Thursday, August 17, 2017



I bought this Gibson Flying Vee "preowned" in 2006 at Eddies Guitars in Maplewood, Missouri for $400. The neck and body are all mahogany, it's finished in a rough coating that is dull and feels slightly unfinished.

I did not like the feeling of the finish on the back of the neck so I had Gravity Strings spray the back of the neck with clear nitrocellulose, it now feels as smooth as glass.

The original Gibson pickups did not sound good to my ears. With so many great sounding Seymour Duncan pickups to try it just makes no-sense to suffer with weak tone from stock pickups. This Vee was originally a low priced retail model so it's not surprising Gibson stuck pickups with no highs or lows on it to prevent it from competing with higher priced models.

I wanted to really give this guitar a unique but classic voicing. After studying the Seymour Duncan catalog, listening to demos, reading reviews I made up my mind. The neck pickup is now a Pearly Gates and the bridge pickup is a '59 model.

I deleted one volume control and the single tone control, I'm not a fan of guitars with separate volume controls for the individual pickups. I installed a 1-Megohm master volume control, this lowered the load on the pickups and made the guitar sound brighter. The replacement pickups had 4-wire tone splitting options so I installed mini toggle switches in the former volume and tone control positions, this allowed switching between the tonal options the pickups offered.

I'm not a fan of tone controls on guitars with humbucking pickups because I never want to reduce the high frequency response of the guitar, never! I've modded many of my guitars by removing the tone control pot and capacitor. As a result of getting rid of the additional passive load of the tone control potentiometer and capacitor the guitar sounds a teeny bit brighter to my ear and that's a win-win, get rid of a useless control and get a little brighter tone. I replaced the original output jack with a Switchcraft #11 because it's the most reliable jack I've found.

The final change was to add a Gibson fine tuning tail piece. These have small knobs that let you tune each individual string very precisely. Some people think these hurt the tone of the guitar, in my experimenting between the original bar and the fine tuner tail piece they sound identical except I sound more in tune with the fine tuning unit.


After playing this guitar a lot I learned some things about pickups and potentiometers. During the last 50 years of noodling with electric guitar wiring I've tried a lot of weird wiring and circuits. After all that experimenting I've returned to using classic stock values for potentiometers, like 500K for humbucking pickups and 250K for single coils models. These values load the pickup outputs in a way that makes the high frequencies more pleasant sounding. Higher pot values lead to even brighter high frequency tone but it's not as uniform from the low to high frequencies. 500K is a great value for a single master volume control on a guitar with humbucking pickups.
The 1-Meg volume pot I installed in 2006 was starting to get noisy so I replaced it with a CTS 500K model I acquired from Weber speakers.

In 2012 I ditched the mini toggle switches and wired the pickups to be straight humbuckers. The coil taps gave me several tonal options but none of them jumped out at me as great or even good. I found myself always going to the one position for each pickup that sounded good and when I checked the wiring inside it was the humbucker position. The other positions did not sound like a Strat or a Tele or a P90, they were thinner versions of a single coil sound but nothing I ever wanted to use so in the interest of short wiring path and reduced clutter I removed the coil tap circuits.


The CTS pot I installed in 2012 was already getting noisy and going bad. The original pickup selector switch had developed a nasty habit of intermittently dropping the volume by about 80% when switching to the treble pickup. I had given it a shot of Cramolin back in 2012 but the problem returned and it was worse than ever, time for a new selector switch.
I am a huge fan of the Seymour Duncan Speed Pot, it has virtually no turning resistance so it is very easy to turn, I love it. I ordered one in the 500K value from Amazon for around $17. These are not cheap but they're very high quality so I don't mind paying a bit more.
The original pickup selector switch looks like a Switchcraft type but it does not have the company name on it anywhere so I'm doubtful of its origin. After looking at several replacement switches I ordered a Gibson original replacement from Amazon for around $15. The part I received looks identical to the one that came in the guitar but it works more easily which is not a bad thing.

The output jack is already a Switchcraft #11 so after cleaning off the old wiring it would be reused in the latest rework.


Previously I had never been absolutely positive about whether I'd keep these pickups in this guitar or move them to another guitar. I've since decided that their tone is really an integral part of how much I enjoy playing this instrument so these pickups are staying. Making this simple definitive determination helped me decide how to wire the guitar this time. All signal paths would be upgraded and made as short as possible. All new Mil Spec Teflon-coated silver-plated-oxygen-free-copper wire was used for the interconnections.

Passive electric guitars are high impedance circuits and years of experience has taught me that the grounding of a guitar is one of the most critical features for good electrical performance. Hum and noise can occur very quickly as a result of poorly executed wiring design and implementation. Simplicity and short wiring paths with good solid solder connections lead to great tone and minimal noise.

