Ibanez RX170 Rebuild Project
This Ibanez RX170 is another guitar a friend of mine wants worked on. (Same friend that owns the RG470) This is a real low quality guitar from Ibanez’s Korean made RX series back in the 90s. This is an RX 170, featuring an all maple neck and plywood body. It’s not a very well built guitar, but he likes the way it plays and he loves the look of it. So as usual we are about to throw some money at it and see what we end up with. We’ll probably finish this one before the RG470 unless he makes another oddball pickup selection that requires we wait a few month to get them.
Here are some photos of the guitar as it is now.
The guitar isn’t in bad shape really. The body is sound and the finish is almost flawless. The cheap stock tremolo has started to succumb to rust like many of them do. The cheap plastic nut is about shot and causes string pinching when using the tremolo. The pickups are stock as well and sound pretty bad. We did upgrade the tuners soon after he bought the guitar, which helped some with tuning stability. It has a nice set of Spertzel Locking Tuners.
So far he hasn’t picked which pickups he wants but we are well on out way to upgrading the other parts.
I have a Tusq XL Nut and String Trees waiting to replace the stock ones. I have a Wilkinson Gotoh VS-100N Tremolo to replace the stock hunk of metal.
We also have another Black Box tremsetter to install.
Some new Schaller strap locks and possibly some minor fretwork should finish this one up.
Last weekend I got all the parts I needed to start working on the RX170 again. Little did I expect to spend eleven hours in the basement obsessively working on this thing last Saturday night. That’s exactly what I did though and I made a huge amount of progress. Then I got a head cold from sitting down there in the cold all evening so I couldn’t touch the guitar for the next week. Seems like I might have been better off spacing the work out a bit. I finished it up tonight though so it’s time to show you what we did and what we ended up with.
Routing the Body for the New Tremolo!
The first thing we needed to do was route out a little wood around the tremolo cavity. Unlike the last guitar I did, this one would not accommodate the new tremolo unit without some modifications. The posts and string spacing are fine but the tremolo unit itself is a bit wider due to how the tremolo arm socket is mounted. We taped off the top of the guitar to protect it and marked the area we were going to remove with a sharpie.
We didn’t have to remove a lot. Unfortunately I don’t have a good router for this so I borrowed a laminate trimmer from the store I work at.
These things are basically just small routers. This particular one is a bit too aggressive for my taste. When we started cutting, it bogged down easily and wanted to grab the wood really hard. We had to lightly skim it little by little to get a clean cut. I’ll be getting a Bosch Colt for the holidays if I’m lucky so I don’t have to deal with this problem again.
Once we got the routing done and made sure of the fit, I painted the inside of the block cavity black so the raw wood wasn’t so stark.
Installing the Tremolo
I had already removed all the electronics from the guitar prior to this stage.
Next we needed to pull the old posts and install the new ones for the new tremolo.
Removing the old ones is very easy. Simply use a sharp utility knife to make a fine cut around the inserts so you don’t crack the finish when removing them. Then lay a piece of wood such as a paint paddle on the face of the guitar to the side of one stud. With the stud still screwed into the insert, hook it with a claw hammer and pry it out using the paint paddle to protect the top of the guitar from the hammer. Make sure you pry toward the top or bottom of the guitar. Prying toward the front or back risks cracking the thinner wood in those areas.
Once both studs were out, it was time to install the new ones. The new studs were a little bit fatter and longer than the old ones. I determined that for the Wilkinson/Gotoh VS-100N inserts I needed to drill out a 3/8″ diameter hole for them to fit snugly. I also determined that the inserts were the exact same height as the body was thick in this area. That meant that in order for the inserts to set flush with the top of the guitar I had to actually drill all the way through the guitar from the top into the tremolo cavity. This would leave the inserts flush with the top of the guitar and flush with the face of the tremolo cavity as well. Since I wasn’t going to have any wood on the bottom of the inserts to provide support, I decided to use a while laminate flooring glue to coat the inserts before hammering them in with a rubber mallet and a block of wood. Using these tools prevented damage to the face of the guitar. A hammer could have left dents if I slipped.
As you can see, I wasn’t entirely successful in keeping the finish intact around the studs. I tried my best to be careful, but the drill bit I used to widen the holes still caught the finish and chipped it a bit. I’m hoping to find some fingernail polish in a shade very close to this to do some touch up.
Once the inserts were in I screwed in the posts. At this point I could have just put the spring claw back in, dropped the new tremolo in, and strung the guitar. It wouldn’t have done much good without the electronics though so I moved on to that next.
Wiring the Electronics
I didn’t get photos of this part of the rebuild. Someone had borrowed the camera unexpectedly.
First, I marked out two spots between the tone and volume pot holes where I wanted to drill two more holes through the body of the guitar. These were meant to accommodate a set of mini toggle switches used for some the the pickup wiring options I had chosen. To do this I measured inside the cavity to center them and used a gold paint marker I had lying around to make legible marks on the black shielding paint in the control cavity. I then used a small drill bit to tap the holes through to the front of the guitar. Then I redrilled them with a larger 1/4″ bit from the front. This time I manage to do it perfectly with no chips to the finish.
