing.

I have big plans for this build, but it's going to take a while. For now, I've below listed the part specs and my outline. As I progress through the steps of the build (or run into difficulties), I'll post updates and pictures. Believe it or not (because I've had a year to mull over my plans), I have a lot of the steps detailed already, so I'll post those with each step.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome. In fact, it's only due to the input of the contributors in this forum that I've been able to get straightened out for this project. So my thanks go out to you all already, for the invaluable assistance you've already provided.

Body
  • Warmoth Soloist.
  • Carved-top. Laminate of flame maple (UC). Finished in blue dye with black burst.
  • Two-piece bookmatched alder body. Back finished solid gloss black.
  • 3 EMG pickup routes. Tummy cut. Contoured heel.
  • Rear-routed control cavity. Solid black cavity covers. Double battery route.
  • No top or side holes pre-drilled (except for trem route and bridge mounting screw holes).
Neck
  • Warmoth Vintage Modern - single truss rod, top-adjust, 25.5" scale, 10"-16" compound radius.
  • Warhead pegboard profile.
  • Bocote shaft. Raw.
  • Ebony skunk stripe.
  • 22 stainless steel frets (6150).
  • Ebony fingerboard, MOP side dots. No face dots.
  • TUSQ XL black nut, 2 11/16" width.
  • No pre-drilled mounting holes.
3 single-coil passive pickups
  • Kinman Impersonator 54 set (noiseless). Narrow baseplates. Matched pole staggers. Black covers.
Pickup selector switch
  • Schaller Megaswitch (8P5T), provides B / BM / M / MN / N, plus additional switching.
Volume/Tone controls
  • Traditional "top hat" style, black.
6-screw tremolo bridge
  • Babicz bridge, "import spacing", black. May be full-floated, spring-decked, or blocked.
  • Callaham machined steel block.
  • Callaham hardened steel bridge mounting screws.
Tuning machines
  • Schaller M6 mini locking tuners, top-loading, black.
Strap Locks
  • Schaller, black.

I established a large number of design goals for this guitar. I wasn't even sure whether I‘d be able to incorporate them all.

Base Design – ("Look and Feel" / Theme / Aesthetic)
  • The core design is an S-S-S Strat-style electric. The overall approach will be to lean heavily toward the traditional design, in order to be able to produce “vintage“ tone.
    It should be a “showpiece“ instrument: eye-catching but not gaudy. The body will be flame maple, blue-dyed with black burst. All hardware will be black.
    It will incorporate only the highest-quality components. Non-standard components and materials will be applied whenever possible, if they can have a positive effect on tone or function. Or whenever they may have a positive effect on functionality or durability, but again so long as impact on tone is positive or neutral.
Construction
  • It will incorporate modern construction techniques. Such deviations from traditional methods are intended to enhance the overall aesthetic without upsetting it, and will be used wherever they can improve build quality, durability and serviceability.  Or whenever they could have a positive effect on tone production or quality.
Features
  • It will offer “superstrat“ functionality, which I define as features that provide additional tonal versatility and/or control.
    Such functionality must be “simple and stealthy“, in that any additional visible components should minimally impact the overall aesthetic, and must in no way detract from the base “vintage“ tone.

Body

I chose the Soloist over the Strat body because I liked the better access to the high frets, and the silhouette is just a shade more elegant. But still "a Strat". I wanted it pretty, thus the flame maple laminate, which was a Warmoth "Unique Choice". The raw piece had wiggles in it, which I chose on purpose because they looked like frozen vibrations. But they pretty much disappeared in the dyeing. Oh well.

The body I ordered as a one-piece, to avoid a seam down the middle with potentially different densities on either side of the bridge. But a mistake was made in production and I got a bookmatched two-piece instead. But that also avoids the unbalanced density issue, so that's fine. I chose alder for its nice weight and classic tone. And all that fuss just for whatever miniscule amount the body wood contributes to tone. But hey, alder (or ash) is "vintage" (and cheap).

A very nice surprise when it arrived was how light it is. They must have found a really nice piece of stock for the body blank.

I'm using the word "vintage" a few times here. Because I've heard a lot of differing opinions on what "vintage" really is, I thought I'd better state my definition, of which tone is the central element, with aesthetics having a slightly lesser emphasis. To me, for a strat, it starts with S-S-S pickups. Not high-output or "hot" – in fact, the opposite. It also means a trem bridge based on the original Fender design – so no Floyds, and not a hard-tail. I feel both 6-screw and 2-post pivots qualify, including several popular third-party bridges. Scale length of 25.5". That pretty much takes care of the essentials – it should be able to produce tones fundamentally similar to those of Marvin, Gilmour, Knopfler, Clapton, Beck, Johnson, Gallagher, Vaughan, Guy. For the look, a Stratocaster-ish body silhouette, and Stratocaster-ish peghead. Changes to other elements, so long as minor or unobtrusive, are fine with me.

