I've recently rebuilt three guitars. This is the story of one.
A CHEAP GUITAR
I bought a very cheap guitar on Amazon (China import) because I liked the basic looks of it. It's a deep-cherry stained poplar body (poplar is a porous but reasonably strong wood) with a nice ivory-colored edge guard. It caught my eye and I felt the $49 price tag warranted taking a chance on it.
UNPLAYABLE ? : (
Sadly when the guitar arrived it was unplayable. The fingerboard was wave warped, which means that rather than the entire neck being warped the fretboard wood hadn't been glued properly and had minor "waves" in it. Unfortunately on a guitar, minor means "unplayable", since any unlevel frets will cause string buzz.
FIXING THE BRIDGE
I noticed the bridge saddle (the part where the strings connect with the surface of the guitar) was far too low (not unusual. I've never bought a guitar that I didn't have to rework the bridge a bit). So I put a wooden shim under the bridge saddle and raised it 1/8". However that didn't fix the fret buzz. The fingerboard was simply too warped.
How could I fix this mess of a guitar? It was literally unplayable, a "lost cause" guitar.
FLATTENING THE FRETS
As I studied the neck I noticed that the wave warp- while enough to make the guitar unplayable- wasn't excessive. The fretboard itself was glued down well, just somewhat uneven. So I went down to the hardware store and bought a drywall sanding block. This is a rubber-padded tool that is about 9 inches long, 4 inches wide, very flat and is used for sanding large surfaces. I took that to the fretboard, effectively sanding down all the frets at one time. The theory was that by sanding the entire fretboard with a large sanding block I might be able to level the frets, despite the warp in the fretboard itself.
It worked. I was able to sand just enough off the surface of the frets to remove all fret buzz and that, combined with having raised the bridge saddle made the guitar playable. To finalize the effect I put on new "high tension" guitar strings for maximum quality string performance.
The effect was wondrous. This "loser guitar" now presented absolutely incredible tone and volume. It turned out to be one of the best classical guitars I have ever heard. The tone was far beyond what I expected from any guitar, let alone one this "cheap". The porous nature of the poplar formed a terrifically resonant surface.
So now that I had a terrific-sounding guitar, what next? How about a bit of hand-worked decoration. Below are the before and after photos of this guitar. Hope you enjoy the transformation.
Before... the "loser guitar"-- pretty... but unplayable.
After... added decorative "leaves" in two places and cut holes in the guitar for additional sound outlet (yes, that was scary, but the results were fantastic). Spray-painted the inside flat-black to help make the holes more attractive and more pronounced. The leaves resemble a popular effect on Ovation guitars. I also replaced the wood shim under the bridge with a piezo bar guitar pickup and ran a powered jack to the lower right side of the guitar for amplifier cord. Fantastic results.
A closeup of the front: The fretboard, now nice and flat, has hand-painted position markers covered with several coats of satin spray varnish-- which makes the fretboard very smooth and playable. In this photo the camera flash reveals part of the internal electronics connection. I love the wood grain in the front of this guitar... which stands out via several coats of furniture polish.
It's one thing to play a guitar that's been bought off-the-shelf. It's another entirely to hear beautiful sound coming from one that's resulted from the work of one's own hands. It's like preparing your own gourmet meal from vegetables you've grown from your own garden. The taste is much nicer. : )
UNFORESEEN MORAL OF THE STORY
Sometimes we may feel ourselves useless, without purpose and "unfixable". But don't let yourself be fooled into thinking you're a "lost cause". With a little examination, work, refusing to give up, and a bit of love, we discover the value that's hidden within. A little sanding to finish off the rough edges, a little bit of refining to bring out our best qualities... and we may find that not only are we not worthless as individuals, but had potential all along that now shines.
Every human being has potential. Beyond a seemingly useless existence may lie an awesome future.
May you find your own hidden value. Just remember: don't give up. We only lose if we quit. Sometimes all we need is believing in ourselves... and the effort to make a change. It doesn't matter what flaws we have or how "defective" we feel we are... we can be of value to someone if we're willing to try.
Hum and buzz when plugging in an amp. Annoying and frustrating. Where is it coming from? Is it the git, the amp or something else?
Many articles have been written on this. Doesn't hurt to re-hash once in a while. This is a step-by-step process for locating and eliminating hum, starting with easiest-to-check.
TEST FOR GROUNDING ISSUES
Touch the metal jacket on your guitar cord when it's plugged into the amp. If the hum vanishes you likely have a grounding problem somewhere.
TEST THE CORD
Poor guitar cords are notorious for creating hum. Try a different cord. If hum still persists, you may want to invest in a quality, shielded cord. They cost a bit but there's a reason for that: they help eliminate external sources of hum. If the hum disappears it's money well-spent. If not, it's still money well-spent.
TEST THE AMP
Try a different amp if you have one and see if the hum disappears. If hum vanishes, you just located the source without much trouble. In one instance I thought the hum was my guitar; it turned out instead to be the wall wart (AC Converter) that fed my Roland MicroCube. How did I find out? I unplugged it and ran the cube on batteries and the hum vanished. Another way would be to try other wall warts and see if they do better (once I went through six wall warts until I found one that worked properly. They are notoriously poor in manufacture). If your amp doesn't use a wall wart it may be something in the internal wiring. That's a bit trickier and out of my ability to trace (without risk of painful or fatal electrical incident). Usually in such case I just buy a new amp. Unless it's an expensive amp it'll cost as much to have the amp repaired.
TEST THE INSTRUMENT
Test two or three gits if you have them and see if the hum remains, vanishes, or changes. If the hum remains across all gits, then that almost insures the problem is either with the amp or the environment (unless of course, you have 2 or 3 problem gits-- not likely). If it's the instrument, see below on how to correct that problem.
TEST LOCATION / ENVIRONMENT
If hum persists, eliminate the environment as a possibility. Hum could be caused by something in your home or workshop. I've heard of entire houses that had hum in the wiring itself... unstable electric flow.
