Brian Brooks 91′ Studio to Goldtop Les Paul Conversion

This really is my favorite build to date. I was originally commissioned to find and purchase a solid used Reissue/VOS Les Paul Standard for Brian. Inventory in his neighborhood is low and pricing is down right ridiculous.  So I had added an item to my daily Craigslist crawl. A couple weeks go by and Brian asks, “Could we build a great Les Paul form a readily available model and get the same tone and character as the VOS?” Now you’re talking. Of course we pour over the specs of vintage versus modern Les Pauls and make a checklist of “must have” features:

Aged nickel hardware

Non Wire ABR-1 Bridge

Aluminum Tailpiece

Vintage Grover’s

Bareknuckles are a must (Riff Raff and Mule)

Coil Splitting (master splitter via push pull)

Phase mod (Polarity reverse switching, via push pull)

50’s Tone circuit and wire harness (Shielded cloth wire

Solid body (no weight relief or chambering)

Creme rings

Creme body binding

Reflector top hats with pointers

Bone Nut

Real Goldtop Finish

Oh I can be done. So Brian pulls the trigger on very good deal on a 91′ Studio. Cherry red, gold hardware, solid, non chambered body, ebony fretboard. The guitar was originally a Miller genuine draft promo guitar. Given away in some smelly bar raffle. I’m sure, as fate usually dictates; won by someone who had never touched a guitar. The early 90’s studios are great sounding and playing Les Pauls. (See also Ryan Canestro’s 91 studio workhorse) Brian got to FedEx post haste and the cherry beast arrived at my door 3 days later.

Before tear down a thorough inspection finds some things good and some not so good. It was a contest guitar and had zero signs of playing wear. Not a mark on the top of the guitar. The pickguard, albeit embossed with a gold foil MGD logo has nare a scratch. The neck is a bit chunkier than my 83′ shred Paul and just a wee slimmer than a real 1960. Very nice in my hands. Flip over to the back and a very fine hairline smile can be seen in telltale spot. I wondered why it had .008’s on it. Oh well. It’s not really your Les Paul until you break the headstock! Looks like it’s holding. A quick scrape down and we’ll shoot some cherry lacquer during the paint job and Bob’s yer uncle! (Yeah right. you know there’s a story) More on that later.

With the hardware removed it was time  to remove the paint. I use cabinet scrapers here. No heat guns on the Paul’s. One, lacquer doesn’t come off as clean with heat as poly.  Two, there is a risk of heating up glue that holds on the top. In the case of a bound Les Paul binding will burst into flames. A scraper when used properly is the best way to get paint off fast without a fire. Why not strip with sand paper or chemical stripper? Sanding is much too easy to ruin the lines of the body. Chemical strippers penetrate into the wood. I don’t use them because I have heard the difference between dry old wood and wet green wood. Why would anyone intentionally introduce oils and moisture to aging wood?

After stripping the top, I set out to bind a guitar with the neck mounted and paint already on the sides! Yeah, that is tedious. I used StewMac’s precision Dremel base to go around 90% of the top. I then went to a set of mini chisels to come up to the neck joint. It was especially fun at the treble side in the cutout. It was like installing a scaled down deadbolt in a doll house. Still, I managed to have almost no tear out (use a fresh bit and sharp chisels!) The finish on the sides was barely disturbed. (Binding done right fits pretty darn tight.) There wasn’t a gap to fill. The huge challenge in a painted binding install was keeping that batsh*t crazy binding glue off of everything. On an unfinished body you just have a rag soaked in acetone handy.  With paint in the picture you have to move neatly and quickly without solvents. No problem, I can defuse a bomb while frosting a cake! Scraped it down flush on the top and sides. I used razor blades and painters tape.  First I taped off all but the portion of the blade I needed to scrape with. Then, I taped just shy of the binding border on the sides. I scraped until the binding was 99.99% flush with the painted sides. I shot cherry tinted nitro overlapping the seam. The idea was to build up a significant number of coats and then scrape/sand flush. It took some time but it happened. The cake was frosted and no one died! Ready to prep the top.

