So last week I talked about how I have been upgrading the Gretsch 5120 the last couple of weeks. This week, I'll tell you what all I did and throw in some pics.
The big thing was that I have heard the Ray Butts pups, and decided that I wanted those in the guitar instead of the stock Gretschbuckers that have been in it since I bought it. I found out that to put those pups in it, I was going to have to make major modifications to the guitar. So I set out to try and figure out what that was going to take.
The first thing that I'll mention is, if you think you might want to work on your 5120, there are a couple of things that you are totally going to want to do.
First, if your bridge isn't pinned (which, unless you pinned it, it's not), get yourself some painter's tape, and tape the edges of the bridge. That way you know where to put it back when you get done. Or at least it will give you a much better place from which to start to get it put back in the right spot.
Second, see all the life support tubeing coming out of the holes in that first pic? 1/4" aquarium tubing is your friend. I've cussed and spent countless hours being frustrated on a couple of semihollow guitars I've got that I worked on in the past using the "let them just fall out and try to get them back in" method as well as the method where you tie some string around the pots. Neither one has been really successful for me. A while back, I saw someone on a forum I frequent mention the aquarium tubing, and it was an absolute lifesaver this go around. It wouldn't fit the pup switch, but it did the pots. The tubing plus a 1/4" plug attached to the end of a coat hanger for the output jack, and you're pretty much set. You're on your own for that pickup switch though.
Oh - and let me add the following disclaimer right here, right now.
I am by no means a luthier, trained or otherwise. Everything that you read here is what I did to my guitar. My woodworking skills are limited, and everything I do is pretty much trial and error and making it up as I go. So use what I did with not just a grain of salt but instead the whole dang shaker of it. Also, by the time all is said and done, although I have added several hundred dollars worth of parts to the guitar, I fully understand that the work that I have done has probably severely devalued the guitar, and I could never get my money back out of it, and that was never the goal. The goal was/is to make the guitar a better sounding, better playing instrument that will encourage me to play it. So, if you decide you need to mod your instrument, proceed at your own risk.
I started trying to find pics of the guts of a "real" Gretsch online, and they were amazingly difficult to find. The few that I did come across basically looked like the pickup holes had more wood and bracing inside the hole for the pickup.
Now I should stop here and mention that the Filtertron pickups don't mount like regular pickups. All of the pickups I have ever swapped out of guitars (at least humbuckers) have had little tabs on either side where the pickup is attached to the pickup ring and you have to try to get the screw through the spring. Once you get the pickup setup in the pickup ring, then you attach the pickup ring (and, thus, the pickup) to the guitar.
This isn't how a Filtertron works. It attaches directly to the guitar using that extra bracing that is inside the pickup routs. Notice the difference in the two pups below. The regular bucker has those little tabs. The Filtertron has the screw holes on the edge casing. Where the regular bucker has the screw/spring thing for height adjustment, the Filtertron doesn't. For height, you have to shim it inside cavity using foam rubber or something.
So the first thing to do was to get the bracing added to the inside. I wasn't sure the size of the bracing on the inside, so I probably went the most difficult direction possible for this part. I had some paint stirrers that I started gluing together until I got what I felt was probably the right thickness. Then I started measuring the inside of the guitar (as best I could) and looking at the pickup routs to try and see where the bracing should go and how far out it needed to come. Then I broke out the wood glue and clamps and started making the changes that I think needed to be done.
In the first pic, you'll see the the clamps holding the bracing in while the glue initially started drying. Note that, to keep from damaging the guitar, you need to be sure that you're using some kind of non-marring clamp. You'll also see that I clamped opposite sides of the guitar each time. There was a specific reason I was doing it this way, although I don't remember at the moment why. I think it had to do with getting the brace and the clamp in and positioned to get it glued...it was easier to get everything in on opposite sides. But I honestly don't remember right off.
Once I got the bracing in, you'll see in the next pic how the wood extends a good inch or more into the pickup cavity. That was the ultimate goal here, to get the pickup bracing so that the pickup had somewhere to attach. Also, you can barely see in the second pick the holes that have been filled where the original pickup rings were attached. To fill those, I used some highly specialized dowels that seem to fit just about perfectly. These dowels are available at your local supermarket. They're just toothpicks.
Once I got the bracing in, I could go to work on getting the pups added.
Now, since I wasn't sure how this was going to work to begin with, I really didn't want to spend a lot of money on pups if I wasn't really sure I was going to be able to put them in. So, I initially hit Reverb looking for some cheap Filtertron pups. For something like this, I would usually have hit GFS because I think they are the best source for inexpensive pickups (I've actually got them in several guitars - try the Mean 90s...best P90 pup around imho), but all of their Filtertron-style pups have the regular humbucker mount. And that was what I didn't want.
