Final Assembly of the 7-String LED Guitar

After six months, and lots of work, the day has come for final assembly.  Thank God!  This is the point in the project that you just want to be done, play the thing, and move on to the next project.  That being said, I think I may be able to complete my next guitar in much less time (hopefully four months or less).  Oh, and the next guitar will be a “scratch build” from nothing but a block of wood.  But enough of that now, we’re here to talk 7-String LED awesomeness!

So without further ado, here’s the final product.

LED Lights are off. 

The LED Lighting is illuminated, along with the power button and momentary killswitch button LED lights. 

Note the 7-String recessed Floyd Rose tremolo setup.  It took a solid hour to tune this for the first time, and adjust the bridge height / intonation.

As I mentioned earlier, it took quite some time getting the string action perfectly set.  In the end, though, it was well worth it.  This plays like a dream. 

And last but not least, the vanity!  My signature logo, and model LD-1.  LD-1 stands for LED Guitar 1.  I hope you enjoyed this build, and check out my future projects.
Next up, I’ll be building a Telecaster Style guitar, starting with nothing but a block of wood.  I’m thinking goldtop finish, and chrome hardware; perhaps some electronics or lighting will find its way in there too!

Final Wiring of the 7-String LED Guitar

Now I’m not going to get into the complete step-by-step of how to wire this guitar’s pickups, as that can be found just about anywhere on the Internet.  As a reference, I used this schematic, as found on the Seymour Duncan website.  Note – I could have saved myself a LOT of time, if I understood one small difference between Dimarzio and Seymour Duncan pickups – Seymour Duncan uses a red wire for the “hot output” from the pickup, and Dimarzio uses black.  What I didn’t realize was that while this is a truly excellent schematic, I need to swap red for black to make this work for Dimarzio.  That could have been two hours saved…

Here are the two pickup wires, in their untouched state.  These need to be trimmed and stripped. 

I ordered two 500K control pots for this project, due to the high-output of the humbuckers.  250K might have worked, but I erred on the side of caution.   What I didn’t realize here, was that the volume and tone pots are the same thing.  It’s all in how you wire them that determines their function.

This is a stripped pickup wire.  The bare wire is the ground, and the colored wires are various things that I won’t pretend to understand.  I just used the “paint by numbers” strategy when wiring the guitars controls. 

This is a bit of a cheat shot, so just pretend you aren’t seeing the neck installed.  I wanted to show this picture as this is pretty much what my work bench looked like during the wiring phase of this project.  my iPad with the wiring schematic was never far away. 

Here’s another time when my solder buddy came in handy.  This is a shot of the neck pickup wiring, after beginning to follow the schematic.

The solder buddy was great for holding the tone and volume pots as well.  In this picture, you can see the glob of solder on top of the pot.  This is a “ground point”.  Maintaining proper ground is necessary to reduce the amount of hum and interference your guitar produces.

Lastly, here’s a shot of both the volume and tone pots installed, and the input jack in the final wiring process. Once this is completed, it’s time for final assembly!

Installing the Floyd Rose 7-String Tremolo Bridge

The home stretch continues.  Today, we’ll install the 7-String Floyd Rose tremolo bridge.  You may recall from a previous post, we discussed installing the 7-string locking nut in the guitar’s neck.  This isn’t quite as straightforward, but wasn’t that large of a task.

Here’s the tremolo cavity.  After finishing this guitar body with layer, upon layer of lacquer, things tend to get a bit gunked up.  The pre-drilled post holes for this tremolo system are no exception.  Without properly cleaning these holes, it would be very easy to crack the guitar body and cause MAJOR headaches.

Using a dremel, with a fluted routing bit, I very carefully cleaned up the excess nitrocellulose lacquer buildup from each of the post holes.  You want to be extremely careful not to actually enlarge the post holes, as the Floyd studs need to fit very tightly.  Also, you want to make sure not to change the shape of the hole.  Very light passes, and constant checking is definitely the way to go.

I learned a trick from those crazy Interwebs, that said to stick the metal post holes in the freezer for 24 hours.  This would cause the metal to contract slightly, and make installation easier.  So I figure “what the heck”, and popped those things in the freezer next to the frozen peas.  The next day, I put each of the bridge mounting pegs in place, and using a wooden block as a buffer (between the hammer and peg) tapped them gently into place.  Now I’m not sure if the freezer thing helped, but I didn’t have any issues so let’s just say it did.  I used the wooden block so that I didn’t damage the mounting studs by hitting them with a hammer.