Before prepping the top I installed the ABR1. Beginning with a couple of lovingly crafted top grain maple dowels (cut by Brian himself and shipped in with the guitar BTW) Glued in with Titebond 1. I aligned the bridge with the double E trick and drilled with a 3/32″ bit to depth. I then finish by drilling about half an inch with a 1/8″ bit. The posts will make the threads on their own. The last 1/2 or so inch drilled undersized makes the posts Godzilla tight.  With the posts drilled I drop filled the low spots around the dowels with StewMac 2 super glue. I then used several different size and shape sanding blocks wrapped in high density foam to facilitate strip sanding around the belly of the top. I only use the top quality 3M Fre-cut sandpaper StewMac sells. This open coat is highly superior to any commercially available Home Improvement store crap. It cuts fast and uniform without loading up or the gouging caused by inconsistent grain particles. There were a few spots where 150 was necessary most were 320 worthy. I had to work my way up to 400. Then the sealer began. 400 grit down to 600 grit. White primer 400 to 600 grit again. Then expose the binding with a taped razor blade. Overshot with gold and back cut the binding again. Clear coats. You’ll see in the pics how factory natural the binding looks. The result of blindingly fastidious attention to detail…and PATIENCE! A little curing. a little polishing, a little microscopic touch up here or there and the assembly begins.

Do you remember that quick cosmetic job I had mentioned? The one to hide the headstock repair? 2 times including adding dowels to the break the second time and the crack reappears still. Much less noticeable than before and in no danger of failing we learn to embrace the smile! This is why it is of the utmost importance to consult a pro when a headstock breaks! I’m 99.9% sure they used a water proof glue. Gorilla, Titebond 2, anything with polymers will flex under load and cause the joint to endlessly shift. It is still possible to affect a permanent fix in this case that would yield a more perfect visual result. We could do a scarf joint and a new peghead. (Costly!) I’d rather do that as a last resort. I’m here if it fails. Brain and I can cross that bridge if we come to it!

So the wiring was a kick. All vintage vibe fantasy with modern tricks up the wazoo! Mule and Riff Raff get warr’d up 50’s tone circuits .022/400 orange drops (5%) all Bourns 500k’s 2 of which push/pull. One to affect master coil split. The second to knock the neck out of phase in middle position for Peter Green howl. The end result is a goldtop I had a real hard time putting into it’s flight case and shipping to Virginia. Here’s a link to the Foundry Facebook where I posted a cell phone video. Even on my android this is a guitar you’re dying to play!


Dowels in. Stripping begins


Treble cutout before binding and with the pick guard hole!


Drilling for ABR 1 Magic

Day 2

Ka Bamm!




This part had to be done with sandpaper


Removing the paint before routing prevents the router from loading up with burnt lacquer. It also helped to define the finished look!

Day 3

The dark part is the stain color used to pop the grain in the trans finish. It looks charred but it’s actually grain filler and stain on the wood

Day 5

The grain is so pretty after stripping I almost wanted to do an iced tea burst!


A little manual neck pocket work. StewMac micro chisels rock!


Binding glue is animalistic. It is the craziest glue I’ve ever known.

Day 6

This is my favorite part. It’s kinda like peeling a sunburn.


In the sunlight in first sealer coats.


White primer phase!

Day 7.1

Exposed binding phase one

Day 8

Over shooting binding after drop filling voids


Ready for final clear coating


Almost golden! The pockets took a lot of fine detailed drop fill, scrape and sand action


Golden Rose color of the dream I had…


Oh, I almost wish we pulled the frets and bound the neck too!


Before cosmetic repairs


During 1


During 2


After.. before stringing it was flawless. After stringing the hairline crack partially reappeared. Burmp!


Nut ready


Roughed in Taped off to prevent scratches to the finish. I like to do final shaping with the nut installed.


Light-years a head of any factory nut created since 1960!


Bourns pots. Nothing is finer. Unless you’re the kill switch guy who never touches them and really even still. BOURNS!


I’m not the only one who see’s this! Enjoying this part is borderline fetishistic…You know who you are!


All of ya’ll with a custom build have a signature like this somewhere out of site!


Gratuitous action shot! Taken during the binding finishing process.


I love how every angle makes the goldtop appear a slightly different color!


Cool sunlight on a dreary day! Point made. Gorgeous in any light

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Dave Gold’s Metal Charvel!

