A local guitar teacher/jazz player came to me with his new vintage archtop – a beautiful 1941 Gibson L7 in excellent condition. He had recently bought this guitar from vintage guru George Gruhn in the U.S., and was having some issues with the pickguard and electronics placements: the old DeArmond pickup which was supposed to be floating was in fact resting on the top – slightly affecting the bass response and tone (true, it was), and the polepieces were also mis-aligned with the strings. The single, shield-encased volume pot was also completely resting on the top, contributing even further to stifling the top’s vibration and tone. The location of the output jack was in an awkward location: pointing directly downward into the waist-area of the body – exactly into the player’s leg while playing the guitar in a seated position, which is where most jazzers will be playing. Kind of a dumb spot, I agreed. The existing pickguard was by no means the original Gibson, but made from two-ply b/w acrylic (an original would have been cellulose), and quite thick.
I recommended making an entire new pickguard, reuse a couple of the mounting brackets, relocate the output jack to a logical location, ditch the bulky single pot and go with the excellent Schatten T-2 thumbwheel pots which are slim and discreet. He also gets the added bonus of having a tone control as well, which jazz players will use way more than any rock/metal guitarists ever do.
Here she is in all her glory…
Here the DeArmond pickup is clearly resting on the top, dampening top movement = deadening tone.
And the volume pot, which I thought had even more impact.
Here’s from another angle.
After unsoldering the tailpiece ground wire from the pot’s shield casing, here’s what we’re presented with.
Here shows the handmade bracket and guard mount, which will be reused in order to save time and keep costs down. It was at this point I also noticed that due to age and oxidization the shielding on the pickup’s lead was cracking and fraying at the base, and in danger of shorting out. Since this old pickup was riveted together and basically not service-friendly, I reinforced the area externally later as a preventive measure.
The other end showing the badly-placed jack, brass mounting bracket and volume pot casing. The price tag on the old Switchcraft barrel jack read $3.50 and written in typewriter…that sure helps date things – these now retail for around $15-20 nowadays! I’m guessing this was put in sometime in the late 70’s to early 80’s.
Removing the parts showed the countersunk channel for the jack, which we will reproduce elsewhere later to keep things slim and give as much clearance as possible.
Removal of the shielding cap showed a mini 250k. I wanted to date this pot, but found no codes stamped into it.
Now to get started with the pickguard construction…
As I was saying we’ll start by salvaging some of the mounts. The inner plastic neck mount was first scored with an x-acto blade through the epoxy joint, then carefully sawed off flush with a .008 razor saw.
For this mod I used 3-ply b/w/b cellulose.
The new pickguard blank was exactly half the thickness of the original, and considering how much hardware is being mounted to it, felt it was way too thin and a bit flimsy as it was. I decided to laminate two halves together, which would give us both strength and that classic multi-ply look that Gibson would often use on older pickguards.
This will be more like it…
After laminating the two pieces together with copious amounts of CA glue and clamped flat overnight, we outline our new guard using the old one as a template.
After rough cutting on the scroll saw.
Edges now beveled at 45 degrees which shows the laminates nicely, and the main mount pilot hole drilled.
Never ‘cheap-out’ on a good countersink bit, they’re worth their weight in gold, for a clean CS.
The original brass pickup bracket and neck mount are glued in place.
A new channel for the jack is quickly carved into the guard at the most logical location with clearance.
Installed at the edge is the discreet Schatten thumbwheel pots, again using 250k for the single-coil pickup, and utilizing the included mini .022mfd capacitor on the tone control. It’s held normally with strong double-sided tape underneath, but I also used two drops of CA glue on each side of the board for extra security.
Now we re-solder the tailpiece ground wire onto the board, tape up the wires, and re-install.
The pickup poles are now aligned properly, and after some slight adjustment to the neck mount on the left, the pickup now floats off the top like it should.
The controls are now off the lower side, clean and neat looking, and most importantly clear of the top.
The awkwardly placed output jack is now at the best place possible, and again free of the top.
And here is an overall shot of the final result: a completely floating unit and another happy customer!