Last week I took on a rather scary task: installing a Roland GK 3 Pickup into an expensive PRS guitar. Usually I’m asked to install these into people’s secondary, beater guitars – not their prized main instrument. Since installing a GK pickup typically requires some significant routing and electronics worth, it requires a brave soul to want one installed in their favorite instrument – and a brave tech to install it! I ain’t skeered of nuthin’, so I happily agreed to the task.
I’ve installed a few GK pickups into Stratocasters before, so I’m fairly well familiar with the difficulties of this kind of work. The PRS is a different animal altogether: no pickguard to hide the routing and electronics, a contoured top vs. the flat body of the Strat, and it couldn’t be completely disassembled like a Strat. On jobs like this, I like to plan out everything before proceeding – and then once that plan is formulated, sleep on it. This process hasn’t failed me yet – it’s amazing how many potential problems are solved in my sleep. (Side note: I lose a lot of sleep worrying about the fate of your guitars. Who loves ya?)
With my plan in mind, I got to work first thing the next morning. I decided to work on installing the pickup itself first. I opted to run the pickups cable through the bridge pickup cavity, rather than drill through the body into the control cavity or through the trem cavity. I carefully measured out the exact location of the pickup, marked the location of the pickup’s cable, loaded the PRS onto my drill press, taped the drill bit, took a deep breath, and took the plunge:
The first hole is always the scariest. Once you’ve drilled into a PRS, each successive hole becomes easier – at least on my nerves. Next I drilled a joining hole into the bridge pickup cavity, making sure the place guards down so that the drill couldn’t possibly mar the finish:
Ok – first step done! So far so good. Now it was time to tackle the hard part: installing the GK 13-pin jack. Roland, in their infinite wisdom, designed the jack to mate with a flat plate – which is supposed to mount on the curved side of a guitar. Brilliant. Figuring out how to route a flat channel onto a round surface was probably the most difficult part of this gig. I started by taping off and marking where the plate would go:
First, I marked off the center and drilled a hole through, aiming to join the existing hole that was for the 1/4″ jack. I eyeballed this one in, and totally nailed it!
Now was the super tricky part: routing for the jack plate. After much hand wringing and head scratching, I came up with my solution. I first made a routing template out of clear acrylic, matching the plate exactly. Next I screwed a couple of boards onto my bench, overhanging off the edge, and attached the template to them. Then I clamped the guitar onto the side of the bench, under the routing template, and very, VERY carefully lined it up to exactly where I wanted the route to be.
I could absolutely, positively not mess this up; it had to be perfect from the get go. Routers aren’t forgiving tools… they’re pretty good and wrecking things if you’re not careful. I’m happy to say that this came out beautifully! Great success!
Now that the outer perimeter was done, I had to remove a TON of wood to fit the rather large GK jack in there. So before I removed the guitar from the router jig, I set up the router to remove as much wood as I could, leaving the outer edge intact.
The rest of the wood would have to come out the old-fashioned way: with a chisel. I had to cut away about 38mm (1.5″) out of there, through end grain mahogany and a wee bit of maple, so I settled in for a long afternoon of slow and tedious work.
Here’s the giant GK 13-pin jack assembly I had to squeeze in there. Yeah, chiseling out all that wood was a chore.
Before installing all the electronics, one more bit of of wood working was required: drilling the hole for the guitar/GK switch. I located it directly between the PRS’s tone knob hole (which was now going to be the GK volume) and the pickup selector’s hole.
After all the work of drilling, chiseling, and routing was done, the electronics were a piece of cake. The PRS’s owner had wanted a simple control scheme, and a good thing too: there was barely enough room in the control cavity for the circuit board and all the wiring. Since he wanted a simpler control layout, I didn’t have to do any complicated routing to expand the control cavity. Hooray for small victories! We opted to eliminate the tone knob, replacing it with the GK’s volume, and didn’t bother installing the MIDI program switches, so we ended up with: main volume, GK volume, guitar/GK switch, and the guitar’s original pickup switch.
[NOTE: Yes, there’s a tiny bit of finish chipping around the 13-pin jack’s route, that flaked away during routing (even though I had scored the finish with a razor blade beforehand). It could have been fixed, but as the guitar had tons of chips in it already, the owner didn’t really care and had me leave it as is.]
This was a rather difficult project, but it came out beautifully! Of course, in order to make sure the MIDI stuff functioned flawlessly, we opted to finish the job with a Fret Level & Setup, and also installed a Tremel-No to stabilize the bridge. Once I was done with it, it played and sounded great – but since I don’t have a Roland GK system here at the shop, I couldn’t fully test out the synth pickup. The owner called me back to say that it sounds and plays great, and now he doesn’t have to take his inferior Strat to his gigs anymore just so he can use his MIDI setup. That sounds like a great success to me! Huzzah!