Dave is a long time music buddy of mine and just an all around solid dude. To know ‘im is to love ‘im for sure! I ran into Dave the other day and he had that look on his face new fathers get at their son’s briss…His prized baby Charvel (number two) was in desperate need of fretwork and had over .022″ of relief at the 7th fret! He would have to call a pro and hand the baby over…

We began by taking measurements (yikes that .022″ relief) The Charvel had a pretty significant hump at the body frets as well. Nothing unfixable, and plenty of fret to work with. (Metal jumbo shredder fret ridiculousness and all.) As the relief was fairly extreme, We decided to clamp the neck to a level, forcing the relief out with the clamp. The rod can then be set without stressing, or heaven forbid, breaking the truss rod.  (Just like crossing the streams…bad.) Truss rods normally cannot push more than a few thousandths out before they endure stresses that can prove catastophic.

All in all a pretty standard clean, teardown, level, dress, fix loose stuff adventure. Followed by rewiring all the bridge and switch grounds. The best part of the build is Dave having a BareKnuckle Warpig ready to install with a spare DiMarzio tone zone for the neck. Installed the pickups straight away. Floyd was cooperative and the build buttoned up nicely.

On their knees the war pig’s crawling

Begging mercy for their sins

Dave Gold Laughing Spreads His Wi-he-hings….


Oh Lord Yeah!


Before…Grungy yet beautiful. X2N monster in bridge!


Charvel Japan!


Ahhh the schmutz!


The old guts!


Great tip childrens…Leave the old strings on for the truss rod adjustment on this type of neck to avoid wasting the new strings. I had this one on an off again 3 times and broke the high E before I had .012″ relief!


Protect the finish before the fret files come out!


Protecting fretboard finish during crowning/shaping


Protecting fretboard finish during final polishing


Down to 2000 grit!


0000 steel wool polished and ready to go!


In go the new guts!


Someone call Adrian Smith. I think I’ve found his guitar!









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Josh Kue’s Gretsch g5120

Josh is cool dude. He uses his musical gifts in his church jamming with a worship band. He needed more dynamic range, more brightness and well…a touch of divine intervention with his guitar tone! His Gretsch started life as an average import hollowbody. The electronics were sterile, dark, and down right uninspiring. It did come out of the factory with a fairly nice neck and pretty decent body tone, but it was far from the awe inspiring jangle or holy rolling sparkle of the Gretsch’ of old. It was well worth the investment of the TV Jones install and electronics upgrades we performed.

  • TV Jones Classic Bridge
  • TV Jones Classic Neck
  • Switchcraft jack
  • Bourns “Vintage 82” 500k pot for the Master Volume
  • CTS 500k audio pot for Bridge Volume
  • CTS 500k audio pot for Neck Volume
  • CTS 500k audio pot for Master Tone
  • .022 /250 Orange Drop Capacitor (+/- 5%  tol)
  • Fabricate custom pickup spacer (bridge)
  • Repair and radius cracked bridge base
  • Repair crack at output jack
  • Conditioned fretboard

I had a blast hanging with Josh while we buttoned everything up on the g5120. The coolest thing about working on instruments is getting to hang with their owners!


Measurements taken. Teardown will ensue!


A voice from on high!


I love a good USPS box full of gear bits!


The old flotsum and jetsum!


Hollow indeed!


Still played surprisingly well even with almost no relief in the neck. The final setting was also pretty flat at .010″


New guts!!!


I love the attention to detail in the TV Jones mounting rings!


A very sweet sounding Gretsch g5120 and a happy client! My work is done here….for now!





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The Inca Silver “Americanized” Indo Strat!

I don’t even know where to begin…

This piece was purchased to use as a raffle prize at a festival my band, SISARET was playing back in 2012. (We paid a whopping $80.) The promoter bailed on the raffle idea. (What a rare occurrence…a promoter not promoting!) As a result the Strat sat in my guitar closet for 3 or 4 months.  Eventually I gave in to my desire to perform crazy science on the Squier.

It received a very thorough “Americanizing” treatment.

  • Steel bridge block from GFS (*don’t even get me started!)
  • Creme’ pickguard and backplate from Warmoth
  • Black knobs, and switch tip
  • 2,  1972  Vintage Gibson p90’s (Neck and Middle)
  • Seymour Duncan JB (Bridge)
  • Bourns push/pull and CTS pots
  • Switchcraft Jack
  • Fender 5 way switch
  • Complete shielding
  • Complete rewire
  • Stripped and refinished with Guitar ReRanch Inca Silver Nitro
  • Vintage style water slide headstock logo
  • “Aged” headstock face and neck

