Hell’s Half Acre: Vintage Guitar Wiring

The Hell’s Half Acre build has been over five years in the making. During that time there’s been a lot of stops and starts, and a lot of waiting in the wings while other projects received priority. All through it “The Acre” hasn’t complained. It knows that this is part of its story—the pre-history built right into the guitar.

This week I had some time and applied it towards the completion of this wonderful instrument. The cellulose faux tortoise shell material I got from my friend Paul Chandler was the perfect stuff for the pick guard, backplate and truss rod cover. Cellulose is highly flammable, so you have to be careful not to heat it up on a sander or saw. The final fit is done with hand files because this guitar is a one-off and doesn’t conform to any tooling that I have.

filing pickguard

Before loading the electrics, the control cavity gets coated with some defense contractor-grade shielding paint. A friend of a friend works for Pratt & Whitney, so I didn’t have to buy the minimum order of 20 gallons. This is the stuff that big corporations and the CIA use to block communications in safe-rooms. I figured it would be fine in an electric guitar. It goes on like pudding, so I have to use a special tip on my spray gun. Honestly, I only use it because I can, and it looks really nice.

Shielding paint

This guitar gets one of my prized Centralab rotary (blade) switches from 1953. It came out of some old telecommunications gear I bought at auction. One can only imagine the conversations that have passed through this piece. I spent about an hour and a half cleaning and aligning the contacts, then adjusting and lubricating the spring mechanism. It should be ready for at least another 50 years of duty.

switch refurb_1

I love the look of the brown phenolic circuit wafer, and it has a lovely (and rare) old Bakelite switch tip that will look great on the guitar. The new versions of this switch are not built to this standard any more, and I enjoy finding and repurposing these.

IMG_2747process

The electronics are twenty-year-old NOS potentiometers from CTS, and the tone cap is a Sprague Black Beauty that was pulled from some vintage equipment.

13925635_10153853906691342_1776391862249416146_o

I realize that 1930s materials and wire, 1950s switchgear and 1990s potentiometers don’t line up exactly with the 1860s theme of Hell’s Half Acre, but every decade is capable of raising a little hell, right?

If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a video about the inspiration and build of this guitar.

Published by

Jol

Jol Dantzig is a guitar builder, designer, writer and filmmaker. He has worked for Gibson, Fender, Guild, Ovation, Gretsch, and was a founding partner of Hamer guitars—one of the first boutique custom guitar brands.

Dantzig’s work has been played by hundreds of artists including Sting, Steve Stevens, Larry Coreyell, Dug Pinnick, Billy Gibbons, Keb Mo’, Nick Lowe, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton, John Abercrombie, Glen Campbell, Rick Nielsen, Kenny Vaughan, Lita Ford, James Honeyman Scott, Elliott Easton, Andy Summers, Peter Frampton, Martin Barre, Lyle Workman, Brad Gillis, George Harrison, Jeff Ament, Dweezil Zappa, Jeff Tweedy, Nancy Wilson—and many others.