If you think you might like to customise your guitar, or turn it into a relic with scratches, bashes and worn and dull parts, even if it’s not a Pacifica, hopefully this page might help you. You can learn from my mistakes, if nothing else! Here, I take you step by step through my most recent customisation project…
Pacifica 102 conversion
As you can see from the pics of my own Pacificas on the site, I like to take a basic model and customise it to something entirely different. My latest project is taking a Pacifica 102, which I originally re-painted pale blue to look like an old Danelectro, and repainting and re-configuring it to become a single pickup, metallic red ‘Esquire’ style guitar ie with just one pickup and no switch. I will be making a new scratchplate from, er, scratch too.
But here’s the guitar before I started on this latest project…
One of the things I like to do is to ‘relic’ the guitars as I customise them. This means making it look older and more used than it actually is. This particular guitar was in absolutely showroom condition when I picked it up off ebay last year, despite being 20 years old, so I’m going to do some work to make it look like it’s from the 60s!
I know lots of people think relicing is stupid but I think it gives a basic, boring guitar a lot more ‘mojo’. This is one will, however, be very light relicing, just a touch of aging here and there.
Unlike my Wilkocaster 102, shown below, which is chipped, rusted, generally trashed-looking as Wilko Johnson’s original 60s Fender Telecasters were.
So here’s what I do. If you don’t feel confident doing any of this stuff, DON’T. You can easily wreck a perfectly good guitar if you overdo this stuff and I won’t be responsible if you do!
Sorry about the highly variable quality of the pics.
1. Take the guitar apart
Remove all the hardware and electronics. And put all the bits in cups or little plastic bags so you don’t lose them. The support for the string tree on the headstock is tiny, for example, and if you lose it you’re stuffed. You should unsolder the electronics, of course, but if you’re being lazy just snip the wires close to the contacts. You will need to solder them back together. If you’re keeping the original wiring and pickups, draw a diagram of how it’s all connected or take a pic on your phone. Or both.
On this pic of the stripped-down body you can see the shielding that I do on all my single coil guitars. Using self-adhesive metal tape (I normally use copper tape but had this silver stuff lying around) that is conductive, you line the pickup and control cavities, linking them with the tape. Then run a wire from the tape to the back of the volume control and solder. Stops a huge amount of buzz and takes half an hour with a soldering iron and a screwdriver.
2. Lightly relic the headstock – and remove the roundel logo
On a new Pacifica that hasn’t seen much sunshine or bar-smoke, the wood is very pale, almost white. This makes it look very new. So I take some anique pain wood stain and dab a bit on a cloth and rub it in to just slightly darken the headstock. I normally sand down the original varnish and remove and replace the Yamaha logos, and work on bare wood, then stain and lacquer but I’m in a hurry on this one, so just adding the stain over the existing varnish.
Just wipe it on and off a few times until it darkens to taste. Always handy to have a picture or a genuinely old guitar to hand to get the shade right. Brings out the grain nicely too sometimes.
While I’m doing this, I also use some fine sandpaper to just slightly round off the very sharp edges on the headstock where the corners are. Again, this just gives it a slightly older, worn look. Very subtle, but it all adds to the aged vibe. You can see here how the sharp corners are now softer.
I also like to add some tiny chips into the wood. Just bang it lightly on a brick or something to create tiny little marks that might have happened in a busy club when the roadies were stoned and not as careful with your guitar as they might have been! You can rub a bit of mud or pencil lead into the dings to make them look old. You can see one under the Y of Yamaha here. The headstock is now nicely darker in colour too – hard to see in the pic.
Here’s my son’s 604w that he has played to death for several years. See the completely accidental and real dings? This is what you’re aiming for. You can see how heavy use has rounded the corners off and made them shinier, too. This is noticeable on the back of the neck where the headstock joins the neck too, very worn and much more shiny than when new.
The stain I used to darken the wood on this project is a satin finish and, actually, older guitars from the 50s and 60s often have a very glossy finish on the headstock compared with the satin finish on modern ones (eg the new Pacificas which are practically matt) so may revisit this and varnish over with clear lacquer later. Then you need to give it a good buffing to bring out the shine, see bodywork notes below. I suppose you could use tinted varnish instead to skip the stain plus varnish step but I’ve never tried it.
If you look at pics of old telecasters (50s and 60s) you’ll see how the headstocks are often much glossier and darker than the back of the necks (and maple fingerboards) where the varnish wears off over the years and they get very stained too sometimes.
See the headstock and neck on this 52 tele, for example…
I really recommend having a picture of the effects you’re after while you’re doing all this stuff as it’s so easy to overdo it. Here’s the heavily-played 604w again with REAL wear on the neck with my yellow 120 in the background for comparison. (Its tuners are still in their original full-on shiny mode!)