So I found some pups made by a company called FrankenTone. They had an actual Filtertron looking pup for about the price of the GFS pups. So I initially bought a couple of Franken'Trons from them just so that I could see how I was going to get them into the guitar. That way, for the price of one Gretsch Filtertron (and less than a TV Jones of any variety), I could see if what I was planning was going to work. It would bug me less to lose $40 on a pup I couldn't use than it would to spend $100+ only to find out that what I was doing wasn't going to work.
So, after some careful planning and proceeding with much caution, the pups were installed. One thing that I always do when putting new pups into my guitars is to add my own type of quick connects to them. Not because I swap them out on a regular basis, but because my soldering skills totally suck monkey butt, and that way, if I burn out a pup, I don't do it every time I work on the guitar. It's more so that I only have to attach a wire to a pot once. I got the quick connects attached to the pots and to the pups and started getting everything ready to go back in the guitar.
When I started the work, I also had decided that I didn't like that the output jack was nothing more than the washer attaching the jack to the side of the guitar. It suddenly occurred to me that left a lot of room for the side of the guitar to get munched. Plugging and unplugging constantly can't be good for the guitar, and, at least in my head, it just will weaken that wood over time. So I added an output jack cover. That part was quick and easy. The biggest thing was drilling the pilot holes, but that's mostly because I'm always more than a little nervous putting new holes in my guitars.
Now I mentioned earlier that the height for the Filtertrons is adjusted by shimming the bracing. In the first pic below, you'll see what I did with that. I pulled out the ruler, and played around with the Franken'Trons and tried to figure out how high they needed to be. Then I went back to those paint stirrers, and, once again, started gluing them together until I thought they were about the right height. Then added little pieces of foam rubber until they looked right, and taped the whole concoction together.
I didn't want to glue the shim in, so they just got attached to the bracing with double-sided tape. I don't believe that they needed to be attached to never come out. I figure they just needed to be secured enough that they didn't move around. Then the pups kind of set on top of that with the ring risers and pickup rings.
Sidebar and spoiler. I've mentioned the Franken'Trons several times now. My thought was when I bought them, and is still that they are the temporary pups that I used to be sure I could make this work. I always said that I would put TV Jones Classic pups in it. Then I heard the Ray Butts pups, and decided that I wanted them instead. The Ray Butts pups are $350 a pair. I really didn't want to spend that much on pickups at the moment. The TV Jones Classics are $260 a pair. That's more than I wanted to spend on a pair of pups that I am already planning to ditch at some point before too long.
Thinking that I would still end up with the TV Jones Classics because they were less expensive than the Ray Butts, in doing some research I realized that the newer Gretsch HS Filtertrons were getting really good reviews, and I could get a pair for $144 shipped. So I put that order in a bit ago, and am waiting for them to come in. Everyone seems to have them back-ordered at the moment...seems to be a shortage of the bridge pup for them. So, as soon as the place where I ordered them gets on in, they'll be headed my way to replace the Franken'Trons that I have in there now.
Now back to where I was...bracing and shim in and pups inside the pickup rings. Next task was to put some strings back on the guitar so that I could get the pups lined up properly. Just before doing that, since I haven't done it in a while, I did a lemon oil treatment to the fretboard. Once I got done with that, I started restringing her.
Looking at the next pic, you'll see that that is not your typical Adjusto-Matic bridge as is found on a stock 5120. A couple of years ago, I swapped that out for a Tru-Arc rocking bar bridge in brass.
Now that I have pointed out the bridge, it's back to the re-string. Everyone has their favorite brand of strings. I am no exception. I'm sure that in a blind aural test I probably couldn't hear the difference, but I use Rev Willy's Mexican Lottery Brand Fine Electric Guitar Strings in 10s. To me, I believe that they pop and twang a little more than others. When I first tried them on one of my guitars, they're the first string (on an electric) that I thought actually sounded different than every other brand I had ever played.
Once the strings were on, I could line up the pups and get the polepieces centered under the strings. Then it was time to drill the ring holes and get the pups attached.
There were 3 holes that the original B60 left. I chose to only fill one of them. I had to. 2 of them would be hidden under the B6, but the third one had to be filled in order to not have a wallowed out, too big hole for the strap button. So I filled that hole, and then placed the B6 on the guitar to try to get it placed.