Everyone should strip a poly painted guitar at least once in their lifetime. Builds character dadgummit! Grab a heat gun, wear a respirator, wear gloves, & take your time! Use the heat to do the work, gently helping the paint off with a putty knife, with the grain. Getting aggressive or impatient will only bite you in the arse during the finish prep. Removing wood, easy…putting it back, not easy! (Leave your medallions at home macho men.) Candy metallics are harder to strip because the silver or gold undercoats insulate the underlying sealer from the hot air. I had to remove the topcoat with heat, then sand off the silver coat, followed again with heat to remove the poly sealer.  During the tedious weekend of baking my eyeballs with heat gun blow black I also found time to shield and wire up the pickguard. I opted for the following switch layout:

  1. Bridge Humbucking (Series)
  2. Bridge coil split
  3. Middle p90
  4. Middle and Neck p90
  5. Neck p90

*Plus a push/pull pot which adds the bridge back to any position on the switch. In addition to the obvious options this switch allows for an “All on” option. The result of which is a very sweetly compressed singing sustain in position 4.

Without doubt the real fun part of this build was learning that no one really makes a steel block the fits the Indo Squier bridge / body. Oh, they advertise one… One that sticks out of the back of your guitar body  by 1/8″. In true Foundry style I freehand cut the bridge side of the block down with a hacksaw. I used the drill press with a small flat faced diamond wheel to clean up the rough cut. I then mounted sandpaper on the surface of the drill press table and leveled the block with successively finer grits.  Like buttah! In test mounting the bridge I noticed an all too common error in mass produced guitars built by unskilled assembly folks. The bridge mounting screws were crooked. The low E side was off by a 1/32″…(Seems small, but a tilted bridge matters to me!)

Great tip with the body prep. I used Stewmac super glue to fill small voids and gouges on the bare wood before sanding and filling. It’s a great time saving boost to the grain filling/sealer process. It doesn’t shrink and sands just like hardwood. The rest is pretty straight forward. Sealer coats, white primer, color coats, clear, polish. Remember this is a metallic so you can’t color sand before the clear coats. I prefer to take the primer coat down to 800 grit before the color coats. This ensures the smoothest possible substrate. Spray evenly in moderately wet coats. Bear in mind the direction of overlapping coats. I criss cross the first 4 to 6 coats. At the end I find that the last 2 coats go best when I follow body lines and free up the spray pattern. I watch how the light hits the metallic as I spray, looking for dark or flat spots in the finish as I go.

The frets got leveled crowned and dressed… The first and a huge step during the “Americanizing” of necks is gluing in all frets. I do a tap test with a scrap of bone nut material over every fret looking for dead or loose thuds. You should hear a distinctive “tack” sound on good seated frets. I also use my precision straight edge and a fret rocker to verify and pinpoint high frets (Usually along the edge of the treble side, especially on bound guitars) I use my “jaws” tool from stewmac and press and hold one fret at a time while the glue cures. I have seen guys use a radius block to do the whole neck at once. Fine on new builds, but not on something with as many variables as a mass produced piece with some play wear on it.

After getting the neck ready for playing I wanted to do something esthetically that would make it look at home with the very vintage looking Inca paint job. First, I mixed up some tobacco and cherry stain with lacquer reducer and carefully stained the fretboard. It totally looks like a 60 year old piece of brazilian rosewood now. Next, I removed the Squier logo. I overshot the headstock face with nitro clear. I then placed a 50’s style water slide decal (I know it’s on a 60’s style headstock!) I put tinted coats over the logo. It was clearly time to get the razor sharp hobby knife and create some checking, just for fun. I left the factory satin finish intact on the back of the neck. I mixed up some amber stain and swabbed the neck down to match the headstock face.

Everything about this build just kicks ass! It sings and wails, It howls and grinds and clean chords jangle!. It’s like a magic portal that opens to Jeff Beck, Leslie West, and Johnny Marr…Wtf you say????? Exactly!

Day one Squier Build

A very average candy red Squier

Day two, Loose frets

Tape marks loose frets that require clamping!

Day two

Routing already begun!

Day three, Pickup mock up

Pickup test fit

Day three Stripping with heat

Bye bye candy shell

Day three paint chips

Grandma’s old fashion stained glass candy!

Day two Headstock before


Day Seven Logo pre aging

New old logo!

Finished peghead

Old is the new…new

Day Six Leveled board

Polished frets. Btw, I leveled the neck when it was bolted on. If you wonder why, play a brand new Fender on the high E and B at the 15th or 16th fret.


