For some reason I thought that when I started teaching full time I would have time to play guitar in my office, so I thought it would be cool to keep a guitar there. I thought an acoustic guitar would be too loud, so I was thinking about a cheapo electric that I could play through my laptop with headphones. This turned out to be a totally crazy idea. I rarely have a minute to even think when I am at school. However, I ordered the guitar.
I have ordered a Les Paul type guitar and a Beatle-style violin bass from Rondo, a company which specializes in cheap Asian-made instruments. Cheap guitars are much better than ever before because the parts are cut out by computerized machines, so that every neck and body comes out exactly the same, to very precise tolerances. I have ordered pickups and other parts from Guitar Fetish or GFS, a company that sources economy guitar parts mostly from Korea. If you buy a very cheap guitar from Rondo, usually you end up replacing tuners, pickups, electronics, and maybe even bridge parts, and the cheapest place to get better stuff is GFS.
GFS also sells guitars, under the Xaviere brand. Maybe it is better to buy the guitar from GFS, with GFS parts already on it? I decided to try.
I ordered an XV-825 “Keef” model, a Telecaster-type that is supposed to emulate Keith Richards’ “Micawber” tele. It was $248 with case.
This guitar actually has little in common with with Keith Richards’ tele. It does have an ash body with a transparent butterscotch finish and a maple fretboard. However, Keith has a full-sized humbucking pickup in the neck position, and the Xaviere has a mini-humbucker. Keith has a modern tele bridge with individual saddle adjustments, while the GFS has a traditional ash tray bridge plate with three barrel-type saddles. Also, Keith tunes his tele to open “G” and leaves off the low “E” string so he only has five strings. The Xaviere model is pretty much nothing like the tele owned and played by Keith Richards. Here’s a picture of the guitar before I modified it:
The guitar is being inspected by Boojie the cat.
When it came I had low expectations. The action was high, and it had a set of .09’s on it. Pretty skinny strings. The fretboard was very flat, and wide, almost like an acoustic guitar, like a Martin. Before I had had it an hour, I had changed the strings to D’Addario .10’s, and lowered the action quite a bit. The neck had a satin finish that took some getting used to. The guitar was also pretty heavy. Still, the mini-humbucker sounded very good. The bridge pickup was a standard single coil tele style, but it was very bright, and the tone control didn’t tame it. Overall, the guitar had a chimey, jangly sixties vibe that made it seem worthwhile working with. I decided to keep it.
The problem with the tone control was because the guitar had one humbucking pickup and one single coil. Humbuckers usually need at least a 500k tone pot or they are too muddy. Single coils usually need a 250k pot or they are too bright. On a Tele, both pickups go through the same tone pot, so if you mix pickup types, whatever the pot is, it will be wrong for one of them. I realized that I had a GFS L’l Puncher Tele bridge pickup that I had bought for another guitar and then taken out. It was a twin-blade humbucker made for the tele bridge slot, and it needed a 500k pot. I put it in. It worked beautifully. Problem solved.
However, the three position pickup switch was intermittent on the bridge position. Contact cleaner didn’t help. I complained to Jay at GFS, and he sent me another switch. However, these looked to be light duty switches, and I thought I might have the same problem, if not immediately, then down the road a bit. I was also unhappy about the intonation of the vintage-style three-barrel bridge. Each barrel can be adjusted to intonate two strings at once, but if you get one string dead on, the other one will be either sharp or flat. This means that strings are never in tune together as you play up the neck. It sounds sour. No good.
I found a set of compensated brass saddles for the vintage bridge at Stewart-MacDonald for $15. These are drilled at an angle so that the barrel is slanted just enough to compensate for the different strings. I also bought an old-fashioned pickup switch. It turned out not to be an actual Fender-style switch, but a similar design made in Japan. I installed these pieces this weekend. I am very happy with the results. The guitar is sweet, chimey, and quite versatile for country, pop, or jazz.
I have about $230 into the guitar right now, not counting the case, which I can use for my other Telecaster, or the Li’l Puncher, which I already had. It is a very good guitar for $230. Would it be better to buy a more expensive guitar and not have to swap out parts and pickups? Perhaps. But I enjoy working on guitars, and to tell the truth, even if you pay more, even a lot, you might end up swapping out parts. I changed the pickups in my $750 Roland-Ready Stratocaster, for example, because I wanted something that sounded like a 60’s Strat, not a 2007 Strat. But it is all great fun.
Update: Today I took the neck off and inserted a piece of cardboard from some video game packaging as a shim to adjust the neck angle. I wanted to lower the high “E” string just a tad, but I couldn’t because the barrel saddle piece bottomed out. The shim worked very well. The shim is a little shorter than the width of the neck pocket, and about 1/2 and inch wide. It is just a thin piece of cardboard. A little piece makes a big difference. I had to raise the bridge saddles about a full turn to get everything where I wanted it. Now it plays like a dream.
Installing a shim is no big deal. Lots of bolt-on neck guitars have them. I shimmed my 2007 Strat too. I once had a ’63 Fender Jaguar that had a big, thick factory-installed shim.
I really like this guitar now. It plays great, and the mini-humbucker and the Li’l Puncher give it a tone that is in-between Fender and Gibson. The bridge can twang, but the neck pickup is jazzy or bluesy, depending on how you play. Extremely versatile. Great for Beatlesque pop and lots of other things. It’s a keeper.