First use an outlet ground tester to make sure the outlet is grounded. If all shows green you're good to go. If it shows ungrounded, you'll need to ground your outlet-- or switch to another outlet that is grounded.
If your outlet is grounded, take the git and amp to another location and see if you still have the hum. First move to other rooms and test the system. If the hum persists move to another place entirely... a local park with electric outlet or someplace totally away from your home area where you can test your guitar and amp. If the problem is in your home-- your entire block or area of the city up to the central transformer could potentially be affected. Eliminate the environment as a cause. If you go elsewhere and the hum disappears, you'll either need to just get used to the hum or invest in a hum eliminator device (plugs between your amp and wall socket to stabilize voltage and eliminate hum).
Do you have fluorescent lights? Those little twisty bulbs? Computer equipment nearby? Heavy electronics nearby (microwave, television, etc). Those are known sources of RFI (radio frequency interference). You can try isolating your music setup from proximity to those,
HOW TO FIX A WONKY GIT
If the hum problem turns out to be the CBG... something isn't connected properly somewhere. You'll want to make sure items that need to be grounded are connected to the negative (center) pole of your guitar jack-- either directly or through a central grounding wire.
* Pickups. "Humbuckers" are so named because the double-coils naturally inhibit hum. If you're using a single-coil pickup (common with CBGs) the pickup itself could be the source of hum. Google "shield coil pickup" for lots of information on eliminating pickup hum.
* Pickup cover. Some pickup covers are metal and have to be grounded. If they're not they can cause significant hum. Solution: ground to the pickup ground wire.
* Sound wiring. Sometimes the instrument wiring is simply hooked up wrong. Double and triple-check the wiring layout and see if all the wires are where they're supposed to be.
* Strings. If you have a metal bridge or the strings run across metal somewhere (such as the tailpiece), that's easy to fix. Just run a ground wire straight from the jack to the metal. If the strings don't touch metal you may need to add a metal strip to the tail or bridge and ground to the jack in order to ground the strings. They're steel / nickel and are basically horizontal antennas... very sensitive to interference. The tuners are also metal; you could probably use your git to pick up television signals in a pinch. So ground the strings.
* Fancy do-dad. If you have a license plate or other metal decoration on your git that's any larger than a bottle cap, it could be it is picking up interference. If there are metal decorations (especially LPGs), ground them.
* Faulty pot grounding. Sometimes a ground solder on a pot may look good but actually not be grounding correctly. In other cases the pot itself is burned out and not grounding correctly. In some cases the pot was faulty right from the factory (I've had that happen twice). If you've tried everything else and it still hums, I recommend:
a) Unsolder and re-solder all ground connections on the pot (being careful to not get the pot too hot).
b) If it still hums after that, replace the pots one by one and see if one of them was faulty.
THE FINAL, LAST-DITCH OPTION
If you've done all of the above and hum still persists, yet it goes away when you touch the guitar cord jacket... procure for yourself a "grounding wrist band". You can buy these online or at computer stores in the form of "anti-static wrist bands" or make one yourself out of a loop of flexible wire or mesh and a gator clip. When playing, wrap it around your wrist or run under your shirt, then clip it to grounds somewhere on the guitar. That should solve the hum problem no matter where it's coming from. (Note: I am not responsible for sudden unforeseeable amp electrical kickback that results in loss of future generations.)
That's pretty much the extent of my knowledge in this area at this time. If anyone has anything else to add, please do. In my experience if you do all the above, chances are the hum is going to vanish at one point or another and your problem will be solved.
Note: This article applies to 110 / 120v electrical sources common to the United States. Higher voltage sources in other countries would need to refer to electronics specialists in their area.
There it is again... that annoying hum from your guitar amplifier. What is causing that? It seems to come and go. Sometimes it's louder, sometimes softer. Is it the guitar, the amp or something difficult to identify?
CAUSES OF HUM
There can be many reasons for hum or noise in a piece of equipment (listed here in order of "easiest to identify and correct"):
* Jack-related ground loop issues
* Electric line ground loop issues
* RFI / EMI (radio frequency or electromagnetic interference)
* Bad line power ("noisy" electricity)
* Bad instrument or amplifier
... and stuff that really is difficult to identify. Fortunately the most common causes of amplifier noise are easy to identify and correct-- although it may cost you a bit to fix it.
JACK-RELATED GROUND LOOP ISSUE
This is very easy to test. Plug a regular guitar cord into your amp (but not into your instrument). If you hear hum / noise, unplug the cord. If the noise vanishes, you have a jack-related ground loop issue.
Fixing this problem is reasonably low-cost (about $20 or so). You will need to purchase an instrument/microphone ground loop eliminator. Models are made by Pyle, Behringer and other music companies. You plug your instrument cord into this device and then run another cord to your amplifier. If the hum is instrument or cord related, this will very likely correct the majority of the problem.
Note that this may not fix issues in which there is something wrong with the instrument (an internal short or grounding issue). For that you'll need to have the instrument inspected and repaired. But if you tested with a raw guitar cord and the problem disappears when the cord is unplugged from the amp, a jack ground loop eliminator will very likely be the solution.
ELECTRIC LINE GROUND LOOP ISSUES
Testing for this issue is easy if your amplifier has a 3-prong electric cord. (If your guitar has a 2-prong cord, you can skip this section.) Sometimes interference from "ground loop" (other items on the line) causes noise problems.
IMPORTANT! FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS FULLY! To test for this use a common 3-prong to 2-prong adapter (a little plug you can find in almost any store). If you plug the amp in using this adapter and the noise vanishes, you have an electric line ground loop issue. Whether the hum vanishes or remains, once the test is performed (2 seconds or so), immediately turn off the amp and remove the test plug. A 3-prong amp should never be operated with a 2-prong adapter for any length of time. This is for testing purposes only.
