Almost Done

Last week, we went up north. I took up Ke Kai in kit form to start work on her, and also some finishing pieces and tools for Blue-J.

The finishing pieces included a set of Seymour-Duncan humbuckers in blue that I found on eBay.

After careful review of the wiring instructions, I was still a bit shaky in confidence, so I grabbed a notebook and diagrammed the existing wiring to corroborate the published instructions. The issue was that the published instructions and diagrams just had lines connecting the components but in completely different colors. The pots and wires were already partially assembled so I had trouble tracing where each one went.

But after I rewrote everything, I gain enough confidence to begin soldering.

And I realized that I need that Doc Ock soldering “third hand” thing. But somehow, I managed to get everything soldered in place.

Before tightening everything down, like the pickups, selector switch, and pots, I had to plug it in to test sound. I’d read a passing post from another guitar builder forum that while tape can’t be effectively used to test out solder points, I can check the integrity of my solder job by touching the poles of the pickups with a metal screwdriver.

I plugged into my little 2-watt Marshall portable amp, and with each volume & tone knob set, I cycled through the pickup selector switch to test the pickups. Everything seemed good.

OK, time to tighten down everything, finish final assembly, and string it up!

Then came another problem, due to not inspecting all the parts more closely.

I had one tuning machine completely missing the string hole in the shaft. There’s no way to feed a string! I’ve since been in contact with Solo, and they’re sending me a replacement. In the meantime, Blue-J is a 5-string guitar.

I was too aggressive in final sanding on that bottom edge and didn’t notice it until long after lacquering.

I replaced the stock knobs with abalone-topped dome knobs. I have a set of black ones so I might swap out two of the chrome for the black ones to give it a bit of visual indicator which is tone/vol or which is bridge/neck. Not sure yet, will have to try it out to see how it looks.

Hopefully, when I get back up there in April, I’ll have the last tuning machine in hand to complete Blue-J.

But even with just the five strings, I plugged her in through my distortion and delay pedals. Running through Danzig’s “Twist of Cain,” I was able to make that E squeal with the appropriate harmonic. I’m not able to play my latest song snippet idea as that requires all 6 strings, but that’ll come.

Overall, I’m very happy with how this kit turned out. I learned a lot about coloring and wood finishing that I’ve begun applying to Ke Kai. Now I have to manage my growing addiction to building guitar kits!

Like collecting hockey jerseys, this could get overly expensive if I’m not careful. And guitars take up more room than jerseys.

Prep, Coloring, and Coating

The first thing I noticed was that the nut was awful. Too high, and slots too narrow for the strings. The action was so high that playing the first fret was nearly impossible.

There were also a number of dings and scratches in the body.

Kinda’ tough to see, which is probably a good thing since that means they can be sanded out

To take care of the nut, I had to buy a set of nut files. I was too aggressive on the slot for the low-B, because it ended up too low in the nut and buzzed on the first fret. I found out that a drop of superglue allowed to dry and cure would act as “padding” to raise it up.

So I did that…and inadvertently glued my finger and thumb together with just a single drop. That ended up being several minutes in the bathroom with nail polish remover.

Another problem was the roughness of the frets’ ends. Running my hands up and down the edges of the fretboard, I was catching all the points and ragged ends of the frets. In 30-some-odd years of playing guitars and basses, I’ve never experienced this. I used an old jeweler’s file I had lying around to smooth out the ends of all the frets.

After the test assembly, I found that I need to level the frets, because after adjusting action and relief, I still had buzz on about the 13th or 14th fret on the D string. I was really irritated at the low quality of this kit by this point.

The Journey to the Workshop

Last week, we were up north so I could start working on Ke Kai as well as finishing Blue-J. I sanded down the body of the bass to smooth out the dings and such, and also ran some major sanding on the neck. I attached the body to the rig and began prep and color.