Q418C Roland’s headless build

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  • ModellistaModellista Frets: 944
    edited October 17
    This build looks challenging! You must have the patience of a saint to knock that lot up into something workable. I’d be having a beer, and small bonfire, and a Section 75 chargeback
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Yeah, there’s a lot to do. Basically it’s a not a kit. It’s a box of substandard parts which don’t fit together. I’m still working on it because I like solving problems. If I were doing this as an easy way to build a guitar then I’d have sent it back last month. That can still happen if the supplier doesn’t live up to the agreement, and replace the bridge. 


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    The replacement bridge has arrived from China. At first glance it looks OK. No rust, and the tuners all unscrew and extend correctly. One of them wobbles a bit, but I should be able to scavenge a working set.

    So it’s game on, and I can start working on the rest of the kit.
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  • SporkySporky Frets: 14671
    Probably a bit late, but you could replace any plastic washers in the tuner arrangement with some small thrust bearings?
    Parachutes are great, for dogs and Frenchmen. 
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Nice idea, but I can’t imagine finding bearings which are this small. Unless I splay the tuners the outside diameter has to be less than string separation.
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  • SporkySporky Frets: 14671
    Doh - good point. I think for 3mm centres the smallest will be 8mm outside diameter. Probably just too big?
    Parachutes are great, for dogs and Frenchmen. 
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 19271
    Roland said:
    I like solving problems. 
    What do you suggest should happen in with Iran?
    I am the juice of four limes.
    Trading Feedback

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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Sporky said:
    Doh - good point. I think for 3mm centres the smallest will be 8mm outside diameter. Probably just too big?
    And expensive. The bearings I’ve seen are more than £10 each.

    Thread angle is probably a simpler solution. The Overlord tuner uses an M3 thread, presumably because it’s an industry standard. M3 is 40 turns per inch. A shallower thread would turn more easily. The shallowest I could find is 60 tpi. However it’s 3/16” diameter, so the tuner slugs would need a 10mm by 10mm cross section. The slugs in the Overlord are 5mm by 10mm.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    A bit more engineering. Those M3 threaded inserts I bought are a nice idea, but difficult to install. The external wood screw is single thread, and difficult to drive straight. Putting enough force on the screwdriver to hold it straight causes a burr on the internal thread, which means that the M3 screw can’t get started. 

    I can think of three solutions. 
    1. Put them in from the back, which I don’t fancy because they’ll be visible.
    2. Ream out the first 1mm of the internal thread so that the screwdriver doesn’t cause a burr.
    3. Make a tool with a spigot which holds the insert in place.
    Or of course I could not use them.
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  • m_cm_c Frets: 424
    Screw in a M3 grubscrew past the slot, install the insert, then remove the grubscrew which should clean up an burrs, unless they're major burrs in which case you're back to square one. Alternative approach would be to run a M3 tap through once installed, but that risks not picking up the correct thread and stripping the insert.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    edited October 28
    Thanks @m_c ; .Building on your idea, I’ve used a long M3 screw, with locking nuts on it. Screw into the insert, tighten the locking nuts, and then screw the assembly into the wood. The long M3 make it simple to keep the insert straight.


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    It’s two weeks since the bridge arrived, and I’ve finally made time to get back in the workshop. First job was to fill in the enormous bridge cavity. I started by routing it even bigger, but square edged. Taking a leaf from @poopot ‘s book I then chiselled the corners.

    The body wood (I still don’t believe it’s basswood) is very soft, and cuts like cardboard. I’m rather glad about those screw inserts because I don’t think that wood screws will hold well. Here it is filled with two pieces of pine, sanded to shape, and drilled for bridge studs. I used separate blocks for the lower and upper parts of the cavity because I think that will be stronger than one enormous piece.The end grain join is not as clean as I’d like because I couldn’t hammer the block in hard enough without damaging the other end of the body. That’s going to bug me



    Next step will be to open up the pickup cavities. 
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    The cavities are done and threaded inserts installed. @m_c ;‘s suggestion works well.

    I’ve been saving sawdust to fill dents in the wood. However the basswood is so soft that they’ve all sanded out with a few passes of 240 grit.

