Claescaster

Category: Things to buy

LR Baggs M80

LR Baggs M80 installed in a 1968 Levin LT-18LR Baggs M80 installed in my main guitar, the 1968 Levin LT-18

Finally, that took freaking forever. I ordered a LR Baggs M80 via eBay from the US, which first got stuck in customs and cost me 84€, then it turned out that it wasn’t a LR Baggs M80, it was LR Baggs M1A in the box. I guess it could be worse, at least it was the active M1 and not the normal. Since it would cost too much to return it and I wouldn’t get the custom fees back I decided to keep it, I paid for it and they sent me the correct pickup instead, which also got stuck in customs but this time it only cost me 23€. So it took more than a month for my LR Baggs M80 to arrive, I got a LR Baggs M1A that I don’t need and I had to pay twice as much as I was hoping for. Anyway, the LR Baggs M80 sounds pretty damn good, fuller and warmer than the LR Baggs M1A, with a lot nicer highs. Perhaps it wasn’t such a big  difference that it was worth all the money and drama that it cost to get it to Spain but now when it’s here I really like it.

LR Baggs Lyrics

Sigma DR-41 Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoSigma DR-41 Made in Japan 1980, now with a LR Baggs Lyrics installed

As I mentioned before I ordered myself a LR Baggs Lyrics a couple of month ago and finally got around to install it in my Japanese Sigma DR-41 from 1980. I couldn’t really decide which guitar to put it in that’s why it took so long to get it done. The actually installation was very straight forward and easier than I expected. I just drilled a 13 mm hole in the end block, installed the endpin jack, stuck the microphone to the bridge plate inside the guitar and then just fitted the volume control at the sound hole and the battery pouch to the neck block. I did two tests to show the difference between my old LR Baggs M1 and this new LR Baggs Lyrics. I thought it would be a great idea to keep both systems in at the same time so the clips would be identical and easier to compare, but ended up getting quite a lot of noise. I’m not sure if it was a dodgy cable or if the systems interfered with each other, perhaps the magnets was causing havoc? Either way, neither sounds like this on their own. I played some nice chords in the first example and the normal things I play in my Youtube videos in the second, plus some little blues licks in the end. You can really hear the limitations of the M1, even though it has other advantages like the fact that it never feedback. I have a feeling that this Lyrics might be more sensitive for that on stage. I have to say that I really like to woody and open sound of the Lyrics and it seems to handle my attack as well when I play licks. Overall, the best and most natural sounding pickup system I’ve heard so far. I understand why Sturgill Simpson is using it.

LR Baggs Lyrics

LR Baggs Lyrics System

I’ve just ordered myself a LR Baggs Lyrics, mainly because I needed a second pickups system but also because I thought it would make me as awesome as Sturgill Simpson. Either way, I needed something new and felt that the Lyrics sounded way more realistic than my old LR Baggs M1. My friend Wolf and I recently installed a LR Baggs iBeam in his Luxor Dove copy and that sounded great. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to install the Lyrics system in my new 1982 Sigma DR-41 or the 1973 K. Yairi YW-1000.

Here is Sturgill with his LR Baggs Lyrics

Wilkinson

Morris W-50 1970's Made in Japan
I recently changed the machine heads on my 1970’s Japan made Morris W-50 to Wilkinson WJ28NGD open gear in gold and I couldn’t be happier

I have said it before but it’s worth mentioning again, I really like Wilkinson hardware for my guitars. I have their vintage bridge with compensated brass saddles on numerous of my Telecasters and their machine heads on even more acoustics and electrics. So far I have tried the following models, WJ01GD, WJ44CRGD, WJ309GD and now WJ28NGD on my new Morris W-50. Wilkinson machine heads are cheap, good quality, accurate and the gold doesn’t seem to fade straight away. They are made in Korea and was first distributed through John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd. but now you can find them pretty much everywhere. I bought mine from Axesrus which turned out to be really nice and helpful guys. The best part is that now you can get Wilkinson machine heads with either 8 mm or 10 mm bushings which is perfect since a lot of the Japan made acoustics comes with 10 mm holes. I don’t just randomly change the machine heads on all my guitars but I can’t stand the horrible bulky 1970’s closed machine heads in chrome that most Japanese guitars comes with. How much nicer doesn’t the Morris W-50 look now with these delicate open gear tuners in gold?

