The "Rocky" Project


Hey, now that I have my "Lennon's Casino" project finished,
a cheezy-but-neat MIK copy of Paul's bass,
and my glorious reissue of George's RIC 12 string model...
How about a clone of "Rocky," George's most famous Strat???


This project started as I was e-mailing Wayne Newitt, the ol' Tacoma drummer back and forth about this and that and all things Beatles... He's been doing these wall-hanger thangs made from, like, half a bass drum with "The Beatles" logo on them. Sells 'em on eBay - they look really cool. As big a Beatles fan as me, he's got an Epi violin-bodied bass and a REAL Gibson J-160E. Anyway, he sez he bought one of them Saga do-it-yerself strat kits a while back with the idea of doing a "Rocky" Strat. Gee, that sounds like something I'd like to try - yeah, like I need another project going on!

After looking at a bunch of Squires and other cheapie Strats, I decided to go ahead and get a Saga kit, too - I always wanted to try one, and that would make this the two-birds-with-one-stone project. I got mine, shipped to the front door, for under $100, and I made it a family project by inviting the wife to do the pickguard (she loves that kind of detail work) while I did the body and headstock.

First part of the project was to cut the headstock. I used a power jigsaw at my next-door neighbors - my first time with that tool, so I opted to just use a simple two-curve silhouette for the headstock rather than copy the complex Fender headstock - my first compromise. It's still very "Fender-y" and looks a lot like a Squire headstock. If I do this again, I'll have the confidence to really do a more acurate copy.

I assembled the guitar to test the fit of everything. I didn't even bother to mount up the included tuners - they went straight to the junk drawer, replaced by a nice set of cheapie Gotohs. And, of course, I pulled the center tone control, wired the bottom one as a master tone, and installed a Chromacaster switch - hey, yer talking to Deaf Eddie here, remember? It all went together very nicely, snug neck-to-body fit. The neck profile is a little fatter than any Strat model I've had - for some reason, it reminds me most of my Harmony Rocket. Oh well, I enjoyed playing that axe, too... The action was almost OK, close enough so that I'm sure it will be simple matter to dial it all in after the finish is on... The pups, as supplied? Well, they work, and the center one is RW/RP, so they meant well - but the Chromie will be helping the tone out in this axe in a MAJOR way!

Next, I took it all back apart for the process of painting it to resemble the real "Rocky." One of my big advantages here was the nifty book, Fuzz & Feedback (edited by Tony Bacon). It's a great guide to the guitars of the sixties; lots of manufacture and artist info, and TONS of wonderful pictures - including a two and a half page foldout of the REAL "Rocky" (and a small shot of the back, too). It's the same shot as in the Beatles Gear book, but about three times the size. There's also a great shot of George and Rocky in Electric Guitars: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. I scanned these into my computer, and the wife and I were able to enlarge the pictures to really see the fine details. The headstock was right on the page crease in "F & F", so I used the picture in Beatles Gear to get the best image of it.

I did a little test on a headstock scrap, and found that I could use the "hobby & craft" acrylic paints my wife already had, and then spray a top coat of clear gloss laquer (same stuff I always use on my guitar projects). It kind changes the colors from flat to glossy, which is OK by me - as long it doesn't make 'em run or whatever. I didn't wanna spray laquer on the pickguard, afraid it might craze the plastic, so when we bought the extra colors we needed we also bought some of their recommended top-coat varnish stuff, which I will use on the pickguard. I'm hoping it will kind of "antique/fade" the stark white of the pickguard into a nice vintage-yellowed patina or something... but it'll be OK if it don't.

George, I love ya, man, and you're a heck of a guitar player - but you just didn't have Lennon's "artisic eye" - yer stripes suck! I decided to keep the colors and intention of George's stripes, but to even them out a bit and make them "flow" a little better. That's why I'm calling this a "tribute" instead of a "copy" or "reproduction."

OK, all the little details are painted and I have the first coat of laquer on it. Hey, it's starting to look pretty good to me, and it's been a lot of fun! And, it's a "Bongo" rather than a "Rocky" - but you get the idea...

All painted up, I shot the neck with about a half a rattle-can of Rustoleum clear gloss laquer, and used almost two cans on the body. I was surprised to find that I actually got enough thickness on there to rub the finish out quite a bit. OK, it's not the glassy smooth of a custom paintjob, but almost all the texture is gone and it's MOSTLY a nice smooth finish - some of them stripes just had TOO much paint glommed on for it come come out any other way.

After rubbing it out, I used some conductive tape sent to me by my e-pal Dave Patterson and lined the entire control cavity and the back of the pick guard. The "tails" are to catch the screws that mount the pickguard to the body - the more continuity the better, I always say...

Does it help? I dunno - but it couldn't hurt!
I did the same thing to my AmStd when I installed the Rio Grandes on that maple pickguard
- and that axe is QUIET!

Last step: Solder the leads from pickguard to ouput jack - yeah, I cut off them funky "snap-on" connectors that were in the kit - and assemble it.

TA DA!

I'm very pleased with how it came out, and the wife had so much fun she wants to do another one. I'm trying to point her towards Eric Clapton's SG, "The Fool..."
We'll have to see if I can talk into into doing that one on her own!

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THE REVIEW

This was a very enjoyable project, fun for both the wife and I. As far as the Saga ST-10 Strat kit, while I would never attempt to present this as a viable substitute for a genuine Fender Strat, it DOES make a real guitar - but if you're looking for a cheapie Fender for the stage, get a Squire - it'll probably be a better guitar. That said, if you're just looking for a fun project, grab one of these! I heartily recommend it for the aspiring luthier/hot rodder.

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