Here's where I made the mistake. I got everything lined up making sure that everything was centered and on the center-line, and then had trouble getting the screw holes marked through the Bigsby. I tried my usual scribe-y marker thing, and it wouldn't go all the way through the hole. Hole punch, regular sharpie, pen, screwdriver, and nail set all had the same problem. They either wouldn't fit in the hole at all or they would go in most of the way, but not enough to actually get to the guitar. I finally managed to make the marks with a pencil. Finally got them marked, and pulled out the drill.
Problem was that, when I started drilling I didn't check the marks against the center-line first, and as I was brushing the saw dust off the guitar from drilling the first 2 holes, I realized that the marks, and, thus, my screw holes, were ever so slightly off center. Maybe a millimeter. Not much at all, but enough that it wasn't centered.
Like I said, not that anyone else will ever notice, but I do. I try to do some woodworking stuff occasionally, and I don't think I have ever gotten anything perfect. So I picked up a phrase my dad uses sometimes. "It's not perfect, but it's good enough for who it's for." It still works fine, and most folks won't notice it I don't believe. And I think it looks awesome on the guitar. So I went with the it slightly off kilter, and that's the way it's going to stay.
Once I got that on, I got her re-strung again. Then came the final piece for now. I picked up a Texas pickguard form Greasy Groove and added it too. The cutouts for the pups are just a little oversized, but I'm sure that it would've fit the Gretschbuckers just fine. Got that added on, and the guitar is once more a rockin' machine!
The only thing left at this point is to replace the Franken'Trons with the Gretsch HS Filtertrons once they come in. I've talked about putting locking tuners on the guitar some day, but didn't do it this go around because they were going to take more work than I originally wanted to put in. However, after the added effort in having to get that Bigsby installed, I should've gone ahead and done it too. I guess I'll go ahead and start researching which ones I want so I can get them ordered in.
I've got a couple of project guitars. They're the ones that I have learned the most on as far as working on guitars. I never planned on this guitar being a project guitar. I guess it's still not, but I have learned more on this one than I think I have any of the others.
Check out my shop on Reverb if you might be interested in a couple of Gretschbuckers or a Bigsby B60. As of the moment, they're still looking for a new home.
To me, there are 4 guitars that are so iconic that, to me, they are what come to mind when I think "guitar." The first is a Martin acoustic, next would be a surf green Stratocaster, after that, a cherry red Gibson 335, and finally a big orange hollow body Gretsch. Not necessarily in that order, but pretty close. I think this so much that I have all 4 of them. Well, my 335 is wine red and not cherry, but close enough.
So back 8 years ago or so, rather than spending the money on a Gretsch 6120, I got a 5120. It's the MIK version of that guitar (the more budget-minded variant). They're not making the 5120 anymore (they've moved on to the 5420), but there were some differences in the 5120 and the 6120. I won't go into many of them, but I will mention 2 of them.
First, rather than Filtertron pups, it had what have come to be known as Gretschbuckers. Now these pups didn't sound bad at all, but they weren't Filtertrons. Lots of folks immediately replaced them with TV Jones Classics or some other pup. TV Jones has been a popular choice because they made a mount that allowed almost a direct swap for the Gretschbuckers. (The 5120 had a weird pup mount that had 2 screws on one side and 1 screw on the other.) If you wanted a regular pair of Filtertrons, the 5120 was not set up to handle them without making major modifications on the inside.
Second, the 5120 has a licensed Bigsby (the B60) rather than a MIA Bigsby (B6). Honestly, the location of manufacture or licensed/unlicensed didn't bother me. I do, however, really like the Bigsby with the "V" in it that says "Gretsch by Bigsby" on it.
Now, since I bought the guitar I have talked about putting a pair of TV Jones pups in it, and have almost pulled the trigger several times but haven't done it. Although, not Filtertrons and not super-Gretsch-y, the Gretschbuckers aren't bad pups, have a unique sound (kind of Gretsch-y), and I haven't really had a real problem with them. So they never got changed. Then, back 3 or 4 months ago, I heard the Ray Butts pups that TV Jones has started making. Those are the Gretschiest pups I have heard in my life, and I decided that I must put them in my 5120.
So I emailed TV Jones asking about them. I told them what I had, what I wanted to do, and asked if they would fit the 5120 like I hoped. I must confess that the response was kind of disappointing. Long and short of it was "they won't fit without major modifications to the guitar." So, at that moment, I set out to try and figure out what I needed to do to get those pups to fit.
That set into motion what I'll detail in the next post. Pretty much what that ended up doing is that most everything I have ever talked about doing to that guitar to upgrade it, was going to be done. I'll detail everything that I did next week. Until then, I'll leave you with a pic of a generic 5120 (because I couldn't find a before-pic of mine right off) and a pic of the Gretsch when I finally pulled her off the workbench last night...with all the work done that I'm doing at the moment completed.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 5 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.