All of the ground connections need to come together at a single point to minimize hum. The lowest impedance way to achieve solid ground is to solder all the ground wires to the rear of the master volume pot.

I did not have the correct value of the volume pot in stock so I ordered one from Amazon for overnight delivery. This meant the rework would be divided across two days.

Day 1

The first step of this rework was to strip out all the existing wiring, clean the pickup leads for their new wiring, remove the pot and pickup selector switch and finally to clean up the output jack connections and prepare them for the new potentiometer.

Clean and oil the fingerboard

Clean and lubricate fine tuning bridge

Day 2

Install and solder in the new volume potentiometer, reassemble and play.


I use Martin guitar polish for cleaning and polishing the bodies of my guitars. I have a couple of different cleaning and oil products that I'm using on fingerboards. It is always amazing to me to see how the fingerboard on a Gibson guitar can suck up fingerboard oil.

I cleaned the body from top to bottom, front and back. It's easy to give it a good going over when all the parts (except for the tuners) are off the guitar. The Martin guitar polish also did a great job of cleaning and shining up the white pickguard.

This guitar was used a lot when we were broadcasting live on the internet from our last home in California. It was very hot and dusty there so the fine tuning bridge on my Vee was corroded looking and the fine tuning screws had become difficult to turn, choked with a combination of dust and sweat. I took the tailpiece out to the garage and gave it a good spraying down with WD40. I wiped it down very completely and WOW the thing looked like new, all the fine tuners worked beautifully.

I also took the bridge out and gave it a hosing down with WD40, then wiped it down very thoroughly to remove any remaining liquid. WD40 did its magic on the bridge too, everything was shiny clean and brand new looking, the bridge adjustment screws now turn freely and easily.

Everything was complete and ready for the volume control to be installed, wires were pre-attached to their respective components, everything was ready for the input, output and ground connections to be completed.

The volume control arrived right on time, about 1PM the day after I ordered it. I installed the potentiometer and completed all the solder connections in about 10 minutes, time for testing.

I have a litte Roland Cube amp in the shop I use for testing, it's battery powered and very convenient. I plugged the completed pickguard into the amp and turned the amp on, nothing. I turned up the volume control on the pickguard and still, nothing from the amp. I checked the amp volume control and verified it was turned up. I grabbed a screwdriver and after selecting the treble pickup, tapped on the pole pieces, clank clank clank, it came blasting out of the amp. I was amazed at how quiet the wiring of this pickguard turned out, it's dead silent thanks to the humbucking pickups and solid wiring.

The last wiring step was to solder the ground wire from the bridge to the ground point on the pickguard which is the rear of the master volume pot. After making this solder connection it was time to flip the pickguard over, position it correctly and install all the screws that hold it in.

The final beauty appointment was adding a white Stratocaster volume knob to the single volume pot. I like the look of the white knob against the white pickguard and I'm very familiar with the number legend on these, I install them so I can see the zero when the volume is all the way down.

Finally it was time to string it up and give it a try. After installing a set of DAddario .009 electric guitar strings I plugged it in to a Mesa Boogie Studio 22 and cranked it up.


The Seymour Duncan pickups sound better than ever, the wiring is extremely quiet, the selector switch works flawlessly, the new volume pot turns without noise and effortlessly and the freshly cleaned and oiled neck feels wonderful.

The Pearly Gates is a very special humbucking pickup, it has a rich fat sound and it's so sweet in the high frequencies. The '59 in the bridge position has a nice biting sound, it's not too high output that it over shadows the neck pickup but it clearly steps to the front of the mix when you switch to it for lead. The '59 produces a classic tone I've grown old listening to since it's a clone of the pickups used on the better sounding vintage 1959 Gibson Les Paul models. I've used several of Seymour Duncans various incarnations of the '59 model and I'm impressed with how similar they are no matter how he packages them.

This Flying Vee has a unique and good sound. The neck is not a bolt on, it is solidly glued and attached to the body. For Mahogany it's a very light weight guitar though it sustains forever using my Boogie Dual Rectifier head. It is so easy to play up high on the neck of this guitar, there is absolutely no body parts to block access to the higher frets.

Perhaps one of the greatest, yet most overlooked features of this guitar is the built-in stand. This is actually a feature that has endeared this guitar to me for live use because it's one less piece of clutter on compact stages and one less piece of hardware needing to be transported.

Some people don't like the flying-V shape because they say it's hard to hold when you're sitting down. I disagree, you just need to learn to put your right leg in the Vee of the body and have it lean against your left leg for support. This positions the neck perfectly for me.

The flying-V is a large instrument physically which makes it a problem in very cramped quarters such as recording an album in the rear of a motorhome. If you're not in a cramped space it's a great and fun guitar to play.


It's all done, the guitar sounds and plays fantastic. I'm so happy to have this classic Gibson design back in great working order.

Wishing good music to you!