Here are both Floyd Rose bridge mounting pegs, fully installed.

And another shot with the actual bridge in place.  As a side note – This hunk of metal is HEAVY.  I didn’t realize a 7-String Floyd bridge would be so substantial, but I guess it would have to be.

Flipping the guitar body over, I installed the bridge tension spring mounting claw.  This not only holds the tension springs in place (as many as five springs) but provides the ability to fine tune the angle at which the tremolo unit sits in reference to the body.

I put the bridge back in place, and attached two tension springs to hold it.  After final assembly, it will be necessary to not only add springs, once the tension of guitar strings pull on the bridge, but to fine tune the spring claw to correct the bridge angle.  More on that in later posts.

And it’s coming along!  The lighting and pickups are done and the bridge is installed.  The only things left to do is to complete the wiring, slap on the neck and get some strings on this thing.  See you soon!

Installing LED Guitar Pickup Lights

So here’s where it gets fun.  This whole time, I’ve been calling this project the 7-String LED Guitar (LD-1), so now it’s time to step up. After all, if the LED lighting looks shitty, then I would just be left with a 7 string guitar, with two extra, shiny buttons.  Sitting down to wire this thing, I realized that I probably should have diagrammed this whole damn thing.  Rather than make my life easy, I decided to figure it all out as I went.  Ultimately, this is just a little more difficult than installing strap mounts to a guitar body (sarcasm)…

Step 1 – Test the lights and batteries!  No, really, test everything before you start cutting things apart.  You want to make sure things worked, in the first place.  This helps so when you have a completely new hacked and soldered wiring harness that doesn’t work, you know it’s your own damn fault, and not the materials.  Here’s proof of life (above), with the blue LED strand, plugged straight into the battery pack.

Next, I cut the wire connecting the battery pack, and the LED light strand. The reason I did this, is because we’ll have to install a whole bunch of stuff in between the two, to make everything work according to the design.
 
I picked up a soldering buddy from Adafruit.com.  This REALLY helps to hold things where you want them, while soldering.  In this case, I soldered two modular plugs into the positive and negative wires coming from both the battery pack, as well as the light strand.

After soldering the connections, I used heat shrink tubing to insulate and reinforce the solder joints.  Heat shrink tubing is some handy stuff, that starts out as a large diameter rubber tube.  You cut it to length, slide it over whatever you want to insulate, and use either a hot air gun, or a soldering iron to apply heat.  After a few seconds, the tubing shrinks in place leaving a tight fit.  This is a lot cleaner and more convenient than electrical tape.
I repeated this step with the battery pack.  You can see the plug and play modular ends, and hopefully understand the convenience they bring to the project.

Here’s a shot of the modular wires I connected to the positive and negative lines of the LED light strand.  The reason I used the modular wires, is to I can swap components out of the guitar easily and quickly.  The beats the hell out of permanently soldering things into the guitar body.  If something breaks, or needs replacement, just pop it out, and put the new one in.  Now you might be wondering why I attached an extra set of leads to the LED strand?  Well I plan to run the power in series, from the battery pack, through the on/off switch, into the LED light rings of each button.  There are many more (and probably cleaner) ways that this can be accomplished, but it’s what I decided on.

Proof of life #2 – Once I connected all of my modular jacks, I ran another test to ensure everything worked properly.  This is a whole lot better than testing everything, for the first time, at the very end of the project.  If something doesn’t work now, you have a lot fewer variables to debug. 

Using the pre-drilled pickup wire holes, I fed the business end of the light strand into the lower pickup rout.   

Pulling the LED light strand into the pickup rout,  I wrapped the cavity once, and then passed the light strand through into the neck pickup cavity (using the access hole I drilled back at the beginning of this project).

 Proof of life #3 – I wanted to make sure that not only every thing worked after routing and wrapping the wires, but that it looked cool as well!  Side note – I’ve heard this project described as everything from cool, to gaudy, to “why the hell would anyone add LED lighting to a guitar”.  Let’s just say that if you don’t understand what makes this awesome immediately, then just ignore it.  It’s probably not for you.  In fact, here’s a link to a guitar that might be more your speed.
This is the button that will be used as a killswitch.  This is a momentary “normally on / push off” button, with a red LED light ring.  Two things need to happen to this button: First, I need to add wires that will provide power to the LED light ring.  Second, The guitar’s output jack wire will need to be passed through this button, to enable control of the “signal cut” effect.  Here, you can see the two power wires in place.

