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Thread: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pickups?

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    Default Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pickups?

    Hi All -

    I play tenor guitar and cavaquinho. I have recently fallen in love with Soukous. The genius guitar player, Docteur Nico, played Egmond guitars in the mid-1960s. While the guitars have a less than stellar reputation, the pickups have fans and have a distinctive sound.

    I was able to purchase the body of an Egmond guitar with the correct pickups. I was considering finding a luthier to convert this into a tenor guitar. Mort of MORTone has been very helpful noting the challenges.

    General Question: Am I better off trying to put the pickups into an existing tenor body or having someone fashion a guitar for me with these pickups vs trying to convert an old Egmond six string?

    The Egmond pickups are a bit chunkier than your standard Strat or Tele pickups.



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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    I'm no tenor expert but, having messed w/ lots of electric guitars, my first thought is "what's the worst that can happen?" Sort of meaning: try small steps at a time before making each bigger decision.

    First question: Do the electronics work AT ALL?
    - If the switches & pots are bad, then pulling the pickups off is not a bad decision.
    - If ALL pickups are bad, you're dead in the water.
    - If SOME pickups are bad, pulling the good one(s) off is still okay.

    If pickups & electronics are okay, then you could re-string the four middle ones to tenor tuning (take off the outside strings), and just see how it sounds.

    Having gotten that far, the next decision is to either slim down the neck to 4 strings (plus maybe modify the headstock), being a moderate change, -VS- commmit to moving the pickups to a new, or newly modified, instrument, which is a major change w/ no ensured success.

    Keep in mind that IF the pickups were to be pulled, the rest of the instrument would be trash anyway, so modifying the neck is of relatively minor risk. (I make no claims as to the safety of running fret-ends thru a router! You might need to pull them & re-fret after narrowing.) On the negative side, I note that the current bridge has no compensation built in; further discussion of that is for the tenor afficionados.

    There have been photos here from others who have slimmed down the neck just beyond where it attaches to the body. Might look a bit hokey, but entirely functional.
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
    But by all those roads, my friend, we've travelled down
    I'm a better man for just the kowin' of you."
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    I'm no tenor expert but, having messed w/ lots of electric guitars, my first thought is "what's the worst that can happen?" Sort of meaning: try small steps at a time before making each bigger decision.

    First question: Do the electronics work AT ALL?
    - If the switches & pots are bad, then pulling the pickups off is not a bad decision.
    - If ALL pickups are bad, you're dead in the water.
    - If SOME pickups are bad, pulling the good one(s) off is still okay.

    If pickups & electronics are okay, then you could re-string the four middle ones to tenor tuning (take off the outside strings), and just see how it sounds.

    Having gotten that far, the next decision is to either slim down the neck to 4 strings (plus maybe modify the headstock), being a moderate change, -VS- commmit to moving the pickups to a new, or newly modified, instrument, which is a major change w/ no ensured success.

    Keep in mind that IF the pickups were to be pulled, the rest of the instrument would be trash anyway, so modifying the neck is of relatively minor risk. (I make no claims as to the safety of running fret-ends thru a router! You might need to pull them & re-fret after narrowing.) On the negative side, I note that the current bridge has no compensation built in; further discussion of that is for the tenor afficionados.

    There have been photos here from others who have slimmed down the neck just beyond where it attaches to the body. Might look a bit hokey, but entirely functional.
    Thanks Ed. Yes, the electronics seem to be fine. The seller noted that the instrument is in need of neck / fretwork in its current state:

    "The neck has a few appointments to speak on. It is very similar to the Vox guitars from the same era. The action is nice and low and the fingerboard is in an overall great condition. Though the neck is not playable in its current state. It appears to me that you may need to have a fret level done. The guitar frets our all over the fretboard. The truss rod works flawless leading me to believe the neck is not warped and it is just the frets."

    Alas, it may take a great luthier to bring this guitar back to life and convert the neck.

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    I'm no tenor expert but, having messed w/ lots of electric guitars, my first thought is "what's the worst that can happen?" Sort of meaning: try small steps at a time before making each bigger decision.

    First question: Do the electronics work AT ALL?
    - If the switches & pots are bad, then pulling the pickups off is not a bad decision.
    - If ALL pickups are bad, you're dead in the water.
    - If SOME pickups are bad, pulling the good one(s) off is still okay.

    If pickups & electronics are okay, then you could re-string the four middle ones to tenor tuning (take off the outside strings), and just see how it sounds.

    Having gotten that far, the next decision is to either slim down the neck to 4 strings (plus maybe modify the headstock), being a moderate change, -VS- commmit to moving the pickups to a new, or newly modified, instrument, which is a major change w/ no ensured success.

