Building Project Orange

This is the story behind my first custom-built Warmoth electric guitar,
and a tutorial on building your own.

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Table of Contents



Preface

My intention was to base this guitar loosely on George Lynch's orange quilt ESP, while still remaining true to a few of my own preferences (and budget). The progenitor guitar is perhaps most well-known from the studio sessions in the REH/SGR George Lynch Instructional Video (1990).

Construction of Project Orange was completed on March 20th, 2004. The moment of truth was plugging into my amp (I chose the Ross mini-stack), bypassing my effects chain, and strumming an open E major. SWEET!!! Patch in the Boss DS-1 and eventually some delay and chorus (via a Korg G3)... absolutely magnificent!!! Years later I'm still blown away!

Wide-open (bridge pickup w/o coil-split), it's punchy, hearty, and has great sustain. Throttled back (neck pickup, with and w/o coil split), it's very warm and seductive with just the right amount of attack (for my style anyway). This was a wonderful investment, with virtually no headaches either.


To George Lynch: Thanks for signing my pickup --and later the headstock--, for having such an awesome guitar after which I could model one of my own, and for the many years of inspiration and influence!

With George at the 2007 Dojo summit, Los Angeles signed headstock signed pickup

Thanks also to Spike over at Warmoth for all the referrals to this page. I'm glad the info has been so helpful. And thanks to the Warmoth staff for the quality service and work!

Micah Atwell - Temple of Unmanifest Dreams - A meditative, ambient guitar odysseyHear a different take on ambient music, recorded almost exclusively with Project Orange.


Guitar Specifications

Body Specs

Neck specs

Pickups/electronics

Hardware

Extras


FAQ

I've received a lot of emails and compliments from people about this guitar. So many in fact that I decided it would be helpful to future builders to have my building experiences readily available for them on my website. Please check out the FAQ and build information below, and if your question is not answered feel free to contact me! Thanks again for the compliments and visits!

Here are some frequently asked questions...


The Build

body | neck | shielding | neck mount | tuners | strap buttons | jack/plate | covers | bridge | nut/string bar | pickups | pots/switches | electronics | finalizing

The body is in...

The body was exactly as I had anticipated... striking, balanced, heavy, and orange! Like a chunk of decaying uranium, I get warm just standing next to it.

The brightness and hue of the finish varies greatly with light source. In sunlight it is bright orange, like a fireball, and the quilt figure is intense! Indoors under most typical house lighting it appears more reddish-orange and the quilt is a little more subdued. In darker environments and without a camera flash it appears almost red. At first this concerned me, but I began to gauge from photos that George's guitar was much the same kind of chameleon. I do think his might have been a bit more translucent and amber-ish than mine. Still, I'm very pleased with the finish!

Brighter view of quilt maple figure darker view of the quilt maple figure another angle of the quilt maple figure seam of the laminate top and body, very hard to see! the solid maple body

The neck is in...

The neck was very solid and felt great out of the box. At first the AAA flame maple figure didn't appear too visible. But I think maybe the wood has aged a bit because now, a year or so later, it is very evident! You can't look at it from any angle and not see the figure. It also appears to have slightly outgrown its "blondness". And the ebony board... when cleaned up and lemon-oiled, the black could rival that of deep space. Absolutely beautiful!

the neck, front and back flame maple figure headstock, front headstock, back the side truss adjustment screw

Now, let's get to work...


Shielding the Control Cavity

With all the electronics surrounding us these days, shielding your guitar's electronics is a must. This keeps out electromagnetic interference which manifests itself as noise in your guitar's output signal. Warmoth sells shielding kits which come pre-measured and with an ample amount of copper tape. This stuff is quite sticky and creases very easily (like aluminum foil). Use care when working with it. The optimal shielding job should have as smooth a surface and as few seams as possible, and NO gaps!.

Some of these photos were taken after construction was complete. In some cases the copper shielding tape is not real tape, but rather "faked" in Photoshop for illustration purposes. Also, sometimes a different guitar body is shown (my Warmoth padauk Strat body, this is also for illustration purposes.

