Extreme Makeover: Blue Sparkle Jet Edition

Discussion in 'THE Gretsch Discussion Forum' started by section2, May 14, 2019.

  1. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Here's my first rebuild thread. As some folks here know, I've wanted a Sparkle Jet since before I even wanted to play guitar. But I'm relatively new to stringed things after decades behind the drum kit, and I can't justify spending Sparkle Jet money on my Squier-level skills. So when I found this silver sparkle 2011 G5236 on Reverb for about $275, I jumped on it.

    2.jpg

    When it arrived in the mail, though, it just... wasn't sparkly enough. It was more sparkly than the metallic silver finishes on the more recent Pro Jets, but the metal flakes were pretty sparse. Under just the right light, I could convince myself that it was close enough, but then I'd see a pic of a true Sparkle Jet and begin to drool. So in a fit of possibly misguided ambition, I said to myself: "Hey, Gretsch uses drum wrap on the pro line Sparkle Jets. I'm a drummer. I know drum wrap. How hard could this be?"

    I decided that it was a problem that I didn't own any blue guitars. (Paging @drmilktruck!) Before long, I'd ordered a sheet of blue sparkle drum wrap from the good people at Precision Drum Company.

    I also wanted to replace the stock mini-Gretschbuckers with Filtertrons, replace the two-knob setup with a proper four-control Gretsch setup, swap out the tuners, and add a floating bridge, a custom pickguard and truss rod cover, and a Bigsby. More importantly, I wanted to challenge myself and learn some new skills. Thus began my first foray into major guitar surgery. Off to the races.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  2. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Routing the pickup cavities

    First things first: the mini-Gretschbuckers had to go. I have a TV Classic neck pickup and an HS Filtertron bridge that I'd been planning to use in another project, so Job One was to rout the skinny pickup cavities to fit the new pups.

    Actually, Job One was to buy a router and learn how to use it.

    Actually, Job One was to make a mess of things by learning firsthand that a Dremel is not the right tool for a proper routing job. I tried using the plunge router attachment and a straight cutting bit on my Dremel, and the results were not pretty. (Note the big gouge out of the finish next to the neck pickup in the photo below. That happened when I tried to freehand something with the Dremel. Good thing this is a refinishing job.)

    So Job Two was to buy a plunge router and learn how to use it. This time, I was smart enough to practice on scrap wood before attacking the guitar. Once I'd gotten the hang of it, I routed out proper pickup cavities and cleaned up the mess I'd made with the Dremel.

    These mini-Gretschbucker cavities are a funny size: they're too shallow for Filtertrons, but they're also too wide, so there's no wood to screw the bezels into. Meanwhile, the neck pickup won't fit: the bezel overlaps with the end of the fretboard by a couple of millimeters. All of that needed to be routed out.

    Once I'd routed the cavities, I needed to add some wood to the corners to screw the bezels into. TV Jones sells shims that are designed for this mod, but those shims only work if you're planning to mount the pups by screwing them directly into the wood of the guitar. That mounting style never made much sense to me: I'd much rather suspend the pups from the bezels, English Mount-style, for easier adjustment. So the TV Jones shims weren't going to work for me. MacGyver time.

    I cut a wooden dowel into lengths that would fit into the corners of the pup cavities. This didn't leave quite enough room for the pups, so I routed channels out of the dowels to make them crescent-shaped. I glued the dowels into the corners of the cavities and clamped them overnight. That did the trick.

    20190303_221356.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  3. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Cutting the drum wrap

    This part was not too stressful. But the neck channel needed to match the width of the neck perfectly. I got out my digital calipers and measured the width of the fretboard in three places: where it met the body; at its widest point just before the end of the fretboard; and again at the end of the board after it tapered slightly. After triple-checking my measurements, I drew an outline of the fretboard on the back of the drum wrap, triple-checked the outline, and then cut it out with an exacto blade. I cut the channel a little small to begin with, tested the fit, and trimmed as necessary. Perfect fit!

    20190303_221553.jpg

    wrap 2.jpg

    With the drum wrap snug around the fretboard, I flipped the guitar face-down and traced a rough outline of the body. I left plenty of extra room around the edges. Then I removed the wrap and cut the outline using kitchen shears. No need to be precise here. The precision trimming would be done later on with the router.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  4. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Gluing the wrap

    Big step here. I'd wrapped many drums over the years, but wrapping a guitar top would be a new experience.