Stained fretboard.
Don’t even ask about Sasha, just don’t!

Day Five naked


Day Five Sealer


Day Six White Primer

White Shellac Primer


Color Coat


The back side of color

Day seven Inca Silver Build

Raise the rack Igor and pray for lightning!

Day Five Knob aging

The Aged Knobs
(Yes, that is my next band name)

Pickup close up

Final test fit

Day seven GFS Block before cutting

Stock GFS bridge block

Day Seven New block old block

Old diecast block on the left. Big fat steel block on the right.

In progress

Cutting down the GFS block

New Block next to old

The new block after micro finishing by hand. Notice in the background I leveled the bridge plate as well.


Colorsand and polish magic!


The shielding begins


Mounting the back plate. Yes i shileded every hole…they are p90’s after all!


All is quiet…


Currently my favorite Strat!


The original inspiration! 65′ Vette in Inca Silver!

Dark Art Foundry Facebook page


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Aaron Decker’s Seagull Acoustic get Fishman Guts!

Aaron’s second project with the Foundry! A really nice newer Seagull with no electronics. We couldn’t leave well enough alone. Foundry fans know from Brian Brooks’  J200 build last year that we love Fishman at the Foundry. In my searches for the perfect system for Aaron I heard a sound sample online of a steel string acoustic equipped with a Fishman Matrix Infinity. Sounded so true to life. We went for it. It came out amazing. Aaron needed a quick turn around so we never got to record a sound sample. I guess if you want to hear the finished project you’ll have to go see Aaron live!


Install Fishman Matrix Infinity

  • Drill end pen out
  • Drill wiring for under saddle piezo
  • Mount electronics
  • Mount battery pack
  • Cut down saddle ( removed .053″ per mfg instructions)

Thorough Cleaning

Fret Polishing (guitar had recent set up)

Installed D’addario .011-.052


Shiny, shiny, shiny, frets of metal


I’m aboot to reach up in that Canadian hole!


Tightening the saddle slot with water thin Stewmac super glue. Little dab’ll do ya! (Of course I realized it’s loose after the electronics are in, hence the blue tape?)


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Aaron Decker’s 1983 Ovation

Kick ass piece of 80’s musical technology! Aaron came in with non-working electronics and a serious need for fret leveling and set up. Let’s just say things were the wrong kind of groovy! This guitar is hands down the best playing 30 year old acoustic I’ve had in the shop. Say what you will about the plastic fantastic Ovation. This piece is sweet, mellow and open. It has great, natural sounding electronics. Most impressive of all… The neck angle and top are in EXACTLY the same orientation as when it left the factory many moons ago.

Cleaned and inspected electronics (Dead Battery!)

Re glued rossette on sound hole

Set relief

Leveled, dressed, polished frets

Thoroughly cleaned the entire instrument.

Oiled fret board

Strung with D’addario .011-.052 Phosphor Bronze


Plays as good as it looks!


Ready for the leveling block!


Look at that cool fretboard wear!


We both know what memories can bring…


Looks like tribal African art!




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My 2001 Les Paul Jr.

A great find. I answered a CR ad and my phone recognized the email as one of my existing contacts. ( Jonathan Hughes!) The deal went pretty frickin’ smooth from that point.

This guitar was a warranty claim never filed by a major retailer. It sat in their backstock for a decade with a failed glue joint on the upper wing of the 3 piece body. Most likely due to improper drying before assembly.

Other than the crack running half of the length of the body on the bass side, this guitar is spotless. No fretwear, great rosewood board, compensated wraptail, nice sounding stock p90. Again, not a mark on it!

Okay, “cracks” of this nature don’t get glued shut…Yes, I tried anyway. Of course I rigged up a jig and pulled out the 24″ jaw clamps (Capable of 800 psi of clamping force each.) Snap goes the jig it took an hour to assemble from scratch! Like I was saying, you fill these in. You cannot close them. I had to know!

To my sustain lovers: The crack was not directly related to the center block of the guitar. All of the structural and tone delivering components are attached to the center block. It comprises half of the total body weight, accompanied by relatively narrow wings. In light of this fact I went with slow set epoxy, disposable glue syringes, and patience. Because the outer wing had shrunk I couldn’t just drop fill and polish. The body would not line up smooth at the lower bout. This required a fair amount of reshaping down there. (Sanding through that untouched black paint)  Followed by a couple of coats of sealer, black nitro, and of course nitro clear.

