THE GUITAR I reBUILT
v1 (The Build - 1997):I refurbed a guitar in 1996 - it was my 1984 Fender Squier (Japanese-made Stratocaster) with a tobacco sunburst finish that my parents bought me for $150 around 1993. I made a brass pickguard, replaced the single coils with humbuckers, swapped out the hardware with brass and gold, rattle-canned it gloss black, and called it The Brass Bitch. I did my first (and only) guitar build in 1997. I was working in an assembly machines shop (not-so-coincidentally called Assembly Machines Inc, or AMI) in Erie while attending Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for my fine art degree.
The original build was before the internet was useful for much more than chat rooms, Napster, and online gaming of Starcraft. Resources for this stuff was non-existent back then - there were no YouTube videos. I had to order parts over the phone out of paper catalogs and figure out things entirely on my own. Most of the supplies were sourced through catalogs from Carvin Guitars and StewMac.
In order to figure out the dimension of the guitar body and positioning of the parts, I ended up cutting a tiny photo of the guitar out of a Musician’s Friend catalog and scaling everything up. Metric ruler, calculator, squinting, and patience were used to make a full-sized cardstock pattern.
Unfortunately, despite my father having a decent collection of woodworking tools, I did not use his bandsaw ...I think 1.75” was too thick for that saw? So I had to cut the silhouette with a jigsaw. This resulted in me repairing one side of the guitar where the blade curved inward at the backside - I didn’t realize the issue until I had made the first long cut on one of the legs. I used the epoxy to reset the hacked-off chunk and some light-colored wood filler to clean up the gouges. Aside from the extra work, this didn’t bother me much since I had planned to paint the guitar black, effectively hiding the imperfections. There were several additional areas that didn’t cut perfectly which were corrected and smoothed with wood filler.I finished shaping the body and then traced-out the areas to be routed from my pattern. One night, I snuck into AMI where only the handful of night-shifters were milling parts for the following day. These guys never seemed friendly at shift change, so I used a mill that was off in a corner on the other side of the plant to utilize my minimal milling experience. Eventually, one of them noticed me and came over to see what was going on. I guess they were somewhat impressed at the endeavor, so invited me over to the main area and showed me a few tricks to getting everything routed out. The next day, I used a jeweler's saw to cut the recessed control covers out of a sheet of gloss black pickguard material that was just over two millimeters thick.
As a side, the current (2018) run of Darrell's signature USA Dean ML guitars come with two options: 1) a DiMarzio Super Distortion at the neck and a Seymour Duncan SH-6n at the bridge position; 2) a USA DMT DimeTime at the neck and a Seymour Duncan SH-13 at the bridge position.
* From my understanding today, the L500, L500XL, and the Dimebucker are pickups of exceptional tonal clarity. This can allow a great guitarist to showcase every subtle nuance of their playing, while potentially magnifying the shortcomings of a lesser player. Due to the pickup's output, a noise gate is recommended in higher gain applications so you can max the volume and utilize the real magic of the pickup. It is also highly advisable to incorporate an equalizer to tame the icepick-like treble of the pickup's screaming ferocity. The first thirty seconds of this video is a perfect example of Darrell's ability to make the L500 sing, using only a 1-watt micro amp.
Differences in L500 suffixes: L500C is intended for Clean outputs; L500R is intended for Rhythm outputs; L500L is intended for Lead outputs; L500XL is intended to "melt your face," as one forum contributor put it.