Interestingly, you can see how a guitar that started with a satin finish has become more glossy due to hand wear over time! Very noticeable looking at these two and the shine on the necks.
By the way, a white nut automatically looks older than a black one as only modern guitars have black. But changing the nut is beyond the scope of this post. I wish Yamaha did white nuts on everything, to be honest, but hey ho.
STOP PRESS: decided I really wasn’t happy with it. The Yammy tuning forks were annoying me and the mattish finish. So went to work with the Mouse sander and removed the logo then gave it a good soak of clear car lacquer using my bin-bag and masking tape fingerboard protection device. (Cut hole in bottom of bin-bag. Poke neck through. Seal around nut with masking tape. See pic.)
And with a quick polish up, hardware fitted back on, I think it looks MILES better. Quite 60s Fender like now. Happy now. And as it’s all about mojo, feeling good about your guitar, this is very important!
4. Round the neck edges
I do a lot of work on my Yamaha fingerboards. I work on the wood with increasingly fine grade wet and dry papers and plastic abrasive paper until they’re shockingly smooth to the touch. This is the workshop stuff that cheap guitars just can’t afford to do but makes a huge difference to how expensive the guitar feels under your fingers. Will do another post on this probably.
But a really quick and super-effective thing to do is to round the neck edges. You just get a screwdriver or something with a round shaft and rub it up and down the edges of the fingerboard nice and hard to remove the sharp corner. Takes five minutes but again, can make a massive difference to how nice the Yammy feels under your hand. I do this as a matter of course to all my budget guitars. Don’t do it on a neck with binding, obviously.
Here’s a vid I found showing how to do this. I just do the screwdriver bit although I do sand these edges when I work on the fingerboard.
5. Relic the hardware
You can go too far on this. But on this project I’m just going to take a little of the glossy shine off the tuners and other metal parts. My secret tip is to use green scouring pad (for washing up pans etc) and WD40. These are UK things, imagine there are equivalents in your country, if not the same brand names. WD40 is the lubricant spray stuff you use on old rusty hinges or squeaky doors etc.
I just spray some of this onto the scouring pad and then rub the metal parts until the gloss becomes sort of semi-matt. Use round and round movements until the tiny scratches look as natural as possible.
If you look at old Fenders and Gibsons, this kind of change is very obvious. I guess it’s caused by oxidation as well as just friction and wear though. Again, just do it til it looks real and old. You can see how effective this is on the neck plate here. Sorry, meant to do a before and after but forgot! This is the after.
So I do this on all the metal bits, though on this project I’m undecided whether to do the whole bridge and bridge saddles as I want very very light relicing. Although I love the finish I got on the Fraudcaster. Hmmmm….
I have done the tuners, though, very lightly. Here you can see the pad and the WD40.
On the Wilkocaster, shown above, I used salt and vinegar to seriously corrode the metal parts but basically ruined them…one of the bridge screws literally dissolved…so I don’t recommend this approach. WD40 and scouring pad lets you slowly create the effect you want. If you want a bit of ‘rust’ use some mashed-up tea leaves and rub it into the top of the screws. Gives you the rusted look without the grief!
Another thing to do, if you want more severe and random ageing, is to get a plastic tupperware-type box (I use an empty ice cream carton), stick all the metal parts in it, load up with loads of stones and gravel, stick the lid on and SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE! Again, I did this on the Wilkocaster. You get lots of nice pitting and chipping on the chrome. Keep checking after every five minutes or so, though.
6. Let’s make the scratchplate!
You can buy ready-made scratchplates for Pac102s and 112s on ebay now but sadly not for 102s you want to turn into an Esquire! You can send your old scratchplate away as a template to various companies for them to make a new one from, costs about £20, too, but I’m going to make my own as I did with the Fraudcaster. In fact I have some scratchplate sheet left over from that very project so why spend more money?
The sheet comes with a protective film over one side, so this is the side you trace your new plate onto. I use Chinagraph wax pencil…
Next you cut it out roughly. I use a jig saw. You have to use VERY fine toothed blades to cut plastic like this, I use T32 which means it has 32 teeth per centirmetre or something. If you try and use coarser blades you’ll mess up. I tried it. I messed up. The plastic tends to flap about wildly so clamp it to a table or workbench while you cut it.
When you’ve got it roughly to shape, get a file and get close to the final shape. Takes a while. Keep checking against the old scratchplate that you’re not taking too much off.
