Custom Modifications to Ron's new guitar...

I discovered a new type of guitar last year which had me intrigued. I guess they've been out for a while, but I had never come across the Fender ShowMaster series. They basically have a Stratocaster style body, but many models in the series have 24 frets instead of 21 or 22. The first ones I saw also had humbucker pickups instead of single coil--it's a different type of pickup and a different kind of sound.

I was particularly intrigued with this model:


It has the Celtic inlay which appeals to me but has no other fret markings on the fingerboard (the standard markings are on the side). It is simple and elegant. I had a chance to play one at the local guitar store and found the neck to be extremely comfortable. I really liked the guitar, but didn't like the price. So, I decided to pass.

A few months later, one of my favorite online music stores began fire-saling these guitars at about 67% off the list price. I couldn't resist and picked one up (the online stores have generous return policies if you receive an instrument and find out it doesn't "work" for you). Just like the one I played locally, I loved the neck on this guitar and the look. The only problem was the sound. It comes with one Fender Atomic II Humbucker pickup which is a little aggressive for my tastes. I don't have the specs offhand, but suffice it to say it was difficult to get a clean sound out of this guitar. The pickup was geared for a slightly "rougher" sound than I was looking for--I wanted something very clean. Besides, I could always "dirty it up" with effects pedals if I needed to! :-) I also missed having multiple pickups.

This gave me an idea. Maybe I could modify the guitar myself! Maybe I could replace the bridge pickup with something cleaner and add another pickup and a 5-way switch to control them! I had gotten it at such a bargain, maybe it would be ok to take a risk!

I did a fair amount of research on the web on humbucker pickups, and came up with a combination of a Seymour Duncan JB SH-4 in the bridge position and a Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2 in the neck position. And they weren't even the most expensive pickups out there :-)

OK, now the hard part. How am I going to add another pickup and a switch? I'm going to have to cut into the guitar! I decided on using a rotary 5 position switch instead of a lever based one--I felt it would give the guitar a unique look and I felt better about cutting a hole for a POT type control as opposed to a lever. So I began with a hole for a new control:

This allowed me to put in the new switch. Actually, the rotary switch control is very "deep" on the back side, and since the guitar is tapered down towards the edges I had to put the rotary control where the volume is and move the volume POT to the new location. Here's what it looks like from the back (and front):

OK, that wasn't too hard. BUT--next I had to gouge out a hole for a new humbucker in the neck position. I began by removing the strings and letting Christo take some vanity shots:

Alright, enough already. Time to get down to business. I carefully measured where the new pickup would go and removed the old bridge humbucker:

Then I took a deep breath (ok, took about 30 deep breaths in rapid succession, hyperventilated, passed out, and... [just kidding]) and begin cutting with a rotary saw (I don't own a router):

once I cut a border around the new humbucker, I used a chisel to remove the unwanted wood:

finally the hard part was over:

after this I had to drill a hole between the two cavities so that the wire from the neck pickup could pass through the bridge pickup cavity and then into the "electronics cavity" in back. Once that was done I put the new bridge pickup in:

you can see that I already ran the wire from the neck pickup through to the back. Fortunately, Sue had some "pewter" acryllic paint available, so I painted the cavity (if you look closely at the guitar you would be able to see some of the bare wood when examining the neck pickup, so I wanted it to look good) and took a break while it dried:

Once dried, I was able to install the neck pickup:

After spending an hour soldering the 5 way switch, I put a new set of strings on:

And, of course, Christo wanted another "turn":

For those guitarists out there who are curious about what the switch does, it's wired in a "PRS style" with the following options:

Switch Position Pickup Configuration
Position 1 Bridge humbucker
Position 2 Outer coils in parallel
Position 3 Outer coils in series
Position 4 Inner coils in parallel
Position 5 Neck humbucker

This configuration was a "suggested" configuration, I may play around with others if I find I don't use the middle configurations that much. There is a noticeable drop in signal in any of the "single coil" positions (the middle three), which I suppose is to be expected. I do enjoy the different sounds that come out of the guitar now as opposed to the one sound I had before I started!