Monday, June 15, 2015

I've Spitfired my CIJ Jazzmaster and it is now complete

Ever wonder why modern guitars never seem to look quite right? It's because their pickguards are ugly! Just a swirly brown painted mess. So I've Spitfired my CIJ Jazzmaster:

That's a brand new, handmade tortoise shell pickguard, made the same way the original vintage ones were. It's the closest you're gonna get to the real thing without paying $500 or so. Red Jazzmasters never actually came with these, but it's a common aftermarket look and it was this look that got me into Jazzmasters in the first place.

The contrast in colors on mine is a little strong right now, but that should mellow out over time just as it did on the original vintage guards.

I touched in an earlier post on the fact that modern tort sucks. And there aren't a lot of options for Japanese Jazzmasters - US pickguards don't fit. Spitfire is the only guy making them old-school, with real celluloid patterns churned by hand. And he just started making them fitted for Japanese Jazzmasters.

It's really hard to convey how this looks in person compared to a standard modern printed tortoise shell pickguard. Printed tort has a very "2D" look - it looks like the piece of paper under plastic that it is. A real hand-churned pickguard, though, has truly random patterns all through the material - it has a real depth to it.

Here are a few comparison shots with my old Allparts pickguard still on:

Below is Spitfire, US AVRI, and Allparts top to bottom:

Spitfire and US AVRI below - what is Fender US even doing these days?

Spitfire, US AVRI and Allparts again:

I chose "Vintage Burgundy" for color and "Speckled 60's" for style, because my research showed that that was closest to what was most common in 1966, the year my guitar was based on. Don't like the big splotches of color? Pick "Subtle 60's" instead of speckled. Want something even more dramatic? Go for "Crazy 70's" or even "Solar Flare". Color options also range from "Faded Orange" to "Vintage Dark". The truth is there's no one "right" look if you're trying to replicate vintage - it depends on when a vintage pickguard was made, which individual person made it and how it's been treated since then. Spitfire seems to cover all the possible combinations.

But they all share one thing in common - that look that says you're standing in the middle of an exploding fireball. You just don't get that from printed tort.

Notice too that Spitfire's now using vintage-correct 4-ply thin black line material cut to a wider angle - a seemingly tiny detail that really makes the edges pop (see above!).

Spitfire's pickguards do not come with any sort of shielding material, so on a Japanese Jazzmaster you have to make your own. Whenever you replace your pickguard, do not neglect this step. But I'd protect that signature just in case!

I used the same shielding tape I bought to shield my Jazzmaster's inner cavities. This is probably the best option for a Japanese pickguard, because again, US pickguard shields don't fit and Fender Japan doesn't make one - they use even thinner silver foil tape on their factory pickguards.

Here is it done and trimmed. Truth be told I don't like a lot of wrinkles in my tape and I tried to smooth it out as much as possible while replacing some strips that were even worse than that bottom left corner. (This tape is difficult to keep completely wrinkle-free as you work with it.) Wrinkles that are too deep nearest the edges can leave indentations on your finish over time.

Trimming the tape is tricky - I used an X-Acto knife to trim as close to the edge as possible. I'm sure I scored the back of the pickguard a bit, but who cares - if I ever do sell this, whoever buys it is gonna want that shielding anyway. You need to trim right up to the edge, since you want the pickguard shielding to contact the inner cavity shielding and form a Faraday Cage.

After that, the rest is easy - unstring the guitar, remove the bridge, unscrew 15 screws, remove the knobs, and use a pliers to remove the nut on the pots, switch and jack. Then do the same in reverse. It sounds like more work than it is.

I took the opportunity to replace the rubber gaskets I mentioned at the end of this post with metal washers, as suggested by one of my commenters. I don't know if it made any difference but I had started to notice a bit of buzzing coming from somewhere and I didn't like it.

Outdoor photo of the new guard installed!

This guitar has been an amazing project guitar and I'm almost sad to report that there's just nothing left that I can do to it. All the parts that I *can* change, I have - and in every case, with top of the line replacements. There are just no upgrades left to do, whether functional or cosmetic.

It is at this point, in all honesty, one of the best guitars I've ever played. I have no way to improve it further, and consequently I'm not sure I'll ever write about it again.

But don't worry - there's a new addition to the stable coming this week. More on that soon!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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