    The wrap uses water-based contact cement. It doesn't like glossy surfaces, so to get a good bond, I'd need to break out the sandpaper to scuff the back of the wrap and the top of the guitar.

    This was a real bacon-and-eggs moment. (As a wise man once said: "with bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed." Once the guitar was scuffed, I was committed.)

    After scuffing the surfaces, I wiped down the guitar and the wrap, brushed a layer of contact cement onto each surface, and waited for them to dry. I wasn't careful enough about getting an even layer. There were some thick brushstrokes that dried higher than other areas. I came to regret this later. If I ever do this again, I'll use a foam brush or a spray-on contact cement for thin, even coverage.

    20190303_223443.jpg

    After about half an hour, the contact cement was dry and glossy. Time to bond the layers.

    This was the hair-raising part. Contact cement bonds instantly on contact (hence the name). You only get one chance to do it right. To avoid a disaster, I put a layer of waxed paper over the guitar, exposing only the area where the fretboard met the body.

    20190303_232054.jpg

    Then I carefully lowered the drum wrap onto the guitar and matched up the fretboard cutout with the fretboard. Once it was aligned, I pressed down to bond it around the fretboard, and then used a little plastic roller to roll outwards from the centre to the edges of the guitar. So far so good.

    I pulled down the waxed paper to expose a couple of inches of the guitar top, bonded the wrap in the centre of the guitar, and used the roller to roll it out. Repeat. This got very tricky when I got to the guitar waist. Drum wrap isn't particularly flexible and it doesn't do well with compound curves. It was a real challenge to get it to lie flat through the waist. By the time I got to the bottom of the guitar, I had a serious problem: these compound curves had left a big wave in the wrap on the treble side near the butt of the guitar, and a smaller wave near the waist. I tried pushing them out but had little luck. Panic time.

    I considered cutting out the extra material at the butt of the guitar and just hiding the cut under the Bigsby, but that would have been sloppy. My next idea was better: the heat gun.

    I gently warmed the wrap with the heat gun on low, holding it about 6" above the surface and keeping the gun moving. That softened it up. I was eventually able to mold the wrap to the surface of the guitar at the butt. I wasn't quite as successful at the waist. I got most of the wrap to lie down, but the compound curve was just too tight to get all of the extra wrap to lie flat without melting it into oblivion. There's a small bubble there, but it won't be noticeable from more than a foot away. I can live with it.

    20190315_171509.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  5. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Trimming the wrap

    Once the wrap was down, I used the router with a flush trim bit to cut it flush with the edge of the guitar. This took several careful passes. The carved top made it hard to keep the router base flat and the bit parallel to the side of the guitar. I went slowly and did a few inches at a time, stopping whenever the curve of the archtop changed dramatically. After four or five passes, it was time to move on to the next step.

    20190413_224558.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  6. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Exposing the pickup cavities

    I drilled small holes in the wrap at the centres of the pickup cavities, trimmed close to the edges with an exacto blade, and then used the router to finish the job. Nice and tidy.

    20190509_165209.jpg

    Molding the edges


    The next job was to mold the edges of the wrap around the edges of the guitar where the top met the sides. Because I'd used a thick and uneven layer of contact cement, the wrap wasn't lying totally flat: there were a few spots where the edges of the wrap were sitting about a millimeter above the guitar. Back to the heat gun.

    I gently softened the wrap edge a few inches at a time, and ran my plastic roller over it to mold it to the rounded edge of the guitar. I kept the heat gun moving and did three or four passes before I was satisfied. Some spots had thick gobs of dried contact cement; it took extra elbow grease with the roller and a bit of scraping with a blade to get rid of the extra glue, but I got there.

    20190509_165236_HDR.jpg
     
  7. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Binding the edges

    The molding process gave me a nice rounded edge on top. Now I needed to hide the cut edges around the sides of the guitar. This drum wrap leaves a visible cross-section when it's cut: you can see the white substrate on the bottom, followed by a layer of silver sparkle, followed by the clear blue laminate on top. (This pic was taken before I molded the edges, but it shows the cross-section well. The frayed clear layer is the disposable protective plastic wrap.)