v2 (The Rebuild - 2018):
By September 2018, I was getting sick of my Dime being a shell with it’s parts thrown in a few small boxes. I thought, “this would be way easier to pointlessly move around the room if it was in one piece.” I started using a paint scraper with help from a heat gun to very easily get the nitrocellulose lacquer up (see below for possible follies of using heat on a neck-thru) and finally realized in my older years how beautiful the wood was beneath. After some thought, despite not being able to remedy some of the shortcomings that were hidden by the opaque paint, I decided to give it a natural finish by sealing it with Tru-Oil. Coincidently, I had just bought a Washburn T24 Taurus bass with a natural mahogany finish, so matching them seemed like the thing to do. Unfortunately, evidence of the awful jigsaw catastrophe will always be visible. A very small part of me doesn’t mind since I can’t expect absolute perfection nowadays, so how could I have expected it at half my age? Maybe one day I will route this area off and glue in a new plank to make it less noticeable.*
* During the rebuild, I laughed thinking it might have been quicker to start over from scratch than fix the blemishes. That is when I decided I would never fix the jigsaw snafu - to me, my guitar is perfect in this condition: a reminder of how my craftsmanship has improved over two decades. I did the best I could then with what I had.
I didn’t think to chronicle this endeavor because I had planned to give another go at black, so I stripped it before taking pictures. Crap. I went through my box of old photos trying to find a pic of it in its old form. I found one from 1998 of Adam Suroviec (aka Sadam; our dummer) and I in my parents’ garage attic with some of our band equipment. My Dime is sitting there, perfectly obscured behind me ...so I had nothing. Crap again. There's my beastly Ampeg VH-140C that I wish I still had (it looks so small there, but it was heavy as hell) - that, I did sell to Chad. Then I remembered it was used in a photoshoot around 2008. It took me awhile, but I eventually tracked the pics down. My nickname back in school was Mort and that was what I painted on the headstock. I eventually ran across a hilarious photo (hilarious, yet awesome) on my hard drive that was taken around 2007 - my Squier (aka The Brass Bitch) can also be seen in that photo.
The rest of the hardware included a String Butler V3 to remedy the tuning issue, a pair of recessed StrapLoks, and new Seymour Duncan 500k potentiometers. The lower strap button on these guitars is normally on the inner surface of the control-side's leg. I was never keen on this for two reasons: it would wear out the finish as the strap wrapped the corner; it would cause the body to tilt further away from me. For the updated StrapLoks, I moved the one’s location to the backside of the leg.
* If I ever build another, I might try something in the realm of Minwax Wipe On Poly, which is also oil based. Here is a decent video showing how easy it is to apply the Minwax Poly, a technique for filling the grain, buffing it to satin, or then polishing it to gloss without any special tools. One complaint about poly that I've seen is that it can yellow. I've also read that some builders using poly still prefer to do their necks in Tru-Oil. Later on, I found a very informative thread about these and other finishes that can be applied by hand. I have also run across recommendations for Emmet's Good Stuff that I know is used by Fender and Jackson (though I could not find the manufacturer's directions anywhere on the internet, which is frustrating) and General Finishes High Performance Poly Topcoat.
I used compressed air to get sawdust out of the nooks and then used a tack cloth to get up most of the remaining dust. More fine dust will probably wipe up during the first coat of Tru-Oil. Finer sawdust will also fill in the grain a little as you work in the first coat of Tru-Oil, so some users leave it there. I personally didn’t want to build up too much of an edge onto the corners of the ebony fretboard or risk runs onto the fretboard, so I taped off the ebony sides a hair shy of the maple border. Once I neared the end of the coat schedule, I pulled that tape and then taped off the top of the fingerboard face only, allowing the ebony fretboard sides to take some of the Tru-Oil. To apply the Tru-Oil, I took an old, clean, soft t-shirt and cut the back and front out of it. I then cut these into about four inch squares and folded them twice to apply the Tru-Oil. Apply the Tru-Oil thinly - the thinner it is applied during each coat, the smoother the finish will be when it is done. Some people add naptha or mineral spirits (recommended by Tru-Oil) to thin it further. I probably could have put my coats down thinner, but I was not going for a high-gloss, polished finish.