Wilkinson Machine headsWJ44CRGD, WJ309GD, WJ28NGD
Some guitars that got the Wilkinson treatment. Morris W-40 with Wilkinson’s WJ44CRGD which comes with cream buttons, not that horrible green tinted ones. My Levin 174 and K. Yairi TG-40 got upgraded with the amazing looking Art Deco inspired WJ309GD

The Old Claescaster

Claescaster, Morgan TelecasterThe old Claescaster before and after the transformation, well I just changed the pickguard.

I recently did a little order from my favourite Hong Kong site, EY Guitars. I wanted to change the pots on the new Claescaster, I’m really not happy with the fancy CTS pots I got and decided to put on some Asian ones instead. I also ordered a new black pickguard for the old Claescaster for 5€, I had grown tired of the cheap looking tortoise that has been on for 4 years. I also changed the knobs for flat topped gold ones so now the old Claescaster looks just like the new Claescaster, if it wasn’t for the Fender logo and the beautiful wood grain on the swamp ash body on the new one.

Claescaster, Morgan Telecaster, Mighty Mite bodyNow I have two Claescaster’s that looks pretty much the same. Boring perhaps but I really love the look of the 1970’s Fender Telecasters with their 3-tone sunburst, black pickguards and maple necks.

Ernie Ball Slinky Acoustic

Ernie Ball Super Slinky 11-52

I have recently started to use Ernie Ball strings for my acoustic guitars as well, I mentioned in a previous post about guitar strings that I now solely use Ernie Ball Regular Slinky 10-46 for my electric guitars. I still find it hard to know what to choose, I mean you can’t buy all the strings on the market and try them one by one, or I guess you can but it would cost quite a lot. On top of that, you can’t even have different strings on different guitars and that way hear the difference, unless you have a lot of guitars that sound very similar but I don’t. What I like with Ernie Ball is that they have nice tone and still doesn’t feel stiff, or too flimsy for that matter. I also like that you can listen to how the different strings sound on their website, I found that quite useful when I decided between their Earthwood strings and their Acoustic Slinky. I have only used them for a couple of weeks but so far I really like them, they sound a lot better than the cheap Martin strings I used before. I hope I don’t change my mind because I just bought 12 sets from an eBay seller in the US, 6 sets of  Ernie Ball’s Acoustic Slinky Phosphor Bronze 011 for Araceli and 6 sets of 012 for me.

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky 12-54

Bridge Pins

Most guitars come with plain plastic bridge pins and I never really thought that changing them would effect the tone, but it does. To be honest I wasn’t sure how much difference it would make to change the nut or saddle either but there I was proven wrong straight away. I’ve heard so much talk about how superior bone is to plastic and thought it was nonsense, until I actually tried for myself. Now most of my guitars have bone or Tusq nuts, both electrics and acoustics. I changed to Tusq on my Claescaster and was sold straight away, it really felt and sounded different. The only acoustic I’ve had to change nut on was the Suzuki and that guitar sounded way better with a bone nut. It’s weird but acoustics for me, up until the last couple of month, have always sounded good or bad but without any nuances. I guess what I’m trying to say is that just like with a fine red wine you need train your pallet to really understand and appreciate all the flavours and subtle differences. I have been buying more acoustics lately and really listened to them while playing and have come to realise more and more what I like and not like with acoustics. It’s not just down to brand, shape and woods, no guitar sounds the same and there is a lot subtle differences. I think that age is very important factor, I really do believe that wood needs time to open up and that it affects the sound a lot, hence why a lot of modern guitars sounds more or less the same to me. I ordered 12 bone bridge pins and 12 ebony from rockcarvings a Chinese eBay seller that was really cheap, $9.90 for 12 ebony pins. I changed the pins on my Morris W-40 first and made a little sound clip with the plastic, bone and ebony bridge pins to really be able to hear the difference. There is a difference, maybe not as big as changing the saddle to bone, but still. In my opinion the bone pins sounded too clear and sparkly on that guitar, they lacked a bit of bottom which could be more about the quality of these Chinese pins than the material itself. The Morris has a lot of warmth and bottom, which is the reason why I love that guitar so much, so I wanted to keep that rather than give it more treble. The ebony pins were perfect, they just gave such a solid tone, both playing chords and solo. I changed my dad’s Levin LT-16 to ebony as well and put on a new compensated bone saddle, which made wonders to the tone and playability. I will try the bone pins on some other guitars but I have a feeling that I will order more ebony pins in the near future. Here is a list from Maury’s Music with the tonal qualities of different bridge pin materials. I wish I could have found Mammoth or Walrus because that seems awesome but eBay only allowed for Tusq, bone, ebony and horn.

