Precision Guitar 59 Carved Top Kit
I build my idea of a classic 50’s Super Guitar
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 10-8-2012
The folks at Precision Guitar Kits got their start building bodies and necks exclusively for guitar builders. Then word got out about their products and the guitar players themselves started buying the parts to build their own instruments. It didn’t take long for the demand for Precision Guitar Kits to grow to where it can be difficult to get one of their kits without a bit of a wait.
The Precision Guitar Kits 59 Carved Top I based my Super Guitar on is loosely patterned around a well-known classic guitar shape but with a bunch of Precision Guitar tweaks developed over the years to give it their own style and function.
The body arrives completely formed and routed for the normal two Humbucker pickups, four control dials and the 3-way selector. The body is made from solid mahogany, a traditional tone wood for guitars used by all major manufacturers and builders. The top of the body has been laminated with a solid piece of Maple that has been carved for a very attractive and comfortable-playing shape.
The body is drilled for bridge and tailpieces using the common bushings with a 7/16” (11.3 mm) diameter. The bridge post spacing is 2.903" or 74.5 mm and the tailpiece post spacing is 3.25" or 82 mm. Both are very popular dimensions for a wide range of aftermarket pieces.
The channels within the body for the wiring are generously sized to make pushing the normal array of wires through them easy. The main wire chase intersects the lower bridge bushing hole so you can get the ground wire there secretly. The bottom of the hole actually has a step because of the wire chase passing through it. For many bushing lengths that step gives you a perfect place to wad up the bare end of the ground wire to be sure of contact with the bushing when fully installed. But, check this dimension with your bridge before counting on it!
The neck is made from a single chunk of quarter-sawn mahogany with a Maple veneer on the headstock. It has an ebony fretboard with a 12”-radius that sports the familiar trapezoid inlays. The slot for the nut is 1 11/16”-wide and the 22 frets are made from Jescar Medium Jumbo Fret Wire (.100” x .045”). The neck has the desirable 60’s medium “C” profile that tapers from .8" thick at the first fret to .885" thick at the twelfth 12th fret. The neck has an angle of 4.4-degrees and the headstock is at a 13.5-degree angle. The scale length is 24 ¾” which is pretty standard for this style of guitar.
The neck uses a precisely cut long tenon (notched to clear the pickup) that fits into an equally precise pocket in the body. The fit of this mortise and tenon joint is just this side of size-on-size. When inserted fully into the mortise the neck has no wobble at all. This is a crucial feature that is handled very, very well by Precision Guitar.
Finishing and Assembly
Before getting started with finishing I test fit the major components and discovered that my control pots didn’t quite fit through the provided holes. Admittedly my pots are “heavy-duty” so opening the holes slightly was not unexpected or difficult. The pickups, three-way switch and output jack all fit the routes and provided holes.
The maple top is attractive but does not have the heavy “Tiger striping” so I opted for a Cherry sunburst finish on the front. The all mahogany back would get a thin coat of Mahogany Red followed by a bunch of light coats of gloss lacquer over the entire body. I should note that the Cherry, Mahogany Red, Amber, sanding sealer and gloss lacquer all came from Stewart-MacDonald (www.stewmac.com) and all are nitrocellulose lacquers.
The maple front did not need grain filling but the open mahogany did so I used some water-based grain filler I had laying around. I wasn’t concerned with color matching because of the Mahogany Red coating.
This body does not have banding but I wanted a line between the cherry sunburst and the mahogany so carefully masked the edge of the maple top during both the sunbursting and mahogany coloring processes. Then I removed the masking for all of the sanding sealer and gloss coats. It didn’t come out perfect but it looks great to me.
I installed a Graph Tech TUSQ XL® nut that is impregnated with Teflon® which they say makes it 500% more slippery than graphite which sounds like a great idea to me. This nut came shaped and slotted so I had to do a bit of sanding to tweak its fit in the slot and the string height but that took just minutes. Later when I was putting strings on I added a couple drops of glue and slipped the Graph Tech TUSQ XL® nut in place and let it dry with the strings applying pressure.
I also took this opportunity to drive in the bushings for the Gotoh 510 Bridge & Tailpiece Set. The holes in the Precision Guitar 59 Carved Top kit are precisely sized so these bushings fit tightly so they will not move after installation but that also makes driving them in a tad nerve wracking. And, I needed to install the bridge ground wire beneath the control-side bridge bushing at the same time.
