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flashriprock

Upgrading my NK headless guitar

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Hello.  I'm new to the board, and glad I discovered it.  I'm waist-deep into doing a full upgrade of my new NK headless guitar and was searching for a forum to memorialize my learnings, successes, failures and pictures for others who too might want to upgrade this guitar.  I will provide more info in successive posts, but for now let me just familiarize the forum with the guitar itself.

This guitar is a low cost headless model available on eBay and AliExpress:

https://www.ebay.com/usr/guitars163?_trksid=p2047675.l2559

https://www.aliexpress.com/store/1847759

I bought it because I was searching for a compact, light weight, Strandberg-like practice guitar.  I wanted a decent guitar that I didn't need to baby, that I could stick behind the couch or throw in the car if I was heading out of town and might have some down time.

After researching a handful of candidate guitars, this one stood out among the rest because of it's near universal praise for being worth way more than it's $275-340 price.  (Google "NK headless" and you'll find YouTube videos and reviews with this general conclusion).

Pictures to follow (appears I'll have to size them down to upload).

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Good looking headless there. Most of the time I consider that an oxymoron. :)

I'm looking forward to seeing what you do to it.

Cheers!

And welcome to the forum!

SR

  • Thanks 1

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One improvement I requested when ordering was to get a flame maple bookmatched top, which is not a standard option.  I bought through eBay and the individual I dealt with at "guitars163" was very helpful.  He sent me these photos of the actual pieces of wood, and the upcharge was nominal.

s-l1600 (12).jpg

s-l1600 (13).jpg

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That NK actually looks pretty good. Dare I say it, but it's refreshing to see the low-end Chinese market trying something other than just Strandberg knock-offs. How does it play and sound out of the box?

So, what mods are you planning for it?

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This is where my purchase was supposed to end.  I got just what I wanted, which was a relatively inexpensive (~$350) practice guitar.  But then things changed when I started to really appreciate certain things about this guitar over my traditional ones.  This included:

  • Ergonomics.  This guitar is very comfortable to play in the classical position, my preferred position.  I chose it for this reason, and it lived up to this hope thanks to the body cut-aways in the lower rear of the body.
  • Weight.  It's light and compact.  I'm not sure exactly how much it weighs, but one of the things I learned is that the body is chambered.  I requested a picture of how and where it's chambered and they sent me the attached picture.
  • Resonance.  90% of the time when I practice my guitar is un-amplified, and I think the chambered body gives the notes a more satisfying resonance over my traditional solid body electrics.
  • Fit and finish.  Neck fit was snug, and out of the box the action was respectably low.  I actually prefer this guitar's traditional C-shape neck over the wide flat shape of another guitar I own, and it was very easy to play.  I deliberately chose a natural satin finish because I'd read that some owners complained about areas of overspray with their colored-top models.  Mine doesn't have that problem with a uniform satin finish throughout.  Overall, the tolerances and finish well exceeded my initial expectations.

IMG_0360.PNG

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So what are the cons?  What needs addressing on this guitar?

  • Final set-up would bring the guitar to its fuller potential.  As I mentioned, my action was actually nice and low but one issue with mine (and others from what I've read), is that some of the frets could use additional polishing.  For example, some of the lower frets on my high strings are scratchy.  This is fixable of course with polishing, and more importantly the fret work in general was well done (no sharp edges and no high frets).  I would guess that this is the one enhancement that would likely benefit most new owners of this guitar.

As for other "cons," I think some of this comes down to personal preference.  From user reviews, many owners are happy with the guitar straight out of the box, but here are some common upgrade ideas.

  • The bridge is the thing most people take issue with, and I'm not crazy about it either.  I'll discuss it in more depth later, but for now suffice to say it's clever, but quirky, and some people complain of it going out of tune.
  • Pickup upgrades are another item that some people insist on, while others are content with the stock pickups.  I didn't feel strongly about this myself.
  • Control knob placement.  I rarely see anyone discuss this, but to me it's the most important mod for the guitar.  Maybe it's my strumming technique (or lack thereof), but I find my picking hand hitting the volume knob and the toggle switch.  This is most pronounced when palm muting higher strings.  This can be rectified, and I'll share my experience for solving this.
Edited by flashriprock

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So what improvements did I make to mine?

I'll list them out, but first a preface -- I've never done anything like this before in my life.  I didn't know what I was doing, and the things I learned were only possible thanks to the generosity and expertise of people on boards like this, YouTube, and elsewhere.  To all of these people, THANK YOU.  I'll chronicle my experience here to hopefully help others on their journey too.

Now, here's a list of what I've done (and "am doing") to mine, and I'll cover each in successive posts.

  1. New bridge.  (Technology for Musicians (T4M) saddles)
  2. New locking headpieces (same, T4M)
  3. New nut (Tusq)
  4. Relocate control knobs
  5. New electronics (full-size CTS pots and Switchcraft toggle)
  6. Revamp control cavity and new backplate
  7. New pickups (Seymour Duncan, Distortion trembucker and Jazz neck)
  8. Killswitch install and learnings
  9. Replacement neck (from manufacturer)

Yes.  I might have gotten carried away with this.  After binge watching luthier videos on YouTube this evolved into an excuse to try my hand and some of these upgrades, plus a commitment to do as much of it as I could by myself.  I bought the guitar to play, but it became a fun project instead.

My next post will dive into #1, my T4M bridge upgrade.

Edited by flashriprock

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1 hour ago, curtisa said:

That NK actually looks pretty good. Dare I say it, but it's refreshing to see the low-end Chinese market trying something other than just Strandberg knock-offs. How does it play and sound out of the box?

So, what mods are you planning for it?

Thanks for the question.  By my count I made (am making) about 9 discrete upgrades which I've listed in my post this evening.  Stay tuned!

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By the way, on the topic of this guitar's design, it does appear to be influenced by a guitar called the SkerveTEN 6.  Here's a picture of one, and one can see shared design cues between them both. 

SkerveTEN 6-2.jpg

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THE BRIDGE.

I'll start by explaining the stock bridge, removing it, discussing some alternative bridges to consider, why I chose the Technology 4 Musicians saddles, and then walking through my install process.

The NK headless comes with a bridge whose most distinctive markings are the words "Licensed by KD patent."  It consists of roller saddles and tightening screws at the rear.  These tightening screws are sometimes too stiff to twist by hand, so it also includes a clever little magnetic Allen crank that attaches to the top of the bridge (seen sticking out of the top).

I would describe it as clever and utilitarian.  It doesn't exude high quality, but then again, they can be readily found on eBay for just $50 so they are a bargain by headless bridge standards too.  It's possible it could have worked out just fine, but like others it also struck me as the first thing one would replace if they could -- and I did.  For more information, below is an excellent post from another member.

Edited by flashriprock

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