Skills & Services

Body Mounting Humbuckers

Pickups traditionally need some form of bracket to mount them to the guitar; Pickup_Ringe.g. Stratocasters have pick-guards and Les Pauls have pickup rings. The mounting bolts pass through the pick-guard or ring, through an adjusting spring or silicone tube and finally screw into the pickups threaded side tabs.pickguard The height of the pickup is then adjusted by tightening or loosening the bolt on either side, while the spring or silicone tube applies the constant resistance required so that the pickup doesn’t flap around and moves up and down with the adjustment.

Mounting a pickup directly to the body is almost the inverse of this process.

The routing of the pickup area does not need to be as large. In fact it is desirable for the routing to be as tight as possible with the chosen pickup so that any gaps are minimal, limiting sight into the cavity. Failure to do this results in a finish similar to Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein guitar.




I found when researching the options for body mounting that there were very few solutions available. The general consensus seems to be changing the mounting bolts for wood screws that pass though the pickup tabs and directly into the guitar body. This obviously means that the threaded holes in the pickup need to be drilled out to allow a screw to pass though freely. Most solutions add a piece of foam between the back of the pickup and the guitar body, creating the resistance in place of the springs/silicone used with pickup rings. The length and diameter of the wood screw in this case would be very critical as it would need to be sized accurately for the required final height the pickup once complete. Adjustment of the pickup height by the customer would then be at risk of the screws possibly coming right through the back of the guitar if they were too long.

Screws of unknown length, girth and finish to mount a pickup didn’t appeal to me. Putting a bit of foam in one of my guitars with the hope that it remained spongy, also seemed destined to fail and an overall bodge, so I decided to do it my own way.

Humbucker_ConstructionPickup base-plates are readily available from guitar building sites such as AxesRus, which are used for building custom-wound pickups. They’re cheap, they have holes pre-drilled which can be used for mounting and the tabs are already exactly spaced and threaded to fit any standard 6-pole humbucker. It seemed very logical to just mount one of these plates upside down in the pickup cavity. The side tabs (then facing upwards) mirror the pickup to be fitted, and act as a bracket for mounting. This also allows for the supplied bolt and spring configuration for resistance. I couldn’t believe that nobody else had seemed to have tried this.

HumBase-PlateThe threaded holes in the side tabs of the chosen pickup still need to be drilled out to allow the bolts to pass through freely, but this is the only modification required (with possible exception to the mounting bolts).

NB: In a recent build the bolts were so long that they ‘bottomed out’ into the pickup cavity when I tried to lower the pickup. Simply snipping off around 4 mm of the bolt with some side-cutters and tidying up with a needle file quickly fixed this.

A clean, tidy mounting method and no worries of wood screw length/girth or shabby bits of foam.

Abalone Inlay Process

This post charts the process of inlaying my standard logo into the headstock of a personal guitar project. In this case, I am using MGuest_Logo_InlayBlack Tahiti Abalone, which gives black, green and purple hues in different lights. This has been chosen as a match for the Walnut neck predominantly for its darker appearance.
Once the design has been cut out and finished with needle files (see previous posts), the inlay is glued to the headstock, and once dried, scored around with a scalpel. This can be tricky with heavily grained timbers like Walnut as the blade can catch in the grain and travel off course. I am waiting for the delivery of an engineer’s scribe for future work, as this should make things easier on the first pass.

At this point ideally, some coloured chalk should be cross-hatched around the scoring to highlight the boundaries of the design to be routed. Snooker chalk is good for this, but I couldn’t find anything in the ‘Man-drawer’ that would suffice, so I did without. This becomes very tricky as the cutting progresses due to the build-up of sawdust covering the guidelines.
P1010705A Dremel multi-tool and Stewart MacDonald router base are essential for intricate routing work like this.

P1010706When adjusting the cutting depth, it’s always better to cut deeper than required, especially with a thick substrate like abalone. This allows a much greater tolerance for a tight fit. It’s easy to pad the routing with epoxy to raise the level if the inlay is sitting too low.
I mix the leftover sawdust with some epoxy resin to create a darker colour. Without this darkening effect, the resin can tend to look too translucent and can spoil the definition of the edges of the inlay.
Even though they reckon Epoxy doesn’t shrink during the curing process like super glue, I find that it does tend to settle and can leave holes and gaps if the excess is skimmed off. For this reason I leave a good mound of Epoxy over the inlay to cure (a minimum of 24 hours).P1010708

It’s then just a case of sanding off the excess after curing. I started with 80-grit, and worked down to 240 via 180. As a Wudtone finish is going to be applied to this neck, I did not want to sand the timber too fine. However, to ensure the inlay itself is highly polished, I used some 0000 ultra-fine steel wool and a little Lemon oil as a lubricant to make it shine.P1010710

Fret-end/Tang Finishing

Fret-end finishing

Here is a guitar neck I have had in storage for a couple of months now, intended for a Les Paul style guitar for our private collection.

