Walking around this
year’s NAMM show, I noticed
a number of manufacturers
introducing 24-fret guitars.
There are a number of reasons
for and against this trend. Of
course, the extra frets give you
more notes, but you also have
limited access to those frets unless you modify the cutaway.
The neck pickup placement is
typically at the node where the
24th fret needs to be and that
position creates the cool tone
that we’re all used to. Moving
the neck pickup to accommodate
the extra frets changes its tone
and harmonics. It’s a challenge to keep the neck pickup’s unique
vibe on a 24-fret instrument.
A few years ago, Joe Satriani
and his gang transformed
his 22-fret Ibanez JS guitar
to a 24-fret model. Because
I was part of the transformation,
I thought I would talk
about the process. It started
with the prototype designed
by Joe and Ibanez. The first
neck pickup started as a mini
humbucker-style, the idea
being that it was smaller and
might retain more of a “Straty”
sound while giving that big
full tone Joe wanted. After he
played it for a while, the two
big challenges were still the
tone and the upper-fret access.
I noticed that after the 24th fret
there was more fretboard overhang
than necessary. I sanded
off as much fingerboard after
the 24th fret as possible and
DiMarzio’s Steve Blucher made
Joe a few pickups that would
get that big, classic neck tone.
We also took the prototype and
slowly carved away the upper
cutaway until it had enough
room to reach the high notes
while still keeping a natural
look to the body.
The first instruments consisted
of the same basswood
bodies, maple necks, and rosewood
fretboards as the 22-fret
guitars. This became the first
model. But Joe wanted to experiment
with a second sound,
and he found that alder tightened
up the low end and had
a bit more forceful midrange.
He also went back to adding a
bubinga stripe to the back of the neck that not only tightened
up the low mids, but also
stiffened the neck and added
some stability. This became the
next model, the 2410.
Not able to leave well
enough alone, Joe wanted to
include the Sustainiac that
was on the original 22-fret on
the new model. We ended up
adding that to a few of his guitars.
Luckily enough, the neck
pickup/driver that comes with
the Sustainiac circuit sounded
good and we were able to add
the circuit with very little
physical modifications. The
tone pot became a push/pull
to turn it on and we just had
to add a single mini 3-way to
select the harmonic settings.
It took a lot of thought and
trials to arrive at this next-generation
Joe Satriani signature
Ibanez, especially because we
wanted to keep the look and
vibe as close as possible to the
original. And for Joe, the tone
is totally key. As he said in his
January 2012 cover story, “I’ve
never liked the neck pickup
sound of guitars when they
moved the neck pickup. No
one knew how little fretboard
you needed to support that
last fret. We basically put that
pickup right where a Les Paul’s
humbucker is supposed to be.
I think that’s why it functions
so well for me. I really like the
tone of it.”
Gary Brawer runs Stringed
Instrument Repair in San Francisco.
His many clients include Joe Satriani,
Metallica, and Neal Schon.
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