  • Tusq can add a moderate amount of treble, sustain, clarity and volume to your guitar.
  • Bone offers everything Tusq provides, but in bigger doses.
  • Ebony can add bass and warmth to your guitar, along with a signifigant increase in sustain and volume.
  • Buffalo Horn sounds almost identical to bone, and is a great choice if you want a dark looking pin with bone tone.
  • Walrus Jawbone offers the fundamental tone of bone but with better overtones and fatter harmonics.
  • Mammoth Ivory can add sustain, volume, and a transparent richness to your guitar, with an increase in harmonics and overtones.
  • Walrus Ivory provides the greatest increase in volume, sustain and clarity among all the pin choices.

1973 Morris W-40 and 1966 Levin LT-16 with new ebony bridge pins
1973 Morris W-40 and 1966 Levin LT-16 with new ebony bridge pins

Guitar strings

Chest Fever, Araceli and Claes in action
Chest Fever in action at Palau Alòs 16/3 2013

How do you chose what strings to use? Do you listen to others, read reviews or actually try all the brands available? In my case I guess it has been a combination of what others are using, what I’ve read good things about and what I actually realised that I like. I don’t really know much about different materials or how some type of strings affect the sound in certain ways. I guess a big part for me has always been the price since I’m a hard hitter and tend to break strings a lot. When I was young I was poor and had to stick to the cheaper brands and now when I’m older and less poor I have too many guitars to afford to string them up with the best brands. I’ve always been stuck in the middle and changed brands many times depending on what’s affordable and popular in the country I’ve been living. I used Rotosound (Roto Reds 11-48) while I lived in the UK and now in Spain I’ve changed to Ernie Ball (Regular Slinky 10-46). The main reason why I changed from 11’s to 10’s was because I felt that I was old enough to use what I wanted and not care about what everyone else said. My whole life people around me have told me that the thicker the better, and that you are less of a man if you play on anything thinner than 11’s. Remember that Billy Gibbons uses 08’s and still has a pretty descent tone on his ‘Pearly Gates’ 1959 Les Paul. When I started to use 10’s my guitar playing changed completely, not only could I play faster but I also started to bend more and play in ways that I hadn’t been able to or bothered with before. My Telecasters stringed with 10’s are pure country heaven and way much more fun than before. I still use 11’s on my Hagström Viking and the Gretsch copy I have. At the moment I’m using Martin M175 (80/20 Custom Light Bronze Acoustic Strings 11-52) on my acoustics. Mainly because my girlfriend Araceli liked 11’s on her parlour guitars and it was easier to buy the same strings in bulk for both of us but also because I like to play acoustic like I play electric and don’t want to feel held back with too thick string gauge. I’m planning to put a set of 12’s or 13’s on one of my Dreadnoughts just to try if it really makes a world of difference to the tone. I would love to know what others are using and why. Please write a comment below and let me know.

Roto Sound roto reds 11
I used these for years but have now given up on 11’s

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky 10-46
My new found favourites, so smooth and easy to play without being too flimsy. I tend to buy them in bulk on eBay from USA

Martin acoustic guitar 11-52
Araceli and I tend to stick to these since you can get a 3-pack for 9,90€ from Thomann

Peavey electric guitar strings

Peavey acoustic guitar strings
I’m not proud to admit it but I do use Peavey’s discount strings occasionally. In Alfasoni you can get them for 2€ and they are perfect when you break a string or you just need to string up a guitar that you don’t use that much.