Resist the urge to keep using this easy and inexpensive device to fix the issue. There is a reason your amp has 3 prongs; using a 2 prong adapter for a length of time can cause grounding issues and result in blowing out your amp or (worst scenario, however rare) starting a fire or severely shock the player. Just don't do it.
What you will need in this case is a power ground loop filter, which can take care of such problems. It's not an inexpensive fix ($60 and up depending on your source) but it will most likely fix this electrical problem.
Anyone who has ever lived near a radio or TV station or near a power generator will likely have experienced this kind of problem. This can also happen in areas with florescent lights, heavy machinery, microwave ovens, computer equipment, large video monitors, or other sundry electrical equipment that can produce radio frequency or electro-magnetic interference.
There are many solutions for such, depending on the source, direction and seriousness of the interference. Shielded cables in your instrument, all cords and electric cord may be required. Many guitars are already shielded from RFI/EMI, but many aren't. You can shield them by opening the electronics area and lining it with aluminum or copper tape (available in electronics stores or online).
In the case of an amplifier an inelegant solution is to cover it with aluminum foil. A slightly more elegant solution is to build a "Faraday Cage"-- which is basically a mesh-wire box to surround most of your amplifier. Either method may block interference and allow your amp to work noise-free. You will still need a good-quality shielded guitar cable.
Note that these are measures for "extreme" situations of electrical interference. Less-extreme is to try to locate the source of interference and increase the distance between that source and your music equipment.
Sometimes noise is caused by a bad electric line. Basically the quality of electricity coming from your socket is unstable, causing erratic behavior. In such instance the best option is to have an electrician come out and check your house, because such problem can shorten the life of all of your electric appliances.
But for your instruments and amps there are several solutions. The least expensive are voltage regulators or a standard UPS (uninterruptable power supply)-- basically a computer battery backup. A voltage regulator tries to clean up your energy line and can smooth out your current. A UPS puts a battery between your electricity and amplifier, which also acts as a voltage regulator. A UPS is also the very best way to prevent electrical surges and even direct lightning strikes. (There are recorded cases where the UPS was disabled or even melted down, preventing damage to other equipment.) I personally have UPS devices on all of my sensitive electronic equipment.
However, either of these devices may be insufficient for really bad line noise. For such noise you may need a professional musician's line noise filter, which can run a hefty $200 or more. There are many options in this area, so shop around and see what works in your case. Starting with the inexpensive and work up if necessary. Purchasing from a retailer that allows returns in case of failure might be a wise and low-cost solution. If you can get by with a voltage regulator or UPS, that will be your least-expensive answer to this problem.
INSTRUMENT / AMPLIFIER ISSUES
Both instruments and amplifiers degrade with age and need repaired or replaced. Some items are simply built poorly or have a problem develop during the manufacturing process (a weak solder point, bad part, etc). If you perform the basic tests listed above and the noise still persists, you may need to have your equipment tested for noise issues.
This is most easily done through the process of elimination: keep replacing equipment (cords first, instruments, amplifiers) until you find the piece of faulty equipment. Always test cords first; it's amazing how often a problem is simply a matter of a bad connector cord.
An electric guitar can be tested by plugging a different electric guitar into the same amplifier, using the same cord, and seeing if the noise vanishes. If it does, your guitar is the issue.
An amplifier can be tested in the same manner. Have a friend bring over his/her amplifier and test it in the same environment, same electric outlet, same guitar cord and instrument. If the noise persists it's not likely to be the amplifier. If it vanishes you'll have a good hint your amplifier needs repaired or replaced.
Most causes of hum fall into four areas: jack-related ground loop, electric source ground loop, RFI/EMI problems, equipment issues. These can be easily tested and fixed at various degrees of expense. Start by performing the easiest tests to isolate the source of the hum / noise and correct that source once it is found.
Whenever we buy guitar pickups, one of the first things we look at is the K-ohm (kilo-ohm) rating. The general belief is that the higher the K rating, the more "powerful" (louder) the pickup. And to an extent, that is true.
However, measuring pickups strictly by ohms is a "layman's figure" the guitar industry uses to make general power ratings easier to understand. The reality of it is that ohms have little to do with the actual power (volume) potential of a pickup. There is a good reason for this: ohms is not a measure of electric flow; is it a measure of electric impedence-- the resistance of the device to the flow of electricity.
Why then are ohms used as a pickup rating? Because in general, ohms refer to how much copper is in the pickup coil. The widespread belief is that the more copper wire, the more volume. However, this belief is not correct.
Yes, in general, all things equal, given the same coil shape and the same wire thickness and consistency-- the higher the ohm rating the more powerful the pickup. Mellow guitar pickups often have ohm ratings between 4.5K and 6K. Humbuckers often run 7K to 9K+. "Hot" pickups (ie heavy metal) sometimes hit 16K or more.
But the reality is this: a lot more is involved in making a guitar pickup than wrapping a wire a certain number of times around a magnet (a typical guitar "coil"). There are many variables involved. That is why the field of guitar pickups is so complex and competitive, with everyone claiming to have a "special" pickup. Those variables are why pickups sound different from one another. If all that was involved was wrapping a specific number of coils around a magnet... all pickups would sound the same, the only difference being the number of wraps involved.
IS THE OHM / POWER RATING ACCURATE?
In a word, no. This is proved if you wind thousands of hair-thin wire coils around a piece of cardboard-- no other metal or magnet involved-- and then take an ohm reading on those coils. You will get near or even exactly the same ohm reading as if you wrapped them around a magnet.
Ohms is a measurement not of electrons or the energy they generate, but the resistance in the wire to the movement of energy. So how can it possibly rate power (ie, volume)?