Next, use medium sandpaper to really get it into shape. One of these blocks is invaluable. Flat on one side, curved on the other. It has a slot with teeth to hold the paper in. Once you’ve done this, you’re pretty much finished.
I just add a bevel by holding the block at 45% to the plastic and carefully working my way round. Just looks more professional. Especially if you were using two or three ply material with a white layer in the middle etc. Not so vital with single colours like this one.
Here’s the almost finished item. Looks a bit rough round the edges in this pic but once it’s in place with its screws in it will look fine.All that remains is to remove the plastic sheeting (the best bit!) and make the screw holes. SIt the old plate carefully on top and using a bradawl, make guide holes. Then drill them and use a countersink bit to make nice neat counter-sunk holes for the old screws. Again, just use the old plate for reference. From start to finish, making this scratchplate took about two hours, tops.
And don’t forget to put some copper tape on the back for shielding purposes. Just needs to be able to make electrical contact with the foil in the body cavity. You can buy this stuff in rolls on eBay. Don’t buy the stuff they call guitar shielding tape — it’s the same as the slug protection tape only five times the cost!
6B. Let’s make another one…
So that’s one way of doing it. But I decided I wanted a three ply plate after doing this. So bought some off Papa D on eBay for a tenner and started again. But I also bought a coping saw after watching this:
Much calmer and controlled to use the coping saw rather than the electric jigsaw. Actually used double sided tape to stick the old scratchplate to the new one and cut round it. More accurate shape too than following a white line.
Here’s the saw…
The big loop makes it much much easier to do the trick bits around the neck and bridge slots. I take triangular bits out to get round the corners more easily.
Here it is very roughly cut out. Just go for it with the medium file and sandpaper after that, then bevel the edge to 45 degrees again so the white middle layer shows. Here’s finished scratchplate number 2!
7. Paint the body
Aaaagh. The really tricky bit.I’ve messed up paint jobs soooo many times but here we go again. I’m using double acrylic car paint…Wicked Red Metallic. It’s about a fiver a tin, you need two for a Tele body.
I hang the body on an opened out wire coat hanger, with one end poked through a neck screw hole, the other wrapped around a big nail in my garage ceiling.
Painting with spray paints is really tricky. You just have to be very very patient. Hold the tin about 8 inches away. Start spraying away from the body and keep the spray moving all the time. Just add three or four layers at 15 minute intervals until you’re happy with the coverage. Remember that the bridge and scratchplate will cover a big area so you can be less generous with the paint there.
It’s a heatwave here so this helps too. Keeps the paint nice and thin. No point trying to spray in winter, the paint just goes yukky in the air.
As usual, I cocked up and got a run on the front. Sheer incompetence, even though this is the fifth Pacifica I’ve painted in the last couple of years. So will let it dry for a week then try and remedy the mistake with some precision sanding and cutting or something.
OK, sanded the run off with my Mouse sander and repainted. I’m in a hurry with this though, want it done for a gig in August. So I’d normally sand down the colour paint with progressively finer paper until I get a lovely smooth and glossy finish even before the lacquer goes on.
I’d use say 600 grit wet and dry, then say 800 or 1000. Then the lacquer.
But on this chap, I’m not bothering. The finish is very orange-peely ie lots of tiny dimples caused by too much air getting in the way of the nozzle but I don’t have time to sand it all down and potentially respray. I did a few bits and went straight through to the old blue (I think the red needed a proper primer really as it came off really easy). All a bit cack-handed and amateurish, I know.
But it’s not like I’m selling it and as long as it’s got the relic mojo and looks good on stage, I’m happy. So I’m going straight to the lacquer once the red is dry enough.
Not very metallic, I have to say, at this stage. i was expecting to see flecks of metal flake in it, like you do on a car. 🙁
Here it is drying inside. You can see where I took the red off…but I left it as it looks like wear from rubbing against my shirts for years and years. It looks quite scarlet in these pics but in reality it’s quite a dark red, almost a maroon.
8. Finishing the body
First thing to do, attach a bit of old wood to the neck mounting cavity – couple of old screws – so you can move the body without touching wet varnish and also mount it on your work bench for spraying purposes. Then you can turn it upside down etc. THe foam and card is what it was standing on to dry inside the house.
Next, we give it three nice wet coats of spray lacquer. I clamp the wood I screwed in into my work bench, spray it, let it dry a few minutes, turn it over, spray the other side etc. Leave about 15 minutes between coats. Then leave to dry for about a week.
Next, we get to the fun part, sanding down to a glossy finish. I use Klingspoor Wet and Dry paper. Depending on how much ‘orange peel’ you have…if the lacquer hasn’t dried to a smooth finish you get this lumpy look. Just like orange peel. You have to sand this back so it’s completely flat and smooth to the touch. (Your fingertips are a good guide to how smooth the finish is getting throughout this process actually.)