The first coat (shown above) immediately brought the wood to life - and I thought it looked good after the paint stripping! My technique was to apply the Tru-Oil with a circular motion, then immediately go over it again (without adding more Tru-Oil to the rag) with the direction of the grain. Some advise to maintian the circular pattern so the grain fills better with Tru-Oil for a smoother finish. For the headstock, I didn’t bother to tape it off but was careful not to go too far onto it as I had other plans for it. After an hour, I applied a second coat. To get into the tight spots like the pickup corners and seal the strap recesses with the first few coats, I used cotton swabs (be mindful of them leaving lint behind). These early coats get absorbed by the wood, so they dry much faster than subsequent coats. I waited two hours between the third and fourth coat, then three hours before applying the fifth and sixth coats. Starting first thing in the morning, I was able to apply six coats in one day. Wait times are affected by temperature and humidity - I didn’t run a fan so as to not kick up lint or dust. Some users advise to do no more than three coats spaced out over a day and Tru-Oil recommends twenty-four hours between coats.
The next morning, I pulled the tape from the ebony fretboard. Predictably, this left a little “ridge” where the tape and the Tru-Oil met. Going over it with more Tru-Oil is not going to smooth it out and I didn’t want to add sandpaper dust to the mix. So what I do in situations like this, is use one of my old jeweler tools: a burnisher. It’s curvature allowed me to apply pressure to the ridge to flatten it and rub the excess down onto the non-sealed area of the fretboard (towards the actual fingerboard). Going over this excess with a clean paper towel brought it up off the ebony and I was left with an almost non-existent ridge that will become very subtle with my remaining coats of Tru-Oil. I then retaped the neck, only masking off the facing surface - I meticulously taped over each fret with my fingernail and aligned the edge of the tape with the outer edge of the fingerboard. I then applied my last two coats, one in the morning and one in the evening.
After my final coat had dried overnight enough in the garage that it wouldn’t stink up the house so much, I moved the guitar inside (lower humidity) and allowed it to cure on the dowel stands. Some people prefer more coats for a deeper gloss and will sometimes sand between every few coats with very fine paper to get that smooth, glassy sheen. If sanding (use 800grit or finer), you must be very careful not to cut through the earliest layer of Tru-Oil as this can cause "witness lines" that stick out compared to the rest of the guitar. The only fix for the witness linse is to sand the entire surface back off to bare wood below the absorption point and start again. Per Birchwood Casey's guide, I allowed the finish to cure for only seven days,* then went over the guitar with 0000 steel wool only. Do not use steel wool with water-based finishes as it can get trapped and rust. If you want the gloss to return, you can steel wool it right after your penultimate coat has dried for twenty-four hours, then give it one more very thin coat before allowing it to cure until you buff it. The steel wool gave it a satin finish that I tend to prefer nowadays with everything I own, so I did not do a gloss coat ....plus, it matches my satin mahogany bass.
* I have since read that experienced users advise at least two weeks before trying to sand or buff the final coat, as it is too soft at one week. Tru-Oil may seem hard enough after a couple days, but I was able to dent the finish with my fingernail easily. At that time, the headstock had had a couple weeks and was definitely harder as I could not dent it in the same fashion. It may take at least a month to become fully hardened, with users stating that it is tougher than lacquer once it reaches full cure. In the subsequent repair below, I opted to extend the curing period before buffing it to satin due to this realization I let it cure for four weeks and didn't find it any harder.
Storage of Tru-Oil: poke a small hole in the silver seal of the bottle and store it upside down to prevent the Tru-Oil from skinning over and extend the shelf life. Some have reported that older open bottles can thicken up. If this occurs, just replace the bottle and know that the small three ounce bottle is enough to do the biggest guitar shapes. Coats from fresher bottles will also dry much faster.
The Catalyst Method: I ran across this the day after I applied the last coat. If you Google “Tru-Oil ArmorAll,” you’ll find articles and videos on how to cure a coat in a few minutes. This will allow you to add coats quickly without waiting hours between coats. I am not sure if this method reduces the cure time before you can begin buffing, but using your fingernail to test the hardness should be a good indicator.
