Monday, June 10, 2013

The Red Special - Build Completed

In the mid 80's my guitar teacher in New Orleans, Austin Sicard played copy of Brian May's Red Special. I always liked that guitar. So, naturally when I started building guitars, the Red Special was on my short list of guitars to build. Here is my take on this classic. Instead of using 18th century Oak and Mahogany, I opted for Maple and Padouk. Yes, I picked the Padouk because of its natural red color. The Fretboard is a 25 inch scale instead of the 24 inch scale of the original. I also chose a Bigsby-type vibrato instead trying to replicate May's tremolo. To compensate for the brighter tone of the Maple and Padouk, I used 250k pots and a .047 uF capacitor.

Now after two years of work I have completed the guitar. Here are the stats:
Maple with a thin strip of Padouk Center
Maple backs with book-matched Padouk tops on the wings
Bolt-On Three piece Maple and Padouk neck with a Curly Maple fretboard
10° angle on the headstock
4° angle on the neck
Three Brighton Rock Vintage Spec Alnico Pickups
Three Phase Shift Switches
Three On/Off switches
Two 250k pots
.047uF Capacitor
24 fret neck
Zero fret
Bigsby-type Vibrato
Gotoh Tuners

This build was really more of a study in wood, electronics, sound quality and shape. The guitar has a bright crisp ring when plugged in. The phase shifting switches help create a variety of sounds, from a thin single coil reminiscent of a Strat or Tele to a thick warm Humbucker. I'm not too pleased with the Bigsby-type vibrato. I may replace it with a real Bigsby at some point in the future. I remember this the next time I see a good price on an ebay knock off.

As far as the shape is concerned, this is a stand up and play type of guitar. The bottom curve doesn't lend itself to sitting down and playing. I find myself having to use more of a classical sitting position with the guitar on my left thigh rather than my right. The neck is thinner than the one I built for last year's Tele. It feels faster.

Overall, I love the look, sound and feel of this guitar. And I've learned a great deal from this build. I've complained about Padouk before. And it will affect whether I choose to use it in the future. I discovered that the sawdust from Padouk causes sinus problems for me. In addition, pairing Padouk with Maple may not be a best choice. Padouk also has a tendency to bleed when applying shellac. But all of this aside, I love the look. Nothing like a naturally red wood.

Would I build another Red Special? And if so, would I do anything differently? Yes, and Yes.

First, I'd use a Mahogany back, with a book-matched Padouk top (yeah, I know. Did I mention how much I love the look of this guitar.) I'd use a three piece Padouk neck with a Padouk fretboard. The neck would be set and glued instead of a bolt on. 

Next, I'd like to try three on/off/on DPDT instead of the six switches. This way I could save some real estate while combining the functionality of two separate phase shifting and on/off switches for each pickup. I'd also consider using a concentric double pot instead of two pots - again real estate.

And finally, I'd spring the extra money for the copy of May's tremolo.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this project. Especially the red wood. Only thing I don't like is the tremolo. Always thought Bigsbys were ugly as Sin.