My guitar's too vintage for club gigs, so I created a backup

Issue 149 September 29, 2011

Gigging in clubs was risking my 1967 Gibson, so I hot-rodded an affordable backup guitar
Erick Coleman, September 29, 2011
Photo: Erick's 1967 Melody Maker
Image: 3 modifications Lately I've really been digging the 1967 Gibson Melody Maker SG shown above. The bright tone of its single coil pickup sounds awesome for surfin' it up with my band, the D-Rays. It's an awesome player, too.
The problem is it’s getting to be old and valuable. It’d be hard to replace if it got knocked over or spilled-on at a gig. I've been looking for a low-priced replacement with comparable quality.
A few years back Gibson released a new Melody Maker based loosely on the original LesPaul Melody Maker of the late '50s/early '60s (part of their budget faded line). I picked one up for a song online: way under $500. I liked the way it played right out of the box, and it’s perfect for three simple DIY modifications I wanted for tailoring it to me.
1. Bone nut I gave it a new bone nut to replace the stock plastic one. Basically, I don’t let any guitar leave my shop with a plastic nut.
Photo: nut filingDan Erlewine shows how to make a new nut in this online free info page.

2. Hotter pickup The factory pickup had a decent sound, but it lacked the punch I’m after.
3. Adjustable bridge A bridge with adjustable intonation points is definitely in order.
Photo: Erick Coleman

Photo: removing the pickup Photo: stock pickupI used a soldering iron to remove the guitar’s stock pickup. This pickup was simply the non-adjustable slug coil of a standard Gibson humbucker, and it was a little on the weak side: just over 4.5K was the reading on my multimeter.
Portable Digital Multimeter
Photo: humbucker parts I considered rewinding the pickup for more output, and also thought about routing the cavity to fit a StewMac P-90.
But I was in the mood to experiment a little, so I decided to create a hybrid using the magnets and baseplate from the stock pickup and adding parts from our humbucker set: the bobbin, a metal spacer bar, polepiece screws, lead wires and 43 gauge wire to get more power.
Humbucker Kit

Pickup Coil Wire
Photo: drilled baseplate I disassembled the stock pickup to reuse the baseplate. Before I could mount an adjustable coil on it, I needed to drill holes for the adjustable pole screws.
Using digital calipers, I measured the screw spacing of the coil in our humbucker kit. Then I drilled the holes to match, using a 1/8" bit.
Luthier’s Digital Caliper
Photo: Schatten pickup winder I wanted more power, but not quite as much as a P-90. I wound about 4,600 wraps of 43-AWG wire, creating a coil that read a strong 6.7K.
I'm using my Schatten winder, but if you don’t do a lot of winding, check out this homemade hand drill pickup winder from our free info pages.
Schatten Pickup Winder
After a quick bath in wax to pot the coil, it was time for reassembly. I installed the pole screws so they just protruded out of the bottom of the bobbin, then added the spacer bar.
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Prior to attaching the baseplate, I installed the magnets from the stock pickup in my new one. Before moving those magnets, I checked their polarity while they were still in place on the stock coil. I was careful to keep them in the same orientation as I assembled my new pickup.
Magnet Polarity Tester
I thought awhile about bridge options. Our compensated SG bridge would be correct to the period, but since I'm not playing with a wound G string I wanted something with adjustable intonation.
After reading Toneman Don Butler's raving review of the Schroeder bridge, along with the many others on, that’s the one I decided to go with.
Time to plug this baby in!
SG Junior Bridge

Schroeder Stoptail Bridge
This guitar now has a full, stinging sound. It reminds me of a mean Tele bridge pickup, but with the grit of an old P-90. It’s perfect for the music I'm playing!
Father & son: Here are two generations of the Gibson Melody Maker. One's been rocking for nearly 45 years, and the other’s now ready to start its life in the clubs!.

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