Neck

The neck I wanted to be a little less "sharp" than the classic maple-on-maple, especially as my pickups will be plenty bright. This machine will be crankin' out a lot of blues in the years to come, so a "middier" tone was welcome. And I wanted the shaft raw, to avoid the finish issues. So after much research and mental struggle, I settled on Bocote, purported to be a little less bright than maple, but its high hardness and density should retain a stratty tone. Originally, I had a Unique Chice Ziricote fingerboard, but it failed during manufacture. Too bad – it wuz reel purty - looked like a landscape picture of hills or mountains disappearing to the horizon. Failing finding an adequate Ziricote replacement, I opted for Black Ebony instead. And in counterpoint to the warmth of the Bocote shaft, its brightness might help preserve a little of the edge.

No face dots, because the whole guitar will have a very "clean" look. I chose the Warhead headstock because I think it's more elegant than the Strat one. Originally I wanted it slanted, but Warmoth couldn't do that in a Vintage Modern style, so straight it is. And they couldn't do the body-matched headstock veneer either, so although it's a lot of work, I plan to do the job myself. There will be no logo on the peghead face, but I may put a "maker's mark" on the back of it.

The frets are stainless (Oooo!), SS6150. I didn't want skinny low vintage ones, or big tall railroad ties, but did want them wide enough to make sliding easier, and tall enough to be able to get a good bite for bending. I'll be rolling the edges a tad above the 12th, and dressing all the fret ends. But I'll otherwise leave them alone for at least a few months, until the neck settles in, and only then worry about perfect flatness and address any necessary redressing.

I entertained the idea of a roller nut, but decided I'd try a TUSQ first, and see if I find any issues while tuning, string bending and tremming. On top of which, a solution with no moving parts is more easily replaced, and much less prone to wear and failure than one many little moving bits.

Pickups

I wanted a classic, "vintage"-ey sort of Strat, and that meant S-S-S. That narrowed down the pickup choices to about a million. And I decided to go noiseless... sure, hum is "vintage", but really, who wants it? Some recent models sound very good, to the point of being practically indistinguishable from single coils. This narrowed it down a whole bunch.

I looked at all the makers, and finally settled on a set of the Kinman Impersonator 54s. Nobody I knew was using them, and there are few reviews and soundclips available, but all I could find were glowing, so I went for it. Info (from their website and Wikipedia, links below):
  • Magnets – Alnico. Makes for low string pull, longer sustain and less Strat-itis. Can be played hard with no compression and without distorting (my amp can do that for me).
  • Construction – Noiseless, using a laminated H bobbin serving as a low-resistance noise sensor coil. Total part count per pickup = 169 (Yikes!!! God forbid I should ever open one up and have it all fall apart in my lap).
  • Tone - "Non-aged", said to sound like new pickups did in '54. Good tracking, sensitive, slightly scooped mids, brilliant highs. Design derived from a custom set made for Hank Marvin.
  • Brand users – incl. Crosby, Govan, Marvin, Gilmour, Paisley. At this point I didn't bother reading the rest.

When ordering, I specified my bridge string spacing and neck radius, and they shipped pickups to match. They each have different pole spacing and overall polepiece height curvature so that they match this guitar's strings in all three locations. And they're mildly staggered (fixed) for vintage Strat string-to-string volume balance, with consideration for an unwound G.

The differential polepiece spacing may not make an appreciable tonal improvement, but it certainly can't hurt. As for the stagger, I prefer an adjustable or "tuned" stagger to a fixed flat pickup, because I can't stand string-to-string imbalance, and prefer "vintage" to "modern".

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinman_Guitar_Electrix  Kinman website http://kinman.com/index.php    Kinman Impersonator 54 http://www.kinman.com/guitar-pickups/stratocaster/impersonator54/index.php

Color

The back I decided to leave plain because, well, it's just the back! It's gloss black, which goes with my rather simple color scheme. Namely, every bit of hardware is jet black – knobs, bridge, trem arm... even the nut is black TUSQ. The flame maple top is dyed blue with a black burst. The only shiny-bright metal bits will be the frets, the strings, and the polepieces.

