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Where Do I Start?


dannyfsantos
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First time poster!

I'm planning on rebuilding an old guitar in the new year. It's a late 80s/early 90s Hondo Strat clone but I really don't know the first thing about rebuilding a guitar. Here's the low down:

GUITAR

I never liked the sound, and it's an ugly stock red with black pickguard... but it was my first guitar so it holds sentimental value so I don't want to sell it. Last time I saw it (3 years ago-- stored in a case in my parents cellar somewhere) it was in pretty good shape. Since I don't want to sell it and I don't play it, I thought maybe I can sink a ton of time and some quality products into it to try and get something better out of it.

ME

I failed woodworking in high school. Last time I really touched electrical wiring was also high school and have never touched a soldering gun. I've spent the last few weeks pouring through YouTube videos and articles trying to get concepts to sink in. Basically, I'm ill prepared but the purpose of this is to learn more about guitars and know my instrument intimately.

THE BUILD

What I want to do is... ambitious. I tend to bite off more than I can chew (and then chew it) when I start a new project. So I want to strip the paint off, replace the pickups, knobs & pots (maybe), the bridge and install an XY midi controller into the body and permanently attach my livid guitar wing into the body (I play through Ableton Live and use a lot of looping and midi).

Another crazy idea occurred to me to stain the whole thing black with ink and stain (so the grain shows up black on black)... But also do the neck and headstock black. Black screws, knobs and I don't even know if black metal fret exists or not. Or how to install them. That's not set in stone, though.

Anyway, I'm planning on starting sometime next spring and don't know how to start. Should I replace the pickups first and check out the sound? I want to go with 3 strat Fralin Steel Poled 43s but should I try something cheaper first? Should I take the body apart and repaint it first? What about custom designing a pickguard to accommodate the guitar wing?

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First of all--Welcome!

 

Second, all the midi stuff is out of my range of experience, so I cannot speak to that, but I think I can help with your thought processes and maybe make it easier to decide where to start.

First what is most important to you, the looks or the sound? For instance, if you get the sound where you want it but cannot get it to look like you want, will you play it, or will it go to the back of the line again?

If you will play it then changing out pups,  pots, knobs and switches is fairly simple. I'd do that first. While you've got the pickguard off you can see what kind or space you have versus what you'd need to install your midi controller and wing.

If being ugly will keep you from picking it up do the body work first. First strip it down to bare wood and see what the wood looks like. Then you can decide if it is worthy of your black on black dye job. Odds are the wood in that particular guitar will not be spectacular and you may wish to paint it instead. I love the black on black motif myself. I have not, however ever found any black frets or any other than the standard colors in fact. The wire has to be that color through and through, because leveling and crowning and fret end dressing is going to cut past the surface.

Hope answering those questions gives you a better idea of where to start.

SR

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I'll be honest that now I feel kind of dumb for not thinking about it in those terms!

First and foremost is definitely the sound! That's what really keeps me from playing it and my main guitar is a mid 90s Ibanez Talman which sounds beautiful to my ears. Plus I'm in the process of getting a rehearsal place so having one guitar at home and one guitar elsewhere seems to really be the endgame so thank you!

I still want to eventually rebuild the guitar entirely but this gives me a plan of attack!

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I have never seen a commercialy available black fret wire, even though it has frequently been asked for. So it is probably not possible to produce. Gold is available... 

 

It might be possible to use gun blackening/bluening products on frets after a fret levelling. However I'm pretty sure this will wear off and expose thin silverish lines along the top of the frets. 

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Yes, it will. I think even anodised Titanium would be susceptible to wearing.

My first guitar EVER was a cheap Hondo Strat clone. It had a Tortoiseshell pickguard and was stripped back to the plywood. I played the hell out of that thing. I think I sold it in exchange for my first bass...a crappy P bass clone whose brand I don't even remember. I truly wish I could track those down. Maybe they are sweeter in my memory than they would be in reality.

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Looks like the black fret wire can be abandoned-- ah well. I probably won't even touch the paint stuff till next year anyway.

Here's my new problem, though (and Prostheta just reminded me): the pickguard is ALMOST a strat clone as far as I can tell but different enough that I can't just swap the strat pickguard in. The bridge is also a bit weird in shape and originally I wanted to swap it out for something else but now it looks like it would require drilling some new holes.

So what I originally conceived as a straight swap turns out to be that I have to keep the pickguard and a change to the bridge requires a lot more work. In case anyone is actually curious what it looks like right now, I'm attaching some photos I took. Overall, it's in pretty good shape.

IMG_1873.JPG

IMG_1872.JPG

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Huh. My Hondo Strat was more or less a direct copy other than the headstock. Never seem them like that. I remember it was pretty cool back in '92, what with it having a blonde raw (ply)wood look, tort guard, white pickups, etc. If you're repainting, there's no big problem with swapping in another guard (if it fits) or cutting one yourself.

Are you sure about repainting? I could put money on there being the usual nuclear-proof sealing under that urethane which isn't even touched by chemical strippers. In all honesty from the number of people I've seen attempting this on perfectly adequate existing paint, you might as well be building a new body from scratch! It takes more work and money to strip off factory paint (that isn't nitro, and this isn't) and getting it repainted.

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If I planned on repainting it then swapping it out won't be much of a problem, but what I really want to do is stain it (although I assume that once I get a good look at the wood under the paint, I may abandon that idea). I probably wouldn't use chemical strippers and go the insane route of sanding it down but now I'm thinking first I'm going to work out all the electronic components before I even touch the idea of paint. It'll be cold here soon and I would rather do a paint job in the summer anyway.

 

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That's the problem you see. Staining (or dyeing) is going to be a problem from the start because sealer penetrates the surface enough to interfere with stains and dyes. The only way to get past the sealer is to sand down the surface which alters the sizes and contours. Again, a hell of a lot of work! It is very unlikely you'll find nice wood under there either - mine was plywood, but that had its own cool after it was clearcoated.

I sanded back the paint from a banged up 90s BC Rich many years back and hit every single one of these problems. The sealer went pretty deeply into the wood. I used to FAR too much sandpaper and the dust screwed up my lungs for a couple of weeks. Your best bet would be to examine the body by reflecting light over the flat surface with hardware removed. You should be able to see whether it's made from several pieces of wood by the joints appearing as light creases under the paint. If you can't see any, chances are it could be plywood like mine was! Examining the wood in the rear spring cavity is a non-invasive way of finding out a little more also.

As much as calling it "insane work" is good at this stage, you'll be kicking yourself mid-job when you mentally calculate the price of how much sandpaper you've used! I'd have to think about it, but it would probably still be cheaper to buy a cheap three-piece Alder body blank and use various templating bits to copy the existing body...!

Hell, if its got sentimental value then copy the hell out of it into better wood and lets get those woodworking chops (or lack thereof) fixed. That to me would be biting off more than you can chew from something that won't leave a bad taste in your mouth....! Seriously. That paint will give you nightmares for years to come and be the source of much regret. haha

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