Improve Your Instrument
Really, really serious and totally brilliant ways to...
yours to cut out and lose
THERE'S A DANGEROUS and costly mystique that surrounds the idea of servicing and repairing your own equipment — that it's a job which requires professional tools and a degree of expertise beyond that of the common musician. Not so.
We at Popular Amateur are here to dispel such notions. With just a few household objects and appliances, you can perform nearly all the maintenance tasks you will ever need. Just follow our simple instructions, and you'll never have to worry about your guitar or synth again.
You will need: HAMMER
PAINTSTRIPPER/PAINTBRUSH/PAINT (FOR REFINISHING)
A SHARP KNIFE
AN EXTENSION LEAD
SOME OLD NEWSPAPERS
First, let's look at the guitar, that most common of musical instruments.
Perhaps your '57 tiger stripe Gibson Les Paul has a slightly damaged paint job? After all those years it's not surprising! Wearing your rubber gloves (don't forget to spread newspaper on the floor first), take some paintstripper and brush it along the grain on the front of the body. Then take a large quantity of cheap wine and pour it down your throat.
Try removing the strings to gain access to all those tricky bits between the pickups and around the bridge. Leave the guitar for 10 to 15 minutes, and you'll see all those grubby fingerprints peeling off. Rinse it thoroughly with cold water, then scrub down with Ajax. Start to sing "They're Coming To Take Me Away" at full volume.
Next, for refinishing the guitar, select a polyurethane of your choice. You'll need approximately 20 gallons of paint to fill your bath to the required depth, depending on the shape and volume (ie size) of your instrument. Pour the paint into the bath (with the plug in, of course!) to a sufficient depth. Then place the guitar into the paint.
It's not quite as simple as it sounds, though, as you will soon discover that the guitar floats.
It's necessary to flip the guitar over two or three times to get a full covering; make sure that you touch the body as little as possible and you'll avoid spoiling the new finish.
When you're satisfied with the state of the new paintwork (don't forget to put the strings back on for that all-over-look) pull the plug out of the bath and remove the instrument by holding its strap buttons. Place it carefully in a warm place — either an airing cupboard, or next to a radiator or other source of heat. Leave to dry before attempting to play.
Perhaps your pickups are badly adjusted. A few judiciously aimed taps with the hammer (make sure you remove the strings first, or the tool could bounce back into your face) should suitably lower them. If they're still too loud, insert your sharp knife into the windings (those little bits of copper wire) and wiggle. The more they fray, the better.
On SG or Stratocaster-type guitars, you might be able to drive the pickups right through the scratchplate into the body cavity, which would solve all your volume problems. Alternatively, if they're too quiet, insert the claw-end of the hammer between pickup and fitting, then lever up into position. Remember — the closer to the string, the louder your guitar will be; when they're touching each other, you've reached maximum output.
Pickup volume can also be altered with an ordinary domestic tape recorder's head demagnetiser, which changes the properties of the polepieces. But this process does demand that specialist tool, and so is beyond our brief.
Necks are often a source of annoyance on guitars. Rather than waste hours searching the house for that lost Allen key which you know you had, and which might just fit the trussrod, why not follow Popular Amateur's simpler, faster cure for warped necks?
Lean the guitar between floor and wall (a chair will do if you can't find a wall) at an angle of approximately 40°, with the warp bowed outwards towards you; place one foot on the neck two to three inches above the point where it joins the body, so you are pushing against the warp. Gradually increase the pressure until you can hear the wood in the neck beginning to "move" (carpentry term).
Then, having made sure that the guitar is firmly wedged, and cannot slip down the wall, lift your other foot rapidly from the floor. This will have the effect of transferring all your weight to the sole of the foot pressing against the guitar neck.
There are other methods of changing neck angle, such as those practised by masters like Peter Townshend, but his preferred "over-the head" swing is usually too noisy for home repairers, and is often less accurate.