Onto the wiring:

Installed a push / pull pot to swap between .022 or .047 caps in the tone circuit. Check out the groovy wiring job on that bourns pot!

Love p90’s and hate RF noise and 60hz hum? Shield it! So glad I did. Even on the inside of the dogear cover. It is as quiet idling as a strat. P90 players know why that’s a celebration. A p90 smokes a strat single coil for output and punch. However without shielding you can hear the band playing in the club next door through your amp! Not any more, check it out!


You can really see the crack in this shot. You could slide a piece of notebook paper all the way through the body!


Not visible in this shot but you can see how shiny new the piece is.


After filling and sealer coats.


Block sanding sealer…


Before polishing and after color and clear coats.


Crack? what crack?


Check out that groovy ground lug on the right. It’s soldered gingerly to the back of the pot body and the number one lug of the pot. Makes grounding the circuit in the body much cleaner.


You can see the dual cap arrangement in this shot. .022 in the down position, .047 when pulled up! Who needs neck pickups?


Oh hell yeah! I love conductive backed copper foil tape!


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Further proof of my Iceman Obsession!

This is my 94′ IC500 MIJ Iceman. Picked it up for a great price last fall!

The neck was perfect out of the box. Whoever had this before me clearly never played it! It’s a fairly rare piece as well. I must admit to swapping out the pickups and pots though. (JB and Jazz and CTS) but I did keep all of the original bits fully intact in my rare parts holding tank! Oh, and of course at the time Ibanez had not yet reissued the Iceman case so I made one…Again!


This pic is pre mods. The day I brought it home! (it had a random chrome tuner on the D string. Fixed that the next day!)


Notice Gibson speed knobs. The metric knobs are in the holding tank!


Another first day shot!


It’s huge!!!!

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My growing obsession with the Ibanez Iceman!

I’ve got it bad! I love this guitar for live work. The body shape is totally the opposite of subtle. It has a Firebird/Explorer feel with very familiar controls for folks who know a Les Paul when they see her in the dark. As you know from my earlier post, last year I grabbed a great deal on a Korean IC400. I quickly stripped her down and made her right.

Well, true to form enough is never enough. I recently went back to lab to hot rod the piece for stage use. I installed a higher output bridge pickup (JB / TB4 Duncan) and a no-wire ABR1 and aluminum tailpiece with steel inserts from Faber. I don’t have to tell you what an amazing difference a tight ABR and aluminum tail can make. Okay, forum geek know it alls who swear I can’t “really” hear an improvement. I believe you should find something constructive to do with your mouth the next time you feel it start to open!

Bridge placement is not incredibly complicated. It just requires patience and attention to detail. Determine the scale, center and drill. Okay one at a time…

Determine scale: You could measure from the nut to the center of the 12th fret and multiply by 2. Or, do what I do. Intonate the guitar on both E strings and measure back from the saddle break of the high E to the nut. (The number will be the same on the high E as the multiplied number from the previous method.) Measure the distance on the low E. The low E is typically about 1/8″ further away from the nut. Make sure you write down the measurements and set them aside. (You”ll see sticky notes stuck to guitars in a fair amount of the photos on the site for this reason) For placing the new bridge. I adjust the saddle to leave about 1/4 of its forward travel in reserve on the high E. On the low E, I adjust the saddle to leave about 1/4 of its rearward travel in reserve. That allows for breathing room as things change over the life of the instrument, string gauge changes, etc..

Center: My favorite method with an “assembled” guitar is installing the high and low E strings, Tighten them down over the bridge, postion the bridge until the high and low E’s land in the right place relative to the fret ends. ( you can make centered, shallow starter grooves on both E saddles before this step if needed)  I then check the scale length again. I mark the top with a mechanical pencil lead extended long enough to reach through the mounting holes in the bridge. If you get crazy patching paint before drilling as I did on the this build, blue masking tape takes pencil marks beautifully!

( To determine positioning you could lay a straight edge on either side of the neck and mark straight lines on the body by the bridge, then divide the width and mark a center line for bridge position. I usually don’t rely on that. We are dealing with mass production here and I’ve seen this method fail on several guitars.)