Because my spraying is useless, I started with 600 grit, used wet. You just put a little bit of water in a soup bowl, add a tiny dot of washing up liquid, and sprinkle on the guitar just before you get to work. Then use a flat sanding block like the one in the pic.
When you’ve pretty much got all the orange peel flat, go to say 1000 grit. Starts to get really lovely and smooth and shiny now. Then finish with a 1500 or 2000.
Or use lapping paper. It’s this new plastic stuff that’s slightly abrasive on one side and does a fantastic job on my guitars.
Finally, buff it up using car rubbing compound. Splosh a few blobs onto the surface then either rub it with a foam sponge or old shirt etc (lots of work but very rewarding).
Or use a sponge buffer in your electric drill. Much faster. Then give a good old rub with a clean duster til it shines beautifully.
Then, because this guitar is slightly relic-ed, I added some little dings and chips on the body here and there. Just drop a screwdriver on it, hit the edge with a pair of scissors. Just a few here and there otherwise it looks totally fake. Here’s one by the strap button. You can see the old blue paint underneath.
9. Fitting shorter bridge saddle screws: you MUST do this if you have a 102!
This is the only thing that’s actually wrong with the stock 102, in my opinion. The bridge saddle screws are too long and when you have your saddles nice and low for a smooth playing action, they stick up too far and can seriously lacerate your hand. Design error, I think. If you don’t do anything else to your 102, do this. Costs pennies and is a major quality and playability upgrade.
The screws are called grub screws. Nothing fancy, not guitar parts, just standard hardware from eBay for about £1.50 for 50 or something.
The standard ones are 10mm long, so you replace with 6mm ones. You need to order 12 of them (doh!) size: M3 6mm
Here you can see the difference in size…
You just screw out the old ones, screw in the new ones. You do it with your tiny allen key that came with the guitar (or metric 1.5 if you’ve lost it), or you can buy a special hex screwdriver. I bought a cheapo set of mini screwdriver bits which is crap but does the job – once I’d stopped the screwdriver bit rotating in the socket with a wadge of gaffa. (Where would a musician be without gaffa?)
Here you can see the difference. Saddle on the left has the new screws – rest have the originals. New bridge saddle is super silky smooth. You want believe the difference this makes for a £1 investment.
10. Fit the new pickup and Esquire wiring, do the shielding.
I had a Bareknuckle bridge pickup lying around that I had specially wound for my Fender Telecaster several years ago. The Tele is now wired in Strat fashion, however, with noiseless pickups from DiMarzio in the bridge (Area T) and GFS in the middle and neck.
The Bareknuckle is a sixties=style wind called Brown Sugar. You can probably guess whose sonic signature it was trying to emulate! It’s a fantastic pickup though and will be just the job for my 60s-ish Yammy Esquire no.2.
I got the wiring diagram for this off the TDPRI forum, the best resource on the net for all things Telecaster. Amazing amount of stuff on there, including pickup/wiring experts who will do you a custom wiring diagram for free at the drop of a hat. As I said at the top, I didn’t want the original one-pick-up Fender wiring where you get a sort of muffled bassy tone in the ‘neck’ position, I just wanted a straight through to volume and tone set up as per my Fraudcaster. Looks much neater too. If you want a bassier sound, just turn down the tone control!
Rewiring is a bit of tricky thing if you haven’t done it before. Not difficult but you have to follow the wiring diagram carefully and make sure you don’t short out the circuit with stray wires or sticky-out bits of solder.
Shielded the guitar too at this point. LIned the cavities with self-adhesive copper foil tape – about five quid from ebay. Then simply solder a bit of old wire from the pickup cavity foil and one from the control cavity foil to the back of the volume pot. Sorry for not having pics. This just forms a metallic box for the wiring to sit in that stops it picking hum from fluorescent lights.
At this point, test the electrics. Plug the guitar in, and use an old-fashioned metal tuning fork as the ‘strings’.Hit the tuning fork so it’s singing and hold it over the pickup. It acts just like a string. So if you hear the sound from your amp, you’re rocking.
Much better than stringing up the whole set of strings, discovering you’ve cocked up the wiring and having to take all the strings etc off again to do a bit of fault-finding.
11. Put it all back together…with knobs on!
Don’t forget to trap the earth wire under the bridge when you replace it and reassemble the guitar.
Meanwhile, time for some new knobs.
