The following images will show how I transformed a cheap, crappy craigslist guitar into something I actually enjoy. Inspired by Tony Iommi’s custom SG “Old Boy.”
I’ve been trading and selling off most of my gear (since I’m broke) including some higher end equipment and all of my pedals. I’m also down to a single amp. I did however happen to acquire a low end Esp Ltd Viper during the process…and it sucks.
I really didn’t like the look, feel, or tone of this guitar so I gave it some work. I mean, it’s my only guitar left, so what else am I going to do?
This of course is Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi (notice the fake fingertips) playing his custom Gibson SG. In essence, this is what I used as a guide for how I wanted my Viper to look.
I started by removing the innards, including all the hardware and the stock passive pickups. The plan’s to wire in some EMG actives later on.
After reading about heat gun usage to remove a guitar’s finish I was determined to get my hands on one.
It’s pretty much just like a hair dryer, only capable of reaching 1000 degrees.
I also grabbed a chisel knife or paint scraper or whatever.
I would recommend using a mask when doing this because the burnt plastic smelling fumes are terrible. The hot paint chips will jump off the guitar so some protective goggles may be in order. Also I’d do this outside or in a garage with the door open if possible.
This is the effect of the heat gun when held momentarily over the guitar. As a result, discoloration quickly becomes leaping chips and smoldering pieces. Here’s some video footage of me burning the guitar:
Additionally I used the chisel in conjunction with the heat gun to scrape and lift the finish off in some spots.
I don’t know what the previous owner was into but this was one seriously grimy fingerboard. Notice the buildup near the frets.
The solution to everything: lighter fluid.
I found that running a Q-tip up and down the sides of the frets took the dirt right off. Prolly went through 5 or 6 Q-tips total.
On top of that, the fretboard was not only dirty but was also the driest one I’ve ever seen. It had this staleness to it and was screaming for some relief. Mineral Oil did the trick.
I used paper towels to massage the oil onto the fretboard in circular motions.
I also did the same for the exposed wood from where I burned the finish off.
I let the guitar sit for about 10 minutes to soak up the oil before wiping it off.
The result was night and day. The fretboard looked alive.
The nut slots were very worn down from the previous owner, giving me a lot of fret buzz. I decided to replace it with a generic one I picked up at Guitar Center.
I used some [Elmer’s] glue to hold the nut in place.
This was one of the worst necks I’ve ever encountered. No amount of bridge, saddle, or truss rod adjustments helped lower the insanely high action. To rectify this I made some makeshift shims cut from a plastic paint scraper to wedge under the neck.
I unbolted the neck and placed a few pieces of plastic underneath. This caused the neck to be slightly raised by the body end.
This worked really well and felt solid. The neck was now much more aligned with the strings.
I decided to use a hot glue gun to fill the gap between the shims, neck, and body.
Once it dried, I scraped the overflown glue level with the neck using my fingernail. Afterwards, I ran a black sharpie over it. Good enough for me.
I previously ripped some active EMG 81 and 85 pickups from another guitar before I sold it off. So I decided put them in this thing.
I had to swap the placement of the volume knob and pickup selector switch to make room within the body.
The image above is the wiring diagram I used to stay on track.
In any case there was enough room in the cavity to solder everything and stuff a 9-volt battery in there.
All in all, the operation was a success.
Of course I went back and burned the top a little bit more with the heat gun. I couldn’t resist.
Subsequently I wasn’t fond of the ESP logo on the truss rod cover…
So, I painted over it using black acrylic paint.
Furthermore I wanted to complete the guitar’s look with a purely aesthetic pickguard. So, I ordered a generic “SG Style” pickguard on ebay for like $5.
Once received, I cut the pickguard with some scissors to fit the Ltd body. Afterwards, I sanded the edges with some light sandpaper.
Eventually I screwed it directly into the body of the guitar by hand.
In short, I wanted a guitar that looked like it was recently exhumed from an abandoned WWII battlefield.
With this in mind, I think I succeeded.
I also swapped out some of the silver tuners for black ones. I felt like mixing it up.
As can be seen I threw a silver knob on the tone pot as well.