    Here it is with the face dyed and some black hardware posed on top. The flat face of the pine infill is lighter because it’s uptake of dye is slower, and because it reflects the light better. In reality it is more turquoise than the picture shows. 



    I was going to leave the back and sides natural. Over time they will get darker. Wiping with white spirit gives an idea of the final colour. 



    You can see the untreated wood colour in the control cavity. What’s interesting is that the colour difference between the three pieces of wood didn’t show up until I wetted it. I might colour the back and sides to cover this.  Possibly black?
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Decision 3. Tuners.

    For several months I’ve been researching headless bridges. That’s not 10 minutes on Google with a cup of coffee type research. I’ve spoken to several guitar makers who use these things in their own guitars, and even considered designing my own. Nicest of all is the Hipshot. Several other companies make similar one or two piece bridge and tuner designs. There are also single string bridge/tuners which are really designed for fanned frets.

    When you look at the cost of these bridges and tuners, plus the head end string retainers, they exceed the cost of the kit. Somehow that feels wrong. If I were spending that much on hardware then I’d expect to use better quality timber for the body and neck.

    Having seen it in situ I’m happy with my modified Overlord tuner. When I build my next headless guitar I might go for something more sophisticated. Let’s see how this one performs before deciding about that.

    Decision 4. Colour and finish.

    Basswood grain is never going to look good, particularly when the blocks which make up the body are such different colours. However it’s easy to sand smooth, and will take paint well. So I was tempted to spray it gold over a white undercoat. Laziness prevented me. At the same time as this build I’m also making Christmas presents. I’d need to stop work on them and hoover the workshop again. Common sense also prevented me. Gold is unforgiving. I’d need to heat the workshop to get the paint to spray and dry nicely. Heating would cause dust particles to circulate, and settle on the paint. I don’t have space for a paint booth.

    Veneer would look nice. I’ve always wanted to try it, but that would mean replacing the white binding. As @Andyjr1515 observed, I’ve made a lot of changes to the original kit. Doing much more feels as if I’m hiding the kit, rather than working with it. 

    So it is going to be an oil finish, Osmo 3032 satin, over blue stain. My wife likes blue.
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  • Andyjr1515Andyjr1515 Frets: 1865
    Osmo 3032 is a great product to use :)
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Osmo isn’t as yellowing as Tru-Oil, and it gives a harder finish. It’s going on at the rate of two coats a day. Initially it was a quick wipe with a rag to avoid washing off the stain. Then I switched to 00000 wire wool. Not @WezV’s slurry method, which would have rubbed pale patches the stain, but a quick wipe to remove nibs, then wipe off with a rag. Slow progress, but it fits around other activities.


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Decision 5. Pickups and Wiring

    Over a range of Telecaster builds I’ve tried various pickups. I’ve settled on a Wapping Wharf in the bridge position, and a Californian in the neck. These suit my playing style, with the right balance of warmth and attack. 

    This kit body is routed HSS, with no pickguard to hide behind, so I need to try something new. I recently talked to a professional guitar builder, as opposed to an amateur like myself. His approach is, of necessity, to stick with what he knows works. As an amateur, with no living to make or reputation to defend, I am free to experiment. In fact I relish every opportunity to try something I’ve not done before. The Stonetones are my first Strat pickups. They have been on the shelf for a while, and at last here’s an opportunity to try them out. The middle pickup is RWRP, which is also something I haven’t tried before. The Solar Flare is an interesting idea, a humbucker with unbalanced coils, so that it doesn’t lose too much volume when tapped. I put a similar pair into my McCarty earlier this year. Here’s the opportunity to try it against single coils.

    When wiring up a guitar it’s tempting to go for all the options, with a five way superswitch, and mini switches for tapping the humbucker, series/parallel connection, and changing pickup phase. The reality is that, when playing live, I can’t cope with more than five combinations. So mini switches are out. 

    Honing it down to five switching options will need some experimentation. It’s likely that whatever I go for initially will change later. The five way which came in the kit is single track. It only allows:
    1. Humbucker.
    2. Humbucker and middle. (Not sure how usable this combination is)
    3. Middle.
    4. Middle and neck.
    5. Neck.