Once that parts was done I moved on to shielding the guitar. You can use either a copper or aluminum shielding tape for this or a shielding paint. The foils do a better job and are a cheaper investment, even though the paint is probably cheaper in the long run if you are doing multiple projects. For this job I used a roll of aluminum duct tape I had already obtained from Lowes for the last project. I completely foiled the inside of the control cavity and the tremolo cavity. I also foiled the inside of all the pickup cavities.
This photo was from a later stage in the rebuild but you can see what the shielding looks like. Note how it slightly overlaps the edges of the cavity. The back plate will be shielded as well and when screwed into place it will press against this shielding and extend the ground circuit to the back plate as well as the sides of the cavity.
After getting all the foil in, I decided to solder a wire from one pickup cavity to the next and then all the way into the back where it would connect to the common ground. This is when I discovered that people generally use copper foil because solder doesn’t stick to aluminum. I had never tried to solder aluminum before so I consider this a lesson learned. I layered in a couple of spots of copper tape I still had in order to give me a solder point in each cavity.
Once the shielding was done I mounted the pickups in the guitar. I mounted both humbuckers in the stock plastic rings that came with the guitar, and I mounted the single coil in the black brass ring I bought just for it. I like the way this looks opposed to having a big hole in the face of the guitar like a single coil normally mounts. At this point I noticed that the Lace Sensors were smaller than normal humbuckers, especially the skeletal design of the Deathbucker. This resulted in seeing quite a bit of glaring silver shielding foil peaking out from the cavities. To remedy this, I removed the pickups and painted the shielding foil black. This eliminated the glaring silver look but didn’t effect how the shielding works.
This is the wiring diagram I came up with after a lot of research. Lace Sensors are very difficult to find good diagrams for and their wire colors don’t seem to stay consistent either. I discoverd this when I had to rewire one of the mini toggles. The Deathbucker and the Dually had reversed colors on the coil split wires so when I first wired it up one pickup would split when the toggle was up and the other would split when it was down.
Other than that, I had no problems with the wiring this time. I’m getting better with figuring these things out. I will note that the Fender No Load tone pot was swapped out for a regular 250k tone pot during the install. The Fender pot was meant for a guitar that uses a pick guard to mount the controls instead of one that mounts through the wood of the guitar top. The shaft on the Fender pot was not long enough to go through the guitar top and thread the nut on.
Once the guitar was wired up I gave it a test run and I was thrilled with the results. These are suppose to be lower output pickups but they scream compared to the old ones. Clarity and definition are great too.
When I went to put the cover plate back on the control cavity I discovered a problem. The new switch I had installed was too tall for the thinner body of this guitar. The old recessed cover would not fit back in place flush. I had to add making a new cover plate to my list of things left to do on this guitar. I’ll cover how I made that toward the end of this post.
Installing the Black Box
In this section I’ll walk you through how to install a Black Box tremsetter. I know I neglected this last time so I made sure to get a full set of photos this time. The camera isn’t working the best though and some of the photos are a little blurry. I think they are still good enough to see what I’m trying to show you.
First of all you need to make sure your tremolo is properly setup and the guitar is tuned as close to perfect as you can get it. I installed the Black Box after I had already fiddled with my spring tension and tuning until I got the new tremolo perfectly balanced on the guitar. I had also already spend a couple of hours tweaking intonation.
Once all of that is done you want to lay the Black Box in the middle of the tremolo cavity and make sure it is pressed firmly against the tremolo block, but not firmly enough to make the block move.
Then you need to mark the position of the tremsetter because you’ll have to remove the tremolo from the guitar to get this thing installed correctly. I used a black paint marker I had from model building. It marks fine on the aluminum tape. You could also use a very fine marker.
Now you’ll need to remove the tremolo from the guitar. You have to disassemble the Black Box in order to screw it into place and put it back together while it’s mounted. The tremolo block gets in the way of this.
Thankfully it’s easy to remove the tremolo without taking all the strings off the guitar. To do this, detune the guitar about four or five turns per string. Do this gradually, one turn per string so you don’t put too much tension on any one string. Once they are detuned the tremolo should be lying against the face of the guitar. Flip it over and use needle nosed pliers to pop the springs out of the block. Flip it over again and you can put back and up on the tremolo unit to pop it off of the posts.
Now we can flip it back over and start installing the Black box.
First you want to unscrew the knurled knob at the outside end of the unit until you completely remove it from the threaded stem. Be careful not to loose the rubber o-ring that fits around it. Next unscrew the other knurled knob inside the unit. You’ll have to thread the entire stem out of this one. When it reaches the end the stem will pull out and the spring, knob, and washer will come out separately. Pay attention to how these come apart so you can put them back together correctly.