The tuners are black Shaller M6 minis, locking. They're top-lockers, which I thought was very cool, and I'd never actually seen any in person, or heard of anybody using 'em. And they're 25% lighter than the rear-lockers. So I had to have them, but boy, were they tough to get. Unfortunately, they don't come staggered. But naturally, that will become available as soon as I install these.

Tremolo Bridge

The bridge is by Babicz, and it looks very well-engineered. It came anodized black, but with a big logo on it, so I painted the whole thing with black engine enamel and baked it. No logo now! And my finish is probably more durable too.

I like the design of the saddles. They have big bottoms, and rest flat on the base plate. And  the cam-style height adjustment system is brilliant. I also like how they all clamp together. All these features together should make for one solid transmissive unit. It has "import" string spacing. I had to ship the bridge to Warmoth so that they could get all the dimensions right.

The bottom was not perfectly flat, so I lapped it with wet-dry sandpaper on a glass slab. It's flat now! And it mates perfectly with the milled-steel Callaham block. In case I want to deck it someday, I very slightly rounded the sharp angle that breaks the plane of the baseplate down (up?) towards the front edge. It should now move more easily when in body contact, and dig a little less into the finish of my pretty carved laminate top.

I'll be using 6 Callaham hardened-steel mounting screws, which I've polished for the smoothest possible travel. This should allow the bridge to slide with the minimum frictional impediment, but I have a second set of screws that I plan on putting a groove into, to negate the sliding altogether by creating a fixed pivot axis, and this will (hopefully) optimize a full-floating setup for minimal wobblitudiness.


OK, that's plenty for now. Many more long-winded posts to come. Thanks for tuning in.
 

stratamania

Senior member
Messages
9,217
This looks very good, with a lot of thought going into the decision process.

I think you will like those Kinman's. I have a set of Woodstock + and they are very good. The impersonators will obviously have a different character but Kinman makes some great stuff.
 

bagman67

Senior member
Messages
8,246
Hey, Dan, you may have already run across this in your travels, but it being obvious you're a thinking man, I figured you'd like an explanation of dyes that includes a wee bit of background chemistry:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5ygOsqYsOY


I secured a small bottle and divvied up the Transtint, so that'll be in the mail tomorrow.



 

Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
Yeah, DangerousR6, but his time it's blue water!

Bagman, thanks for the pointer to that video. You're spot on, I do like to know what I'm working with, and tend to research things pretty thoroughly. So that was right up my alley, but I had found it a couple months back when I started looking into dyes and dyeing. It was pretty helpful.

It's interesting that he mentions the glycol ethers as carrier/solvent components, because I ran across similar solutions when looking for veneer softeners. I now have some diethylene glycol monoethyl ether, to use as a veneer softener, and am looking forward to seeing how it might also affect the penetration, coverage and fastness of the dyes. Will post results here somewhere when I can get it all tried out.
 

Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
I finally got a little progress. Managed to carve out some free time, and got my legwork done.

First was filling some holes in the neck. I was surprised when I saw them, as I'd ordered the neck undrilled, but apparently they're used in the milling and painting process.

I will be using threaded inserts for mounting the neck. But because I will be using ferrules on the back instead of a neck plate, I was not going to be using the two existing hole locations. To do so would have put the back-side ferrules within a hair's-breadth of the edge of the neck heel - and I wanted a little more offset than that.

So I ground down some maple joinery dowels I had. Pressed 'em in with some TiteBond, and then shaved them down flush with a sharp chisel. Came out pretty nice.
 

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Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
WARNING - another of my stupidly long posts. Sorry. I'll try to use shorter ones. But in cases like this, for processes that I would never have attempted had it not been for the posts and details provided by others, I will try to "give back" what I can by diarizing my experience.

I've never done this before. So I did some practicing first. I got a piece of Bocote, and had some hard maple. I tried not threading for the inserts, just screwing them in. Didn't turn out well - Bocote is hard! Maybe if I was driving them from a matching threaded guide. But tapping the holes worked very well. The depth of the holes for the ferrules is funny. There's a fair bit of latitude - because slightly different depths seem to matter not one whit - they all look good, and matching. Weird.
 

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Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
Next up was the actual drilling for the body's neck heel and its ferrules, and the neck threaded inserts. I was truly terrified about this, as I knew that to mess it up would mean destroying a really nice body, and/or a really nice neck. I decided to try to make it as fool (me) proof as possible. The scary part was the criticality of squareness of the screws, and alignment of the inserts, body holes and ferrules, all while the neck fit was correct. Contemplating this I seriously considered the standard screws and neck plate. But I pushed on.

