Vintage Guitar Feature - Ben's 'Birth Year' Prized Jazzmaster
In chatting to a few players and fellow gear heads like myself over the years, the idea of owning 'birth year' guitars has cropped up a few times. Finding a guitar made the same year as yourself has a pretty cool appeal, especially if it's still affordable to do so (Sorry to those born in 1958/59!! Not so cheap for yourselves!). But for friend and customer of ours, Ben, something cropped up for sale which simply had to come home with him.
It's a 1977 Fender Jazzmaster of course complete with period touches like it's bold 3 colour sunburst finish which has yellowed beautifully on that lower bout, chunky block inlays which too have faded a little in some fret positions, even to the extent where you can see the truss rod channeling underneath! Classic neck binding and a black pickguard over earlier 60s example's tortoiseshell.
All classic 70s JM traits and it's full of character that's for sure. It was previously owned by a left handed player, so it needed a new nut which the good guys and friends of ours at The Little Guitar Shop in Birmingham, who Ben bought the guitar from, fitted for him along with the usual RH player strap button placement. That's the great thing about vintage instruments, hints and details about it's history, and I think being owned by a left handed player, picturing it Hendrix style upside down, I think is a really cool past.
So, why do I have it here? Well the wiring was riddled with little problems which Ben felt was time to resolve properly, and kindly asked me to make and fit one of my full Jazzmaster wiring harnesses along with a set of Gts.co 11-50 Long Twist Strings. It is a vintage guitar, and it may be seen as sacrilege to change the wiring, but I agree with making the guitar as great as it deserves to be and to be played to full enjoyment. There has already been a pot & cap replacement over time, so knowing that it's not all original anyway makes the decision a very easy one. He wanted a guitar he can enjoy playing and rely upon at gigs, and noisy, crackly pots and temperamental switches don't fulfil those needs sadly! Ben even considered a pickup change, but for now we'll try the wiring upgrade and hear the improvement that makes, before deciding if it's time to put the originals into retirement.
As the original black pickguard was getting a little tired with the odd hairline crack appearing, I very carefully loosened the pots, switches and jack in situ, then removed the plate from the guitar which revealed some awesome bold red and orange colours from the burst, showing how the visible finish had faded over the years. Love it!
With the pickguard lifted off, I snipped the pickup and ground wires and removed the old harness as one complete item, to be kept safe should it ever need to be put back to original.
I was interested to see that one of the pots was a CGE pot (you may just about be able to make out the logo on the back of the pot here). CGE have since ceased production and there are very few NOS items floating around at spares stores, so these are becoming increasingly rare, if that type of thing interests you at all! I thought they were using CTS predominantly through the era, but I guess there could have been changes at any given moment!
Here's the original Rhythm circuit, as you can see, during the 70s or at least when this particular JM was made, it was a plastic coated wire that was used, as opposed to the cloth covered wire seen on earlier examples. All colour coded which I presume made the factory worker's life a little easier when wiring an instrument like the JM and it's sea of wire! I'll be wiring up my harness with quality grade 22AWG Cloth covered wire though which will be a nice touch under the hood.
You can also spot the original brass shielding plates that are located in the rhythm circuit and pickup body routes. These have some big ol' clumps of solder on them, so I'll carefully tidy that up when I re-wire it, as that amount of solder is never needed nor healthy!
With the original harness all but removed, I wanted to keep the pickguard safe, and reduce the chance of shrinkage (which can happen believe it or not on these old Fender nitrate guards!) so I re-attached it to the guitar whilst I get to work making the new harness. I'll do this on one of my templates, and simply transfer it to the pickguard when it's ready. I'm sure it wouldn't alter, if at all, in the short period of time it would be off the guitar, but I'd hate for that to happen so I'd rather safe than sorry! OCD can be helpful sometimes!
