Jaguar wiring – Day Two. Installing the circuit wiring.

Having installed the ground side of the circuit, I now have to fit the wiring between all the various switches and pots. The Jaguar differs from the, more standard, Fender type layout – in that the single coil pickups are controlled, in this case, by two separate circuits. In the “lead” configuration – both of the pickups are individually switchable, on and off. This is achieved via the switches on the small lozenge shaped plate located on the body, just under the neck. If both pickups are switched on, then they are both engaged. A third switch here – the so-called “strangle switch” engages a capacitor to modify the overall tone, cutting out some of the mid and low frequencies. In this “lead” configuration – the usual tone and volume knobs – which are located on the main control plate, next to the output jack socket – are both part of the circuit, and both function as normal.

Just above the neck, however, a separate switch engages a “rythmn circuit”. This switch completely bypasses the other pickup selector switches, and the volume and tone controls – engaging only the front, “rythmn” or neck pickup, as well as the two roller pots which individually shape the rythmn circuit volume and tone. If the rythmn circuit is engaged – by using the rythmn/lead switch, then the “lead” or bridge pickup is completely disabled, together with the main volume and tone pots. The sound of the guitar is now controlled solely by the roller tone and volume pots on the upper plate. It’s therefore possible, with the Jaguar configuration, to have two distinct settings dialled in – pre-set, and ready to play at the flick of a switch. One combination of volume and tone for lead work, and another for rythmn – with the ability to switch between the two.

As I’ve written in previous posts – I’m not really very experienced with guitar pickup circuits – nor do I have much experience with soldering. However – I realise I have a lot of learning to do, and I’m trying to slowly gain experience by having a go, wherever I feel confident enough. When I built the Stratocaster earlier in the Summer – I had the electrics made up and pre-installed on the scratchplate for me. That’s the advantage of the Stratocaster – the electrics just “drop in”. Pretty much all I had to do, was to connect the hot and ground wires, and then screw the pickguard down. The Jaguar isn’t going to be so easy. In the Jaguar, all of the internal cabling has to pass through small conduit holes between each of the switching recesses. Which ever way I do it, I’m going to have to re-solder at least some of the connections to a few of the switches and pots. This will, therefore, be a good chance to drop myself in – not exactly at the deep end – but certainly a little further out from the shallows.

Seems to me, the best thing is to get the wiring harness made up to my specification – and then to disassemble it – pass the wires through, and then re-solder. Doing it this way means the wires are all the correct length, and are already routed economically. All the capacitors will stay in place – all I have to do is de-solder some of the long connecting wires, remember where each wire came from, how it was routed, and then re-solder it correctly. I’ll get a chance to see how the circuit works, and if I have to work out any problems later, then it’ll all be valuable experience. That’s the theory anyway.

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I had a wiring harness made up by Mark at Blackstar Guitars, in Derby. It’s based on the Original Vintage Jaguar ’62 circuit, and is a boutique build using best quality components. Genuine Fender roller knobs and brackets, CTS premium pots, Sprague NOS (new, old stock) Capacitors, Switchcraft switches and jack socket, the correct vintage 56k resistor for the master tone pot, and vintage Luxe, restoration grade, cloth covered wiring throughout. The wiring is correctly colour coded – as per the original period circuits, and that should help me massively, in putting it all back together properly.

The harness arrives – it’s a really nice piece of work, and well packed. The wiring runs are a good length – each allowing plenty of slack to help fit each plate comfortably, without there being too much left over to bunch up and hide inside the body, and around the switches and pickups. The capacitors and resistors seem sensibly placed, and don’t appear to get in the way of the wiring. The separate parts of the circuit are held together with little cable ties – which are a great aid to organization – but most of which will have to go. It’s the only way to allow the wires to be fed through the various body conduits.

So – I’ve thought about it for a long time. I’ve looked at plenty of circuit diagrams. I’ve watched loads of soldering guides on YouTube. The guitar is built, finished and ready. The ground side of the circuit tests out OK. I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee, and a clear kitchen table. Time to get busy.

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Having studied the circuit diagram, it looks like the best way to fit the wiring is to deal with each of the main circuits in turn – starting with the components furthest away from the jack plug, and then work towards the main control cavity and the final, grounding connection there.

I start with the lead swiches. One of the difficulties I have with soldering is holding everything steady. I’ve got reasonably large hands – so small stuff is fiddly. I’m encouraged how much stability is gained by attaching the switches to the chrome control plate – so that’s the first job. While I fit the plate, I slip the lug of the grounding lead I installed yesterday, around one of the screws holding one of the switches to the control plate – and then tighten everything up. I cover the body of the guitar with card to prevent damage, (more of this later), and once I have oriented myself – with the harness and other components sitting roughly in position – I desolder the green and orange wires, remove the securing cable ties and then feed the wires through the hole between the main pickup cavity and the switch cavity.

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De-soldering actually appears to be a relatively simple process. Heating each join – just enough to allow the wire to be pulled off, and leaving as much of the solder in place as is possible. It’s sometimes necessary to re-melt the solder, and to work it around with the tip of the iron so that it leaves the small holes in each of the relevant poles clear. Having threaded the wires through the conduit, I check the orientation of the plate is the same as it was previously. (With no indication of the correct on/off position – I presume the harness is already wired with the switches in the correct “up is on” orientation). I’ve taken a few photos to make sure everything goes back together as it was – and I double check the wiring diagram. Then, I heat the solder on each pole in turn – just enough to melt it, and then poke the already tinned wires through. The joints are re-made and reinforced with a little extra solder as required. That wasn’t so bad. More coffee, move on.

