Another Guitar Mod

Lil’ Rusty (Sorry I don’t have a flat-on, straight-ahead photo of this guitar before the modifications!)

Recently, I purchased a custom original guitar for reselling purposes and I fitted it with a new bridge and new tuning machines. Overall, the upgrade process went smoothly considering how distracted I was. I’ve changed tuning machines a couple times before, and I’ve had to reassemble a Floyd Rose bridge on another guitar. Technically, I had done these mods before. Only now, I don’t have access to my dad’s tools… That led to a couple more paint dings than I would like to admit!

The seller & builder of this guitar called the tuners and bridge “vintage” but they felt really weak and brittle to me. The guitar had trouble staying in-tune and the intonation was so off, that the guitar sounded flat when played. The tuning machines were a little crooked and some of the washers used didn’t want to stay in place. When I tried to setup this guitar, the screws on the bridge and its parts were getting stripped by my screwdriver! I had noticed a gap between the end of the bridge and the pickguard so I knew I wanted to replace it with a wider bridge.

When I finally started working on this guitar, the first thing I did was carefully remove the strings. I had just changed these strings, so they are practically new. I didn’t want to throw them away strings that had barely been used. Once the strings were removed, it was easier to see the hardware I wanted to replace.

Close-up of the original tuning machines; they look great on the front side
On the back side, the tuning machine second-from-the-right looks out of line
A gap between the bridge and the pickguard

I removed the original tuning machines and bridge and set them aside in a container. This way I’ll always have the option of putting the original hardware back onto this guitar before selling it.

Lil’ Rusty with strings, tuning machines, and bridge removed. Also, I made sure to have a backup set of strings in case I snapped one by mistake!
On the back side of the headstock, the holes are not aligned and they differ in diameter
The holes under the bridge are not aligned

Next, I drilled new holes into the body of the guitar where the bridge would go. I’m sure there’s a better way, but I “mounted” the bridge to the guitar with some low-tack tape and tried my best to drill a hole straight down into the body. Once the holes were aligned, I fastened the 6 bridge screws, and installed the new tension springs.

I do not recommend doing this, but I needed a one hand to hold the guitar steady and the other to try drilling a straight-down hole. Any kind of clamp would have helped here.
New holes lines up with new bridge, especially the first and last holes
Screws in, only slightly stripped… I don’t understand why!
The bridge lined up perfectly with the pickguard

I saw that a ground wire had been soldered to the claw on the back. Since I hadn’t received my desoldering tools in the mail yet, I decided to leave the original claw and screws until the next time I worked on this guitar. Since the claw screws are very long, I want to be sure I can drill the holes at an appropriate angle. Right now, the claw kind of extends out of the body of the guitar (to the point where it doesn’t make sense to cover it with a backplate).

The screws holding the “claw” protrude out of the body cavity. No holes for a back panel; no electrical shielding. The ground wire is soldered onto a little arm sticking out of the claw.

For the tuners, I had to drill new peg holes. Sperzel tuners use a peg to keep the tuners from rotating. These are very shallow so it’s easy to fix and drill additional holes that can hide behind the hardware. The tuners come with a cardboard guide to help get the right distance for the guide peg. Problem is, as you drill through the guide, the new hole that I’m drilling gets wider and further from the large, machine-cut hole. Just like the last time I installed Sperzel tuners, I had to re-drill the peg holes for the 4th-6th strings so the holes end up looking like hearts. Regardless, the heart holes make it easy to straighten out the tuners before I fasten them against the headstock.

The new peg holes I drilled are misaligned, and they drift further from the larger hole as you go from left to right
With a straight edge, it’s more obvious that some holes will need to be fixed
Here’s one of the times I turned a hole into a heart to line up the tuner better

I didn’t have any open-ended wrenches or socket wrenches, so I accidentally scratched paint off the headstock using a dual-sided alligator wrench to fasten the tuning machines to the headstock (I found the wrench in my guitar maintenance tool set).

Not perfectly straight, but at least the tuning machines are sturdy and held in place. The paint scratch is there on the right.

I tried to remove the neck of the guitar to make it easier to drill holes, but I ended up stripping one of the “vintage” bolts holding the neck in place. I’ll definitely want to replace those neck bolts with sturdier hardware. I’ll need something to get it out of the guitar, too.

Stripped bolthead. You can also see how the drill that I used skipped across the plate, making a dotted trail. I’ll probably replace the plate when replacing the bolts. I do like having “Corona” on the plate as a reminder that this was built during the COVID pandemic.

No longer fitted with vintage parts, I think this guitar needs a new nickname. It’s got vintage aesthetics with modern hardware. This little guy’s not ready for resale, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to use tools and practice my craftsmanship on this guitar. I’m renaming it “Lil’ Devil.”

Now it’s a Lil’ Devil

In the future, I would like to change out that pickguard for a clear one to really show the maple body. I would also like to replace the strap buttons, jack plate, and string trees. I would definitely need some tool to drill completely straight down vertically. Perhaps if I could clamp the guitar, I could use my two hands to operate a drill more precisely. I also need to desolder the bridge claw and re-solder it to a new claw held by new screws that are in new holes that go parallel to the body of the guitar. I also want to fill in the holes in the back of the headstock that held the previous tuning machines in place. Maybe then, this guy will be resale ready.

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