May 16, 2011 8:12 AM
I purchased a used Variax 700, and after playing it and tweaking it for several months, I found that I could not quite dial in the sound I wanted with the workbench because two of my pickups were 'dead' sounding (they still functioned, but did not have the clarity of the others).
This should be stated... my Variax 700 is my favorite guitar, feel-wise. It plays so smoothly that it has actually changed my playing style. Sound-wise though, it just didn't quite have the full rich sound I was looking for.
So... I decided to look into new saddles and/or pickups, and found so much on the internet regarding the Graph Tech Ghost saddles that I decided to go with those. (I thought this would be easier than getting into adding p'ups - which is tempting as this guitar plays so nicely - have seen the James Tyler's and also some 700's with p'ups added...)
I installed them last night and it took me about 2 hours all together - including the saddle/intonation set up afterward. Since I was struggling to find details on how to do it, I thought I'd write this post for those who might be looking into doing this - it's really quite simple.
What you will need: A soldering iron (eg: 25W pencil-type), an X-acto knife, and a pair of wire-strippers and/or small pliers. A little bit of solder will help for tinning the grounds, but otherwise you won't need it if you are careful.
Disclaimer: you will be doing this at your own risk. Line 6 recommends to have a tech do this for you... Also, I don't count myself an expert solderer by any means, for whatever that's worth.
Tip: there is really no need to remove the bridge-plate from the trem bar. Just disconnect the trem springs to remove the assembly all together.
- Unstring the guitar
- Remove the plastic back plate on the back of the guitar to expose the trem springs
- Remove each saddle screw from the bridge-plate (once separated, put the screw and spring back in the saddle) - I think this will be easier to do with the trem springs still holding the trem bar firm
- Remove the 3 springs from the trem assembly and carefully pull the trem assembly out of the body (don't yank out your PCB and ground wires!)
- you may need to loosen the 2 allen screws holding the bridge-plate to the body to give the trem assembly enough play to come out.
- De-solder the saddle wires one at a time and pull the saddle off of the assembly (leave the green ground on the PCB!)
- be careful not to break the very small wires (you never know, you may want to put the original saddles back some day)
- if you do this carefully, you will still have a nice bead of solder left on the PCB after you de-solder the wires, which you can re-use for the new saddle wire
- Get out your new Graph Tech saddles. They have a multi-pin connector on the non-saddle end that you will not need. Cut the saddle wires about 3 inches from the saddle to give yourself plenty of room to work with. (you will not need the small, separate jumper wire provided either)
- Separate each saddle (1 at a time) from the tape holding them together, and with your X-acto blade, carefully separate the two wires (The Ghost saddles have 2 wires, one with clear and one with blue-striped shielding - blue is ground). If you take your time, this is not difficult. Give yourself an inch and a half of separation for wiring to the PCB. Next strip some shielding from each wire.
- for the clear wire you only need enough stripped to solder to the PCB (a couple mm should be enough)
- for the blue ground wire, give yourself more, as you will have to twist all of the blue wires together for your ground connect
- if you score the shielding with your X-acto at least part of the way, you should be able to strip the wire with your fingernails if you are careful.
- As you finish prepping the wires for each saddle, thread the wire through the bridge-plate. Twist the grounds together as you go and the wires will hold the saddles in place.
- Once all of the saddle wires are threaded, tin the grounds together (melt some solder over the twisted wires), which will hold them together.
- Solder each clear-shielded wire to its corresponding PCB terminal - I left the ground for last, as it is much thicker with all of the wires when twisted. Again, if you are careful, you can use the solder bead already on the PCB. (if there are thru-holes in the board under the PCB, I did not use them - I simply captured the wire end in the solder bead - this may not be best-practice, but it worked well for me)
- solder the wires so there is a loop beneath the bridge-plate: eg: the wire end should be facing the bottom of the bridgeplate.
- when soldering the wires, be sure to angle them so that they fan-out from the ground termination - which is in the middle of the board. Otherwise you'll be navigating a jungle of wires as you go...
- Once all of the clear-shielded wires are soldered, you will have a tight spot for working with the ground, but if you fanned the wires as you soldered them, you will have plenty of room. I used the plier end of my wire strippers to hold the ground bundle while I heated the solder on the green ground wire connection. Melt the solder bead and hold your ground bundle there until the bead solidifies.
- That's it. You're done. Reassemble everything and set up your saddle heights and intonation.
Since I record all of my practice sessions out of habit, I was able to listen and compare recordings of the old saddles and the new Ghost saddles. The Ghost saddles have a warm, rich tone to them that I found the original saddles to be lacking (which I suppose could be because they are older...)