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Blues Improvisation
Blues Improv

Bill Carper, Guitar Tech
Bill Carper

Guitar Tech

Guitar Repair Tips by Bill Carper

Hello, My name is Bill Carper aka Whalebone Bill, I am 66 years old, I live in the warm and sunny deep south U.S.A. I have been playing pro guitar 51 years and I have worked with some of the biggest R&B and country groups in the country as well as having my own Bands. My guitars of choice have been Gibson and Fender, I have only owned one guitar that was a perfect fit right out of the box and that was a 1960 model Gibson Byrdland all the others had to have a fair amount of work done to them so over the years I have learned a lot about guitars.

Today I build my own custom versions of the Strat, Tele, and Les Paul. When you can't buy what you want you make them or have them made, The owner of this site "Johnny Mayer" plays one of my strat versions called the "Psycho" I have never heard any thing from him except praise, being a humble person some times that is hard for me to accept but I know I only use the best of materials, electronics and skill in these guitars. I have learned a lot about amplifiers and pickups also neck construction over the years. Before, guitar tech was a series of informative articles but this time around the forum is going to change to a question and answer forum, you ask and I will try and answer the best I can or put you in touch with some one who can answer you.
Ask away and keep playing the Blues!

Tuning Machine Heads

There are so many different tuning keys out there it is hard to figure out which are the best. Maybe it's not the best, but maybe it is a matter of what you need to get the job done with no problems. The 2 favorites are probably Grover and Schaller, each offer a complete line for all guitars and bass. Each offer locking and non-locking keys as well as high end and lower end keys. You can find tuning keys from $10 sets to $200 sets, vintage styles and new mini types. They come in Gold, Nickel, Chrome, Black Chrome, Brushed Chrome just for a few. It all depends on what you like. Spretzel offers a very good key and they are pricie. Mighty Mite offers a very good key at very resonable prices in all finish's. I use them from time to time and have no problem with them, they are smooth and precise. Fender has a line of keys also, but they are in reality Schaller's. I use more Grovers than any thing else. in the non-locking rotomatic's and you can find them in the price range of around $30. If you are into vintage Fender then you need to go with Schaller, If it is vintage Gibson than you need Grover. I love the vintage Grover Imperials, they are a beautiful key and one of the better ones. From time to time I will go to Ebay and look for tuning keys, some times I can find some real jewels real cheap and I will buy them and put them away for a future project. I found a set of real original German made Schaller's awhile back and I used them on my personal Strat, what a wonderful find and they were just like new. I have found that if you stay in the $30 to $50 range you will have a good key that you can depend on, just be a little careful and you will come out a winner and remember most tuning keys are made over sea's some where thats just the way it is ..Whalebone...

Guitar Necks

Most of the Guitar Neck Replacements that are made today are for the Fender/Jackson/and Kramer type guitars that use the 3 or 4 bolt on system. Fender strat's and tele's have been this system from the get go. Gibson has always used the set neck system and they require a good Luthier to replace them. My suggestion With a Gibson is to send it back to the factory as they have the proper equipment and re-finish to do the job right. The Fender type of neck is much easier for a person to repalce, saying that it is still imperative to know how to level a neck and make sure it is straight. NO two necks are the same even though they might be made on the same machine. All machine work is done with a plus and minus tolerance and as long as the neck is machined with in these tolerances it is exceptable and can be sold as a replacement. There are a number of companies that make Fender necks under Licensed by Fender and they are good necks. I use Mighty Mite necks for the Blues for Peace guitars, they come in 22 fret maple or M/rosewood, M/ebony and Birdseye maple. They also come with vintage frets or medium jumbo or jumbo frets that are much like the Gibson frets, except for the tele necks which are 21 fret. WD also makes good necks as well as Allparts and there are others. The premier neck maker in my opinion is Warmoth in upper Washington state. Warmoth makes their necks to what ever a person may want, they offer their necks in Warmoth design which incorporates a dual truss rod design. They also offer a vintage/modern and a complete vintage neck. Warmoth offers a super selection of back radius's and a super selection of exotic neck woods and finger board woods. They also offer a nice selection of head stock designs or design your own along with the 13 degree angle head stock. Warmoth also offers a super selection of frets and cuts for various nuts along with pre cut nuts and nut stock. The thing that makes Warmoth shine the most for me is their fret board design, they use a compound radius that starts out at the standard 10 degree and flattens out into a 16 degree, why, well this is the skinny. The 10 degree is best for playing rythum and not lead. The 16 degree is best for lead. How many times have you been playing lead in the 12th fret area or above and had a string fret out or deaden when you bent it ? The only way to get around this with a standard 10 degree neck is to raise the action as the string being bent is touching another fret and sounding out. With the compound radius neck the action can be set much lower with out sounding out when bending. The only thing I don't like about the Warmoth neck is that it has to be adjusted at the heel of the neck causing a major operation to straighten it, although after the adjustment is made you can lock the adjustment into place with the side adjustment. Warmoth necks are not cheap but they are worth every penny and they offer all the above in the tele neck also. Warmoth also offers a complete line of bodies and an LP body that uses the bolt on neck system as well as any finish you might desire and any pickup routing you might want also. I use nothing but Warmoth necks on my personal guitars and I love them. Check them out at Whalebone Bill...