This is the lighting control button.  This button needs to control ALL lights on this guitar, including its own LED light ring.  This is a “normally off / push on / push off” button.  I connected a wire directly to the positive power terminal of this switch.  I connected the negative power wire to the on/off variable terminal of the button.  From the on/off terminal, I also connected a wire to the negative terminal of the button’s led light, as well as a few extra modular wires.  The purpose of this is when the button is in the “off position” nether the button’s LED light, nor any other lights that are connected to the negative wires passing through this button will function.  When the button is pressed, not only will the power from the negative wire connect and illuminate the button’s light, so will all subsequent lights that are connected.  This was probably the most tricky part to figure out.

Here’s the wiring harness fully assembled, outside of the guitar body. 

 Proof of life #4 – Everything works as it should!  Note, this wasn’t the case the first time.  It took me about 10 minutes swapping wires to figure out which positives and negatives should be connected to make this thing work.  Patience is the key here, especially with so much going on.

Wow, is it pickup time already?  As mentioned previously, I chose to use a Dimarzio Blaze 7-String pickup in the neck, and a Dimarzio Evolution (Steve Vai designed) pickup in the bridge position.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was how difficult it would be to source a 7-string humbucker pickup ring that met my specifications!  There are endless choices for 6-string, but for 7, the pool was very shallow.  Here’s a quick test to see if the damn thing fits. 

Here’s a shot of the Dimarzio Blaze, with the pickup ring installed.  Note – If you’ve never installed a pickup ring onto a humbucker, be prepared to curse a few times, at least… 

In order to obtain proper LED illumination, I wanted to wrap the LED strands around each pickup.  I quickly found, however, that this just didn’t look great in the final product.  In the end, I decided to place the pickups on top of the LED strands, to create an illuminated backlight effect.  This ended up working exceedingly well.

Here’s the bridge pickup in place.  It’s actually starting to look like a guitar body! 

And of course, I couldn’t resist laying the neck in place for a quick peek…

Here’s a shot of the lighting, with the neck pickup installed.  It’s coming together!

Next up, installing the bridge pickup.  This went in as easily as the neck. 

Finally, both pickups are installed, with the full LED lighting rig in place!  I’m not going to show a picture of how the lighting looks at this stage, as I’d rather create some suspense for the final build shots.  Enjoy!

Installing Strap Mounts on the 7-String LED Guitar

We’re down to the home stretch on this guitar!  You may remember the last post described how to install the Grover tuning machines and Floyd Rose locking nut into the 7-String neck.  Today’s post will be brief, as there isn’t much to installing strap buttons on a guitar.  I actually thought it was going to be more of an issue than it really was.  Let’s jump right into it.

I ordered a set of black strap buttons from Stewmac, to match the rest of the hardware. 
The first step was to measure both the diameter of the screw, as well as the depth which it would drive into the guitar body.  This is important to determine the proper drill bit for pre-drilling, as well as how far to drill.
Next up, I needed to figure out the center line of the guitar.  This is important, due to the fact that you want the bottom strap button to be relatively centered so as to help the guitar’s center of balance.  To do this, I measured the pickup routs, and divided them in half to get the center point of the body. 

Using the pickup route measurements, I used a straight edge to extend the center line towards the bottom edge of the guitar body. 

Then, using a 90 degree right angle, I found the point on the edge, and drilled a hole to the proper depth.   

Drilling the upper horn was much less precise.  I just looked up a handful of photos on the Internet, in order to eyeball the proper position.  The only thing I was very careful of, was to be sure to drill as close to vertical center as possible. 

And here it is, the installed horn strap button!  Going through my photos, I realized that I forgot to take a picture of the installed, bottom edge, strap button.  I guess we’ll just have to use our imagination on that one.

 Here’s a bonus picture!  To begin final assembly, I took the liberty of sanding out the edges of the back control cavity cover location.  You’ll probably have to do this as some point when lacquering a guitar, as lacquer tends to build up in hard edges. (Fascinating, isn’t it?)