In designing pickups we find that the diameter of the wire used, the tension in the wire, the way the coils are wrapped, the type and strength of magnet used, relationship of the wire to that magnet, polarity of the magnet, distance of the magnetic field from the strings and many other things are involved in creating a good guitar pickup. Yes, if you're sporting a 17K pickup you are going to get some serious power and probably a lot of natural distortion in the process. If you buy a 4.5K pickup it's almost certainly intended for clean, mellow blues and smooth jazz. But as you've read here, it's just a generalization. The best way to judge pickup sound and power is by ear.
It is because of these things that I built almost 200 FlatCats before I settled on the final design that produces its uniquely awesome sound and volume.
HOW ARE FLATCATS DIFFERENT?
FlatCats are very thin, which means they logically can't contain as many coil wraps as a standard large humbucker pickup. It stands to reason the ohm rating is also going to be considerably lower. How then, does a FlatCat produce its amazing volume and unusually rich and robust sound?
With most guitar pickups, the majority of the pickup sits inside the body, about an inch underneath the strings. This is where the magnets are located and where the coils are located. The magnetic field is usually carried up through pins to the vacinity of the strings. That is why the magnets and coils have to be so large-- to carry that far.
The FlatCat is different. Theentire pickup sits directly under the strings. Nothing is stuck inside the guitar body or removed from the strings. This allows the FlatCat to pick up every bit of energy, every nuance of sound from the strings.
As a result, a FlatCat with a lower "ohm" rating produces as much "power" (volume and tone) as a full-size humbucker. In fact a FlatCat can pick up some sounds a standard humbucker may miss, simply due to proximity to the strings and the way the FlatCat is designed internally. The result is so unique, awesome and rich in tone that I use FlatCats on my personal guitars
ARE HIGH-OHM FLATCATS POSSIBLE?
In research and development phase, by using special types of wire and specific techniques I was able to create FlatCat pickups rating in excess of 10K ohms. That is the equivalent of a "hot" humbucker pickup. However in testing it was discovered that this was actually too much for the FlatCat design. That close to the strings it created such a significant power flow that sound actually distorted and was too much for standard guitar amps.
In short: it is possible to have too much power on a pickup. That's what happened when I pushed FlatCat design to its limits-- and convinced me to bring it back down to a more sensible and pleasantly-audible range. For those who wish extreme heavy-metal overdrive, effects pedals are used even with standard pickups. FlatCat works with those as well.
SOUND IS SUBJECTIVE
It's difficult to create a scientific measurement of "wonderful sound", because people's ears and tastes differ. What sounds good to one person will sound not so good to another.
Subjective sound is why in guitar, amp and pickup reviews one person will rave about a product while another will say it's the worst they've ever heard. That's why there are so many different kinds of guitars, pickups and amps on the market. Each offers a specific sound to appeal to different people.
FlatCat™ Pickups are designed to appeal to a wide variety of guitar playing styles and listening preferences. Depending on your playing style, volume settings and the amp you use, FlatCat sound can range from smooth and mellow to "rock out". FlatCat is a very versatile pickup that is enjoyed by musicians world wide. All you need to do is read the reviews on Etsy to confirm that this is a fantastic pickup-- and that measurement of power by ohms is an industry-fostered misconception. True pickup power is measured not by resistance in an electrical line, but by resulting volume and rich sound. The FlatCat definitely produces the quality sound guitarists look for in a high-level pickup-- and does so at a very reasonable price.
Flat pickups have been produced for decades. However they can be quite expensive. I became aware of flat pickups around the end of 2014 when I noticed pickups made by Dan Sleep called Thinkbuckers. I was fascinated by the concept, but in the otherwise open-and-sharing field of cigar box guitar building, everyone was very secretive about how flat pickups were made. For some reason the concept of Flat pickups was considered by some in the community as the property of one person-- which seemed a bit silly. One person cannot possibly fill the world-wide market of CBG builders and players. There were no patents held. Anyone could make a flat pickup-- if they could figure out how.
Research revealed that flat pickups were nothing new; they'd been around for decades-- long before the CBG community came about. At least two major companies produce the in off-the-shelf models (for a significant price).
Gaining little or no cooperation in understanding flat pickup design, I went to the Net and did some research. I started experimenting by the seat of my pants, beginning with only a slight inkling of how these were made, based on non-specific photos. They were wax potted and wrapped in cellophane packing tape, a process and visual that didn't appeal to me. I wanted something sturdier and more resistant to environmental changes.
Factory-made flat pickups were pricey, starting at $145 each. I wanted to build a pickup that was especially sturdy and had a wide-range of sound ability, but at a significantly lower price than factory-line pickups.
Over a period of several months of extensive research and experimentation building pickups by hand, I started developing an unusual design, significantly different than prior designs I had seen.Not a quick process. Hundreds of hours were involved in basic R&D. Detailed records were kept on all attempts-- gleaning the best features. Eventually, the FlatCat pickup was born.
By mid-2015 that R&D session had accomplished several things:
* Considerable improvement over existing design concepts both in construction and resulting sound. Testers stated it sounded better and was more versatile than other pickups.
* FlatCats are fully potted and encased in solid PolyResin, which makes them very sturdy and more immune to elements and the environment.
* Because of their design I was able to create and offer the first low-cost 6-string flat pickup on the market, intended for use on standard electric guitars. Where factory-produced pickups started at $145 and up, FlatCats are priced at $50 to $55. FlatCats had extended beyond the realm of cigar box guitars.
* Despite surprising gain in power, FlatCats remained wonderfully rich in tone. Now the pickup could range from mellow sound on the low end to a terrific natural-distortion grit on the high-end, making it the most versatile flat pickup ever made. From mellow blues to jazz to country to rock-- a single FlatCat could cover them all.
* FlatCat was released in Cigar Box Guitar and Humbucker footprints. Both models are aboout 1/4" thick and designed to be mounted to the surfaceof a guitar.
