In the last two years I began to play guitar again, but for nearly 20 years, I’ve only owned two guitars. A lightweight, highly inexpensive Jay Turser strat copy with a wood veneer, and a Carlos Robelli electric acoustic. Neither of these are valuable guitars, and I’ve honestly been ashamed of them for years. As a wiser adult, I’ve recognized their intrinsic value rather than monetary, and see that they stay in tune and play just fine.
My Jay Turser has been with me through good times and bad. I remember binge watching TV shows on my futon in college as I practiced pentatonic scales up and down the fretboard. There was a love-shame relationship with the guitar. There was a day that the guitar fell off the stand and the fretboard hit the corner of my dresser, leaving a deep, noticeable dent in the fretboard. There are just as many dings all over the body. Lastly, the action of the guitar was too high. I never had it adjusted by a professional because I didn’t see the value in having the guitar setup since I was embarrassed by the guitar’s branding and cheapness, and I did not have the resources or patience to work on it myself.
As my priorities changed, and I stopped displaying the guitar, which ultimately meant I stopped playing. My guitars were both sealed in their cases, as were my tiny 15 watt amp and pedals. These artifacts moved around with me from apartment to apartment, and I never had the inclination to play again.
Working on either of them never struck a chord because I was insecure about purchasing a new guitar if I broke one of them.
Plugging In and Tuning Up
Fast-forward to mid-2017. Minimalism became a new factor in my life. After donating and minimizing one area of my life, I turned my head to the corner of my closet to see my two guitars, amp, and box of guitar pedals. It was time for these to go. I knew the that pedals were worth more than all the guitars combined. I was fine with that. I had learned to let-go of the sunken cost of these items.
But something was calling me. I picked up the Jay Turser, tuned up the corroded strings, and strummed away. I was surprised how I was able to rip into the pentatonic scale so easily. Then I got an idea. To sing a song for my girlfriend as a surprise. I’ve never done anything like this before.
A New Hope
Things changed when I found a used 2012 PRS SE Paul Allender model in perfect shape for $300. That has now become my go-to guitar, and I credit that guitar forcing me to have no excuses on going forth practicing or feeling ashamed of my instrument.
I put my Jay Turser away as I found a new main axe, and I would ponder what to do with it in the future.
Restoring a Vintage Guitar
I found a used wah pedal on Facebook Marketplace for an excellent price. I picked up the unit and before I left, the guy asked me, “Do you work on guitars?”
The seller hands me a strat-style guitar with the pickguard detached from the body and the three single-coil pickups hanging from their soldering joints. “Here. It’s missing some screws and springs, but I could never find a wiring diagram for it. My wife would be just happy if I got rid of it. It’s free.”
Although my interest in guitars had been increasing thanks to the plethora of YouTube videos and resource the internet offered, I had decided not to spend the time and effort to fix, upgrade, or improve my guitars. However, when someone hands you a guitar that is already disassembled and not working, what do you have to lose? Although, what my girlfriend would say when I brought home a guitar when I told her I was only buying a used guitar pedal was worried me as I drove home. Thankfully, my girlfriend was more concerned about the guitar’s filth than the guitar itself.
After some research, the guitar was a 1984 Made in Japan Ibanez Roadstar II RS135 in White. The serial number denotes it was manufactured in May 1984. If you do not count gestation, this guitar was slightly older than myself.
Assessing the Guitar
The pickguard was off. There was a mini phase switch I’ve never seen on a guitar. There are dents in some of the frets. But searches showed that in near pristine condition, this guitar model was going for between $400-$500. Meaning, if I could fix this up, I could net an easy profit and gain a variety of skills.
I also found as much information about this guitar as possible. Including brochures, instructions, and information about the original Super 5 pickups.
I bought an inexpensive, entry-level soldering iron, a meter, a strat electronics kit, new mini switch, the closest matching pickup springs I could find, and original Sure-Grip II Knobs directly from Ibanez. I learned how to check the voltage of the pickups, and found that all three pickups were working and measured their output. This also helped me recognize which pickups were the neck, bridge, and middle pickups for layouts. I had lots of fun measuring the electronics, I even did it for my other guitars too.
I then watched as many guitar wiring videos as possible. What made this more difficult was the fact there was a mini switch. I was able to find nearly any type of wiring diagram for a guitar known to man-kind, but nothing that directly had a mini-switch for phase switching the middle pickup. I found wiring diagrams for the mini-switch, but not the switch alongside all the other components.
Fixing the guitar
One afternoon I prepared everything and took off all the current wiring. Upon realizing the the otentiometer that I had bought did not fit the pickguard, I had to back-out of my plans to replace all the electronics. Instead, I was able to replace the 5-way pickup switch and output jack. Then came the mini-switch. I wired exactly as it was when I originally received the guitar.
I was proud that I learned to use a soldering iron and didn’t hurt myself. That’s an achievement for a meek person like myself.
When I hooked it up to my amp, the bridge pick up worked and so did the neck pickup. The middle pickup didn’t. After about another hour, I still couldn’t get it to work with the mini switch. When I wired the middle pickup with out the phase switch, it worked. I packed everything up and chose to just re-string the guitar and call it day.
Finally, I chose to focus only on the wiring diagram for the switch, and I tried something different. After another hour, I was able to get all three pickups to work. Even the phase switch worked, although I was annoyed that the sound of the phase switch wasn’t what I expected.
Playing the guitar
Now that the guitar’s electronics were working, I decided to restring the guitar and playing it over a month. This gave me the opportunity to really see if this was a guitar I wanted to keep.
While I enjoyed the guitar’s neck and fretboard, I found my strumming hand would hit the bridge often, which curled upwards. Overtime, I realize it wasn’t the guitar for me.
Next I wanted to re-paint the guitar. The guitar has notes of scratches, dents, scrapes, and various other marks. Reliced guitars have become very popular in recent years as they display an aesthetic patina from common use. However, this guitar had been abused. So my decision was to repaint it.
This is a tougher project as it requires stripping the current paint, lots of sanding, and multiple layers of new paint. This is a different sort of precision.
I ended up backing out of that idea as I wanted to just get rid of the thing to fund my next project, obtaining a Boss Katana 100.
I put the guitar up on Craigslist and it didn’t take more than a few hours before a gentleman became obsessed about it. It was a similar guitar he grew up with. I sold the guitar for a nice profit and the buyer was stoked about getting the guitar.
Now that I sold that guitar, I plan on using my new skills to refurbish my Jay Turser. It needs some work and I’m looking into turning into a guitar solely to play Devin Townsend songs who uses an Open C turning.
Along with learning how to build and maintain a FreeNAS machine, fixing a guitar has becoming a learning experience that I’m cherishing. I was torn on not completely finishing the guitar’s restoration, but the fact that I got as much cash for it and the purchaser was happy that it hadn’t been repainted, perhaps I just lucked out.