Also, it appears that Warmoth no longer sells the pre-cut shielding kits. For a rear-routed Strat body, you will need 10" of the 8"-width tape and 21" of the 2"-width tape. Used conservatively, this will lend you plenty of excess for patching up any gaps or for future repair jobs. --edited 4/14/2007

Shielding the sides, or walls, of the control cavity is the easiest part:

  1. Take the piece of 2" copper tape and test fit it around the wall of the cavity (leave the backing on). Make sure the tape is as far down into the cavity as it will go (don't worry about the deeper routing where the pickup select switch goes, this will be patched later). Use your fingers to hold the tape in place as you conform it to the walls, we will be marking the seam where the two ends meet. If the length comes up short on the final placement, you can patch it with the excess but it's better to prevent that extra bit of work.
    shielding the cavity walls
  2. With a pencil, mark the spot where the tape overlaps itself. Next, mark a spot at both ends of the tape about 1/4" above the lip of the cavity. This gives you enough tape to wrap over the lip for making contact with the cover plate.
    marking the seam
  3. This body has a recessed area along the wall where the pickup wires enter the cavity. To shield this area, I used separate pieces of tape cut to fit each surface (see picture below). This is optional, you can simply cover over it. As long as there are no gaps in the shielding then it will still be equally effective. You will just need to be careful when poking holes through it for the pickup wires, as it will tear easier without anything behind it.
    shielding the inner-route
  4. Remove the tape from the cavity and lay it out on a flat surface. Mark a line about 1/4" past the seam, this will be our overlap to ensure solid coverage. Cut along this line with scissors or razor.
    remove the excess length
  5. Now, draw a line along the length of the tape that connects the lip wrap-over marks made in Step 2.
    remove the excess height
  6. Remove the backing from the tape. Don't worry too much about the bending/creasing as you will be able to smooth it out during and after application. Place the tape inside the cavity and, starting at one end and working towards the other, press it firmly against the wall. Keep some tension on the tape as you use your thumb or fingertip to press it onto the wall, this will help prevent ripples. If you've ever applied window tint or pinstriping, this should be a rather similar process.
  7. Once the tape is in place, you can use a pencil eraser to rub out any leftover bubbles and smooth out any creases. Just be careful that the metal shroud holding the eraser doesn't make contact with the tape or else it will tear up all your work.
  8. For wrapping over the lip, snip the tape in several places around curves and corners so that the tape bends over the lip easily and without wrinkling, tearing, or pulling loose from the wall. Click the picture below for a view of this.
    wrap shielding up and over the lip

Shielding the floor of the control cavity is a bit more challenging:

  1. On one half of the large piece of copper tape (copper-side down), trace the outline of your cover plate (with the "out" side facing up). This will be the piece that shields the underside of the cover plate. Give yourself a little extra margin (1/8-1/4") for this pattern, it will help when attaching it to the plate later. Next, turn the cover plate over (upside down) and trace its outline again on the other half of the tape. This will be the piece that shields floor of the control cavity (you shouldn't need any extra margin for this one).
    tracing out the cover plate shielding tracing out the cavity floor shielding plate and floor patterns
  2. Now you can cut out the shielding pieces with your scissors or razor knife. Don't forget about that extra margin for the cover plate piece.
  3. We'll get the easy part out of the way first... remove the backing from the cover plate shielding and lay it down, sticky-side up, on a flat surface. It'll want to curl on you but try to get it to lay as flat as you can. Line your cover plate over the top of the tape and press down. With any luck you should have some margin of tape around the edges. If you have any bubbles or ripples, you can gently lift the tape up and smooth them out with your finger or thumb (like we did above with the cavity wall). Trim off any excess tape with a razor.
    shielding the cover plate shielding the cover plate
  4. For the next step, you'll need a piece of paper (something thin like notebook paper). On this, make one more trace of the cover plate (doesn't matter which side is up). Next, cut out the pattern just inside the lines, this needs to lay down into the cover plate recess, just like the plate itself does. I'm going to take you back to school with this piece.
    making the transfer template making the transfer template making the transfer template
  5. Ok, remember in school when you placed a piece of paper over a coin and scribbled on it with a pencil? Remember how it traced the image of the coin? We're going to use the same "transfer" approach here to trace the inner outline of your control cavity (as it's not likely to be the same shape as the cover plate). Place the notebook paper pattern over the cavity and hold it in place with your fingers. Then, using a pencil, lightly scribble around the edges until you have the entire pattern traced. It doesn't need to be 100% accurate, just a good estimate.
    transferring the inner route outline transferring the inner route outline transferring the inner route outline transferring the inner route outline
  6. Now, cut this new pattern out, but give your self about 1/4" of margin all the way around. This margin will be needed for making contact with the tape along the cavity walls.
    cutting the inner route outline
  7. Trace this new pattern onto the piece of cavity floor tape (copper-side up!) and cut out the pattern with scissors or razor.
    tracing the inner route outline onto the shielding tracing the inner route outline onto the shielding cutting the cavity floor shielding the cavity floor shielding
  8. Make 1/4" snips around the edges of the tape, especially around curves and corners, just like we did when shielding the walls. Then, carefully, peel the backing off the tape. This part sucks due to all the snips and you'll probably tear the backing a few times but it's easier than making the snips after the backing is off. Tip: Use a razor blade to help peel off the backing. Once all of the backing is off, bend the snipped edges upward about 90-degrees (sticky-side out).
    prepping the cavity floor shielding
  9. Carefully insert the tape into the cavity. It'll want to stick to the sides but just apply some downward pressure and it'll go down. If not, you can use your fingernail or a knife to peel if off the side and then push downward. Starting at the center of the tape, use your finger and/or pencil eraser to rub outward, removing bubbles and ripples as you go. Once at the edge, you can use a heavy guitar pick to get the tape into the corners. Don't forget to smooth out the overlap onto the cavity walls.
    the cavity floor shielding in place
  10. You should have some leftover tape. You can use this to cover any areas that were missed or torn. I used some to shield the entire output jack hole but had to remove most of it to accommodate the jack, just FYI. Use the pencil to poke through the tape where any wires, pots, or switches are to enter the cavity (use your finger to feel around for their locations if you can't see them).
  11. Finally... go take a break!!! You've earned it. This is probably the most tedious and time-consuming part of the build, so you can be especially glad it's out of the way.

Installing the Neck

  1. Remove any wood shavings/burrs in the neck pocket.
  2. Soap the threads of each neck screw.
  3. Insert the neck into the neck pocket.
  4. Position your neck plate (and optionally an isolator pad) on the body.
  5. Begin inserting the neck screws. Go slow and if it gets too tight, stop! Let the screw set for a couple of minutes and try again (this gives the wood some time to safely expand). If it's still too tight, back it out and apply more soap. Also, I don't know if it makes a difference, but I always insert neck screws like tightening lug nuts on a car... make a few turns on one screw, then rotate to a different screw. Voila! Now it's starting to come together.
    starting to come together

Installing the Tuners

Despite being one of the easiest parts, this is where I suffered my first problem. During installation, I broke the head off of the screw for the B-string tuner. The remaining screw is flush with the surface so the only way to fix this is to drill it out and use a larger screw. However, since the tuner has a locking nut on its post, this hasn't posed any problems with staying in tune or the tuner rotating out of place. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

  1. Insert the tuners into their holes.
  2. Attach the necessary washers and nuts, finger-tight for now.
  3. Use a straight-edge to line up the tuner cases (or the tops of the tuner keys).
  4. Scribe inside the screw holes with a pencil.
  5. Remove the tuners or just turn them so they are out of the way and then drill the pilot holes.
  6. Soap the screws liberally and screw them in, USE EXTREME CARE as these screws are very small and don't have much tensile strength. In fact, knowing what I know now, I would say the first time you screw them in, make it the only time (have the tuners in place and do it as a permanent install). I test fitted mine, backed them out, repositioned the tuners, and screwed them down. That was when I broke that one screw.
    tuners installed, but note the broken B-string tuner screw.
  7. Lastly, tighten the locking nuts with a wrench.