How Much Money ?

I was asked recently for a ball park price for a custom made Strat or Tele, I have no direct answer for that question. Bottom line about $650.00 up to $2000 + . Fender custom shop bodies go for any where from $400 to $700 and I have seen some for as much as a $1000 + , I think that is rediculous but it is in what you think you need. Warmoth has a great selection of bodies, woods, exotic woods and finish's and they also make the best necks that can be bought.. Other companys such as Mite Mite and Allparts have good bodies and necks, then there are the accessories. Pick guards, pickups, wiring, pots and switch's, tremolo or bridge 3 pickup or 2 or any combination special switch's, mini switch's, tuners, it's all in what a person wants in a guitar. I use only bodies from Warmoth or a custom maker in northern Calif. who will give me any configuration I want. I also use only Warmoth necks unless other wise specified. All my pickups come from Pete Biltoft, which I perfer or Seymour Duncan. Tuners are the choice of the customer, other than that I use Grover's. Choice of finish is up to the customer also and price's differ by what kind of finish, if it is left up to me then I use the best I can get in the color the customer wants. Necks also differ in what kind of wood a person wants and what kind of finish and what kind of wood they want for the finger board and type of frets. Also whether the neck is to be scalloped or not and what kind of inlay. Then comes the tender loving labor to build the guitar and set it up for the optomum playability. Custom makes are not cheap, they are a once in a life time thing an instrument to play all a persons life and the pride of owning such an instrument. Whalebone..

Which Capacitor?

Electronics are probably the fastest changing thing in our lives. Electronics change on an hourly basis I remember the first computer I ever seen, it was so big it had a platform in front of it to stand on to operate it. It was about 8 feet high and 12 feet long, today you can hold even more power in the palm of your hand. This is also true for electronic components, in the guitar world I hear some people say the vintage stuff is the best, thats garbage! I will say that the little dime pots that are being used in a lot of the cheaper guitars being made today are garbage and a lot of the switch's such as the box types and knock off Fender and Gibson type switch's are garbage along with the smaller types of wire being used. There is no substitute for quality insulated wire. Most of the wire I use today is small gauge coax. Todays quality capacitors are superior to any of the vintage types, I just don't see what makes people think that vintage is better, they won't do the job that todays components will do. Here is a little trick that works just super, I use it on all of my custom mades. Instead of the traditional .022uf on the tone controls use a .047uf, it will roll of more treble giving you a faster responce and smoother. Also use a .001uf from the hot to ground on the volume pot, this will give you a treble boost as you turn it down. These capacitors are not expensive and can be obtained from any electronics store. I think you will like what they do for your guitar..
Whalebone Bill...

Meet Pete Biltoft

When I got really serious about custom guitars I started looking for pickups, there was, and still is Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, EMG's, and so on.These are good pickups but they just lacked some thing, when I figured out what that some thing was it was stand alone tone, and "Fat" !