    A two track switch will allow me to start with:
    1. Humbucker.
    2. Tapped humbucker. (I use this quite a bit with current guitars)
    3. Tapped and middle.
    4. Middle and neck.
    5. Neck.
    Then, if either positions 3 or 4 don’t give a sound I can use then I’ll change it to middle only, or tapped humbucker and neck.

    So I’ve ordered a couple of five way blade switches. One is two track. The other a four track superswitch in case I decide to put some of the coils in series, or use wired pickup combinations.
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  • It's always tempting to do super flexible wiring when you have the opportunity.  I made a super strat with three Iron Gear Jailhouse Rails in and a mini on-on-on toggle for each to switch between off-split-full.  Loads of combinations possible, but in reality I mostly use the bridge pickup in full mode and occasionally bridge+middle in split mode for a stratty twang.  And that's about it.

    The blue looks great, by the way. 
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  • AlegreeAlegree Frets: 371
    Just to clarify, the Solar Flare doesn't have unbalanced coils. It's unbalanced by the magnetic field. 

    It's not designed to be split, it'll be split PAF level of output doing so. You might like it though. It's designed to play well with single coils in series mode.
    Alegree pickups & guitar supplies - www.alegree.co.uk
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Alegree said:
    Just to clarify, the Solar Flare doesn't have unbalanced coils. It's unbalanced by the magnetic field. 

    It's not designed to be split, it'll be split PAF level of output doing so. You might like it though. It's designed to play well with single coils in series mode.
    Thank you for the clarification. Not having to tap the humbucker simplifies the wiring, and means that I might be able to use the switch which came with the kit. I presume that you means series mode for the humbucker’s coils, not having humbucker and single coil pickups in series?
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  • AlegreeAlegree Frets: 371
    Roland said:
    Alegree said:
    Just to clarify, the Solar Flare doesn't have unbalanced coils. It's unbalanced by the magnetic field. 

    It's not designed to be split, it'll be split PAF level of output doing so. You might like it though. It's designed to play well with single coils in series mode.
    Thank you for the clarification. Not having to tap the humbucker simplifies the wiring, and means that I might be able to use the switch which came with the kit. I presume that you means series mode for the humbucker’s coils, not having humbucker and single coil pickups in series?
    That's right. 
    You can absolutely split the humbucker if you want to. But I hope you'll find it'll do similar to what you're after from the split in standard humbucking mode.
    Alegree pickups & guitar supplies - www.alegree.co.uk
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Me, impatient? We’re rehearsing tonight, so you can guess what I’ve been doing today. Trial assembly, physical shakedown, electrical assembly using the kit’s five way switch, electrical adjustment. 

    Quick checklist of what I’ve noticed so far, starting with the kit parts:
    - Switch is dodgy (no surprise). 
    - Two of the strings were faulty. Top E unravelled at the ball end. B was kinked.
    - Supplied knobs don’t fit the pots. In my haste I stole two from another guitar.
    - The selector switch is hidden behind the volume knob

    Tuning was initially very stiff. I expected some difficulty because of the gearing ration of the M3 screw threads. Then two more of the plastic washers broke. Once replaced with metal washers and a dollop of grease tuning became much easier. This looks like one of those design faults where the supplier is not getting customer feedback. The strings which came with the kit feel like 9-42s. They’re now 10-42s, and the tuners are not too stiff. I use 10-52s on other guitars. It remains to be seen whether they will work with strings that heavy.

    Things I’m pleased about:
    - Having two strap button means that it doesn’t fall over when leaning against a wall.
    - It only weighs 5lb 8oz.
    - You can remove the strings without destroying them. I’ve already done this three times: neck shim, pickup reseating, and tuner washer replacement.

    Still to do:
    - Tidy the frets. I don’t want to waste several metres of fret wire until I know this is giggable.
    - Increase the string gauge. Maybe 10-46s at first.
    - Adjust the headpiece. With 9s the top E doesn’t contact the zeroth fret. With 10s it does, but rattles a bit.
    - Let the finish harden before I abuse it too much.