I check the fit of the plate, and find that the small capacitor on the strangle switch just fouls the side of the rout – pulling the plate out of position by a millimeter or so. I manage to push the cap around a little with my finger, until the plate sits in the correct position. I’ll have to check nothing grounds out on the copper foil covered walls later on – so make a mental note to eventually double check there’s no short circuit here. With all the wires apparently in position, I fit the control plate with stainless steel screws, and pull back any loose wire into the main pickup cavity. I’ll need to pull as much slack as I can, as I go – so that I can work at the other extremities, in turn.

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The same process is then repeated at the rythmn control panel. This time, there are three wires to disconnect, thread via the conduit and then re-solder. Green, yellow, orange. Again, the grounding lead from yesterday is attached via one of the screws on the selector switch and then the wires are re-attached in the correct orientation. When I come to check the fit of the plate, I find I need to bend the grounding lug a bit, so that there’s enough clearance at the side of the cavity. I pull some slack wiring back into the main pickup cavity, and then screw the control plate down.

The wires in the pickup cavity will have to run under or around the pickups and their neoprene foam “springs”. I lay it out as best I can and then feed the remaining slack towards the main control cavity where the final wires have to pass through the conduit there.

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At the main control recess, there are three wires to de-solder and pass through. The yellow and blue wires are routed through to the correct pots, and the green wire to the jack socket. The pots and jack socket are attached to the chrome plate using a 13mm socket to tighten the nuts over the washers on the face of the plate. De-soldering, routing the wires and re-attaching is the same as before. With the other plates and connections in place, there’s not as much slack available, so I take a lot of care to work on the plate either with the piece of card between it and the body of the guitar, or with the plate inverted and seated over the recess. It makes the final connections a bit fiddly – but it’s not too difficult.

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In the pre-wired harness, as supplied, the black grounding wire from the jack socket is soldered to the back of the volume pot. From what I can find on the web – this is pretty standard for an unshielded guitar circuit. If I were to attach both of the pickup ground wires to the back of the pot here, the ground of the circuit should be taken care of. However – since I’ve already built in an alternate route for the ground, with the brass plates and copper foil, I need to de-solder this grounding wire from the back of the pot and re-attach it to the brass plate at the bottom of the control cavity. At least that’s what my logic tells me. I’ll have to check everything later, and see if the pickups and switches all work once the installation is complete. It’s another thing to bear in mind, in case things eventually don’t turn out to work correctly.

Then, with the main control plate in place, I can fit the scratchplate to make sure all the plates are seated correctly and are tight up against each other. I check the ground is continuous from control plate to control plate with a multimeter – every combination seems to check out, including the tremolo and bridge. Most importantly – when I check from the “hot” tip of the jack socket to any of the grounded parts – we have zero conductivity. I’m taking that as a good sign. I won’t know for sure until the pickups are in – but at least it doesn’t look like anything is shorting out to ground. I double check the same conductivity with each of the switches in both the on and off positions, and there’s no unexpected behaviour from any particular switch. In theory anyway – it looks like the circuit is good, and properly installed. With the pickups hopefully arriving within the week, I should be able to hook up the “hot” and grounding wires for each, and that should be that.

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And then I go and do something really stupid. I don’t have to install the control knobs today – they’ll have to come off again before I need them but – hey – I’ve got a pair of nice Kluson vintage reproduction knobs, with little grub screw attachments rather than the standard, push-on type. Let’s see how they look!

I notice, when I fit them, that the two knobs don’t quite point the same way when they’re full on, “up to eleven”. It’s probably overly fussy to get them to line up exactly – chances are they’ll never be in that position, and no-one will notice anyway, but I’ve got nothing better to do, and it seems I’m that sort of bloke. All I have to do is loosen each of the restraining nuts around the pots, and massage them into alignment. Easy.

The thing is – in my haste to do the “easy” job, I forget to protect the face of the guitar with card as I have done, fastidiously, all day while doing the wiring. The socket I’m using isn’t really meant to be used without a socket wrench. I’m just holding it and spinning it with my fingers. And then I have one of those moments when things just leap out of your hand for no apparent reason. From a height of maybe only 2cm or so, the socket spins out of my fingers and… whoops!!! – skitters – literally bounces!! across the face of the guitar and the pretty nitro paint job I’ve polished up to perfection. Knobhead.

Thankfully, it’s not the total disaster it could have been. There are a couple of tiny, tiny indentations in the paintwork. Not chips, not through to the wood or anything like that – just tiny marks, each a couple of millimeters long, pressed slightly into the paintwork. They’re pretty hard to spot unless the light is just so. Realistically, I’m bound to eventually prang the guitar one way or another – I may not even notice these marks in a week or two, once I’ve got the thing playing – but it does, admittedly, take the edge off a little bit. I’m reminded I bought my Telecaster from Macari’s with a couple of similar marks as “shop soiled”, (£25.00 quid off), so I suppose I’m not too precious about things being perfect – but then again, this is my own work, and I want it to be the best I can possibly do. Ah, well. Another valuable lesson learned. Maybe they’ll polish out?

I suppose that once I’ve inevitably gouged a few more marks with general use – these will, perhaps, provide an opportunity to try some drop-fill repairs. See how another project presents itself already! Such is life. I’ll see how it goes – marks like these are part of the life of the guitar. Getting the first scratch on a new guitar is a right of passage for all of us.  They can always be fixed, should I decide I need to. But – man, I wish I’d had the foresight and patience to position that protective board just one more time.

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