After figuring this out I started looking for custom pickup makers, what I ran into here was that most of them that I contacted were not really interested in talking to me, and giving me the information I was wanting.

A lot of them were trying to get there products more production orientated which is fine for the big bucks, then I found Pete Biltoft. Pete was, and is interested in what kind of pickup I wanted, and what I was going to use them for. Strat's, Tele's, Gibsons, and he had a lot of advice as what to use where. Pete has studied the science of what it takes to make a really quality pickup, and Pete is no slacker. Pete has a degree with honors in Chemistry, and Metallurgy from Georgia Tech. He lives, and works in northern California, Pete works his day job for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he is an engineer working on the worlds biggest, and most powerful Laser.

At home, Pete has his own complete machine shop where he enjoys making pickups for guitar, bass, and other stringed instruments. Pete makes virtually all of the components for pickups himself, bobbin assembly, winding, potting, soldering, Q & A, shipping ect. He built his own winding machine, and he has a CNC machine for custom instrument bodies. Pete has developed a vintage line of stagger or flat single coil pickups for the strat as well as pickups for tele's. He also has a direct replacement P-90 single coil for humbuckers, take the humbucker out, and put the P-90 in. He also supplies with his pickups wiring instructions, and a data sheet for how much winding, and power out put. Pete's most recent pickup is a P-90 for strats wrapped up in a strat size pickup with adjustable poles.

This pickup is called the SP-90, I just put a set of these pickups in my custom strat, and they just knocked me out, they are so big, and full. and the tone, and power is just out of this world, I don't think I will ever take them out unless Pete comes up with some thing better. I felt the same way about his stagger's, and I still feel that way about his P-90 replacements. I have an ES-335 that I put Pete's P-90's in, and it flat came alive. Pete also has a line of Humbuckers for you people that like them. I have not tried them, but judging by what I have tried they have to be great. In one of my custom tele's I have a Symour Duncan JBjr. in the neck, and one of Pete's hot single coils in the bridge. the tone that comes from this guitar is powerful, and mellow, pure "Blues".It also has a mini switch that puts the JBjr. in and out of phase, out of phase with both pickups on it delivers incredebale drive. I also purchased a set of strat 5% over wound staggers, but I love the SP-90's so much I will probably have to build another strat in order to try them. Pete likes to talk to his customers via his E-mail or by telephone in order to get to exactly what the customer wants, and give advice as to what works best. Pete's E-mail address is and his web site that he says is in desperate need of up dating is

Another thing you will like about Pete's pickups is, you "CANNOT" beat his prices ! Give Pete a ring when you want top shelf pickups, you find out that he is just a really nice person!Whalebone Bill...

Deaf Eddie

Deaf Eddie, that just about says it all in a name. Deaf Eddie is Emmett Brown, Eb for short, Blues guitar player. He lives in San Diego California, and like me he is in his elder years, but, Eb loves to play with guitars, pickups, and sound switchs that he produces. Eb has a six position switch that he calls the "Chromacaster" THis switch can produce 16 distinct different tones from an average strat. He also has a 5, and 4 position switch. I have one of his Chromacasters in my custom strat, it took me awhile to figure out all the different tones, but this thing blows me away, and you ought to see the heads turn when I use these tones on stage. One of the cool things about Eb's switchs is the installation, they take the place of one tone pot, and your other one becomes a master tone pot. Put the tone controll knob back on the new switch, and no one knows how you are doing it. The 5 way switch works in conjuction with the tone switch. On my strat I also added a mirco switch to put the center pickup out of phase giving me more possibilities. Fender has a version of this, but it won't hold a candle to EB's switchs. Fender is interested in selling guitars, guys like Eb, and myself among others are interested in making them better, and personalized. I would suggest you go to Eb's web site for the complete story, it is a good site, and you will enjoy browsing around. or you can contact him at

