It lives…

So after working out that actually the Kawai was pretty knackered, I went about fixing it up.

Step one was a visit to the excellent Millbrook here in Helsinki. I took the guitar with me and then bought all the parts I needed to get it working. Screws, springs for the pickups and tuners — because unfortunately the vintage Kawai / Teisco tuners I ordered from eBay didn’t fit. The nice chap at Millbrook sorted me out with some Kluson split-shaft vintage Fender-style tuners, plus some extra screws due to the wide spacing between the post holes on the Kawai head-stock.

Fitting all the screws into the scratch-plates and around the pickups was easy, but fitting the tuners into the head-stock was another matter. For starters I needed to buy a drill to make pilot holes for the fixing screws. After agonizing for a couple of weeks and feeling I should invest in a proper power-drill that would also be good for doing stuff around the house, I ended up buying a cheap and cheerful hand-drill from Clas Ohlson, which was totally the right approach for drilling 2-3mm diameter pilot holes. The power-drill must wait.

Then I tried to fit the tuners. First problem was that the bushes didn’t fit the holes snugly enough. After a bit of googling I worked out how to glue toothpicks into the holes for a tighter fit. Next problem was that the head-stock already had some holes in. Some of them coinciding with places I needed to put tuner screws. So they needed to be filled. Again with toothpicks and wood glue. After a couple of evenings messing about with glue, toothpicks and drill bits, I got down to the last tuner installation. Then I used a one-size-too-big drill bit for the final pilot holes. Sick of messing with toothpicks I decided just to go to Clas Ohlson and buy some bigger screws. The next evening the final tuner went on really easily. So some advice if you ever find yourself installing Kluson tuners: Throw away the crappy screws that come with them and buy some proper 3mm wood screws from your local hardware store. The Kluson screws are really hard to screw in (blunt?), they deform easily and they are generally crap quality. Buy new screws. You’ll thank me.

2015-12-15 15.48.41

Kluson tuners going on. Original screws a total nightmare.

With the tuners on I could go ahead and put strings on it. So a couple of nights ago I did so. Putting a set of 11s on there. I stretched the strings just like you are supposed to and tuned them up. This was the first time I actually played this guitar. It felt good.

Well, actually although it felt good to play this beat-up old thing it certainly did not feel good to play. In the lower positions everything was fine, but by the 5th fret the top E and B strings begin to buzz like hell. The action is very low with absolutely no neck relief. The truss-rod needs slackening to move the strings off the finger-board. However, this being an odd-ball old vintage guitar it doesn’t have a modern hex / allen key socket, but rather a nut recessed into the head-stock. So I need to buy another new tool. A vintage guitar truss-rod wrench.

2015-12-18 22.00.54

From the top. Wacky truss-rod nut just about visible at bottom of head-stock.

The slight twist in the neck also became more apparent with the strings on. It could be that a really great set up will not be possible on this guitar. But maybe I just use it for slide?

Also, putting strings on revealed that only the two pickups nearest the neck are working. The third pickup is working only intermittently. The fourth pickup now seems completely dead.

So this is like pealing an onion. Each job reveals what I have to do next, which are buy a tool to set up the truss-rod and take a look at the electronics. I am now about 200 EURO into this guitar, if you include the original 110 EURO it cost me plus the parts I have bought. More if you count tools — but they are reusable.

Still. It’s alive. It has strings on. You can plug it into an amp and make noise. Yay! 🙂

2015-12-18 22.00.44

A functional guitar. With strings on! Now it just needs setting up and the electronics fixing…

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3 thoughts on “It lives…

  1. Just an FYI, the “in string” tremulo bar you have is pretty rare, and exactly the kind found on the guitar played by Hound Dog Taylor. This is extraordinarily rare. Most of these guitars are found with a plate more commonly seen on the S170, so when I saw it on yours I had to catch my breath. This is a rare bird.

    Please finish restoring this. It bugs me that they added switches in the modification and took out the rockers. Also, don’t forget to talk to some other S180 owners. There is a particular way that the pickups are rewired for some awesome vintage Hound Dog sound. (I believe you have to swap the hot with the ground, and that’s how it’s done but don’t quote me. Best to go to an expert. I haven’t had the chance to get my hands on this, the Delorian of solid body electrics).

    I have seen many online in varying condition, and without checking the neck I can’t really be certain how good of condition yours is in, but from what I’ve seen it’s truly beautiful. Aside from the tap switches, this guitar is truly stunning.

      • Anthony! Your two comments have absolutely made my week! I read them on my phone when travelling for work, but it’s not until today that I have had the time to reply. Thanks ever so much for stopping by to impart this wisdom. I am happy to report that the neck is in good condition and totally playable after a quick tweak of the truss-rod. Frets very small though, compared to other guitars I have. Right now the only thing between this guitar and full functionality is the electronics. I need to find some time to buy a couple of new pots, a cap and some wire. It’s a real dog’s dinner under that control plate. But the pickups are at least functional and I even managed to get some signal out, even if at very low levels. The tremolo is indeed working and appears complete, but the tension is low and the travel wide. Could be I have the spring mis-placed or has lost its ‘bounce’ after all these years. Bridge is not original, seems to have been replaced by a Tuno-matic and it came without tuners, so I fitted Klusons. I will definitely get the electronics sorted when I have time and I hope one day to track down those rockers — I did see some advertized on eBay, but the seller refused to ship to Finland where I live. Thanks again for stopping by, I really appreciate it!

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