I planned to use my drill press for this, and decided to get both parts fitted and mounted beneath it so that I could drill both at the same time. But the press' pillar is tall, and the travel is only about 4", and its table is way too small anyway. So I build a little platform to go beneath it, 12" high by 12" wide by 48" long.

Then I needed a way to securely hold the neck and the body upsidedown on this platform, separately, but so that they could be adjusted for proper alignment. Some pine slab made a fine starting point, but how to very securely hold such odd-shaped pieces? Chemistry to the rescue.

I found some moldable epoxy putty. The two components are pretty darned stiff at first, but after some kneading they get a lot looser. While setting (overnight) it actually gets very sticky, but it sets to a Shore hardness of 75 (= really bloody hard). An initial "orientation" test taught me many things - the most important being that it will bond itself very permanently to anything porous. But not to one of my test substances.... stretch food wrap.

So I drilled a couple of holes in my pine, and laid down a layer of food wrap. I inserted into the holes, through the food wrap, some shortened dowels. Onto these dowels I globbed some mixed putty. Over these I lay another layer of food wrap. And onto this I pressed my parts (body and neck). Waited overnight.

The parts and the food wrap separated like nothing. And the base layer of food wrap kept the putty from bonding to the pine. But because the top end of the dowel was naked and encased in the putty, it had become a permanent part of it. So now I had a custom-fit support system for my neck and body. Next up was how to hold the work onto those supports.

For the neck, I just ground a rough groove into two small pieces of some scrap (this is a V neck). I used some webbed shelf liner as padding - great stuff! - and screwed these "clamps" down over the neck at the points of the supports. Oh, I also put down a bit of food wrap between the neck and the putty-supports - it's grippy and was a nod towards scratch prevention. It all came out 100% rock solid.

The body could have been done the same way, but I wanted to try something I saw for the Stew-Mac "Erlewine neck jig". That involves a tie-down. Luckily, the base for the body was going to have to be elevated in order to align with the neck, so it had another couple of runners of pine beneath it, which left room for the strap to pass underneath. For protecting the body whilst in contact with the putty-supports, I first tried some TheraBand (stretchy non-latex bands used for exercise). It looked like a really good idea, but surprisingly wasn't grippy enough, so in spite of what you see in these pictures, I just ended up using food wrap again. Some more shelf liner and a block on top to isolate the buckle, and I was good to go.
 

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Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
Getting the neck board and the body board aligned so that the neck fit in the neck pocket was... time consuming. Under each part's platforms I had some shims. On the neck side I used a couple of strips of acrylic sheet I had around. That got me pretty close to the right spot. Then it came down to multiple pieces of paper inserted under the boards, which, once I was happy, I replaced with layered masking tape.

Finally, I could slide the boards up to each other, and the two parts would align perfectly. Less that a piece of paper at the mating surface and the sides. Whew. So I screwed the neck board down onto another 12"x48" pine board, to be used as an overall base. I aligned the body, and screwed it down too. Now I could slide the base around on my platform, to position the work wherever I wanted under the business end of the drill press. Then I could clamp the base to the platform, and it was all rock solid.

The first two pics are in-process. The last is my final setup.
 

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Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
Previously I'd agonized over the locations of the ferrules. I thought it might be nice to have the holes (stresses) positioned so that they didn't run down the same grain (to be avoided when one can). So I thought I'd put the top end's ferrules a tad closer together, and the bottom end's a hair further apart. There wasn't as much room for monkeying around as I'd thought, but I tried. Once checking, double- triple- quadruple- checking, I had my template, which I taped to the back of the neck heel. A sharpened nail pressed and twisted by hand got me started. Then the paper was removed, and two twist drill bits, rolled by hand, got me to where I was going.
 

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Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
The actual drilling process was as follows. With the pieces aligned and both pieces' boards screwed down on the base, I slid the base around until the press' drill bit was ready for the first hole, and clamped down the base (thus everything). I'd already checked the drilling depth I needed, had marked the drill bit where it was mated in the chuck, and had set the press' depth stop. The moment of truth, Well, as my Dad says, "God hates a coward!" (usually applied as a prompt to go ahead and do someting unadvisable). I powered up the drill and brought it down. Slowly - I may not be a coward, but I'm not stupid either.

