Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The vintage Hofner Colorama II restoration project (part 1)

Some of you may remember me mentioning the 1963 Hofner Colorama II (also known as the Hofner 164) that I bought a while back on ebay. What do you mean you don’t remember? I posted about it right here: http://diystrat.blogspot.com/2008/11/my-first-ever-electric-guitar.html

Oh wow, was that really three years ago? Who knew?

Anyway, as is always the danger when you buy something without seeing it in person first, especially a 50-year-old guitar, you never really know what sort of shape it’s going to be in. The photos showed a guitar that appeared to be in fairly average shape for its age and most of the original parts seemed to be there, but upon closer inspection it appeared that this particular guitar needed a lot more work than originally anticipated. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single part of this guitar that doesn’t need work in some way or another.

In that previous post, I mentioned that I completely messed with my original Hofner Colorama II almost 25 years ago, and so I feel like this is a chance to redeem myself. Kinda like adopting a puppy after inadvertently running over another one, or something like that.

Here’s a list of the main problems:

1. Neck – The neck is back bowed and the fretboard is both badly gouged in the cowboy chord positions and has a crack running the length of several frets. The frets themselves are badly worn in places too, so a total refret will be required. The neck needs to be completely re-lacquered, the tuners need replacing with something a bit closer to original (and the extra screw holes from the replacement tuners will need to be filled in too). The logo will need replacing due to having to re-lacquer the neck.

2. Body – The paint needs to be stripped and the body refinished. The paint is literally flaking off, and there are some cracks where the pieces of wood are joined.

3. Pickguard and back vibrato cover – Both plastic covers are warped and are now somewhat convex in shape. The screws have obviously been lost/replaced over time and are a bit of a (bad) mix now, so will need replacing.

4. Vibrato/tremolo – The thumbscrew that holds the vibrato arm on is missing and the arm is held on only because the threaded stud had been hammered down like a rivet, destroying it in the process. Also, the chrome vibrato cover has completely split where the screw at the front end goes in.

5. Bridge – The bridge has been replaced with one that has the wrong spacing, radius, and won’t intonate correctly, due to being straight across, so will need to be replaced (at least the top part).

6. Volume/tone knobs – Oh boy, would you look at the state of those? They're in dreadful condition and will all need to be replaced. The knob markers/pointers are also really, really rusty and will need a thorough cleaning.

7. Electronics – The pots are not behaving well at all (cutting out, very scratchy, etc.) and will need to be cleaned out. Additionally, one of the pickups does not appear to be behaving well, although that might (hopefully) be fixed after giving the pots some attention. The output jack could probably do with some attention too.

Wow, what a lot of work for just one guitar, but, hey, think how much FUN it’s going to be! Amirite? Plus, you know, this will totally sort me out with the Hofner karma police.

So stay tuned as all of these jobs get tackled over the next few posts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adjusting the neck pickup height on a Fender Telecaster style guitar

The neck pickup on this Telecaster needs to be raised. However, as is the case on most Telecaster-style guitars, there are no height adjustment screws in sight. There is a way to adjust this, but it’s not entirely obvious. Although the following steps might seem like a lot of work, you can easily do this in 20 or 30 minutes.

Before starting, you should really ask yourself why you want to adjust the pickup height. A common mistake is to think that if you move the pickup as close as possible to the strings, you can get a more powerful and better sound. However, as you move the pickup closer to the strings, the pickup magnets can start to influence the strings themselves, even dampening them and affecting the sound in a bad way. For this reason you need to be careful not to raise them by too much.

The pickup on THIS guitar is noticeably low and the output is much quieter than the bridge pickup. I could lower the bridge pickup instead, but I already like how it sounds and don’t want to mess with it, so I’m going to raise the neck pickup.

Before continuing, let’s take some measurements. Press down on the last fret of whatever string you want to measure and then use a ruler to deduce the distance between the pickup and that string. Do this for both of the E strings and also measure one of the middle strings. The reason you need to measure one of the middle strings is that, since this particular pickup is curved on top, it could be closer to the strings in the middle than at the edges. What you don’t want to do is adjust it nicely at the edges only to find that it ends up far too close in the middle.

After measuring this pickup we find that we have a good 4 mm at each E string and just under 4 mm in the middle, so the plan is to raise it up by 2 mm at both ends.

First thing we should do is slacken the strings. You might be able to get away without doing this, but it certainly makes things easier.

Now remove all of the screws holding the scratch plate (pickguard) in place.

Lift up and remove the scratch plate. The pickup will stay attached to the guitar, so make sure you take this into account as you lift out the scratch plate.

You will now see that the pickup is screwed into the body of the guitar with two screws.

Before making any adjustments, it’s time to measure the pickup height again. That way, after we make any adjustments, we can measure how much the pickup has moved (since we’ve slackened off the strings, we can’t compare to our previous measurements now). This pickup is measuring approximately 4 mm above the guitar body at both ends. Remember that the plan is to raise this one by 2mm at each end, so we will raise it to 6 mm above the guitar body.

Although not necessary here, I have unscrewed the pickup completely just to show you what we’re dealing with. As you can see, there are two springs on the pickup screws. This allows you to adjust the height by simply turning the screws. Some Telecasters do not have these springs, however, and if that is the case for you, I recommend adding some now. Otherwise you will only be able to raise the height by propping something under the pickup, such as washers or coins. A cheap and simple method is to steal the spring out of a cheap ballpoint pen, cut it in half, and slide one half over each of the screws, although if you prefer you can get proper pickup springs or tubing from any number of sources.

Rotate the screw at each end to adjust the height (anti-clockwise [counterclockwise] to raise the pickup and clockwise to lower it – note that this is the opposite to most pickups). Keep measuring the height after each adjustment until the pickup is where you want it. Remember that in THIS case the plan was to raise it by 2mm, so we want it to sit 6mm above the guitar body. Your guitar will most likely be different.

If you want to experiment a bit, you could tighten your strings again and play a while to try out the new pickup height. Once you’re happy, you can replace the scratch plate. In this case, we already have the pickup height we want, so I’m going to go ahead and replace the scratch plate now.

If you haven’t already done so, tighten up the strings and enjoy your guitar's new sound!