Despite it being satin, it looked a bit too glossy for what I was going for. Also, it wasn’t a perfectly smooth surface (as I partially expected). So I used the 0000 steel wool on this as well to dull it a bit and smooth out the imperfections. To make the dullness as even as possible and the scratching more subtle, I spritzed the paint surface with soapy water before rubbing it with the steel wool. It came out looking as I wanted, but I unfortunately wore the paint off of one of the edges getting a little too agressive with some surface imperfections. I had opted to wool-buff the paint in one direction and this caused too much wear on the edge (plus, one week was not enough time to cure to full hardness). Choosing not to apply a clear coat certainly didn't help here either. So, back to 400grit, masking, and paint. The second time around, I had given it at least three weeks to cure and I increased the amount of soap in the solution slightly. I very lightly buffed with the steel wool in a circular motion while avoiding the edges, being mindful to reapply solution so it did not dry up and cause streaking.
The bridge needs to be grounded. In the original build, I drilled a hole from the control cavity to the nearest bushing hole of the saddle portion of the bridge. I soldered a wire to this screw and turned it into this hole until it made contact with the bushing. I utilized this same strategy during the rebuild, cleaning the screw and using a new wire. You can check that the screw is making contact with the bridge via a multi-meter to ensure there is continuity. This practice grounds the strings to prevent excess buzzing and electrical shocks when touching other equipment.
A tip regarding bridge placement: doesn't really apply to this rebuild, but for future reference, string both E strings (or some regular string) between the nut and the saddles to help center the bridge relative to the neck.
HIT A HUGE SNAG!:
* My gut tells me the issue was a combination of: 1) gluing the two mahogany parts simultaneously with no prior experience, which had me pushing the working time of the epoxy; 2) worsening the existing problem with the heat gun concentrated on that seam to remove the old filler from the blemished edge. So the main lesson learned here was to do one side of a neck-thru at a time if alignment is crucial, as spending too much time getting both sides accurate at once could compromise the bond.
I found that the separation actually extended at least a third up the body of the guitar, near the tailpiece. During the original build, there was a blem on the truest edge of the mahogany. It best suited the fitment to place this blemished edge against the maple of the neck, leaving somewhat of a three inch long by eighth inch wide by quater inch deep gash on the front of the guitar - again, this did not matter in 1997 because I hid it with filler and opaque paint. So I used an x-acto knife to pry and scrape out the mahogany-colored filler I had placed only a few weeks ago. Once I got most out, the heat gun helped again to soften it and more delicately scrape the rest off the wood.* I planned to separate the guitar legs with a reversible clamp, opening the gap to remove remnants of filler and old epoxy and do my best to promote adhesion by running some coarse grit sand paper within the gap. This did not go as planned...
* Here's the big problem with using a heat gun on a gutiar that is epoxied like a neck-thru or set-neck: the epoxy used to marry wood together (at least the StewMac stuff) softens with heat. So when I was using the heat gun to strip old paint and the old filler from the large gouge, I was making matters worse by further loosening the joint between the maple and the mahagony on that problematic side. I didn't realize this until I was unable to sand the old epoxy off the "halves" - I heated it up and it finally allowed scraped off. On the plus side, I learned that if there's ever a need to do a major repair in a project like this, a heat gun will allow for an easy separation.
In order to slightly separate and then remarry the gap on the odd shape, I had to build a jig/frame so I could place bar clamps transversely across the body. Since guitars are all different shapes, I have added a bunch of pics to tell the story. I left play in the frame (the pic with the ruler below) by drilling oversized holes to allow some movement as the clamps tighten. To protect the guitar, I padded the contact areas with 6mm foam sheet (brand name: Darice).
In my attempt to band-aid the issue, the reversed clamp completely separated the problem side from the neck. Whoops!