* In the electric guitar field a FlatCat could be used to replace an existing pickup (mounted to cover the existing pickup cavity), or if no pickup was present it could be mounted directly to the surface of the guitar without need for carving or routing. The only mounting requirement was drilling a relatively small hole for the wire, making installation of FlatCats very simple, even for beginners. (Full mounting structions are included with each FlatCat pickup.)
FlatCats were released to the market and over the next several months earned solid 5-star reviews. They were purchased by professional luthiers, cigar box guitar builders and customers modding their own off-the-shelf guitars. Repeat purchases by existing customers proved their effectiveness.
FlatCats are often specified as the "pickup of choice" by people who order custom guitars from Wishbringer, with those guitars receiving top reviews as well.
Today the FlatCat is available in a variety of colors, a primed model for painting your own designs on the surface, and a 24k gold foil laser-etched version. Their sturdy composition assures their continued function over decades-- the wonderfully unique sound available to you for your special guitar projects.
Following are photos of Wishbringer instruments-- Cigar Box Guitars, 6-String Electrics, Amplifiers and other things I've built that are now being used by happy customers. This is to give an idea of what is possible in the custom instrument area.
The Rebelcustom Tele-style guitar, features FlatCat™ hand-made pickup (center), hand-modified Telecaster-type pickup (more power, greater range than a standard Tele pickup), three on/off pickup switches for instant access to 7 sound combinations, three individual pickup volume controls, master volume and tone (all set in mother of pearl), a Bigsby-style tremolo system, hand-finished pick guard and a fun name tag.
KC Royals Commemorative CBG. Created when the KC Royals won the World Series in 2015. Aluminum "license plate" resonator face, two internal pickups, volume and tone controls, Royals logo hand-pyrographed onto back.
Customer review: Great work! My husband loved the guitar! I asked for a special request for the guitar to be KC Royals themed and the design was perfect. I don't know much about guitars but my husband and his musically inclined family were very impressed!
Petrovsky Telecaster. This customer wanted a Telecaster Affinity turned into a his personalized dream instrument. Individual pickup toggles, pearlized pick guard, modified Telecaster single pickup (twice as powerful) and hand-made FlatCat pickup as parts of a balanced 3-pickup set, mother-of-pearl-tipped knobs, individual and master volume controls, tone control, Bigsby-style vibrato and authentic mother-of-pearl name inlay on the neck make this one of the most beautiful guitars I've ever had the joy of customizing.
FlatCat™ pickups: These quality, hand-made pickups sit directy under your guitar strings, pulling every bit of resonant sound from your instrument. Works on a wide variety of gutiars, including cigar box guitars, solid bodies, hollow-bodies, resonators and more.
Customer 5-star FlatCat review:
I got a set of humbuckers for a hollow body guitar I made, and I absolutely love these pickups! They have a full, rich sound that stays clear. The bridge pickup does twangy and jangly really well, and the neck has a great big warm sound to it. They're great to play clean, and will do fuzz and distortion equally well. These pickups look cool, are easy to install, and they sound GREAT! I'll be getting more of these in the future. Thank you Wishbringer!
Altoids DulciMint. Three-string dulcimer-fretted one-stick guitar using an Altoids mint tin for a body. Contains an internal transducer pickup and a hand-made FlatCat™ pickup at the neck as well as volume and tone controls all in that little tin.
Customer review: Supercool "Altoids DulciMint" guitar - dulcimer scaled Altoids mint tin guitar, custom designed and created by Wishbringer! Sounds amazing with it's combination of piezo and "Flatcat" pickups - a screaming, stumming machine! First rate build quality. Superior fit and finish. Great communication throughout build process.
Photo Tele: This custom-order consists of a semi-hollow Telecaster-style body, individual volume and master volume controls, a Varitone-style tone switch ranging from clean to distortion to heavy-metal overdrive, modified Telecaster pickup (twice as powerful), custom-made FlatCat and Houn'Pup pickups, vintage-style Teisco vibrato bar, and hand-pyrographed wood photo on the upper left.
Customer gave this guitar a 5-star rating.
Hazardous Voltagecigar box guitar features a light-up front plate and terrific sound.
Customer review: I love my Steampunk Cigar Box Guitar. It is as easy to play as the seller says it is. And it is designed so creatively. I have seen other cigar box guitars but this one stood out to me and I had to have it. It arrived already tuned and ready to play. It even included a slide and a pick. I am very happy with my purchase.
Mustang fretless. Two custom-finish FlatCat pickups, phase switching, volume and tone. Beautiful red metal flake finish, with three hand-pyrographed mustang horses on the neck:
Note: I ordinarily don't recommend ordering a fretless 6-string unless you've played one before and like the results. They're a bit... different.
Four Aceswas my very first CBG sale, a multi-pickup sound monster with a resultant very-pleased 5-star review from the customer:
Customer review: AWESOME CBG!!!!!!!! I would would buy another one in a heart beat!!!!!!!Thank you so much🎸👀🎸👀🎼🎼
GitRicky Surf-Green Tele. Gorgeous Telecaster-style with pearlized pick guard, Bigsby-style tremolo and three pickups including a custom-modified Tele pickup, standard Tele bridge pickup and hand-made FlatCat™ center.
Customer review: "A very fine, and beautiful guitar. The finish is a work of art. The guitar plays like butter, would put this up against any big name instrument. I would look up Wishbringer for any custom work."
ElectraGlide. This beautiful hand-pyrographed (wood-burned) CBG featured my very first hand-made guitar pickup-- the prototype that lead to production of the popular FlatCat™ series.
Portable Wedge Steampunk Amplifier. Packing a lot of power into a 3.5-inch speaker, the Wedge has volume, tone and overdrive controls, runs on AC or battery and a versatile sound range.
Customer review: A great item. A lot of utility in a nice package. Plenty loud for what it is intended.
Les Paul Custom: This customer wanted a basic FlatCat™ pickup and cosmetic upgrade to this red dye Les Paul guitar. Sound is fantastic.
