Author Topic: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)  (Read 616 times)

edwardofhuncote

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DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« on: March 06, 2018, 12:52:33 PM »
Modifying a Guild Starfire bass... that's how it all started, right? So I just placed an order with Alembic HQ, or to be completely accurate -by way of Will Gunn Guitars- for some Alembic circuitry to be put in this DeArmond Starfire II. Welcome to my second D-I-Y Alembic project.  ;D

I got this bass a little while back... it was my $300 entry into the world of hollow-body basses. From what I've been able to find online, these were only available for a few years between 1996-99 while Fender had both the Guild and DeArmond brands... these were Korean factory-made, patterned somewhat after, but not exactly like the old Guild Starfire basses. Most of them are red or black, but this one is finished in my favorite of all finishes... SUNBURST!   8)

They came with stock DeArmond USA humbuckers, 2 × Volume and 2 × Tone controls, plus a 3-position pick-up selector switch. The sound... not too bad as-is, playbility was already great when I got it, and it had that nice thumpy hollow-body sound too, especially with the flatwound strings stretched over the 30.75 scale. The quartersawn maple set neck is a very comfortable profile, if a little smaller than I'm used to, and I have to say, the fretwork is darn nice. All in all, a very good quality import build... bottom line, a solid platform for modification without chancing an expensive blunder while cutting on an old Guild. Trying also to remember, the innards about to go in this bass exceed its value considerably. Still, it is a 20-year-old bass in almost perfect condition, so I really don't want to make a mess of it. 

It also came with pretty decent hardware... the tuning machines are Gotoh, (I think) and the stock bridge is a fully adjustable model made to resemble the vintage Guild counterpart. I had thought about replacing it with a Hipshot Supertone or something more substantial, but since the functionality is acceptable, will leave that possible upgrade for later. 

First, I'll be switching out the pickups with Alembic's new drop-in replacement for these, (see Hieronymous' Alembicized Guild M-85 thread) and installing a simple Volume/Pan/Bass/Treble circuit, like on Epic & Orion basses right to the existing 4-hole drill pattern. In the future, I may add a Filter and 3-position Q-switch for the full East-Meets-West package, but for now I'll be sending the output through a Broughton Audio Resonant LPF pedal on its way to the amp. That ought to get me close.  ::)

The real 'work' will be retro-fitting the new electronics to the bass. I've been back and forth on the best way to do that... if space for more complicated circuitry were an issue, I'd probably do a larger front mount plate. (like on 'The Godfather' and others) Since I'm hoping to use all the existing mounting holes and routes, I finally decided the best/simplest solution is to cut a hole in the back, fabricating in a fully shielded electronics cavity and battery compartment inside. Of course then I'll need to provide a means for mounting a backplate. Not sure if I'll be able to use the dropout piece like Alembic does for 'continuous wood', but it's worth a shot. If it doesn't work, I'll probably just use a standard brass plate, or maybe make one from some pretty wood. I've enlisted the help of my old mentor a'luthierie, Ward Elliott for coaching on the more tedious parts. 

So not too big of a job here... not nearly a full Alembicizing, just some (way) above-average upgrades. Hopefully if nothing else, this will be a good learning experience that will end up with a cool bass I'll play more than I currently do. Stay tuned for more pictures and updates as they happen, and by all means - chime in with advice and commentary.  ;)

~Ed of H.

David Houck

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2018, 01:03:04 PM »
Nice project!

CaseyVancouver

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2018, 08:05:19 AM »
Yeah, Sunburst just looks great on some instruments.

Lately I have been digging the acoustic Gibson J45 in Sunburst.
Perfect to get that delta blues thing on  :)

hieronymous

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2018, 11:06:44 PM »
Been meaning to post - this seems like the right place - sounds like a great project! I'm looking forward to the results. So cool that people can select the electronics package that works for them. I'm enjoying mono Anniversary myself!

Question on how you use the Broughton Audio Resonant LPF - like an Alembic filter? Some other approach? Which one do you have?
« Last Edit: March 13, 2018, 01:21:55 PM by David Houck »

edwardofhuncote

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2018, 02:58:46 PM »
I use it for the same function/purpose, but it's a little different. The Broughton filter frequency spans 220 Hz to 15 kHz, but the 'resonance' dial is sort of more like a CVQ than a Q-switch... (which I honestly would have preferred) it can go from cuttting -3 dB to boosting +15 dB. I find, like on my Alembics, the sounds I like are around a 3-6 dB of Q with the filter cutoff set at about 330 to 400. That's where the juice is.  ;)

Obviously, manipulating the filter or Q setting in mid-song isn't possible, other than to toggle it on/off... I typically use this as an always-on, but have found that toggling the filter off gives me an instant boost of higher frequencies... for my one gratuitous bass solo per set.   ::)

I don't quite know how to describe this, but it simply doesn't feel like the filters on our Alembics... you get darn close to that same effect though.

The picture probably explains better than I could...

*got notice yesterday - my order is in process... I'm getting excited about this project now! 

hieronymous

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2018, 05:21:03 PM »
Cool! I don't think that's available any more - it's not on their website and it doesn't come up in a quick google search, probably because Broughton makes (and has made) a variety of filter devices so other stuff comes up but not your pedal. There's a lo-pass + hi-pass pedal but it only has frequency cutoff knobs, no control over the resonance/q. Same with the current low pass filter.