I really should've saw that coming. Luckily, my jig (aka "The Iron Maiden") was nearly done and it wasn't long before I was glueing it back together, which was the correct way to go from the start ...I only wish I had figured this out before I applied the Tru-Oil. I did a bunch of dry runs in The Iron Maiden, testing different clamp positions until I had a routine down that worked consistently. For prep, I scraped off the old epoxy (facilitated with heat) and roughed it with 120 grit. I ran painter's tape perfectly along the edges of the parts and used StewMac's Clear Slow-Setting 2-part Epoxy applied to both edges. I had a soft rubber mallet on standby to bump the parts around and a stack of paper towels ready to clean up the excess squeezed from the seam and within the pickup recesses. Watching the clock, I made sure this time to get to a tight clamp pressure within twenty minutes of mixing the resins. Just before the epoxy started to kick (congeal), I wiped up the seepage and then removed the tape from the front side. The tape on the back was not really accessible but I was able to flip it and wipe off some of the excess. It needs about eight hours to cure (cooler temps slow epoxy down and can even be detrimental to cure if cold), so I left it overnight in The Iron Maiden.
Out of the jig, the tape on the back pulled up surprisingly easy. So the front would have been just fine and I would not have had to worry so much about stray epoxy seeping or stringing out anywhere. The joint appears incredibly solid and I would wager it is stronger than it ever was. There was a hair-wide rasied ridge at the seam where the two halves meet because of the tape. I took a fresh razor blade and carefully shaved the ridge down in different directions a little at a time, being careful not to scratch or gouge the Tru-Oil too deep. Once the ridge was down about level, I used 800grit under a 3M foam pad to further smooth out the adjeacent surfaces. I scored and applied filler to the large gash (this was half-filled with epoxy, which would likely look terrible if I tried to dull it to satin) and then used the same method with the razor and sand paper once dried to bring it about level.
Something I did not notice until I had strung the guitar up is that the bridge pickup was offset - it was shifted very slightly towards the Low E string. This resulted in the higher strings being more obviously offset* from their bridge pickup's pole pieces. This can cause subtle volume loss during bends, but more importantly, my OCD would not tolerate this. Eyeing the pickup, I determined that both mounting tabs seemed to be bent slightly one way to allow the shift (maybe 1mm). I had a ground issue I had to resolve (below), so took that opportunity to pull the pickup out of the cavity enough to bend the tabs so it shifted to center. The next pic shows the offset before the tab adjustment.
* There may be slight offsets even when everything is centered, depending on the saddle spacing of the bridge. Standard Seymour Duncan and DiMazrio humbuckers are spaced at 1 15/16" (1.94" or 49.21mm), which is the traditional Gibson string spacing. However, my bridge is spaced at exactly 2" (50.8mm) - even though it is mounted at a slight angle, the saddles sit a little wider than the pole pieces. This is slightly apparent at the bridge pickup, but not at all at the neck pickup since the strings converge slightly approaching the nut that is spaced at 1 7/16" (1.44" or 36.51mm) on my guitar. The difference at the bridge pickup is negligible and will not have any effect on the output. There are other pickup spacings, including F-spacing or Trembucker (tremolo+humbucker) spacing. The "F" refers to Fender-spacing and Floyd Rose tremolo-spacing (2.1" or 52-53mm) as these saddles are further from each other. F-spacing is very common in Telecasters, as I mistakenly learned in my Japanese Stratocaster when I used a bridge intended for a Tele: using a "standard-spaced" bridge humbucker with a Telecaster bridge will produce an obvious offset that is visually unappealing and may, though subtle, be sonically detrimental.
Shielding takes a little finesse and a lot of patience. Don't expect to cut out a perfect shape and stick it in the cavity just so. Do it in sections and cut them larger to allow overlap and to trim off excess at the cavity cover. Don't worry about it bunching a little because it is totally unavoidable. I started with the most complex area, which was the center of the cavity with lots of corners. Get the copper about where it needs to be, then use a q-tip to gently press into the corners - you may need to cut slits at edges so it can lay over corner edges better, then apply small pieces to fill any tiny voids. It is recommended that all sections be soldered to each other at any overlaps to ensure a complete field - a small tab of solder is all that is needed to ground one piece to another. Once it's done, you can test it with a continuity meter to see if more solder points are necessary before installing the pots. Some shielding is designed to not need soldering (conductive glue), so I gave that a go: I found the trick to it was to press the layers together very firmly to get the top layer to conduct to the one below it.