That hole (11/64") was for the passage of the machine screw through the neck heel. I still needed the inset hole for the ferrule. So I swapped out the brad bit for a 15mm Forstner. And I clamped down a piece of hard fiberboard, that I'd liberated from an unused clipboard. This was because I'd worried about that Forstner chipping the paint. If it'd been a flat surface I was drilling into I could have maybe just hand-turned a starting "scratch" through the finish. But here the neck heel surface was at an angle, and on one side of the hole the bit would be cutting in, and on the other side pulling out. I figured that the fiberboard would "hold down" the finish. As it turns out, I was right. Whew.

With the setup I was using it would be almost impossible to measure the ferrule well depth. So I eye-balled it, trying to err on the side of caution, keeping in mind that it'd be easier to take more wood out later, than to put some back.
 

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Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
Next step. Keeping the base clamped, remove the fixing screws from the body base, and carefull slide it out from the neck. Now the neck's sitting there all lonely, cantilevered out in the air, with her bottom end facing the sky. And a lovely little divot where the tip of the first bit had poked through. I replaced the Forstner with a 1/4" bradpoint. But how deep? The threaded inserts I used are E-Z Lok 303-008 (8-32 x 5/16-18) steel (they come with LokTite on 'em, but a steel or brass brush will clean them up). Sturdy, but small -  8mm total length. I've seen people set these in just flush with the neck surface. But that seems only "skin-deep" to me. I thought that if I inset them a little more, I'd be getting down "to the bones" of the neck. So that the forces wouldn't be acting just on the first few millimeters. So I drilled enough to get them down inside a couple more millimeters. I checked, there's still lots of room before I approach the strata of the fingerboard. Honestly, I could probably stack two inserts in there if I wanted.

This time I just applied tape to the drillbit for a depth marker, spun her up, and (slowly) drilled the neck (gulp!). Man, I think I need a drink - but no, must wait until I'm done! Besides, if I screw this up, at that point I'll need all the booze I've got.
 

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Prometheus

Senior member
Messages
135
Anyway, it went great. So now slide the body board back into position. Turn down the screws fixing it in position on the base. Check the fit at the pocket. Still good! Swap in the first drillbit. Unclamp the base. Slide it to the next position. Rinse. Repeat.

After the second one was complete, I had a thought. Hmmm, I said to myself... I am only getting a pinprick of a hole from that first bit into the neck. That must mean that the first hole isn't going all the way though the neck heel! Yup, that was happenin'. So I used the marker I'd put on that drill bit before I started, and for the third and fourth holes I gave it a couple millimeters more depth. Later when I removed the body from its board, sure enough, the first two holes weren't through all the way. So I just clamped some scrap maple to the hell and very carefully used a hand drill to finish them off.

And now on to the inserts. First a few hand-twists with a countersink bit, just to forestall any splintering at the edges of the holes. For the tapping I used a bottoming tap right off (my prior practice showed that this would be fine). And a little wooden block that I drilled, checked for truism, per the tip provided by Cagey. As tough as Bocote is, it's no match for the steel of a tap. It went very nice and easy. Next a tip I found elsewhere. I used some Q-tips (seems I can't do any job without one of those getting in somewhere) and some thin CA glue. Dowsing the Q-tip, I stuck it in the holes and swapped it around. Twice per hole. Let dry. Tap again. Threads now strong and glassy smooth. Ooooh. Aaaaah. It's actually hard to see in the pictures, but there is an appreciable positive difference in the threads.

The inserts went in ridiculously well. I have the E-Z Lok driver, but because of my extra depth, I had to use a flat screwdriver to give 'em the last bit of twist.

I mated the neck back up with the body. Looking down the holes, from the body back into the neck, in each hole I could see, perfectly centered, the shiny circle of the threaded insert. Tadaaaa! Perfect alignment. Sorry, no pictures - impossible to get lens and light alinged down that little hole. I finger-pressed the ferrules in (don't ask me about getting 'em out again, ever - I have no idea). Then checked four stainless steel machine screws for length. These inserts give 5 1/2 turns of "working room", and I wanted those bolts to be doing their business in about the last turn or so. So it was a few goes at trimming bolts with a dremel cutoff whell, and dressing the threads with an 8-32 die. Of the four bolts, I ended up with three lengths.

The fit of neck-to-body is great. And the join seems to be absolutely rock-solid. Okay, now, where's my drink ???


Today, I plan to address those sharp-feeling fret ends, and begin my burnishing. Wish me luck
 

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frown

Senior member
Messages
265
Keep up the awesome posts - this is great stuff! I love entertaining threads like these with descriptions and accompanying photos. :icon_thumright:
 
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