The eagle eyed of you will also have noticed this guitar is outfitted with a non original bridge. Ben upgraded to the British made 'Stay Trem' item, which is a well respected replacement. It's a mustang saddle inspired setup, machined from Stainless Steel and features a choice few changes to make things work a little more reliably. I will be putting together a separate post going into some details about this and other bridge options for the Jazzmaster, so sit tight!
Ben also mentioned that the numbers and lettering on the original white witch hat volume knob had all but completely worn away, and was interested in how close a match the Fender 'Pure Vintage' Repro versions were. The answer? Rather closely indeed. The numbers seem a little bolder, but that could be down to the originals wearing away after nearly 40 years use. But diameter, height, style of knurled sides and the underside are all pretty much bang on. For those that like that level of geeky detail! So I'll be fitting those to help seeing where the volume is actually at from now on!
One thing that I loved about this guitar when Ben first shown it to me, was it's body wear and tear from years of use. On a vintage instrument, seeing chips, dinks and chunks from it, to me anyway, tell me it was used for it's full intent and purpose during it's life. Yes, minty fresh examples are of course lovely and a testament to a careful owner, but seeing guitars like this with natural time spanning wear just makes me smile. There's a story behind each one of those marks, and only the guitar knows the tale behind them now. A weird mystique thing, and I love that. I especially love that right lower bout where the red has all but disappeared, I would guess perhaps seeing as it was owned previously by a left handed player who played it flipped over, that it was down to forearm wear perhaps? Either way, it looks great and really adds to this guitar's story and character.
Right, back to the wiring. As I mentioned earlier, the solder joints on the Brass shielding plates were a little difficult to look at for someone with OCD like myself, so I completely removed those and set to work tidying it all up. The two pickup cavity shields are held in place by a very short nail, so you just need to gently prise those out and voile! Once removed, I used the soldering iron along with a solder remover which is a helpful tool for tasks like this, to shift as much of the mound of old solder as possible. Then simply sanded away at the brass plates to a fine 1500 grit which made them look like new but mainly ensured I was getting a nice, clean contact patch on the new ground wires I am wiring in there.
After that was done, I applied a few new strips of pickup foam for adjustment and it was ready to pop the new harness in. I encountered a couple of niggles along the way though here, may as well be honest! It came as a surprise to find that the cavity was much shallower on this guitar than other JMs, a good .05cm or more, so no matter how creative I got when positioning the slightly larger cased Jensen .022uF for the Rhythm circuit, I just couldn't get it to fit in the cavity. So we opted for the much smaller Orange Drop 715P cap as an alternative which gave me a lot more room to comfortably fit it all in. So this harness has a bit of hybrid, Orange Drop/Jensen combination but still certainly an upgrade, which is what this is all about. All handy to have learned though and will keep that knowledge stored up! And perhaps this info might help a reader looking to do the same work.
With the harness fitted, it was onto stringing up! Stepping in was the stunning gts.co 11-50 round core strings designed specifically for the Jazzmaster. You'll also spot Ben's new Fender 'Pure Vintage' white witch hat knobs look great too!
The extra long twists on these strings look superb, as well as sounding and feeling great. As this guitar is now fitted with the same strings as my own Squier VM Jazzmaster, I'm going to record a short side by side video showing how the Stay Trem bridge differs to the KTS Titanium saddles that I have fitted to mine. They both sound really nice on first impressions, and both have nice qualities so it will be good to document them for others looking to upgrade their bridge.
Ben's '77 Jazzmaster is oozing with character and style, and now when plugged in is reliable, versatile and addictive! Acoustically, now being equipped with gts.co strings, is resonant and comfortable. This guitar is everything a great Jazzmaster is all about, and I've loved having the chance to make it even more enjoyable for Ben. I'll be first in the queue should he ever want to sell (hint hint!). Stay tuned for the offset bridge feature I'll be finishing up soon, where I wanted to approach and discuss a few styles, open minded, to see what each is all about.
Thanks again for reading, and thanks to Ben for letting me grab a few photos and work on his awesome JM.