    20190413_224615.jpg

    To hide the edges, I added a layer of .020" cream binding. I used LePage Superglue Gel. It's less drippy and has a slightly longer setup time than regular superglue, so there was a bit of room to make adjustments on the fly.

    The standard approach is to leave a bit of binding above the top of the guitar and then scrape it level. I didn't want a scraper to come into contact with the sparkle wrap. It's durable, but I doubt it would stand up well to a scraper blade. So I did my best to install the binding just a hair below the top of the guitar. It's not perfect, but it's close enough that I'm filing this under "learning experience" and "things only I will notice."

    The binding needed to be extremely thin to sit on top of the finish without creating an obtrusive ledge. It's so thin that it's not totally opaque. I can see some streaks from the glue on the underside when I have it under my worklight. Not perfect but I don't mind.

    20190510_003117.jpg

    A truly professional binding job would have involved scoring the finish where the original binding met the wood, stripping out the original binding, cleaning out the binding channel, installing new binding, and refinishing the guitar. That's far beyond my skill level. My solution gets me 90% of the way there without destroying the guitar, which I would almost certainly do if I tried stripping and replacing the binding. This method works for me.

    I'm going to clean up the glue residue and I might go over the binding with a few layers of water-based wipe-on poly to smooth out the transition from the binding to the guitar.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  8. hcsterg

    hcsterg Country Gent

    Feb 13, 2012
    France
    Very interesting attempt and instructive experience, section2 - I follow it to see the result... :cool::cool::cool:

    A+!
     
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  9. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    The pickups and pots

    I took a pair of clear English Mount bezels (sourced from TV Jones) and sprayed the undersides with a metallic paint from Rustoleum. (Can't remember whether the colour was "satin bronze" or "pure gold.") This thing is starting to look like a guitar.

    20190510_134400.jpg

    The guitar came stock with a two-knob setup: one master volume and one tone control. I like the four-control Gretsch setup (neck volume, bridge volume, master volume, tone). I drilled a hole for a third knob where the neck volume would go, and inserted a CTS long-shaft 500k audio taper pot. The new hole is outside the control cavity, but the guitar is hollow aside from a chambered centre block, so I was able to fish the pot through the hole, hollow-body style.

    There was just one problem: the pot shaft is about a millimeter too short. The guitar top is thicker outside the control cavity, and while the long-shaft pot can make it through the top, the nut doesn't quite reach the threads. To raise the pot, I needed to countersink the hole from the underside. A drill can't reach the hole through the control cavity cover. MacGyver time again.

    I had a Dremel grinding bit that was about the same diameter as the pot, so I fished the bit through the hole with the grinder on the underside, inserted it into the Dremel on the outside of the hole, turned on the Dremel, and pulled upward to grind the hole from the inside. This worked. It also nearly set my guitar on fire.

    The first thing I noticed was the pleasing scent of BBQ. Then I saw a wisp of smoke. I shut off the Dremel right quick and removed the bit. Then I saw more smoke, and then I realized that the guitar was making more and more smoke even with the Dremel shut off. This was when I realized that it would have been wise to have a damp towel nearby. I sprinted to the kitchen, ran a paper towel under the tap, wrung it out, ran back downstairs to my smouldering guitar, and stuffed the damp towel into the hole. Crisis averted.

    I'd been planning to drill a hole in the treble-side horn for the master volume pot and use the same trick to countersink it, but this would clearly not be a wise course of action. I might try the Dremel trick with a coarse sanding disc instead of the grinder. Whatever I use, I'll test it first on a scrap piece of hardwood.

    Once I sort that out, I'll get out the soldering iron and wire everything up. I'm having a little fun with the tone pot: I have a DMT Dual Mode Tone Control that I've been meaning to try out, so I'm using it in lieu of a traditional tone pot. This is a push-pull pot; the pushed-in setting rolls off treble, while the pulled-out setting rolls off bass. Looking forward to hearing it in action.

    Getting there!
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
    LivingMyDream, Jena, Waxhead and 9 others like this.
  10. drmilktruck

    drmilktruck Gretschified

    May 17, 2009
    Plymouth, MN
    Great work and you've learned new skills. Plus it's blue! Can't wait for the finish.
     