I used some scrap wood between the bushing and my wooden mallet so I could wail away on the bushings without dinging my beautiful cherry sunburst finish. Both my nerves and the finish survived and the bushings seated fully.
While the body was still separate from the neck I installed the electronics. The only thing I could not do was to screw down the pickups as they needed to be aligned as closely as possible to the strings. I was able to get all of the controls, switch and output jack installed and fully wired with the pickups wired in but sitting loose in their routes.
Then I removed the masking from the neck and neck mortise before applying a good film of glue to both contact areas. The fit between the neck and its mortise is so close that is will be impossible to get too much glue in there and it is likely that you will have at least some glue to clean up after seating the neck. As whenever I do something like this I had some wet and dry paper towels handy.
After pressing the neck into its mortise I installed a single clamp, plastic covers in place to protect the finish and fingerboard and applied just enough pressure to hold the neck in place. After wiping up all of the excess glue I checked the tension on the clamp just to be sure glue squeezing out had not loosened it. Then I got my anxious self under control and left my almost-done Super Guitar alone for 24 hours. One of the tougher parts of this build to be sure.
After installing the Gotoh 510 Bridge & Tailpiece Set I added a set of D’Addario EXL110 strings, ball parked the initial tension and then adjusted the bridge for a string clearance (action) of 0.073” at the 12th fret on the bass side and 0.068” at the same position on the treble side. Then I went through the basic tuning.
With string pressure applied for the first time I checked the neck and found that it had a slight bow (fretboard down) so I backed the truss rod nut off ½ turn and the neck went almost perfectly flat. I again checked the neck relief and found that it was now about 0.008” which is good for my playing style. I am going to leave that relief as is for now and will recheck this after the Super Guitar “seasons” for a few weeks.
One of the big surprises came when I check intonation. All of the strings were very close to perfect right out of the box. After about 20 minutes of adjusting and rechecking the intonation on all of the strings were showing nearly perfect on my TC Electronic Polytune™ Electronic Tuner!
The next step was to take my Super Guitar up to the office and plug it into my Peavey ValveKing® 112 Amp to see what it sounded like in the real world. Suffice it to say that I was amazed with several aspects of its performance. The first thing I needed to do was turn the amp down from where I had been playing it because the Super Guitar is much louder overall. All of that mahogany tonewood in the body and neck along with the super rigid Gotoh 510 Bridge & Tailpiece Set appear to be focusing the power on the strings rather than dissipating it elsewhere. The Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups are able to grab and send way more than when they lived in my kit guitar.
I also noticed that the overall tone was much broader. I had to actually use the tone controls on the Super Guitar to tweak the sound I wanted to hear. The good news here is that I now have far more range in tone so achieving more sounds is attainable and easier.
Using the “pro” tweak to the Stewart-MacDonald #0133-LS Wiring Kit instructions definitely paid off. Being able to fully control both pickups individually opens the door to a huge range of sound types I can generate. I also noted that the Stewart-MacDonald #0133-LS Wiring is virtually silent with no cracks, hiss or pops coming from the control pots, switch or wires. Even doing the Van Halen switch interrupting produces only the interrupting with no associated crack or pop from the switch itself.
I realize that I have some fine tuning of the pickup heights and perhaps playing with the action a bit as I grow accustomed to the Super Guitar but it is clear that this build is a winner from the superb wood (also shaping and neck fit) supplied in the Precision Guitar 59 Carved Top Kit and the rest of the quality parts I used. The tone is absolutely clear and full, the volume and sustain border on scary and the adjustability through the controls is everything I could want.
This is the first Super Guitar I have designed and built myself and I am thrilled with the results. I have a total of $804.03 invested (see the sidebar for a breakdown) and while that is not cheap by any means, for what I got I think it is a very good deal.
If you have been considering building a guitar the way you want it to be you need to take a long look at the Precision Guitar Kits and then cruise the sites of folks like Stewart-MacDonald who carry a full range of quality parts and pieces. I literally built my Super Guitar through those two sites and could not be more satisfied with the results.
Are there more custom guitar builds in my future? You can count on it!
Visit the Precision Guitar Kits web site - Click Here
Check out the Stewart-MacDonald web site - Click Here
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