Would be interesting to A/B with an SF-2!

edwardofhuncote

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2018, 06:01:45 PM »
This one was a custom build.  ;)

Josh only made two of them, but since they weren't particularly complicated he might be talked into building a couple more if there's some interest. You can contact him on TalkBass @Azure Skies... super-nice guy.  :)

After talking to Mica, I still have the option for adding a Filter and 3-position Q switch to Project Starfire, making it full East-Meets-West like my Custom fretless... and that may happen later anyway, but for now I'm trying to keep it... stealthy;)
« Last Edit: March 13, 2018, 06:06:33 PM by edwardofhuncote »

edwardofhuncote

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2018, 06:55:16 PM »
At last, the transformation begins!!!   :D

Today seemed like as good a day as any to jump into this project... I have now removed all the original electronics and hardware. Some of it will be re-used... the tuners and bridge for certain, truss rod cover, strap buttons, pickup mounting rings. I'm not sure about the nut... I think it's probably micarta. Could make a brass replacement sometime, but unless my mind changes, will leave it alone for now... it's cut perfectly anyway. The frets are in tiptop shape too... nothing to do here but polish up and oil the rosewood board.

I've got a little dress-up to do around the pickup routes... sometime in its past, this bass had some Bisonics or Darkstars, hence the extra screw holes. Unfortunately, the pickup mounting rings don't quite hide them. I'll have to come up with something for that... maybe some kind of decorative frame around each one?   ???

It was pretty easy getting the old controls out... and once the back is open, it should be an even easier job putting the new Alembic circuitry in. The catch is, there is a LOT of prep work to building a shielded electronics cavity inside here before we get to the easy part... and it's my first time, so some of that will be seat-of-the-pants loothiery. Now, what to do with the vacant hole where the old pickup selector switch was... hmmmm.   ::)

So I borrowed the brass backplate from my '81 Distillate for use as a template to locate where the cutout for the new control cavity will go. I'd like to have a brass backplate on here, but I'm concerned that a brass plate this thick won't bend enough to conform to the arched body countour. I have several other options in mind for that... wood veneer, or possibly plastic, with a brass overlay on the outside layer. I have some very thin-gauge brass sheeting that might work... it's like .015 or so. Anyway, after measuring from the outer edge to the center block, here's where it's going. In case you're wondering - the masking tape is in place to keep from marring the finish with the mini-router base, and gives me a place to mark a nice bright red cut line to work to.  8)

Y'all don't get skeerd now... by the next installment, wood chips gonna' fly.  ;D

rv_bass

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2018, 04:58:43 AM »
Looks like quite a project, Greg, how about using the piece of wood that you cut out rather than a brass plate?

edwardofhuncote

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2018, 05:05:02 AM »
Looks like quite a project, Greg, how about using the piece of wood that you cut out rather than a brass plate?

I'm hoping to do just that, Rob... not sure the bearing tolerances in my Dremel router will allow for a clean enough cut to save the dropout piece. I think I could do it if it were only one pass, but because of the curved surface, it'll take at least two or three. Still might work if I'm careful. I'll be prepared either way.  ;)

rv_bass

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2018, 05:08:16 AM »
If there is a university near you with a laser cutter, maybe they could cut it for you, that would be a thin clean cut!

edwardofhuncote

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2018, 05:27:40 AM »
If there is a university near you with a laser cutter, maybe they could cut it for you, that would be a thin clean cut!

Hmm. I knew a guy who was a machinist at the shop at Virginia Tech... he's retired now but might be able to steer me toward something like that if they have such a machine there. Might be worth a call.

I didn't mention it - but there is a small ding in the back that would be part of the cutout anyway... it's minor enough that I figured if the dropout piece was salvageable, I could drop-fill the chip and buff it out. It is visible in the fourth picture of the first post. Somewhat ironically, it's the only ding on the whole guitar. I'll fix it one way or another.  ::)
« Last Edit: April 01, 2018, 05:30:37 AM by edwardofhuncote »

edwin

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2018, 08:45:13 AM »
A couple of things, if you haven't cut yet:

1. You probably want a bigger door in order to have access to the whole bottom section to get it really well shielded. I had a smaller door cut and then went back and had the whole thing cut. It has made life very much easier.
2. You could ask the guy who did it for me how he did it. I don't think he has any super fancy tools. Call Mike Stephens at Woodsongs Luthierie. (303) 449-0550. Tell Mike you know me.

edwardofhuncote

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2018, 10:42:45 AM »
Thanks Edwin... nope, no sawdust yet.

I do have a couple ideas that I'm going to do a mock-up of, in the interest of shielding the compartment. One other thing I did pick up from your bass - sealing up the f-hole. Since I won't really need all that empty space at the lower horn, I've been trying to think of a way to seal off a smaller compartment that can more easily be shielded.

Nothing too crazy on my controls... basically just like standard Epic/Orion, but with jack still in the side. Here's what I sent Mica:

edwin

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Re: DeArmond Starfire II - Almost Alembicized (Shop Project)
« Reply #14 on: April 04, 2018, 09:33:12 PM »
I tried to build a box inside mine at one point out of copper. It was really difficult and never worked all that well. I also tried smearing that Stew-Mac paint all in there. Also didn't work that well.

It took me a long time to get where I am....