Mild Insanity.This off-the-wall CBG has an intentionally-angled neck, pyrographic neck and face designs, mag pickup and lap-guitar style.
Sea Mist. This Tele-style guitar is my own personal instrument. My initial jump into hand-made full-size electric guitars, the paint job alone contains some 20 coats. With four individually-switchable pickups (FlatCat™, P-90, Lipstick Tube and Humbucker), a pyrographed neck and Bigsby-style tremolo, this is the ultimate "does everything" guitar.
Creator's personal guitar.
Classic Cigar Box Guitar. Custom creation for a friend, this fretless CBG has beautiful acoustic sound as well as electronics built in, hand-pyrographed front and hand-painted neck.
Custom Jaguar. Customer wanted a simplified Jaguar-style guitar with custom P-90 and Humbucker pickups. Customization included hand-cut pearloid plate and true mother-of-pearl control knobs.
Customer review: I seriously cannot put into words how much I love this guitar. Wishbringer built me exactly what I was looking for, a sturdy, beautiful, and fantastic sounding instrument that I would be happy to use for any function, whether it's in the studio, on stage, or just playing around in my bedroom. This guitar is beautiful, the picture hardly does it justice, it almost shimmers in person. The tone is phenomenal, perfect, warm where I want it to be warm and bright where I want it to be bright. The actual feel of this guitar is... well stunning. I was shocked at how natural it felt in my hands, it felt like it might as well have been an extra extension to my body. String action makes the instrument extremely easy to play, as advertised, while still maintaining beautiful resonance.
Steampunk Amp. This portable amp runs on AC current or batteries and features twin 4" speakers along with volume, tone and bass overdrive controls. The hand-inlaid speaker cover wires and corner protectors along with antique handle adds charm to this hobby-box amplifier. Multiple apertures produce excellent acoustic sound.
Eastern Song. This tenor Ukulele features a hand-painted front, oriental metal decorations and a beautiful drawer-handle string anchor. The customer loves the unique sound and ukulele fingering.
Customer review: This is by far the most unique ukulele I have ever seen! It has a slightly different sound than a classic tenor, but that's what makes me love it even more. : )
Note: If ordering a FlatCat™ pickup, please see the end of this article for information.
POLARITY: The facing of the magnet, either "north up" (toward the strings) or "south up".
PHASE: The direction of the current-- which wire is + or --, "hot" or "ground".
INSTALLING A NEW PICKUP
If you're just using one pickup on ae instrument, you usually do not have to worry about polarity or phase. But if you're using 2 or 3 pickups in close proximity to one another, how those pickups are built can be very important to how they will work together.
Some pickups are compatible; some are not. If you've ever experienced hum you just can't seem to get rid of, or weak, tinny sound... it is possible your pickups are out of polarity/phase with one another.
Out of phase means the pickup wires are hooked up backwards in the guitar. Intentionally done and balanced, this can provide a pleasantly different tone on your guitar. Done unintentionally, it can result in severe loss of volume and tone.
Here is a diagram illustrating how phase works:
While different guitar companies will have charts regarding pickups, there is no universal color coding for pickup wires; it sometimes is necessary to check it yourself. The rule of thumb is this: If you hook a pickup to your volume control and it sounds weak or tinny, reverse the wires. A functional pickup should sound vibrant and not at all weak.
If you're using a humbucker (2 coils) you may have either 2 or 4 wires coming from the pickup, depending on the model. In the case of 4 wires, there will be two pairs. In such case you will need to check the wires for continuity to see which of the four wires is paired together. Time saver: on many 4-wire pickups the ground wires are already soldered together.
COMPATIBILITY.Generally speaking*, if you have two single pickups, you want one to be North, phase positive and the other one to be South, phase negative (ie, wound the opposite direction of the first pickup). This is what you call a matched pair, which is important for not only hum and noise cancellation but also for volume and tone.
If you have a mismatched pair, you can wind up with either hum or a weak, tinny-sounding signal. This being the case, it is possible for two pickups to be mismatched... incompatible. This means they are either both north, both south, or are wound the same direction.
You will need a compass or a bar magnet. Set the compass sideways on top of the pickup and see whether the north or south pointer of the compass points away from the pickup.
Opposites attract; a north polarity pickup will attract the south pole of a compass, repelling the north pole and causing it to point away from the pickup. So if the north points away from the pickup, it's a north polarity pickup. If the south points away it is a south polarity pickup.
The polarity of the pickup is indicated by the side of the compass needle pointing away from the pickup.
You can use a bar magnet as well. See whether the north end or south end of the bar magnet is repelled by the pickup. Same concept. The end which pushes away from the pickup indicates the polarity of the pickup.
Testing for continuity (unbroken circuit) checks two things:
1) Continuity indicates the pickup is functional (continuous coil wire without a break)
2) If there are 4 or more wires it will reveal which wire pairs match one another.
Using a multimeter, touch the meter leads to two wires and see if you get current flow. If you do, those are paired.
TESTING PICKUP PHASE (which wire is + or -- )
You will need a digital multi-meter that is capable of testing very low DC or AC voltage (either will work). Most multi-meters can do this, even inexpensive ones.
To determine the phase, connect your two meter leads to a wire pair. Now take a screwdriver or large nail and slowly move it toward the surface of the pickup. You will see a jump in the voltage reading, and that jump will either be positive or negative. If it is positive, you have the red and black leads on the correct wires. If it is negative, you have them reversed. Switch them and try again for verification.
When you remove the metal from the pickup you will see another voltage spike, just the opposite of the first one. So if you got a positive reading when laying on, you will get a negative reading when pulling away, and vice versa.
That is how you test for phase. When you get a positive-then-negative reaction, whichever wire the red lead is connected to will be the hot / positive wire and the other wire is ground / negative.
INSTALLING COMPATIBLE PICKUPS
To get ideal sound you want your pickups hooked up backward to one another. If both pickups are wound the same direction or the magnets facing the same direction, you can get hum. For pickups to be matched, you want the magnets to face opposite directions and the coils to be wound opposite (or in short, you want opposite polarity and phase).
