Elvis meets Nixon. Yeah, it really happened. A bizarre moment in American history, to be sure – and one that inspired a madcap project here in our shop. Some background: one of our regular visitors, Mr. PH Fred, is a collector of presidential ephemera, and also a collector of weird guitars. He had noticed that we carry a selection of Schuyler Dean pickups, several of which are named after presidents (Einsenhowers, Kennedys, etc.) – and one set caught Mr. Fred’s eye and gave him a brilliant idea. Mr. Fred had a Fender Elvis Kingman that he wanted to install some Schuyler Dean Nixon pickups into, essentially creating a mashup of an acoustic and a Stratocaster: an Elvis meets Nixon guitar.
We love challenging projects, and after some discussion and much consideration and planning, we decided it was feasible and went for it. Aaron and I thought about this project a lot before we made even the first step, because with this kind of invasive job there ain’t no going back once it’s started. Every step was planned far in advance, so there were very few surprises as we went along with this bizarre job.
Here’s how the Kingman looked before we started:
First, the easy part: remove the pickguard. I peeled the pickguard off with a thin pallet knife, and then spent almost an hour removing the remaining glue. Fender does not mess around with this stuff!
Next, Aaron put his superb carving and layout skills to work, reshaping a spare pickguard we had laying around to fit around the fretboard. We don’t really work with plastic, and don’t make plastic pickguards from scratch (at present, anyhow), so we made very specific instructions for our partners at WD Music to recreate our template in gold plastic:
While we waited for the new pickguard to be made, I got to work on laying everything out on the body to create the necessary pickup and control routes.
The routing on this was going to be tricky. The guitar’s main X-brace was going to be directly under the bridge pickup. We didn’t want to cut through that, but the route needed to be deep enough to accommodate the pickup. Cut too deep and the structural integrity of the entire guitar is severely compromised; not deep enough and the pickup won’t fit. We love this kind of risky business.
Routing with our trusty Festool router:
Drilling out the holes for the volume and tone controls:
We think this turned out quite nice, even if we do say so ourselves. All that routing and we managed to only cut through one tiny brace (directly under the 5 way switch). Huzzah!
Since the main X brace had been compromised, we decided to install a JLD Bridge Doctor, which shifts much of the string tension from the guitar’s top to the end block. We didn’t want this guitar to collapse on itself, and this was a rather unobtrusive way to make sure the guitar was completely stable.
Now all that was left was to wire it up. I tend to do the bulk of the electronics around here, as I am apparently a glutton for punishment. This was a decidedly more complex job than is typical for a Strat, as I had to run all the wires through the various cavities before the pickguard was installed. Every wire had to be allowed to be long enough so that they could be run back and forth through the holes and back to the pickguard, but not so long that they would float and rattle around inside the guitar. And of course, I had to make sure that I wasn’t accidentally tying the whole thing in knots. Gah!
Of course, we had to add a whammy bar, just for fun. It’s strictly cosmetic (or for a one-time use!), but a Strat ain’t a Strat without a whammy bar, right?
Behold! The Elvis/Nixon acoustic Stratocaster!
Somewhat surprisingly, the guitar sounds fantastic! It’s got a real thick, hollowbody richness that one doesn’t expect from a Strat. Plus, the pickguard functions as a feedback buster, so this thing can be played loud without any squealing. Awesome!
Want to see/hear this thing in action? Check out Mr. Fred & The Round Pegs at one of their shows around New Orleans.