    Keep in mind that IF the pickups were to be pulled, the rest of the instrument would be trash anyway, so modifying the neck is of relatively minor risk. (I make no claims as to the safety of running fret-ends thru a router! You might need to pull them & re-fret after narrowing.) On the negative side, I note that the current bridge has no compensation built in; further discussion of that is for the tenor afficionados.

    There have been photos here from others who have slimmed down the neck just beyond where it attaches to the body. Might look a bit hokey, but entirely functional.
    By the way, Ed, do you know someone who might be able to do the work?

    Rob

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    Can't tell for sure from the pictures, but the strings appear to be just about laying on the last couple of frets.

    There should be at least 5/64" clearance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the 1st string. If a nickel won't fit between the string and the fret without touching the string, the action is too low for the guitar to play.

    Raise the bridge and see what happens.

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by Baskervils View Post
    ... do you know someone who might be able to do the work?
    Specific to neck narrowing, no. But since you claim "New York, NY", there should be tons of options. My first thought is to try RetroFret and/or Brooklyn Lutherie. When I worked in downtown, RetroFret was just a few subway stops out; at that time, the ladies that became Brooklyn Lutherie were the repair department. I'm sure they'd at least love to talk and would certainly be helpful. The center of guitaredness that used to exist on 48st St. has dispersed, but one of my then-favorites, Rudy's (MOST helpful when I started on mandolin!) has relocated to SOHO; haven't been there yet. Just across the GW in Teaneck, NJ, is Lark St. Music. I can't claim that any of these folks are open to modifications like neck-narrowing, but they all do quality repairs and love to talk instruments, so it can't hurt to ask and could be educational. Good luck!

    And just in case you never had the chance (getting nostalgic here!):
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/pe...-eighth-street
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
    But by all those roads, my friend, we've travelled down
    I'm a better man for just the kowin' of you."
    - Ian Tyson

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    Specific to neck narrowing, no. But since you claim "New York, NY", there should be tons of options. My first thought is to try RetroFret and/or Brooklyn Lutherie. When I worked in downtown, RetroFret was just a few subway stops out; at that time, the ladies that became Brooklyn Lutherie were the repair department. I'm sure they'd at least love to talk and would certainly be helpful. The center of guitaredness that used to exist on 48st St. has dispersed, but one of my then-favorites, Rudy's (MOST helpful when I started on mandolin!) has relocated to SOHO; haven't been there yet. Just across the GW in Teaneck, NJ, is Lark St. Music. I can't claim that any of these folks are open to modifications like neck-narrowing, but they all do quality repairs and love to talk instruments, so it can't hurt to ask and could be educational. Good luck!

    And just in case you never had the chance (getting nostalgic here!):
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/pe...-eighth-street
    Thank You, Ed. Yes, Indeed. I had the pleasure of shopping on 48th Street. I got my Fulltone Soul Bender at Manny's in the 90s. Retrofret is GREAT. I bought a wonderful Martin O-17T from them about 5 years ago. I had a Gibson tenor acoustic, but the Martin sounded infinitely better.

    Of course, the challenge with NYC is the expense. Local repairs and setups are so expensive these days that it has almost been worth shipping things out of the city.I think that I am going to transfer the Egmond pickups to an Eastwood Warren Ellis tenor. The cost of shaving down the Egmond neck, which has existing problems, seems like the more expensive and less predictable solution.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    I'd find an existing electric tenor guitar and swap the pickups in to it. That would be the quickest and easiest thing to do. You could then sell the intact body to fund the project or recoup some of your investment. If you find that you really like the tone of those pickups then I'd look at commissioning a new, custome tenor centered around the pickups.

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    I was going to recommend Flip Scipio or Bob Jones, both in Brooklyn, but swapping the pups into an existing tenor has got to be a more economical way to go - unless those pickups need a custom route. But routing's fun.

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar Question: Convert an old guitar or pull the pick

    Slimming down the existing neck is going to give you scale issues: you're looking at a scale a good 2" + longer than a normal tenor. Of course, you could tune down, or use Irish tuning, or do plectrum tuning, or do a John Lawlor and tune a few steps low, or capo up, but some chords in the few few frets might be a stretch on a 25" neck.

    It appears to be a bolt on neck? You could just have a new one made if you like the guitar body for the 23" scale. I've converted a few short scale electrics (~19-20") to tenors by slimming the necks on the band saw, frets and all. It works, and takes a little elbow grease to get the frets dressed nicely and neck shaped, but wasn't unpleasant or onerous. But with a NY, NY location I am also guessing you probably don't have a band saw in the kitchen.

    Might ask Jake Wildwood in Vermont. Sounds like his kind of project.

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