Note: if the magnets are 2 inches or more away from one another you likely will not need to worry about polarity; they are outside one another's magnetic field. You will still need to consider phase.
If you buy a set of pickups and one says "neck" and the other says "bridge"... that has already been taken into consideration. If you take two neck pickups and put them together or two bridge pickups together, you are likely going to have out-of-phase (incompatible) pickups-- unless of course that's the sound you're going for.
What makes things more confusing is that different brands of pickups and even different years within the same brand can be incompatible. For example, early Fender neck pickups had north polarity, but then later changed to south polarity. So to replace pickups on a Strat you need to either test for polarity and phase on the existing pickups-- or switch out all three with an already-matched set.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY PHASE IS RIGHT?
It's easy to check polarity, as shown above. If you hook up a pickup and it sounds weak or tinny, it may be a phase issue. Try reversing the wires.
Some guitars have phase switches which can automatically change the phase for you. They are also often used to intentionally change the sound of a guitar.
For cigar box guitars you will probably usually use only one pickup, next to the neck. If you use two or three make sure you use a matched set. (See diagrams below.)
INSTALLING A FLATCAT
FlatCat™ pickups come north-polarity, positve phase unless otherwise requested. If the FlatCat will be 2 inches or more away from existing pickups they will likely work fine, without further testing. But if combined with other pickups in close proximity, testing your guitar for polarity is a good idea.
If you test your pickups for polarity and realize you need a south polarity FlatCat, (ie a close pickup is north polarity) please indicate this at the time of your order by contacting me on ETSY.
You don't need to test a FlatCat for phase. Just hook the indicated ground wire to the ground of your volume control. If it doesn't sound right (weak or tinny sound) your existing pickup may be phase-reversed already. Just reverse the FlatCat wires to equalize the phase.
These photos are just for general reference. As indicated above, your guitar may be different. It is easy to check polarity with a compass or magnet.
"I finally finished the guitar for which I bought your pickups and have had several players over to try it. Everyone agrees your pickups sound great. They live up to every claim you make and then some :D"
-- R. Duke
"I put them in my SG they sound awesome in the highs mids and lows. I'm glad I got them so thanks and hope you keep coming up with great ideas like that. All the best." - GH
"This is the second one that I have bought. Excellent output & tone for a flat PU. Great installation, easy." - Integrity54321
"Fantastic pickup with impeccable design and craftsmanship. Sounds great and is thin enough to surface mount on all the types of guitars I build." - Bob Marioni
"Excellent product. It was a breeze to install and it sounds great." - Philip Iles
"Looks great, better than photograph. Made to order, I got 4 at one time. You got to have this for a CBG where thin is sometimes an absolute in some cases, but sound quality isn't forfeited." - Tofestus
FLATCAT™ PICKUPS--UNIQUE SIZE, UNIQUE SOUND
The FlatCat™ no-hum electric guitar pickup is about 1/4" thick... but provides all the power of a full-size pickup. It is surface-mounted on your guitar. The entire pickup being directly beneath the strings allows the FlatCat to pick up every nuance of sound, transmitting accurate and rich signal to your amplifier. No other type of pickup can achieve that effect.
Each FlatCat is individually hand-made with great care. The unique design eliminates the hum you get from single pickups. If you're acquainted with pickups, imagine a humbucker and P-90 combined and you'll have some idea of the wonderful tone of a FlatCat pickup.
FlatCat works with standard electric guitars, cigar box guitars (CBGs), folk guitars and other instruments that use steel / nickel strings. It produces especially fine tone on all such instruments.
A professional luthier stated: "This has such a balanced sound. It brings out a full bass end without losing the trebles, and has almost an acoustic sub-tone to it. It's a great pickup."
The FlatCat is surface-mounted to your instrument. Rather than needing to route or carve a hollow for your pickup, all you need to do is drill a hole for the wire, or mount it directly over the existing pickup hollow. Easy how-to installation instructions are provided for a variety of mounting methods.
1. Cigar box guitar (CBG) : 2" square
2. Humbucker-size: 3 1/4" x 1 3/4" (corner mount humbucker size).
SOUND AND VOLUME
The FlatCat has incredibly rich sound and produces the volume of a standard-design pickup. The special design allows for a wide range of sound: blues, classical, smooth jazz, folk, country and rock. At standard volumes it produces clean, clear sound. Crank it a bit and the FlatCat is good for situations where greater volume or even natural distortion is desired.
FlatCat™ pickups can be used on any electric guitar that has sufficient clearance between the surface and strings. Please measure and if you're running lower than 3/8" clearance, let me know at the time of the order so I can focus on an extra-thin pickup. Strat-type guitars will likely need a opening cut in the pick guard to seat the Flatcat with sufficient clearance for the strings.
VIDEO DEMOS of the FlatCat™
This is an archival video of a FlatCat prototype-- with a bit of built in growl! ElectraGlide CBG
Most CBGs use "open chord" tuning, which means you are able to play a set of 3 or more notes by placing your finger or slide across all the strings at the same spot on the neck.
Most cigar box guitars are tuned to one of two keys (although there are many other options):
G-D-g (using guitar strings A, D and G)
D-A-d (using guitar strings D, G and e)
The lowest string is the key your guitar is tuned to. G-D-g is the key of G, D-A-d the key of D.
On four-string CBGs the tuning options are expanded, including not only standard CBG tuning but also any 4-string instrument one prefers: bass guitar, low 6-string guitar (EADG), high 6-string (DGbe), ukulele, mandolin and even violin. Common 4-string CBG tuning is GDgg or GDgb.
STANDARD CBG TUNING without a tuner
Tune the first (heaviest) string to whatever sounds and feels right. This should usually be a little lower and looser than you think it should be. The 2nd string (middle) is tuned the same as the 7th fret on the 1st string. The 3rd string (thinnest) is tuned to the 5th fret of the 2nd string.