    Jena, sh4rkbyt3 and section2 like this.
  11. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    The headstock

    While I had the guitar on the bench, I replaced the stock nut with a Tusq XL. I also swapped the stock vintage-style tuners for a set of open-gear Hipshot Grip Locks. I had to ream out the holes to fit the new tuners. Oddly, the tuner shafts are about half a millimeter too short for this headstock. I've installed them without washers for now, but it's not a great look, and the nuts without the washers have chipped the finish around the holes.

    I don't like the painted-on logo on this headstock anyway, so I might cover the face of the headstock with a layer of white pearl drum wrap (I have plenty left over from my last drum project) and top it with a layer of walnut veneer. The veneer would be laser-cut to show the Gretsch logo in pearl beneath it. I'll need to either replace the tuners or sand down the headstock by about 3mm to make the tuners fit with the washers and the veneer. I'm leaning towards sanding. Do any of the experienced luthiers here want to talk me out of it?
     
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  12. Merc

    Merc Country Gent

    May 6, 2017
    Florida
    It’s looking great so far and looks like a lot of hard work. You picked a beautiful blue too.

    I’m curious why you didn’t try blue paint to avoid bubbles, though you did a better job than I could do. But it’s just an idea for taking a less difficult road for blue sparkle. The Custom Shop sprays color over silver sparkle a lot of times for different sparkle Jets. A member here did it as well and it came out stellar.

    I believe Gretsch made a blue sparkle jet around 2000 along with both a red and black sparkle jet, but they’re kind of rare. It would be really cool if they did a new sparkle jet color for summer NAMM. Hopefully Gretsch is lurking in this thread.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
    Jena, sh4rkbyt3 and section2 like this.
  13. CaliforniaSlim

    CaliforniaSlim Gretschie

    212
    Jul 21, 2016
    94597
    Nice job! this is looking great.
     
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  14. speedicut

    speedicut Country Gent

    Jun 5, 2012
    Alabama
    Nice job!

    I would have boogered that sucker up if I tried it :(
     
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  15. section2

    section2 Synchromatic

    784
    Dec 21, 2016
    Toronto
    Thanks! I looked into doing a spray instead of a wrap. I quickly concluded that it would be far beyond my skill level. From what I've read, sprayed-on sparkles are among the trickiest and most labour-intensive finishes to pull off. Apparently it takes layer upon layer upon layer of clear coat to fully cover the metal flakes. There's a great thread on TDPRI by a builder who made a hand-sprayed green sparkle Tele. He was an experienced guy, and it was a months-long challenge for him. I figured I wasn't going to do better on my first project. But I'm fairly comfortable working with drum wrap, and I like that it's the same material that Gretsch uses on the pro line Sparkle Jets.

    I haven't seen the Custom Shop sprayed sparkle finishes--I'd bet they look amazing. Do you happen to remember which forum member did their own sprayed-on finish? I'd love to see it.

    I've seen pics of blue and red Sparkle Jets here and there, but not many. I think Rocky at Streetsounds might have had a factory special run of blue Sparkle Jets back in the day. Blue is my favourite colour, and it just seemed wrong not to have a blue guitar!
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
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  16. Lockupyourfatdog

    Lockupyourfatdog Gretschie

    168
    Aug 8, 2016
    Everett wa
    Nice thread! It’s looking great!
     
    section2 likes this.
  17. Lionpotato

    Lionpotato Gretschie

    281
    Oct 10, 2018
    Upland
    Sacrilege!!!!!

    Just kidding. Good work.
     
    section2 likes this.
  18. 86runner

    86runner Electromatic

    55
    May 6, 2015
    Nashville
    Love this! Keep up the good work!
     
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  19. sh4rkbyt3

    sh4rkbyt3 Gretschie

    252
    Mar 8, 2019
    Elkton, MD
    Very nice job section 2 and you're exactly right about the metal flake texture also. I've done a few computer cases using the real fine multi-sparkle clear spray and it took more than 5 coats of clear coat to get it somewhere near smooth. 7 coats would likely have made it perfect but the curing evenly throughout the surface is a real PITA even on metal, I'd hate to even begin to try it out on wood.
    Drum wrap is definitely the smarter route.
     
    section2 likes this.
  20. Merc

    Merc Country Gent

    May 6, 2017
    Florida
    At 8:30 he mentions shooting over Sparkle tops for customers.

    It was Wildeman. He had used Reranch orange over the original metallic Silver. I’m not sure if they make blue.
     
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