    Things I’ll change on the next build:
    - The 12.5 degree string break angle is plenty. Next time I’ll use a lower angle.
    - Put the selector switch behind the tone knob.
    - Match the pickup colours.
    - Consider having the forward strap button somewhere else. Possible the rear of the horn, or  even the neck joint. The guitar feels as if it wants to be worn high, with a very short strap. Practical, but not very rock and roll looking. 



    Gratuitous picture before electric assembly.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Rehearsal feedback

    This was the first time I’ve played with Strat pickups! Before I saw the light, and turned to Telecaster, I’d only used humbuckers. I enjoyed experimenting with the different sound. @Alegree’s Solar Flare balanced well with the single coils. The single coils didn’t seem very different from each other. What I’m not sure about is whether I want more than just the Strat sound, possibly something more heavily wound. To make that decision I need to play it more.

    The guitar performed well for the first three songs, and then went out of tune. Not surprising for an instrument which had only been assembled the previous day, and hadn’t had time to settle into tension. Rather than fiddle with the tuning I switched guitars.

    Today I fitted 10-52s. They’re second hand, taken off aTelecaster, so already stretched. (I can get away with this because the string length is so short). The tuners still turn, if a little stiffly. I still need convincing that they are useable in the heat of a gig.
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  • carloscarlos Frets: 1503
    Congrats on getting somewhere with this, but you've really made a rod for your own back with that terrible bridge. I've got this one in my Steinberger and it's great -https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/JCustom-FX-Bridge-Fits-Steinberger-TransTrem-S-Trem-Guitars-Fixed-Bridge/332877340099
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    @carlos Thanks, it’s been an interesting journey. The tuners have always been the crux of the matter. The manufacturers I’ve met who make headless guitars commercially either buy Hipshot, or make their own. 
    WezV said:

    The aim of this challenge is to build a usable piece of musical equipment from a kit that is available to purchase ... There are no limits to how much you mod your kit, but don't bin it and build from scratch - make the kit work for you!
    In the context of this challenge I decided that buying tuners would be a step too far. I’m pleased that I’ve been able to modify the Overlord tuner, and make it work. 


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    Would you like to hear the latest episode? When I was checking the kit over I compared the neck with one of Graham’s. Easy enough to do. Hold them together, fretboard to fretboard, and check for differences. They matched. Good I thought, at least one piece of this kit is properly made. 

    For the last two weeks I’ve been trying to settle down the tuning and intonation. It wouldn’t settle. “Is it me?” I wondered. “Have I put the bridge in the wrong place?”. “Am I pressing to hard when I fret a note, causing it to go sharp?”. “Is my capo technique faulty?”

    Nope. The zero fret is 1.5 to 2mm out of position. About where the centre line of a traditional nut should be, rather the near edge.

    [expletive deleted]
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  • AlvinAlvin Frets: 256
    Could one have had an overhang for the last fret/s ?
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2175
    @Alvin Not sure what you mean. It’s a 24 fret neck. There’s a slight (2mm) fretboard overhang near the neck pickup, but not like a 22 fret Tele with a fret on the overhang. 

    All the frets are in the right places except the zero fret. I can fill the slot and recut at the right position. However it’s not a single fret replacement. The Jescar 47095 wire which I bought for the job has a 1.2mm crown height. The existing frets are nearer 1.5mm, so it means a complete refret. I was hoping to avoid refretting until I could decide whether the guitar is a keeper, or a dust gatherer.
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  • martmart Frets: 2892
    Wouldn’t a capo at the 1st fret give a temporary workaround to see if the guitar is worth saving?
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  • Andyjr1515Andyjr1515 Frets: 1865
    Roland said:
    @Alvin Not sure what you mean. It’s a 24 fret neck. There’s a slight (2mm) fretboard overhang near the neck pickup, but not like a 22 fret Tele with a fret on the overhang. 

    All the frets are in the right places except the zero fret. I can fill the slot and recut at the right position. However it’s not a single fret replacement. The Jescar 47095 wire which I bought for the job has a 1.2mm crown height. The existing frets are nearer 1.5mm, so it means a complete refret. I was hoping to avoid refretting until I could decide whether the guitar is a keeper, or a dust gatherer.
    That's a bummer!  Looks great too.

    You've lost me in terms of why this would need a refret.  Can't you just use a 1.5mm (or higher) fret in the new zero fret position?
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