Obviously, different guitars need different maintenance techniques. Gibsons, for instance, are easy to convert into Steinbergers, with a sharp tap to the back of the neck behind the headstock. Fender Stratocasters are useful for practising guitar origami — the three-bolt neck will fold sideways quite easily (the four bolt needs more attention).
Semi-acoustics, while they might at first seem weak and flimsy, are usually quite robust, owing to the presence of a block of wood down the centre of the body. They are, however, good for practising the Jimi Hendrix method of refinishing guitars. His style of de-enamelling, which involves quantities of lighter fuel and matches, works best on semis and acoustics as the liquid can be emptied into the interior of the guitar through the soundholes.
If the guitar is allowed to stand for a few minutes before ignition, you may be lucky enough to have filled the body with fumes. Subsequent ignition of these fumes should aid greatly in dismantling the instrument. (ONLY attempt this outside, as the resultant gouts of flame from the F-holes and flying debris can be harmful indoors.)
A short word about full-bodied acoustic guitars: these, being wholly hollow and devoid of electrics, are obviously easier to maintain than solid or semi-solid electric guitars. It's easy to try adding new soundholes — the only tool you'll need is a sharp knife. Floating bridges are simple to relocate, one favourite place being between the soundhole and the neck. Here, you may find super glue of use.
Keyboard instruments are less easy to maintain than guitars, as their workings are primarily internal. But if we apply a few basic techniques, and observe the masters (such as Keith Emerson) in action, all should fall into place.
Synthesisers, being traditionally electrical by nature, often benefit from soaking in warm salt water; this coats the contacts and circuit boards, permitting better conductivity and enhanced sounds. Naturally, this soaking must be carried out while the synth is turned on (which may mean an extension lead to take power into the bathroom).
Making sure that you are wearing rubber soled shoes (should you happen to dangle part of your anatomy into the live water by accident), immerse the keyboard in 12in of salty water. Do not move until it has stopped sparking. Only then turn the power off (if it has not already fused) and drain the bath, making sure that you empty all the water out of the synth through the jack sockets, ensuring complete inundation.
Because of its incessant manipulation, the keyboard of many synthesisers is the first part to give trouble. Testing for future trouble spots is a simple matter of hooking the claw end of the hammer underneath a key and pulling upwards to expose the contacts within the case; if this does not shift the key, try reversing the pressure by bringing the flat end of the hammer sharply down on the upper surface.
Make sure the key is completely detached before attempting to brush any stray fragments of plastic aside. Repeat this procedure throughout the length of the keyboard.
Once the keys have all been removed, it should be possible to gain entry to the body of the instrument through the resultant gap. On analogue synths, you may find that any knobs mounted on the upper surface have to be removed; a sharp sideways blow should be enough to shear them off.
Once within the workings of the keyboard, you will be confronted by a bewildering array of printed circuit boards and electrical components. Don't be deterred. General maintenance doesn't require you to prod each single part with a smouldering soldering iron: the nature of the Popular Amateur technique is ease of application.
Remove the upper cover of the keyboard, and shake off any loose keys, transistors, etc. Coat all the exposed parts of an electrical nature in a light vegetable oil, then encase as much of the synth as possible in a sheet of tin-lead alloy (foil). Then place the enveloped equipment in a pre-heated oven, which should be running at its highest setting. The time which the synth should be heated can be calculated by the simple theorem t = 20 minutes + 25 minutes per pound weight of keyboard.
Obviously certain items of equipment will be too large for the average oven: in this case, simply double the heating time (t = 40 minutes + 50 minutes per pound) and leave the door open. Repeat the operation for the part that remained unheated. You must remember to encase the whole synth in foil, otherwise the RGBs could sustain damage should they melt and run out on to the floor. It's not vital to include the power lead in this operation.
When heating time is up, your synthesiser should be rather softer than before; now is the time to replace the keys, which should slide easily into the remoulded case. To return the plastics to their original strength, dowse with cold water.
The final step of the Popular Amateur home synth servicing requires you to return your serviced keyboard to the place of purchase, and inform the shop that it is still under guarantee. They should be able to help with fine-tuning.
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!