I purchased 22awg cloth-covered, 7-strand, pre-tinned pushback wire for connecting the electronics. Pushback wire doesn’t need to be stripped since you can slide the cloth back a bit (it will fray easily if you try to strip it). You may need to grip the wire with pliers to slide the cloth even further away from the solder point, then slide the sleeve back to the new joint. I decided to use four colors: yellow, white, black, and I colored some white with a grey Sharpie for the fourth. For the bare ground wires, I just removed the cloth sheath. I used the Seymour Duncan website’s dropdown wiring menu as a guide. The file here is an older version with single-conductor information (for my SH-1n) and I identified the colors I implemented.
To get the correct height of the pots for mounting, I placed the included star washer over the shaft followed by a copper crush washer (from an automotive kit I had). Once passed through the body, I added the washer and tightened the nut. There is no requirement to ground the pots to each other since the cavity is shielded, making a common ground. Some would still insist on the redundancy because grounding like this can be "unstable" - after a while, you may start to hear your signal intermittenly cut out. They will go so far as to solder a wire between a pot and onto the shielding, as well. Use a multimeter set to the continuity test and probe between all the parts* - if everything tones out on the meter, then all is well. While soldering, I was heat-shielding areas around the solder joint with aluminum foil to reduce the radiant heat coming off of my butane soldering iron (a UT-100SiK set at 2.5).
* The meter will produce a tone when the probes are touched together. It should also produce a tone when you place one probe on a pot and the second probe on the other pots, the sleeve of the output jack, the shielding, and the bridge. If the meter does not tone, there is resistance between the two points and a better ground connection is required. Resistance produces noise.
Be sure to test the bridge ground connection completely. My tailpiece insert tested good and so did the tailpiece post. However, once I strung the guitar up and plugged in, I had excessive noise. With the mulimeter, I discovered that I had a little resistance between the strings and the rest of the electronics. I then tested the tailpiece itself and found the same bad reading. Although the post was grounded, the combined black powder coating between it and the tailpiece was thick enough to prevent a good circuit to the strings. The solution was to loosen all the strings so I could unscrew the tailpiece posts and lift it all off. Then I removed the coating on both parts where they made contact - a file on the post and a dremel stone at the back of the tailpiece notch. I also verified that there was no inhibitive coating where the strings fed through the tailpiece.
I had an issue that popped up a few days after completion where the neck pickup was cutting out completely. I messed with the toggle switch and found that if I had it in the middle, I could re-engage the neck pickup if I separated the bridge contacts of the switch. I then realized what must have been happening was the braided shielding on the outside of the SH-1n signal wire was making contact with the bridge pickup (it routes beneath it to the control cavity). I had to loosen the strings and pull the bridge again to access the pickup cavity and place a section of a drinking straw (sliced length-wise) around the neck's braided singal wire to prevent it from grounding to the bridge pickup's mounting tab. Problem solved. Prior to soldering, adding a span of un-cut straw over this wire would've been ideal.
Construction: Maple Neck Through Mahogany Body; Tru-Oil Satin Finish
I initially made the mistake of adding shrink tubing near the three-way switch to reduce stress at the individual solder joints. But this made it difficult to get the switch into the tight recess while simultaneously sliding the wire into the body. Plus, this would make it impossible to separate/replace individual wires without removing all of the switch wires if that is ever a necessity. So I rewired it without the shrink tubing. I did the same with the output jack.