Drilling: Get your hands on a drill press. NO exceptions. I mark for drilling with a sharp, fine awl. I then twist a 3/32″ drill bit by hand to countersink the hole so the bit has a steady start. (this also makes lining the bit up in the press a lot easier) Ensure the guitar is firmly clamped and that the angle is correct. Even on most arched tops the studs usually mount perpendicular to the back of the instrument. They definitely did on the board flat IC400! Mark your depth with tape. I usually drill the full depth with the 3/32″ bit. When I switch to the final size a 1/8″ bit, I stop about an 1/8″ short of the desired depth. This allows the stud to bottom snugly.

Stud mounting trick: Don’t use your thumbwheels for this please. Buy two 3-48 Hex nuts from the hardware store ($.22). Thread them on the end of the post and jam them together by holding the bottom nut in an open end wrench while tightening the other nut to it with a socket or open end wrench. Then you can use the little open end wrench to drive the stud slowly and cleanly. When you hit bottom back up the bottom nut and break the top one loose. Bottomed posts and no ruined thumbwheels or studs. 


Here are some juicy pics of the ABR1 Conversion:


See the dowel bit in the hole…That’s all it took. Import stud inserts always come out too easy!


I used a straight plug cutter to make top grain mahogany dowels for the bridge


Stained, and painted with Stewmac10 super glue. Before sanding and polishing


Notice how nice the superglue paint job came out!


Faber bits…Tackle out!


You can almost see the tone!

IMAG0060_BURST002-1 IMAG0062_BURST002-1

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Brian Brooks’ 60’s Aria Lawsuit J200

IMAG0002-1Alright Foundry Fans, this had to be the most intense build ever. I will never again think, “This’ll be a piece of cake”

We started with Brian asking if I could install a Fishman Matrix blend peizo/mic set up. That was when the over confidence began, “No problem. Ship it out, I said.” Eagerly awaiting a slam dunk electronics install and a quick and easy set up. Well….

In July, August,  September ’12

I opened the case for the first time in July. I found a very nice looking, sweet sounding big fat Japanese acoustic. Upon inspection I notice the bridge is warped and lifting on the treble side. Alright, I’ll heat up the knife and slide that puppy off, make it right and “Bob’s yer uncle”, we’re back in business. Wrong!

The bridge has had a previous reset. Lots of polymer filled, water resistant glue that whispers a sweet f#*k off to my heated knife. When I finally free the beast there are several 1/2″ wide voids in the surface, gory cuts in the finish around the perimeter (from the previous botched deal) and black spots that may be mold, or possibly the witch who cursed the guitar sneezed during the last bridge reset. Okay, after steaming, clamping, leveling, resetting, replacing the piece of MOP inlay I sanded through making the bridge “cosmetically” perfect and weeks of surgical touch up painting, I’m ready to route for the peizo. I widened the route, cut a fresh compensated bone saddle, pop in the rest of the Fishman bits and I’m off to the races. Nope, piezo’s dead. How you ask? I start troubleshooting wiring. No issues there. I pull out the saddle. I gouged the piezo putting the saddle in the final time. (Insert cuss words here) I find a source online and have a new piezo overnighted. Done at last…

Not even close!

September / October 12′ The set up:

Nothing routine about it. The guitar is buzzing all over hell. The neck is clearly on its way to a back bow after acclimating to West Coast without string tension. I go for the truss rod wrench.. Won’t budge. (Now remember I’m loosening not tightening) “Never ever muscle a truss rod” rings in my head as I fantasize about pnuematic impact wrenches with 4 mm Allen heads. Whilst finishing the beer I clearly needed I’m thinking “the threads might have glue on them”. I can see that someone recently installed crown inlays in the fretboard and it looks like they went pretty wild with the router and the super glue. Maybe they went through the board into the rod channel. Off to bed hoping the answer comes in a dream. Okay, it didn’t come in a dream but I’ve got it. I’ll heat up the 900 degree monster iron I use for desoldering,  jam it in the sound hole and go for broke. Yes! My luck is turning and so is the f’ing rod.


November / December ’12

Now I’m gonna level and dress and get her moving. Getting into the neck work it’s apparent the guitar has been refretted. (Not the best work either). The ends are ugly and the wire itself is extremely narrow. “Once I dress them they’ll be fine. Right”… of course not. The hump at the body frets is high enough that the ends of the 14th fret almost disappeared  during leveling. I know what you’re thinking, “He’s never gonna use those frets anyway” The poor condition of the other frets truly necessitated a total refret at this point . I’m ready for this not to be straight forward. Out the gate we invest in StewMac’s Jaws 2 fret press. Good call. Great tool as always and way safer over the body. First thing. Pull the nut. The fun continues! The previous fellow painted over about 1/8″ of glue/filler which was used to raise the nut. So when I scored the nut before tapping it out it made no difference. The first tap pulled off 1/8″ of finish on the headstock. This required maple shims, super glue, scraping,  sealing, and more spot finishing! Other than that, the 12th fret slot being cut crooked and the nut end of the board being bevelled off on one corner the job was completed fairly quickly. Oh the power of super glue, veneer, and rosewood dust!


