Rig Update With Dan – The Guitars

It’s been a minute since I last talked about my guitars. I thought I’d break down the changes and the reasons I have things the way they are. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!

The Collection

Currently, I have four guitars that are all unique and in excellent playing condition. They are the Warmoth Partscaster, the PRS S2 Singlecut, the Kramer Pacer, and the Les Paul Studio. Common across all guitars are the strings. I use D’Addarrio NYXL 08-38 strings in standard tuning. I find the lighter strings keep me from playing with too much tension in my hands and wrists and allow me to play longer. They also have better low end definition than larger diameter strings. That’s a little counter-intuitive, but, hey, I love the sound and feel, they last forever, and have helped me overcome the deficiencies of my technique that held me back and caused strain and pain. Each guitar has its own specs, explained below, that bring something to the tonal palette.

Warmoth Partscaster

The Warmoth is my main guitar. It’s a Seafoam Green Partscaster that I spec’d out and built during the Pandemic. I designed the control layout to provide freedom to play and easy access to intuitively adjust the settings without accidentally bumping anything. I went with a hardtail bridge for the stability. If I want a floating bridge I always have my Kramer with the Floyd Rose on it.

The electronics cavity is shielded, but it was more work than it was worth because I used shielded wire everywhere and humbucking pickups. But hey, it’s cool looking, and I’d do it again just because I like to be thorough. The pickups are both Seymour Duncan with a Jazz in the neck and a JB in the bridge. The neck pickup has a nickel-plated cover to avoid the issue of the high E string getting stuck under the edge of the pickup. If you’ve ever seen someone with tape over the high E side of the pickups, that’s why. They are wired to a three selector switch for bridge/bridge + neck/neck output. They are also wired to the two mini toggles for series/parallel switching. I prefer series/parallel over coil splitting because the tone is similar to splitting but it has a bit higher output and retains the hum-cancelling property of the humbucker. It also reacts with the tone control differently. It doesn’t roll off the highs as much, providing a darker, more sultry tone that still retains definition. I also prefer the toggle switches over push-pull potentiometers because when you’re playing live it’s much easier to perform split-second changes.

The volume pot is wired to retain the high frequencies as the volume is rolled off. This allows the guitar to still cut through but not take up as much room sonically. It’s great for cleaning up a dirty channel or cutting back and thinning out during a verse. The original configuration of this guitar did not include a tone pot. I considered them rather useless, and the only thing I ever used them for was to habitually make sure they were all the way up. I came to realize that the circuit sounds better with the tone pot in it, and I also found that I needed the tones I could get from rolling the highs off. Who knew…

The neck and fretboard are roasted maple with azurite malachite fretboard inlays, luminlay side dots, an asymmetric profile that’s rounder on the thumb side and slimmer on the finger side, a 24 3/4″ scale length, and a 10″ – 16″ compound radius. It also has stainless steel 6150 frets, a narrow 1 5/8″ width GraphTech nut, and Schaller locking tuning machines. This neck is an ergonomic wonder and allows me to play strain-free for long sets. Really, this thing is comfy like your own bed after a long vacation.

PRS S2 Singlecut

The PRS is an Elephant Grey singlecut style guitar. This is the guitar I recorded Shine or Fade and Live On Air with. For most of its life I’ve kept it stock, but since those recordings I modified the electronics more to my taste. I replaced the pickups with a Seymour Duncan Jazz in the neck and a Custom Custom in the bridge. I replaced the toggle switch with a more robust model because I had broken the shaft off during normal play. It turns out the shaft that the knob screws on to was thinner and shorter than higher quality switches. I learned that one the hard way.

I removed the bridge volume pot. I didn’t like the layout of the volume and tone controls. They were laid out logically, but, unlike the Les Paul, it was not easy to work both volume knobs at the same time. I rewired it for a single volume control, added a kill-switch, and rewired the push-pull tone pots for series/parallel operation. I prefer a single volume control because it avoids the embarrassment of switching to a pickup that has its volume turned off from the previous song’s ending.