I think the plastic knobs that come with the Pac 102s are a bit nasty so I like to replace them with metal ones which you can relic a bit too if you want. I just did a bit with WD40 and scouring pad but as before you can do the stones in a tupperware thing. Or for really heavy relicing, use the stone shaker then sit them in a plastic box with salt and vinegar for a day or two.
These are from Axecaster but I’ve bought them from CH Guitars and Guitars Electric and Warman in the past. All these suppliers are excellent and all on the web/ebay. About a fiver for a pair. Just look for Telecaster knobs and you’ll find loads..skulls, jewels, gold, black, domed, flat, semi-domed…I’ve gone for flat tops here to give a 60s vibe as Fenders had flat ones in the late 60s apparently!
Here it is, one string down, five to go…
12. The set up
To me, the set up on an electric guitar is more important than the make and model and how much it costs. I’ve played £5,000 guitars that were useless because they were set up badly, and £60 Pacificas (ie mine) that play like a dream because I’ve worked on the fingerboard, nut and bridge and set them up properly.
It’s really easy, don’t be conned into getting a shop or tech to do it. You just need some basic tools ie a 1.5mm allen key for the bridge saddles, a neck radius guage, an allen key for the truss rod, a smallish philips screwdriver, some feeler guages, and a ruler with fine divisions.
You don’t need the radius gauge, either, it just makes it a bit quicker.
Here’s how I do your own set up…
Firstly, string up the guitar and get in tune, roughly is fine. You just need to have the string tension on the neck approximately right.
1. Check the neck relief. This is the slight bend in the neck that occurs when the strings are under tension. Put a capo on the first fret then push the bottom E string down onto the last fret. Now look at the gap between the top of the 12th fret (the metal) and the string. It should be just enough so that the string can move very slightly. About the thickness of a business card tops, or your B string, for example.
Generally on a Pacifica you shouldn’t have to touch the truss rod unless you’re changing from really heavy strings to really light or vice versa, or it’s been badly adjusted by a previous owner. But if you have too much bend (relief) you need to tighten the rod with an allen key. The truss rod is under the cover on the headstock. A quarter or half a turn either way is usually enough.
I know lots of people are scared of the truss rod. Don’t be, you won’t break it or the neck and the truss rod and the nut are the two most important adjustments you can make to get the action you’re after. Seriously: if the truss rod isn’t right, you’ll never get it set up properly. But you don’t need to pay the boys at the guitar shop. It’s super easy to do yourself.
2. Check the nut slots. They’re normally great on Pacificas but if they’re too shallow you’ll never get the guitar playing nicely and your chords at the tuner end will be out of tune too. Too shallow is much more common than too deep. (If your slots are too deep you really need a new nut. This is easy to do too but beyond the scope of this article.)
If the slots are too tight, but the right depth, you’ll get a pinging noise when you’re tuning up and find it hard to tune accurately. And your trem won’t ever work properly if you have one.
The quick and easy way to check the slots is to fret each string at the third fret. Look very carefully at how much gap there is between the string and the FIRST fret. There should be a teeny tiny amount of air, just enough for a tiny bit of movement. Or measure 0.3mm with your feeler gauge between the top of the first fret and the string.
If the slot is too shallow or too tight, you’ll need to file it down or widen it. You can buy expensive luthier tools for this or make your own set of files using a set of feeler gauges. See more about this on my set up page here
3. Set the string heights by adjusting the bridge saddles with a 1.5mm allen key. I go for around 2mm on the bottom E, just slightly less on the top E. (This is a taste thing of course. If you play soft jazz you might want a lower ‘action’.) Obviously you don’t want the strings to buzz when you fret a note.
Once you’ve done the top E and bottom E, use the string radius gauge to set the rest so the heights reflect the curve of the neck…a 12″ radius in the case of Pacificas. Just sit the gauge on the strings directly in front of the bridge and adjust the saddles until they just touch the bottom of the gauge and buzz very slightly.
4. Set the intonation. Tune up to proper pitch. Then using an electronic tuner, turn the screws on the back of the bridge (with the springs) until each string shows exactly the same pitch when it’s open and when you fret it at the 12th fret, the octave. You’ll have to retune the string each time you move the saddle forward or back.
That’s it! There’s a great video about setting up Pacificas with tremolos here…(a whole different kettle of fish)..
13. The beast is born – but what to call it?
So here is the finished guitar. A 69 telecaster lookalike…very slightly aged to look played in and road-worn.
Again, this pic makes it look much brighter red than it is in the flesh. This pic, alongside my two other customised 102s is more accurate. So from left to right, the 52 style Fraudcaster, the 62 style Wilkocaster and the 69 style…er…what to call it?
Hmmm…maybe the Croppercaster after Steve Cropper’s famous red Esquire? Hmmm, one to ponder.