Fitting a Fernandes Sustainer

Fitting the Fernandes Sustainer

Jahloon – 2004

Note: This article was written before the guitar was converted to a Fretless Baritone.

We had heard quite a bit of talk about the Fernandes Sustainer, that it was perfect for fretless playing, but we only had a nylon fretless, so in this example, it is being fitted to a Hamer Slammer (Strat copy).

Preliminary

Well there are other considerations about fitting the unit to a Hamer Slammer, first I don’t know how well it works, not I’m not sure I can fit it neatly, and I don’t want an initial learning curve to impact a really expensive instrument.

Firstly the costs involved:

Hamer Slammer (reduced in sale) $175 (100 UK pounds)
Sustainer (Music123.com plus international shipping) $224.99 (127.76 UK)
UK Customs Duty and Clearance Fees $51.17 (29.24 UK)

Tools:

Router kit (reduced in sale) $31.50 (17.99 UK)

The time involved? One weekend, or about 12 hours total, working slow and careful.

The skills involved? The blurb says that this operation should only be taken on by a competant luthier, who is able to use a router and capable of some soldering technique and electronics knowledge.

So my skills are: (based on 1-10 where 7 would be the level required to get a job)
Luthier 4
Router 0 (although I had used one before to base this score on)
Soldering / elecs 9

Guitar before sustainer fitting

Hamer pristine, before the operation.

The extra electronics is a Roland GK2A, for MIDI / synth driving.

Woodworking

So first off I’m a bit apprehensive that this unit will be beyond my skills to fit competantly. The router bit is scary, I can handle a chisel fairly well but routers… Well I better explain what a router is for the uninitiated. Its a bit like a perpendicular drill, with handles, that can be manuevered round to cut holes and fancy groves.

Err… did I say a bit like a drill? Nothing like a drill! A drill is a well behaved electronic spinning thing; nice to make holes with, tame, housetrained. A router is a hell bitch spinning tornado, spinning ten times faster than a drill, needing two handles for both hands hanging on tight while this cutting demon makes every attempt to spin out of your clutches and carve its way to oblivion.

Why there isn’t a movie to rival Chain Saw Masacre based on routers is a mystery. If given a choice of dangerous things to juggle I would do two chainsaws and a rotweiller puppy before even considering turning on a router.

Now you know. Oh no you don’t… I forgot to mention that while this demon tornado is carving your precious to pieces – and wait for this – you cannot see the bit that the router is carving away at.

Its covered by guards and extractor shields, you have to advance plan using a straight edge guard attached to the router. Spotted the flaw in the plan yet? Yes, guitars don’t have straight edges, they are beautiful carved creations, nothing to align straght edges with. So you have to make a little drawing in felt tip on the guitar as a template and follow that. There is plenty to go wrong.

If I haven’t put you off yet, this is basically the way to fit the sustainer. First off, everything is stripped from the guitar body. Do it in a sensible way, take off the strings before touching the neck bolts. Number everything if you are not too sure. Points will be deducted if you intend to use the same strings after the operation.

When I stripped the Hamer down it was nice to see that the pickup slots already had the super strat dual humbucker cavities nicely routed. (But the manufacturer’s do have CNC computer controlled cutters, so its really neat.)

sus-stripped

Everything is stripped off the guitar body.

Note that the guitar is already routed for humbuckers, neck and bridge.

Next step is pick somewhere quiet to work where no one can interrupt your concentration. You will need it. Foolishly I picked the patio at the back of the house reckoniong no one would clock what I was up to. Big mistake. Only minutes after setting the guitar in the jig the next door neighbour, Ted, puts his head over the fence and strikes up; What’s that you’re up to Jeff? Its a sort of guitar modification. I relpy. Ted tells me he also plays guitar. My heart starts to sink. What type of guitar is it Jeff? Its a Strat. Now that’s not strictly a lie, buts its close. Ted watches as I place the router into position. You don’t want to do that to a Strat, says Ted but his advice is drowned in a whine of sawdust and the smell of burning guitar finish has him gagging for a few seconds. When he recovers he says; That’s downright cruelty, that is. I reply; You should see what I do to it on stage. Ted responds with; Eric Clapton never did that to his Strat.