NOT JUST 3 STRINGS
CBGs aren't limited to 3 or 4 strings. Some have 6 strings, like a regular guitar. Some have only two or even one string (called a "Diddley Bow"). Two Diddley Bows can be tuned to harmonic notes (G,D) and the players can automatically harmonize with each other by playing the same neck positions.
CBGs are extremely versatile instruments and are remarkably easy to get started playing. Among CBG players and builders there is one common rule: "There are no rules." That's part of what makes Cigar Box Guitars so much fun: their widespread individuality and unique nature.
HOW TO PLAY A CIGAR BOX GUITAR in ten minutes or less!
What first attracted me to cigar box guitars was how easy they are to play. I have played 6-string classical/folk guitar for years, written dozens of songs, produced and marketed three CDs... yet the simplicity of this instrument fascinates me.
I was browsing YouTube one day and came across this video:
(Go ahead and watch it. It's only 4 minutes long.)
So the CBG is an instrument that just about anyone can play regardless of musical background. This delighted me because we've all heard someone say "I wish I could play an instrument but never learned how." Maybe you've said that yourself. The CBG offers an introduction to music without years of practice... and encourages improvement of skills as you learn more songs.
Cigar box guitars are a foot in the door that can bring years of playing enjoyment without requiring rigorous study. They are truly the heart of folk music... but versatile enough to play any style from blues to jazz to rock n' roll.
How to Play Any Song on a 3-String Guitar with Just One Finger
Most of us have seen a dulcimer, a lap-instrument that is played using a wood peg and a pick. I've always liked these instruments, but they use a diatonic scale (7 whole notes). The CBG is chromatic (all musical notes) and can have from 1 to 6 strings (most have 3 or 4). These are tuned so that a "chord" can be played by placing a finger across all strings at the same place(called "barring" the chord). The instrument is so versatile that almost any song can be played using this method.
This method is so easy that CBG players often "write" their music using numbers rather than notes or chords. No matter what your git is tuned to, you can play a song literally by the numbers. On the neck we start with the nut as zero, followed by fret 1, 2, 3 and so on.
This in mind, see if you can figure out what song this is by playing it on your CBG (** means pause, o means open string):
9-9-7 ** 9-9-7 ** 9-9-7-5-3-3-3-3-3 ** o (answer at the bottom of this post)
PICKING OUT YOUR SONGS
It is easy to pick out songs by ear. Just sing the song and bar different frets until it sounds right, changing chords as the song seems to need a change. It can seem tricky if you're just starting out, but gets easier as time goes along. For those who suffer from being tone deaf, there's always guitar music...
"READING" GUITAR MUSIC
Most guitar music has chord signatures above the music. These signatures will look something like this:
C D G7 Am C D F Em C
All of these represent full chords that are played on a 6-string guitar.
On a CBG however, because of the harmonic tuning you can drop the secondary signature (7, m) and just play the main chords:
C D G A C D F E C
It usually still sounds right. So that simplifies things to start with. You can tell what chords are on the CBG by the fret number. In the key of G (where the thickest string is a G note) these are:
O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G
So when you know where the chords are on the CBG (it doesn't take long to learn them; there are only 12), you can actually read and play standard guitar music books... without the months or years of practice necessary to learn standard guitar chord fingering. Just place your finger across all the strings at the positions shown above, and there are your chords. It's like a dulcimer on steroids!
MOVE IT UP A NOTCH
Now that you have the bascs, you can expand your tuning and playing skills with one little, fantastic trick:
Tune your guitar to D-A-F. Alternate tunings are C-G-d# or G-D-Bb
Here is a really neat video that shows why this works. It's well worth watching. The link below starts playing at 2min 16sec to avoid the unnecessary stuff. Note this video is in regard to 4-string tuning, but can be just as easily used for 3-string. It is my personal favorite tuning and playing method.
There is of course a lot more you can learn about playing a CBG. You can learn fingered chords and rifts and all sorts of things as you gain experience. But to get started, to my knowledge there is no easier stringed instrument in the world. Not only that... but cigar box guitars sound wonderful (especially when amplified), they are great conversation pieces, and they're just plain fun.
These creations are authentic folk instruments, all of them made by hand in Missouri, USA.
My main line of products are:
* Cigar Box Guitars (CBGs) made out of well, cigar boxes and wood. They have surprisingly rich sound, especially when played through a guitar amplifier.
* Custom Electric Guitars. These are customized, hand-built instruments for customers who want something special.
* FlatCat™ guitar pickups for both electric guitars and CBGs. These flat pickups combine the power and tone of a humbucker and P-90 combined (in short: they sound awesome). The entire pickup averages about 1/4" thickness and sits on the surface of the guitar-- where it picks up every nuance of tone from the strings. Although not microphonic in design, FlatCats also respond to vibrations from the strings through the body, providing a very authentic reproduction of the natural guitar sound. This makes them ideal for CBG use, and incredibly responsive pickups for standard electric guitars. The FlatCat is totally hand-made, from start to finish, with a very reasonable price for a hand-wound pickup or set. They are regularly ordered by customers for their full-size 6-string electrics.
* Wishbringer Flutes. These wonderfully-resonant six-hole flutes are a result of months of experimenting to get the perfect sound and tonation. These flutes are digitally-checked for note quality and are easy-to-play... as well as being visibly beautiful.
* Wishbringer Amplifiers. These unique, hand-made amps are designed to provide surprisingly vibrant sound in a small package. Made from a variety of wood boxes, beer kegs, silverware cabinets and other materials... these amps will amaze you with their quality of sound and volume. These are primarily personal / recording amps, but can be miked or lined for stage performance.
My inventory changes regularly as instruments are purchased and replaced with new, usually one-of-a-kind offerings. Check the store often to see what is currently available.