L.R. Baggs M1

David Gilmour LR baggs M1
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd with his Gibson Southern Jumbo and a L.R. Baggs M1

L.R. Baggs M1
I’m not sure if the L.R. Baggs M1 passive that I ordered comes with volume control

I just ordered myself a L.R. Baggs M1 and I really hope it’s as good as people say. I have only tried cheap magnetic soundhole pickups so far, like Artec and Belcat and they worked ok both of them but sounded a bit thin, hopefully the M1 will be more full and warm without sounding muffled or muddy. I have an old Shadow humbucker from the 1970’s that I kind of like but it’s a bit too dark for dreadnought guitars. The undersaddle ARTEC PP-607 I installed in the parlour was way too uneven when played hard, and a bit thin sounding as well. My favourite magnetic pickup is still the old Japanese 1960’s one that my dad fitted in his Levin LT-16. I got the L.R. Baggs M1 new from dont_tell_the_wife_guitars on eBay and it only cost $139.00 with free shipping so I felt it was worth a try. If it’s good enough for David Gilmour then I’m sure it will be just fine for me.

Update 2013-09-10
I just received my new L.R. Baggs M1 and it looks awesome. Cheap, quick shipping and no customs issues, couldn’t be better. I noticed that the M1 Passive doesn’t have a volume control but I’m pretty sure I can live without since I have never used that on any of my acoustic pickups. I’m really excited about rehearsing with Chest Fever on Thursday so I can try it out loud. I hope it sounds as good as it looks. 

Update 2013-09-20
Last night I finally got to play the L.R. Baggs M1 loud, we had to cancel the rehearsal last week since Araceli’s and I celebrated 6 years together. I fitted it in my Kiso Suzuki WE-150 and it sounded pretty good, well it sounded just like the Suzuki does unplugged. It was the first pickup I have ever tried that could handle my hard hitting solo playing and I’m really impressed with how responsive it is, loud enough when picking and not too loud when strumming. I can’t wait to put it in an even better guitar and really hear it’s full potential.

Levin LT-16 1966
The Japanese pickup fitted in my dad’s old Levin LT-16 from 1966


A nice example of L.R. Baggs M1


David Gilmour playing L.R. Baggs M1, skip to 1:06

How to… refret a guitar

I finally did it, I refretted my first guitar, well I actually did it twice. First out was my old Morgan Telecaster neck, a leftover from my first Claescaster. I don’t use it so it felt like a perfect neck to practice on, especially since it doesn’t have any binding. It was actually less hard work than I expected it to be, well it took some time to get the old frets out but still, no major issues. I just had to get over that first fear that I would break something and eventually build up some confidence that I knew what I was doing.

How to refret a guitar
First I checked that the neck was straight with a straight edge and adjusted the trussrod until it was perfect. It was a lot easier to get the old frets out if you cut in a bit on each side with a sharp knife, it gave the pliers something to grip, but be careful so you don’t slip and scratch the fretboard, as I did. I used normal wood glue and then gently tapped the new Jescar FW43080 fretwire in place. When the fret edges were cut I taped the fretboard with masking tape and then filed down the edges, first straight and then angled the file 45°.

How to refret a guitar
I checked that all the frets were the same height with a fret rocker and since they were I didn’t bother to level the frets, maybe I should have. I crowned them with a Uo-Chikyu medium fret crowning file and then softened the edges with a Uo-Chikyu edge file. I went of the frets with 400 and 800 grit and then polished until I couldn’t feel my shoulder with wire wool.

How to refret a guitar
I’m pretty damn pleased and proud of my first refretted neck.

How to refret a guitar
I decided to change the frets on my EKO Ranger VI as well, even thought I had just crowned and polished them two days ago. I want to get as much practice as possible before I start with the Tokai and to get a feel for the difference between rosewood and maple fretboards. I made a deep cut on the side of the frets which made it really easy to get a grip and pull out the old frets. It was actually so easy that I forgot to be careful and just ripped them out and managed to chip the fretboard. Which in a way was good so I got the chance to glue the chip down, sand down and then polish the fretboard, now I know how to deal with that as well.

How to refret a guitar
Unfortunately I had bought some cheap non pre-radiused fretwire which meant that I had to try my best to get the correct radius by bending it which wasn’t that easy. I will never get that again, but at least now I know how annoying it is with fretwire that isn’t pre-radiused. I ended up with pretty rough edges, it felt like it was harder to cut than the Jescar, so I had to work a lot to file them smooth. Then I levelled the frets, crowned them, filed the corners and polished with 400, 800 grit and then wire wool.

How to refret a guitar
The final result, a refretted EKO Ranger VI. It used to have some dead spots around the 12th fret which disappeared straight away with the new frets.