The back of the neck has been slightly sanded. The gold Paul Reed Smith signature logo on the headstock had started to fall off, which really made it look a little trashy in my opinion, so I removed it completely and like it much better now. I can tell I’ll need to replace the bridge soon. The strings are cutting in to the metal where they wrap around the backside. I’ve filed them down to prevent strings from breaking, but it’s only a matter of time before I need to upgrade the bridge.

My overall feelings on the S2 are that it is a solid guitar, very ergonomic, but the electronics and hardware were inferior. I also had to level and crown the frets much sooner than I had anticipated. They seemed to wear very fast, but part of that could’ve been my poor technique. I’ve since learned to play with much less tension, so we’ll see how it goes from here. If I ever end up refretting it, I’ll definitely go with stainless steel.

Kramer Pacer

I’ve had the Kramer since 1987. It’s an American made Pacer model. Originally, it had a gloss black finish. This is the guitar I cut my teeth on in my early years. I’ve beat the hell out of this thing with zero regard for its well-being. I modified it without knowing what I was doing by removing the finish and chiseling out the body behind the bridge – poorly. I wore massive groves in the frets, which had already been replaced once. I’ve yanked the bridge off it on stage, and replaced the pickups so many times I’ve lost count. During the Pandemic I upped my guitar repair skills and decided to refurbish it. At that point it was in an unplayable condition and was just wall decoration.

I started by leveling and crowning the frets. I found the neck screw holes were stripped so I had to drill and fill those as well. I replaced the bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan JB. When I took the bridge out to clean and oil it I found that my previous “improvements” and stage antics had gouged out the wood surrounding the inserts for the bridge studs. I filled in the lost material with epoxy. Now it’s rock solid and it’s unlikely I’ll be tossing my guitar around by the whammy bar anymore. There’s always a chance, though.

Another issue caused by sanding the finish off was the loss of material had changed the gap between the fretboard overhang and the body. The height of the pickups and bridge also looked like they were precariously high. It was a risky procedure, but a friend helped me route the neck cavity down nearly 5mm. Now the neck, pickups, and bridge all sit nice and low. I was definitely sweating bullets trying to keep a calm demeanor while the router was ripping in to my guitar body. Thankfully, it all worked out.

The Kramer originally had three mini toggle switches for individual pickup activation. That sounds great in theory: every single pickup combination is possible. However, in practice, it really hinders quick pickup changes, so I replaced them with a single 5 position slider that’s wired for bridge humbucking/bridge coil-split + middle/middle/middle + neck/neck. Every position sounds good, but in practice I only use the bridge or neck pickup.

This guitar is a rocket ship. It’s built for speed. I love where the volume knob is placed, but the pickup selector switch is difficult to get to due to the volume knob and whammy bar. Still, I love this guitar and every scar on it. It’s a Super Strat from the era when they were born.

Les Paul Studio

The Les Paul was my main guitar after I beat the Kramer into an unplayable condition. This guitar made me fall in love with dual humbuckers and fixed bridges. It’s an early 90’s Studio model with dot inlays. I replaced the pickups because the stock ones were very microphonic. I can’t remember exactly which models are in this thing, but they have a beautiful low-output growl that’s has nice definition in the low end and a slightly rolled-off high end that’s perfect for rock tones. I’m a Seymour Duncan guy so I’m sure they’re something in their line. I replaced the volume and tone pots with a kit that included push-pull pots for the tone knobs. One splits the coils on both humbuckers and the other throws the pickups out of phase. I lightly sanded the back of the neck and removed the pickguard. A friend replaced the worn out frets with EVO gold fretwire and carved a new nut.

This guitar is a workhorse. It’s not as ergonomic as the PRS, it’s solid, heavy, and the higher fret access sucks, but I still love the sound out of this thing and the playability is excellent. Those EVO frets are silky smooth.

Stay Tuned

Next up I’ll go through my pedal board. I’ll break down the pedal order, why I swapped out some pedals, and the problems I hit along the way. I’ve made quite a few changes and discovered some signal-path configurations that really make a difference. Stay in tune!

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