Installing the Strap Buttons

This is an easy part.

  1. For the butt-end strap button, mark a spot (optional) on the body centerline at mid-thickness, drill a pilot hole, soap the screw, and screw on the strap button (mine didn't come with felt pads, so I made a couple out of a piece of black suede).
  2. For the horn strap button, mark a spot (optional) on the tip of the horn at mid-thickness, drill a pilot hole, soap the screw, and screw on the strap button. All done!
    another progress photo.

Installing the Jack Plate

The jackplate gave me a bit of trouble. For starters, its curve was too shallow so I had to reshape it. This was taken in baby steps as the metal is pretty rigid and I wanted to be careful not to mar its finish. I tried a few ways of reshaping the plate but eventually laid it inside the cup of an old skateboard wheel (a Vision Shredder III, if you must know) and used an old socket wrench, wrapped in a sock, to hammer it into the proper shape. Secondly, the jack I used was maybe not the right size, so I had to file down the waferboard until it fit into the jack hole (3/4").

  1. DO NOT install the jackplate without the jack attached to it! Otherwise, you risk alignment issues, possibly leading to filling and re-drilling the screw holes. Attach the jack to the plate and insert it into the hole, then mark your screw holes. Then remove the assembly, drill your pilot holes, and re-install it.
    installing the jack/jackplate assembly She's got the Jack[plate]

Mounting the Control Cavity and Tremolo Cover Plates

The Warmoth cover plates come with pre-drilled screw holes, so all you have to do really is place the plate where you want it, scribe the inside of the holes with a pencil or fine tip marker, and drill your pilot holes. Deceptively simple? Of course! The control cavity has a recessed route for the cover plate so you can't get its position wrong. The tremolo cover plate is a different story. We'll tackle the former first...

  1. Place the control cover plate into the recessed route.
  2. Scribe the inside of the screw holes and remove the plate.
  3. Drill your pilot holes.
  4. Replace the plate, soap the screws liberally, and thread each one into its hole.

Installing the tremolo cover plate:

  1. Since there is no recessed route for this plate, you have to rely on a good eye and/or measurements to position it correctly. You can use the control cavity as a good rule for squareness, but you have to keep in mind where the screws are going. It's easier to illustrate this, so be sure to check out the pictures below.
  2. The first part is to figure out where you want the plate in relation to the width of the body (horizontal). Once you have that location defined, use a couple of pieces of masking tape (preferably the blue or green painter's tape) to mark the left and right edges of the plate. You want to make sure that your screws aren't going to get away from you and end up in the tremolo cavity.
    plate location, horizontal
  3. The second part is to figure out where you want the plate in relation to the height of the body (vertical). Once you have that location defined, use a couple more pieces of masking tape to mark the top and bottom edges of the plate. Once again, you want to make sure that your screws aren't going to get away from you and end up in the tremolo cavity.
    horizontal and vertical boundaries marked
  4. Now, with your boundaries marked and everything looking squared up, simply follow the instructions above for installing the control cavity cover plate. There should be no differences otherwise.