Now that you have the guts separated from the shell of the Black Box with can screw the shell into place. To do this you want to line it up with the marks you made earlier. There should be one screw hole at the tip pointed toward the spring claw and another one offset inside the shell. Use a nail to punch a starting hole at these marks. Now use one of the supplied screws in the offset hole inside of the shell to anchor it. Make sure not to over tighten it and lift the other end off of the surface. This guitar’s trem cavity was not perfectly flat and tightening one screw too much meant the other would not make contact. Make sure the shell will sit flat when the screws are both tightened.
Once that screw is in you can tilt the shell to one side so you can slide the guts back in. Slide the stem back in from the trem block side and start threading the knurled knob back on it. You want to place the metal washer and spring back in place before you thread too much stem through for them to fit.
Once the stem reaches the hole on the other end of the shell so it can’t pop back out, flip the shell around straight and anchor it with the other provided screw.
Now you can finish threading the stem in the rest of the way. Once that is done replace the rubber o-ring and the other knurled knob at the end.
Replace the tremolo unit the exact opposite of how you removed it and get the guitar back up to proper tuning. After that, you can use the knurled knob on the end of the Black Box to adjust the position of the stem against the tremolo block. You can also use the knurled knob in the middle of the unit to adjust how much tension is on the center spring. This will determine how stiff the resistance is against the tremolo block when it hits the tip of the stem.
That completes the Black Box installation.
Making a New Back Plate
Since the control cavity cover would no longer fit correctly I decided to make a new one. I discovered that the replacement tremolo cavity cover I had ordered didn’t fit either so I decided to cut a one piece plate to cover both the tremolo and control cavities.
I put the old plate back on the tremolo cavity and covered both areas with blue painters tape. I then used a sharpie to mark the edges of the old plate and the edges of the control cavity. I then free handed the lines around both to make them slightly bigger. This would allow for a top mounted plate that sits on the face of the guitar instead of being recessed. Once the marking was done, I carefully peeled up the taped image and transferred it to a fresh sheet of pickguard material.
I used a utility knife to carefully cut the tape along those lines and peel off the excess. Then it was time to hook up my band saw and start cutting out the rough outline.
Once that part was done I trimmed it up a little and peeled off the tape. At this point I didn’t have the appropriate power tools to shape the plate correctly so I had to resort to the tools I had available. I used my Dremel with barrel sanding bits to finish the rough shaping. Then I used a combination of fine flat and triangular files to round and bevel the edges. I then used my new needle files to finish the smaller areas and smooth the whole thing out.
Next, I had to drill the screw holes. I did this by laying the old tremolo plate on top of the new one and marking the holes. I stuck toothpicks in the screw holes in the control cavity and cut them off flush with the surface of the guitar. A dot of white paint on each toothpick let me mark the screw holes for this area by lining the tremolo plate screw holes up and pressing the other half of the plate firmly against the paint on the toothpicks. Once it was all marked I carefully drilled them with a #8 countersinking bit on my drill press.
Now the only thing left to do was cut out a window in the tremolo block area to allow for restringing the guitar without removing the plate. I also marked this by laying the old plate on top of the new one. I then free handed the lines a bit larger than the original opening to account for the larger block on the new tremolo. I used my Dremel with a carbide cutoff wheel to rough cut the opening. I then used my barrel sanding bit to shape it up most of the way. Then it was once more time to break out the files and clean up the edges. I back beveled the edge toward the front of the guitar to allow for easy movement of the tremolo springs underneath. The block on this tremolo is also very close to the plate.
Once all the cutting was done I used a white Scotchbrite pad to rub a swirled pattern into the plastic. I for one absolutely hate the glossy look of the standard black plastic material. It shows every fingerprint.
The screw holes in the body were a little stripped so I glue toothpicks into each hole before I ran new screws into them to secure the plate.
Here is the finished product.
I think it turned out pretty good considering the tools I had to work with. It may not be perfect but I’m happy with it.
Here be Goo, all shiney and new!
The guitar is finished for now. I’ve done all I can do. It sounds amazing considered what it started out as and the fact that is still has a plywood body. Between the new tremolo and the Lace Sensors, this thing has sustain for miles. I’m very surprised at just how long it can hold a note.
It’s also very versatile, doing everything from blues to rock to death metal without a hitch. You can get a great variety of sounds out of the coil splitting and phase switches.
Only one problem remains and it’s a big one. The action is awfully high. This is due to fret issues. This guitar has smaller fret wire than most Ibanez guitars do and the wire has a fair bit of wear on it. It was also never leveled well to begin with being a cheap guitar. I currently don’t have the correct set of tools to do anything about this myself. So at some point in the future we’ll have to take it to Fretwell Bass and get Chip to see what he can do with it. Either that or I’ll have to invest in an expensive set of fret files and see if I can master one more skill.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the project and found some useful information for your own use.
Please forgive any typographical errors. I’ll get around to editing those out when I have a bit more time.