Okay, refretted/perfectly adjusted neck, perfectly mounted bridge, butt tight saddle slot with reasonable break angle, fresh nut. Perfect tone recipe on paper. Yet I now have visions of Ravi Shankar on the plain strings. (Rest his beautiful soul) Where is this amazing sitar buzz coming from??? Well, as I’m terminally anal retentive I decide I’ll check the under side of the bridge pins to see if we have good seating. Excellent in fact,  especially considering the age of the piece and it’s history. “I’ll just back cut the string grooves to obtain a 45 degree break angle, ream the bridge pin holes, and install nice new tight Martin bridge pins. Problem solved”… 90%ish. (At this point it actually rings as clean as most acoustics I’ve played.) But still there is  a nagging buzz on the high E when played open. Ends up it was about .020” of the nut slot not angled properly. I literally angled the file a hair too much on the final cuts. The string would buzz as it decayed, ringing against the bone in the tiny gap before the end of the nut.  Just like a sitar, the string has a tiny gap between the string break and the end of the “jawari” or bridge. Perfect conditions for groovy buzzing.

I know you might be thinking, “bad trouble shooting. Should’ve checked the nut first.” I actually did check it first. The issue was checking it with my naked eye. Missed it completely! Magnified it was glaringly obvious. I will admit to thinking.”I just cut those slots and they’re perfect” (Pride cometh before a shit ton of extra work!) I will always check under magnification going forward. I am anal retentive remember!

I have to say how cool it is to have become such good friends with Brian. He was patient and super cool through all of the ups and downs of the never ending resurrection. I’m proud to say together we made a gorgeous sweet sounding vintage import piece! Wait until you see Brian’s next piece. A highly customized, and totally unique take on a Les Paul Goldtop. Hint, It was born without binding…but now has it! It’s also in a fresh sealer coat as we speak!

List of Parts:

Fishman matrix blend pickup

Bone nut

.092 / .045 fret wire

New Bridge pins

Bone Saddle

Jaws 2!!!

Lots of sandpaper and nitro lacquer

Work Breakdown:

Bridge reset (make and set an inlay!)

Spot Refinishing top around bridge and various dings and chips.

Debur G string  tuner (breaking strings during restringing)

Cut nut ( rebuild slot, respray headstock face)

Cut Saddle

Refret (including filling & reslotting the 12th fret as the previous chap cut it crooked)

Fill crazy bevel at nut end of fretboard (see pics)

Back cut string holes

Ream bridge pin holes

I now truly believe instruments have souls. This one liked me and wanted to stay with me…forever!!!






Bridge removed

Bridge removed and patched

Bridge steam

Steamed and clamped before planing

Bridge glued on

Slick homemade clamping!

Bridge mounted

Mounted before finish repairs

drop fill for bridge refinish

Overcut and filled with glue when I got to it. This is in the middle of drop filling.

saddle 2

saddle making fun

saddle blank

more saddle fun

saddle finished


Sanded through inlay

It just vanished!

restet inlay

It’s back. (before leveling)

Bevelled off fretboard

See that crazy bevel on the treble side?

fretting begins

Lay out and trimming

fret layout

More fret foreplay. Notice the weird bevel is gone and the headstock is ready for the nut!


crooked slot. Intonation does matter!


maple veneer glued in!


rosewood dust and stewmac 10 super glue


Scraped down with a look at how off it was!

frets hump gone

Level at last

fretting dead nuts level

Dead nuts! Straight edges don’t lie.


Dig the notes on the tape!


Yes I glued them all in!

frets finished 2

Nothing compares to frets installed by a player!!

frets finished


back cut 1

I do love glue and tiny bits of wood!


Halfway scraped


That’s the height of the best of the old frets.


Finally on her way home!



Nut slot mess

Nut slot silliness

nut slot repaint 1

Drop filling with nitro is SLOW!

Nut slot repaint

SLOW but worth it!


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