Installing the Bridge

  1. I had some problems inserting the bridge posts due to the finish that had gotten inside the holes. To remove this finish, I used a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a pencil to gradually sand it out (with an up/down motion, working around the hole). I also used a 3/8" drill bit (just slightly smaller than the diameter of the hole) to hone it out a bit. Use care when boring out the holes! If you remove too much material, the posts might not have enough holding power. Too little and you might split the wood when inserting them. Try soaping the outside of the posts before inserting them, and re-soap them anytime you have to back them out.
    Another tip... press the posts in, rather than tapping them in with a hammer (I did both, but got better results with pressing). Use a hard object, but one that won't damage the top of the posts, to press them in (eg, a piece of wood, or in my case an old 95A skateboard wheel). As far as I could tell, the posts do not go down past the body surface, even with a recessed tremolo route.
  2. Screw in the post bolts (the part with which the bridge makes contact).
  3. Turn the guitar over and if necessary, remove the tremolo cover plate.
  4. Soap the spring claw screws. Fortunately, Warmoth pre-drills the holes for these, so we can skip the pilot hole step. Please note, however, that these holes are drilled at an angle (towards the top of the body), they are not parallel with the body top/bottom. Tip: Insert a small diameter screwdriver or similar into the hole to see what the angle is.
  5. Assemble the spring claw/screws and screw it in. Take your time with this step! I have seen several bodies with wood splits at this location! I wasn't sure how far to insert them so I marked each screw in the middle with a permanent marker and screwed them in to that depth. This also gives you a reference point for future adjustments.
  6. Turn the guitar over again and set the bridge down into the tremolo cavity. Hold it in place with your hand while you turn the body on its side. Attach the springs to the spring claw and use a pair of needle-nose pliers to help you stretch the spring out to the bridge block.
  7. Attach the whammy bar to the bridge if you want, though you'll likely take it off again pretty soon. Also, if you want, you can do a preliminary setup to get the bridge level with the body and set to the correct height. I used my Jackson as a reference and set the height so that the bottom of the bridge was flush with the top of the body.

Installing the Locking Nut and String Bar

Installing the locking nut was so easy I won't even describe the process, it just bolts on. The string bar was new for me, however. I didn't know exactly where or how low to mount it so I pretty much just took a guess (and freeze-framed few scenes of Mr. Lynch's Instructional Video). I was more concerned that it was going to pop off and go sailing across the room when I first strung it up. For the record, it popped (but not off) due to not being seated squarely under the screw. Just a minor nuisance when re-stringing but otherwise poses no problems. The installation follows the usual: position, scribe, drill pilot holes, soap screws, install. The following pictures will probably be more helpful for positioning.

string bar positioning, top-view string bar positioning, side-view

Installing the Pickups

We'll start with the neck pickup...

  1. The single coil pickup route is designed for either a pickguard-mounted or body-mounted ("to-wood") pickup. Mine is mounted to the wood. My pickup only came with pickguard-mounting bolts and rubber spacers (rather than springs) so I had to fashion the right assembly. To ensure stability and proper height, I cut out a piece of dense foam (about like Nerf material) to sandwich between the pickup and body. I keep old packing/shipping material around for times like this!
  2. Next, run the conductor cable through the hole into the control cavity and set the pickup in the route (leave out the foam for now).
  3. Scribe the screw holes. If the depth is too much for a pencil or marker, use a small drill bit (don't need the drill, just spin it with your fingers).
  4. Remove the pickup and drill your pilot holes, but not too deep! You won't need a lot of depth anyway, unless you have extra long screws.
  5. Mount the pickup again, this time with the foam underneath it, and screw it down.
    neck pickup, before and after

Now for the bridge pickup...

  1. The humbucker pickup route is designed for a pickguard-mounted or ring-mounted pickup, not a body, or "to-wood" mount. If you want a to-wood mount, you'll have to sand any finish out of the deeper side-bouts and glue in wood inserts. If you just use longer screws and tap into the wood below, you'll likely come out through the tremolo cavity! I chose to use the ring-mount.
  2. Assemble the pickup to the mounting ring.
  3. Thread the conductor cable though the hole into the control cavity.
  4. Align the pickup/ring assembly and scribe the inside of the screw holes. You'll need a pencil or marker with a long, fine tip if you have a tall mounting ring. Eversharps (mechanical pencils) work good for this.
  5. Remove the pickup/ring assembly.
  6. Drill your pilot holes.
  7. Soap the screws, mount the pickup/ring assembly, and screw it down.
    bridge pickup, before and after

Installing the Pots/Switches

This was the part I feared the most, because it meant drilling three holes through the top of the body! I felt the volume control hole was too close to the bridge pickup on the standard Warmoth configuration, so I did not have them drill the holes for me, opting rather to do this myself. My first concern was splintering the wood and/or finish. I did some test drilling on some scraps of wood and verified that the face that will most likely splinter is the face where the drill bit exits, not enters. This meant my best option was drilling from the top of the body down into the control cavity.