I had it commissioned by a great luthier Owen Jackson, and had it in a wardrobe while I was finishing the body with Wudtone clear. When I recently took it out to start prepping for a headstock inlay, I noticed the Ebony fretboard had contracted slightly, causing the fret tangs to become exposed.
These can quickly be filed back flush with my new Crimson Guitars fret shaping files.

Epiphone Black Beauty – ‘Leniel’

Spring 2012

A good friend of mine, ex-Riverstyx frontman Joe Nightingale, had an unfortunate accident a couple of years before I took this commission on. The guitar had Black Beutysomehow slipped from its upright position against an amp, landing face-down and breaking clean through the headstock itself just under the bottom machine-heads holes. This guitar was then out of commission for a long time as my friend requested quotes from local Luthiers to re-join the head.
As this would require a lot of preparation around the neck joint and probably ultimately a re-spray, the quotes were understandably expensive. In the end a DIY fix was chosen and the headstock was reattached using Gorilla glue. It was at this point I was given the guitar.

I found the joint itself to be surprisingly strong. Areas where the wood grain had delaminated meant that the joint was far from flush, and in areas you could see daylight through the joint. Nevertheless, my job was to give the guitar a decent fettle and new setup with particular focus on the electrics.

Areas of concern I identified were:

  • Missing tip from selector switch
  • Crackly/intermittent operation of all controls (including selector switch)
  • Missing speed control knob
  • Broken plastic jack-plate
  • Seized Bigsby lever-arm

After taking the control cover off I was greeted with some horrendous Korean wiring and components, so attempting to clean the pots was futile in my opinon. After checking with the client we decided to replace all components for new (including switch and jack).
This is a Black Beauty after all, and with an extra pickup, but the same number of controls as a standard Les Paul, this means that the wiring is slightly different to standard. In this case, the selector switch acts as normal, i.e.

  1. Neck only
  2. Neck & Bridge
  3. Bridge Only

The Neck Tone control in this case acts as a Master Tone for all pickups however. The tone pot that would usually be for the Bridge, then acts as a Volume control for the middle humbucker. This pickup is isolated from the selector switch altogether and can be brought into the mix or silenced using this volume pot.
Approaching the wiring took a little more thought than usual, as I had not wired up to this configuration before.

NB: For reference, GuitarElectronics.com is an invaluable site and there has only been a few occasions when I have not been able to find a solution using this website.

Work completed:

  • New CTS pots (Vol1, Vol2, Vol3 & Master Tone)
  • New AxesRUs Selector switch
  • New jack-socket
  • New jack-plate (gold)
  • New black speed control knob
  • Complete rewire throughout

At the point of plugging the guitar into my test amp, this was one of the “Oh Bother…” occasions where there was definitely something amiss in the wiring. This case was a loud ‘buzz’ that disappeared whenever I touched a metal component. One of the better symptoms of a problem really as it’s clearly an earthing issue. No sound at all can take much longer to fault-find and incur a much higher degree of profanity.

In this case, the earth cable coming from the bridge was at fault. Stripping back the wire further to remove the badly corroded tinning, I soldered the freshly tinned wire back onto the back of one of the volume pots. This fixed the problem, after a re-test everything was then ‘hum-free’ as all Les Pauls should be.

‘MG’ Logo inlay

Although I have been setting up and building guitars for a few years now, I have only fairly recently started to fully customise and create a ‘new’ guitar where none of the contributing components have ever existed or belonged to a musical instrument before. As these builds are unique and created by me, I wanted to brand them as such.

My initial ideas for a logo revolved around Runology as these characters are simple by design (so not too fiddly to make many inlays) and also enabled me to divulge my inner LOTR geek. Keeping things very simple, I have just amalgamated the Mannaz and Fehu runes (‘M’ and ‘G’) to reflect my initials. The Fehu rune is a little controvertial as it can be regarded as an ‘F’ character, but if it is good enough for Gandalf the Grey then it’s good enough for me.
This logo will appear on all guitars built by myself as a headstock inlay of varying materials.

Abalone inlay

I have recently restocked my supply of marquetry supplies from Small Wonder Music, and decided to cut out a headstock logo ready to inlay into a personal Les Paul project guitar.

I have a selection of different abalone shell materials including Black Tahiti, Red Abalone and Japanese Awabi. Also there is a small piece of reconstituted rock ‘Black Web’ that I wam planning to use as a Raven fretboard inlay in Huginn. In this case the inlay will be inteneded for a Walnut neck, so I wanted to aim for a little mor subtelty and opt for something dark.

The Black Tahiti abalone has a very dark green hue, but also has flashes of purple and blue in different light.

P1010692Progress was pretty slow as I needed to use a very 0/2 grade saw blade to allow the tight turns around the points of the runes. Cutting the arms of the logo was a little delicate so as not to crack the thin shell on the downward cutting stroke, but on the whole the process just requires a little patience.

For anybody looking to cut Abalone for the first time, ensure you have an N95-rated dust mask as the resulting powder can be pretty nasty to inhale.


Almost ready to inlay into the headstock, just a short session with some needle files to tidy up the edges and it’s time to get the Dremel out.