Yes, but Eric’s Strat is worth a lot more than this one!

Now the following picture I was really reluctant to post, a lot of you will be laughing at the routing work, some will be rolling about on the floor, the more sensitive luthiers will have fainted clean away. But it gives you an idea of what an amatuer can do, and of course the results are hidden behind the scratch plate.

Nasty hole in the guitar

My routing isn’t neat or pretty, but then it won’t show, will it?

Fitting the Sustainer Electronics

First, just to say that the sustainer came with immaculate packaging, the electronics all mounted on a perspex plate that you could easily see how this was going to operate on the guitar itself. The manual was a little less informative. This was a 4 sheet photocopy of an original document, and certainly not the first generation copy. Some of the details on the diagrams was completely lost and it took quite some time to figure out which trim pot was which.

If you had to rate instructions from 1 to 10, this is a 6 and only because there are no mistakes or misleading info. Thinking about it, it really is a 4, there are no dimensions, and the support site that the manual steers you to: www.sustainer.com has been hijacked and is nothing to do with the Sustainer. The other site: www.fernandesguitars.com does have a page concerning Sustainer support, it says “Coming Soon”.

Well that support business out of the way there is one conundrum that had me sat thinking for quite some time. The sustainer circuitry is held on the scratchplate by two switches. I know my location is not ideal but I wanted the job done with as little extra fuss as possible. So the scratchplate it is. Now the Sustainer does require adjusting after fitting and the trim pots are on the rear of the unit, access is only possible from the rear of the guitar. More holes and a cover plate perhaps? Eventually I had a Eureka moment, I could fit the battery compartment where the trim pots were and take that off for any adjustments. So that is why in the routing picture you can see right through the guitar. If I had this knowledge prior to the fitting experience I would have used a jig-saw and chisel and saved the router trauma.

sustainer fitted to scratch plate

The sustainer electronics fitted on the scratch plate.

Note the enlargement for the bridge pickup.

Pickups

In this model of guitar all the original electronics have to go, including the neck and bridge pickups. The middle pickup stays on the guitar and has a blank hole in a connector for connecting to the electronics. Unfortunately no crimp is provided for the blank hole so you are left to solder the pick up and its ground point. Hence the requirement for soldering and basic electronic skills.

The new humbucker is located in the bridge position and the driver pickup in the neck position.

Rear view of scratch plate electronics

All the electronics and pickups mounted on the scratchplate.

Reassembly

The electronics mount up very easily, cables are reasonable length and you can double long ones back on themselves if you don’t want to splice and re-crimp them. When it is all assembled its time to fit everything back into that nice neat routed cavity. Did you ever see Cinderella when the ugly sisters try on the shoe she left at the ball? Well getting everything to fit back in the guitar was like that only worse, wires would pop out, pickups would mis-align, Ted is leaning over the fence saying; I bet you wish you hadn’t started that one. But finally it all works its way in and its time to clamp everything down tight.

The new jack socket required some serious chisel work to carve out space for it. The router would have not been suitable for this kind of work. Finally the battery pack is fitted. All that is needed now is to reassemble the guitar, fit new strings, set everything up.

guitar battery compartment

The battery compartment mounted on the back of the guitar.

Check and Test

Finally everything is in place and can be tested and aligned. Not much adjustment of the trim pots is required, everything works when the unit is turned on, and the guitar looks quite good.

guitar sustainer fitted

The finished product.

Conclusions

What would I have done differently? – Position the Sustainer electronics with the two switches elsewhere, out of accidental pick strike range. Though it can be handy having the switches close by for fast changes.

Would I do it to a more expensive guitar? – No, or if I needed it real bad maybe pay someone else who has insurance.

Is it value for money? – Yes, it does what it says it does.

Any gripes? – Manual could have been better, or at least the original copy so that I could actually read it.

How does it play? – Pretty good, full review of the Fernandes Sustainer at Unfretted.

Article: Jahloon – 2004

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