35. The Tim Aves Twincaster
WARNING: Just the one guitar in this entry, but this tale is something of a saga!
It seemed such a good idea. I spotted this amazing-looking Warmoth twin-neck body on eBay about 15 years ago. This was back in the days when Warmoth was at the zenith of the American guitar parts industry. (Other companies are available now.) Back then, if you were looking to put together a high-end guitar to your own exact specifications, but didn’t possess the necessary woodworking and finishing skills, Warmoth could oblige – at a price. I spent almost as many hours dreamily perusing the neck and body options on the Warmoth website as I did trawling eBay for bargains. While gazing slack-jawed at all the options I’d also dwelled more than once on the super-pricey twin-neck bodies on offer. You could have a twin-neck Strat, half Strat and half Tele, or even a combination of a Strat and a Precision bass. Truly the stuff of guitaistic freakshow fantasy! The starting prices were in the £400 region, depending on how rare/exotic was your choice of timber.
So when I spotted this used, but very clean, Warmoth twin Strat body with a matching tortoiseshell pickguard on eBay for a mere £70, I simply HAD to have it. It was a bargain such a thing of mind-bogglingly great beauty.
What arrived – still in its original Warmoth shipping box – was indeed, a thing of beauty. The problem then was simple. What the hell to do with it!
The original owner was preumably a bit of a rocker – he’d ordered it with both bridge cavities back-routed to take Floyd Rose tremolos (eeugh!) The upper of the two necks had originally been served by a pair of humbuckers, while the bottom neck had an HSS configuration. (I think I’ve seen a picture somewhere of Ritchie Sambora from Bon Jovi sporting a very similar twin-neck Strat, so the guy may have been a fan – or even played in a tribute band to New Jersey’s second finest.)
A plan began to form…my two main guitars at the time were a Strat and the Hipshot-equipped Squier 51 I used for slide. Why not combine these two favourites in just one guitar? I tend to use a shorter strap for playing slide, so having the slide neck at the top, and the normally-tuned Strat neck below made sense.
I found a genuine Squier 51 neck for sale on eBay and really lucked out with the second neck – a cheap used Warmouth large-headstock Strat neck. The Strat neck was a leftie, so the mirror-image arrangement meant the tuners didn’t get in the way of each other and hell, it looked neat. Couldn’t have been better, really.
Those horrible Floyd Rose trem back-routs were a problem – solved by my dear old pal Simon Pyke, whose woodworking skills greatly exceed mine. He found a couple of nice bits of hardwood and carved them to fit, so I could screw a Hipshot Trilogy to anchor the top neck and fit a standard vintage-style Strat trem (the only option I’ll countenance!) for the lower one.
The pickguard had a couple of pickup holes that were the wrong shape – I didn’t really want to think what it would cost to have a custom guard made this big. Fortunately, I managed to find a torty Strat pickguard that matched pretty well and cut out a couple of oblongs, with Strat single coil openings in the middle to fit over the original humbucker routs. It looked pretty good – better than I’d hoped. The original plan was to go with this arrangement until I was sure I was happy with the guitar, then order a new guard. In the event, it never bothered me and so I never bothered.
So… switching. The pickguard had holes for a standard Strat setup – one volume, two tones, plus a single pickup selector, with a mini-toggle switch to choose between necks. I decided I wanted a pickup selector for each neck, so I cut a slot across what would have been the neck pickup tone pot hole and fitted a second three-way Tele switch for the top neck.
I managed to find a set of original Squier 51 pickups on eBay for the upper neck, while the bottom one became home to a set of GFS noiseless pickups – the latter an experiment which didn’t really work out. Luckily I had a set of Fender Texas Specials knocking about in my bits box and they did the job well enough and the cream pickup covers looked great against the red tortoisehell.
Hardware-wise, I bought a secondhand Hipshot Trilogy on eBay (they don’t come up all that often, so that, too, was a stroke of luck) and one of Gotoh’s excellent trems for the bottom neck. Tuners presented a quandary. By rights they should have been Klusons, but they needed to be as light as possible to help the thing balance. I settled on Hipshot Ultralite locking tuners – two sets, one left-handed, one right. They’re really great tuners, as it happens.
It’s an exciting time when a project that’s taken a huge amount of thought, time and trouble (not to mention expense) finally nears completion. It was a good year before I got to this stage and it was nerve-wracking finally to wire in the electrics, string the thing and do a rough set-up. (Getting the Hipshot calibrated to give you the tunings you want is an evening’s work all on its own – two or three hours or tuning, checking, tweaking the various grub screws with an Allen key, tuning again, checking again and so on.)
It all worked first time, which was something. However, nothing had quite prepared me for the shock the first time I actually strapped on this monster! The swamp ash body itself was reasonably light, considering its size, but two necks, five pickups, two bridges and a dozen tuners left it tipping the scales at a weight roughly equivalent to that of a baby elephant! I had to buy one of those special elasticated straps that are supposed to ease the load on the shoulders (it made very little difference), a special stand…and where on earth do you find a case for something like this, FFS?
The answer to that last one is that you don’t. I had to make one. I was rather pleased with the result – especially the luminous green fun-fur I used to line it!
Was it worth all that trouble? Well, it was a fun build, but ultimately, it was more fun to plan and build than to play. I did take it out and play it a fair bit at gigs and jams and there are quite a few pictures of me playing it – not least because it was, undeniably, a photogenic beast. I would often deliberately play it at the more high-profile festival gigs specifically because I knew it would catch the photographers’ eyes! It never failed in that respect.
However, the day came, during one of my guitar culls, when I decided to part with the Twincaster. I guess it probably stook me about £600-£700 in parts and I did wonder if it might be hard to sell for that kind of money. I suspected I might have to break it up and sell it as parts – a sad notion, but something that tends to be the fate of many expensive and specialised custom guitars. They’re often worth more for their parts than as a whole. In the event, though a nice man saw it on eBay, took a shine to it and bought it for a price I was prepared to let it go for.
I hope it made him happy and didn’t hurt his back too much…