Amplifiers and Speakers

We recieved a question about Amp. speakers. Speakers play a big part, but the type of amp plays an equal roll. I cannot answer this issue with out addressing both. What we have is Solid state verses tubes. Rock amp's are generally solid state, they generate tons of power, and hard drive. Tube amps are pretty much the rule for Blues, and Jazz as they generate very soft, smooth tones, and they are easy to overdrive. Most of the tube amps used have between 35, and 100 watts, middle of the road is about 65 watts. Speakers are controlled by there magnet weight. If we take for example a celestion 12" speaker, and put it in a solid state amp, and record the sound, then put the same speaker in a tube amp, it will sound entirely different. It's hard to say this is the exact speaker you need for the sound you want as each player hears it differently. To my ear Gibson guitars through Fender tube amps is as good as the Gibson sound gets, on the other hand to my ear Fender guitars through Peavey tube amps is as good as it gets. I don't like the sound of any solid state amp as it does not sound like the real instrument sound to me. Steven to answer your question, all the speaker makers make good speakers, my preference in speakers are vintage Peavey Scorpions, vintage Jensens, and Altec Lansings. My suggestion to you is go out, and play through as many amps as you can, and try to find the sound you are looking for. Then see if it is a solid state or tube, and what kind of speaker it has. I play through a vintage Peavey VTX Classic with 2 vintage 12" scorpions, and I play custom made Fenders. Ebay is a good place to find speakers at a good price. I recently bought a new Peavey Delta Blues amp, 35 watt. It came with 2 10" Blue marvel speakers made by Eminence, it sounded like "Hell" ! I took the 10's out, and sold them on ebay. I then found a 15" vintage Scorpion on ebay, and bought it, it took some doing to get it to fit, but I now have the sound I wanted, although nothing will repalce my classic. You don't have to spend big dollars to get what you want, go try a Crate amp ! I would be foolish to say go buy this speaker, and you will have what you are looking for, you have to please your ear, and if you don't you won't be happy, and you won't play as well ! Madison makes some really good speakers also, real close the the Scorpion.  Thanks for your question, and I hope this helps.Bill...

pickups, pickups, and more pickups !

Single coil or Humbuckers, Manufactured or custom wounds ??

Let me say right up front that I don't care much for the dual coil humbuckers ! Single coils, even though you may get a little 60 cycle hum that can be controlled, get the job done. They come in Hot, medium, and mild. There are tones from bright, and clean to dirty, and muffled, staggered poles, flat poles, split poles, and rails. There is no shortage of single coil makers as they are made all over the world, just take your pick, but, you best know what you are looking for before you buy. Fender has some really good p/ups, but they are pricie. Seymour Duncan makes some really good stuff, and there prices are fair. DiMarzio has some good p/ups also, but I see them a step below Duncans. I use Duncans some times, and I get my customs from Pete Biltoft of Petes prices are super good also. Pete makes a single coil p-90 style replacement p/up that will fit in the cavity of a humbucker with no alterations. I have a set in my 335, and they kick butt ! The tone quality is superior.

I use Duncan rail p/ups because I like the rail pickup, with the rail you don't loose as much sound as you do with poles when bending strings. Investigate before you buy, ask for the out put spec's of the piticular p/up you are looking at and what kind of winding is being used. Humbuckers: They are also made all over the world, and come in hot, medium, and mild. There are the Gibson style, and the dual coil types, there is also the mini buckers with stacked coils as replacements for single coils, but give more of a single coil tone than the dual coils. I have 2 Les Pauls with dual coil replacement p/ups in them. One with Duncans in it, and the one I use the most has DiMarzios. In it I have a Humbucker from Hell in the neck position, and an Air Norton in the bridge both are hot p/ups. The neck p/up is always the softest sounding so to bring out a stronger sound I used a hot p/up. The air Norton is a hot p/up also, but has a softer tone, they work together good. I also installed 2 micro switch's that are located in the pick guard. Each one controlls one of the p/ups by turning off one coil for more of a single coil tone. Using the micro's gives me the capability of having a single, and a double together or two singles together or a neck single or a bridge single, but, you loose a little volume with the single configuration so you will have to turn it up a little. This is best done by using the 3 way switch in the center position. To my ear, Humbuckers just don't give the sweet tones that singles do. Maybe that is because I am a Fender player. I do feel the best you can do is custom p/ups no matter who you get them from, just do a little reading on how p/ups are made, and you will be able to tell the maker what you
For now..
By Bill Carper

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