When installing the control knobs, make sure to have the correct number of splines: there are 16 and 24 splines, as well as smooth shafts. My Seymour Duncan pots have 16 splines on them, but are a little more robust than my old Mouser pots (also 16 splines). I had to add a little silicon spray onto the splines of the knobs and wiped away the excess before pressing them on. Otherwise, I may have damaged the pots or the guitar (the thinner wood of the cavity), plus they might never come off. If I have trouble removing them (they are snug!), warming them with a hair dryer or low-setting of a heat gun might help to jiggle them loose.
The story of Dime, Dean, and Washburn:
As for Dean Guitars, Dean Zelinsky sold his Chicago-based company in 1986 after ten years of production and the new ownership began to focus on Latin bands, selling instruments predominantly outside the US market. MLs became scarce and Darrell would hit pawn shops to add to his collection and ensure he had spares for touring. In 1993, Darrell apparently became the sole endorser for Dean Guitars as they were gearing-up to release his signature model (which was actually being manufactured by ESP), but that was short-lived. Around 1994, Darrell started endorsing Washburn's (coincidently, also headquartered in Chicago) version of the ML loaded with an L500XL direct from the factory after being courted by a few manufacturers. This signature model was overseen by renowned luthier Grover Jackson who worked at the Washburn USA Custom Shop from 1993 to 1996. The Washburn Dime had been made possible due to Dean selling the rights of the designs to various companies. With the resurging popularity of these Dean copies, the Dean trademark was bought in 1997 by a Tampa company (Armadillo Enterprises) to resume production of the original guitar designs. Just weeks before his death in December 2004, with his Washburn contract expired and his friend Zelinsky back with the Dean company, Darrell finally began endorsing the Dean name that he had loved so much. Darrell stated he chose not to renew his Washburn contract because he believed Dean could build him a better guitar: his old friend Buddy Blaze, now working at Dean, was tasked with building the prototype for Darrell’s new guitar. Darrell lived just long enough to play and approve his signature Dean ML, which was released in 2005.
These photos are of Darrell during the earlier glam years of Pantera with the ML his father gave him, pics of the "ugly" ML being customized by Buddy, and the resulting Dean From Hell:
The difference between Bill Lawrence USA, Wilde Bill, and Dimebuckers
The consensus around the internet is that the current Bill Lawrence USA L500 pickups (BLUSA; owned by Wajcman) are pretty much the same as they were at the 1984 split. Some insist the BLUSA quality is not up to par with Wilde (the Wilde version has slightly thicker blades, even though the BLUSA blades seem to be the same as they ever were), while others claim they can hardly tell the difference tonally between a BLUSA L500XL and a Wilde L500XL ...or even a Dimebucker, for that matter. There is one thing that I know for certain: Darrell used post-1984 Wajcman-produced pickups. I ran across a video interview where Darrell stated that he bought his L500 pickups from StewMac - StewMac was a BLUSA distributor and this is where I bought mine in 1997. For some reason, the BLUSA pickups are sometimes regarded as “fakes” since Bill Lawrence is not Wajcman’s name and Wajcman did not design the pickups. However, Bill Lawrence is not Bill Lawrence’s real name either and the pickups that Wajcman sells are made in the same manner as the Dean From Hell's L500. Since they have essentially remained the same, new BLUSA pickups are indeed "authentic" stock. Stich fanboys will continue to argue against this logic, despite them pretty much sounding similar no matter who builds them. Finally, Nuno Bettencourt's signature Washburn guitars are still spec'd with a "Lawrence L500" at the bridge - there is no mention of OBL, Wilde, or Becky.
Stich was an undeniable pickup guru, but an awful businessman; Wajcman was the more savvy entrepreneur, but his website appears to be stuck in 2001 and further confuses things; the Dimebucker is alleged to be somewhat of a higher output "knockoff" (reverse engineered) of the L500XL. Bottom line is that I imagine you could be happy with any one of the three ...if you have the virtuosity to tame one and make it sing.
CrankyGypsy (established 2001)