8/05/2015

2000s Gibson-Baldwin Hot-Rodded "Spirit" Electric Guitar




This is a friend's guitar that I was asked to hot-rod for him. It's a regrettably inexpensive guitar but we all know that doesn't mean it has to be terrible. In its stock configuration it was rather apathetic, buzzy and muddy, but now that it's been gone-through it's great fun. These guitars sold under $100 new in big-box stores and are your average low-end Chinese import along the lines of newer Epi Les Paul Jr knockoffs with the mudbuckers at the bridge.

The mission was to convert it for "Bigsby" use and upgrade the pickups and wiring. GuitarFetish was the parts supplier for this job (decent and cheap) and I've added an Xtrem rather than a Bigsby whammy, a "Nashville" RetroTron (read: FilterTron knockoff) in the neck position, and a Dream 180 in the bridge position. The owner had tried a Tele of mine years ago with a RetroTron in the neck and a lipstick pickup in the bridge and wanted to mimic that sound, but didn't care for the sparkly bridge -- hence the Dream 180 which is like a clean/crisp/vintage bridge 'bucker tone instead.


The whole mod took about 3 hours (in the wee hours last night) and included replacing the whole wiring harness as well (full size pots, Switchcraft jack, nice poly cap for the tone control, and shielded control cavity).

After all that I reseated and leveled/dressed the frets just slightly to get them in better stead and gave it a good cleaning (the guitar was kinda grungy, let's admit it).

It's turned out as a fine, fast player with a good, Gretschy solidbody sound (I mean -- Bigsby-style trem and FilterTron-y pickups, what else would you expect...?) and it's a recycle job that makes sense. The guitar was given to him free -- why not hot-rod it and have it actually turn into something one would want to play?


Specs are the same as most import Epis -- 1 11/16" nut, shallow C-shaped neck profile, radiused rosewood board, cheesy neck binding, and standard 24 3/4" Gibson scale.


At least the pearl dots are real...


I like the thunk of these FilterTron knockoffs -- they have a good sound for chordal jazz chomping but for "neck-ish" lead work I actually like the mid-position best.


The vintage-y specs of these two pickups allows the bridge pup to have a nice, clear sound rather than the muddy thwap I usually associate with modern bridge humbuckers. It's a bit darker and honkier in the mids -- more P-90ish -- than something like a "SuperStrat" 'bucker. All plus.

Note the little screw behind the "wrap-around" tail/bridge. That's connected to a little sleeve that rubs up against the rear of the bridge. I set the intonation and then installed this little "keeper" to force the bridge to remain in one position (rather than rocking back/forth as this normally would with the strings not "locking it" in place). Height is still easily adjustable.

I think this solution (rather than totally replacing the bridge) is kinda neat because it echoes those old "archtop" style aluminum Bigsby bridges in functionality. It also meant I didn't need to fill/redrill new holes for a standard ABR-style bridge.


I like the functionality, low price, and decent looks of the Xtrems. What I hated about them was the dumb black "X" logo that's usually on them. I was happy to find it was a simple sticker and came off and then polished-up with a bit of elbow grease.



Nothing more to say -- it's a pretty straightforward import-style guitar -- basswood body and a flatsawn maple neck that relies entirely on the truss rod for support. Not fancy at all but after a "real" setup it plays like any guitar should. YMMV.

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