My next concern was where exactly I was going to enter the control cavity. I made several measurements and markings to predict this, but would they prove to be accurate? The volume control hole was precariously close to the lip of the pickup selector switch routing (which I would not be using since I was not going to have a switch). The hole for the pickup blend control, also a pot, had plenty of room but the actual pot body was pretty close to the cavity wall. The coil-split switch had lots of leg room.

With all the measurements taken care of and feeling fairly confident in my judgement, I pulled out the drill. I started out with a small drill bit, maybe 1/16" or smaller to drill the pilot hole. This would tell me, once in the cavity, how close or far off I was from my mark. If I needed to move my mark around any, the hole would be small enough that I could still readjust the pilot hole position without leaving a trace of this first hole. Fortunately, my marks were almost perfectly accurate. I stepped up the drill bit size and created the full-size holes (3/8" I believe, except for the coil-split switch, that was 1/4"). Definitely try to remain perpendicular to the body when drilling these holes! Use a drill press if you have one. If they are off axis a little bit, you'll see it when you mount the pots/knobs.


Wiring up the Electronics

Since wiring schemes differ from one player to another, I'll just show you a diagram of the wiring for Project Orange, rather than providing detailed instructions. Click the photo below.

wiring diagram

There are a few general points I can make, though:

  1. Use your shielding as the common ground.
  2. Make sure your pot and switch bodies make good connection to the shielding. If they don't or can't, solder a small wire or strip of copper tape to the pot/switch body and the shielding.
  3. Solder all connections, don't just twist wires together.
  4. Keep wire lengths as short as possible, but not taut.
  5. If you want to make a pickup blend control, like Project Orange, use a linear taper pot! I used an audio taper pot because I couldn't find a 1 Meg linear (well, I didn't look too hard). The difference between the two? A linear taper pot increases/decreases the output level at a consistent rate across its travel (knob rotation, in our case), these are used for things like balance controls on stereos because they have a visual and logical "middle". An audio taper pot exponentially increases/decreases the output level. The purpose of this is to more closely simulate how the human ear perceives changes in volume. While these have a center point, the center is not in the logical "middle" of the knob's rotation.
  6. The choice to use linear or audio taper pots for the volume control is subjective. Project Orange has an audio taper volume pot because I ordered all my pots from the same place. I don't use the volume control that much to have a preference, it's either off or full.
  7. Regardless of the type of pot you choose, make sure the pot values are the same on all pots in the output path, otherwise you could create a bottleneck (a 1 Meg pot feeding a 500K pot defeats your purpose, you end up with a 500K pot signal level).

Finalizing the Build

The last steps before the moment of truth:

  1. The Gotoh side-adjust truss rod mechanism has to be set before you string up the neck. Follow the instructions that came with the neck. I don't remember exactly what I did or how, sorry. I haven't had to readjust it since, so I must've done it right.
  2. String it up. I used GHS Custom Light Boomers, gauges: .009, .011, .016, .026, .036, .046
  3. Readjust the bridge height, if necessary.
  4. Readjust the tremolo spring claw (in/out) to level the bridge, if necessary.
  5. Plug it in and take your first test drive! With any luck, everything will be sound, secure, and ready to show off!
ready to show off!

One down, a few dozen more Warmoths to build!

Hear a different take on ambient music, recorded almost exclusively with Project Orange....

Step outside of the drama, Put your mind on recharge - Temple of Unmanifest Dreams - The ambient guitar odyssey from Micah Atwell - Available now on CD & MP3

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