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Author Topic: Building an Electric Guitar Progress Report  (Read 3354 times)
L07 Shooting Star
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« on: November 01, 2016, 05:30:26 AM »

So, this fall I decided I am going to build two guitars from scratch (more or less).  One will be an electric and one will be an acoustic.  I am tackling the electric first, and have already started it.  This thread will document the build and hopefully solicit input from members in terms of comments, suggestions, tips, advice, and such.

Here are the things I have decided on so far:

-The guitar will be based loosely on a Tele-Gib or Malibu design but it will have a mahogany (not Alder or Ash) slab body like an RS2 or Gibson LP Special.  I will probably contour the back somewhat but haven't decided for sure.  If I do, I will use my Strat as a guide.
 
-The body will be one-piece African mahogany (Khaya).  I found a nicely grained 8/4 by 15.5" wide board from which I purchased 22 lineal inches for $64.00 CAD.  I have already cut out and shaped the body and the edges are rough-sanded.  I traced my Telecaster to come up with the shape.  It is still too thick (2") and has to be planed to the final thickness of about 1 13/16" or so.  My goal for the finish is to replicate the classic Gibson SG cherry red on a mahogany body.

-The neck will be a bolt-on Fender-style neck made from quarter-sawn maple.  I already have the wood bolt from which I will saw the neck.  It is a 3" X 3" X 28" piece of maple that I got cheap from where I work (Lee Valley Tools).  We occasionally obtain these pieces from a Quebec manufacturer of furniture and baseball bats, believe it or not.  This piece was from a pile of surplus baseball bat blanks that I rummaged through to find a quarter-sawn one a couple of years ago.  I should be able to get 2 or 3 Fender-style necks out of it.  I chose this style of neck because I think it will be the easiest to build and attach for a first attempt at building.  Plus, I can use my Telecaster's detached neck as a template for shaping.

-The fingerboard will likely be maple from the same piece of wood.  I won't make it a one-piece neck even if it is all maple, since I think it will be much easier to install a truss rod if the fingerboard is separate.  I may use another wood for the fingerboard but haven't decided for sure.

-The pickups will be the 2 hand-wound-by-Matt-Larrivee humbuckers that I purchased from Kevin (Headsup) a few years back.  I bought them thinking someday I would find the perfect application, and now I think I have!  Thanks Kevin.

So those are the "givens".  From that point, I am still undecided on the final bridge/hardware configuration and wiring configuration.  I'm assuming these decisions are going to have a significant effect on the final tone.  Preferably, I would like the guitar to have at least one setting that gives a Tele-like country twang, but maybe that isn't feasible with this guitar.  That said, I'm absolutely open to the final result as I consider this whole project as somewhat of an experiment.

Here are some ideas I'm considering and would welcome any input from you all.  These are my 2 primary considerations.

1. Regardless of the wiring, should I use a Gibson-style bridge and stop tail like the Malibu?  Or should I go with a tele-style bridge/string thru body configuration?
2. Regardless of bridge style, should I wire it like a Gibson Les Paul with 2 tones, 2 volumes, or like a Tele with a tele plate mount and 1 volume 1 tone?

Potential combinations are:  (Note, I'm not interested in tapping the coils of the humbuckers and they only have 2 wires in any case.)

Total Tele-Gib configuration with Gibson-style bridge/tailpiece setup and Tele wiring/plate only with humbuckers instead of single coils.
Total Telecaster bridge/string thru and wiring setup using the humbuckers instead of the single coils. (like a Deluxe Telecaster from 1972-1981?)
Total Gibson LP special bridge and wiring setup (2 vols, 2 tones).  Essentially a LP special or RS2 setup on a Telecaster slab body.
Hybrid Les Paul 4 pot wiring with Tele-style bridge and string thru body.
Is there a way to use the Gibson bridge and still have the strings come thru the body?  In other words, not use the stop tailpiece?  I would be all over that and I might try it.
Whatever you members suggest.

I have my own ideas on how to proceed but would really value any input from the members at large before I fire up the router.  Pictures to follow tomorrow.



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Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2016, 02:43:48 PM »

I think you will have some difficulty getting Tele like twang without tapping the HB to get single coil and not having an angled tail positioning.

Sounds like a fun project regardless. As for bridge, what does the heel of your picking hand prefer?  String through might be harder to manufacture without some type of drilling jig for the 6 holes
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« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2016, 04:28:35 PM »

Sounds like a cool project. All I can add is my preference for a Tun-o-matic type bridge over any Fender style.  But then it's your guitar. Have fun.   
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Barefoot Rob
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« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2016, 07:51:54 PM »

OK from the crazy one.....Bridge wise there are a few ways to go.A tele bridge designed for a HB pu this is a strings thru,standard tune-a-matic and stop tail.a tune-a-matic with string-thru body drill,or if you want real old style just a wrap-a-round like I did on mine.If your going with duel HB's give it a vol/tone for each pu.
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2016, 04:10:35 AM »

Here's a link to a Michael Kelly Tele with dual HBs and what looks like a string through type of bridge but with individual saddles:
https://www.michaelkellyguitars.com/en/products/view/1955-custom-collection
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2016, 07:27:49 PM »

I have some Tune-O-Matic style bridges on string through bodies.  One even has a Babicz full contact hardware style that replaced the original.  Nice to have all of those adjustments...  The only caution I would mention is to be sure and allow plenty of spacing between the bridge and the body string through holes, at least as much as to accomodate a tailpiece and preferably more.  If you get them too close there is always the possibility of a string contacting the back of the bridge and deadening it, especially on those that require more forward intonation settings...  With a tailpiece you can always raise it a bit to overcome this.

I have some Fender style string through bridges with adjustable saddles as well.  I put one of those on a jag body I built with Lindy Fralin P92's.

My favorite bridge of all time is the TonePros wrap around style and would pick it over any of the others on a guitar I might build...
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« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2016, 05:23:46 AM »

Great suggestions and lots of pointers to contemplate.  Just what I was looking for.

Rockstar_not, I think you are right about not trying to get the tele sound from those pickups.  I think if I abandon that wish, I will have one less variable to cloud my thinking and will make a better choice given what I have to work with for pickups and wood.

Rob, I think you are right about using 2 vols and 2 tones with the 2 humbuckers.  Plus, it is a solid mahogany body after all, which seems to indicate going the way of a LP special or RS-2 type of wiring configuration with a tune-o-matic bridge and stop tail.  If the body were ash or alder, I might be more inclined to go with the tele style throughout.

I'm thinking more and more I will go with the LP style wiring and bridge configuration.  In other words, a guitar that looks like a telecaster,  but sounds more like a LP special or RS-2 perhaps?  Makes the most sense for the body wood I'm using.

Sorry pictures didn't happen tonight as promised.  I had to work today and then game 7 took over this evening!

Stay tuned.
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Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
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If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2016, 05:29:58 AM »

Time flies when you're trying to make a guitar.  Anyways, here's an update.  The one-piece Khaya body has been cut out with my jig saw, rough-sanded to final shape with a "robo-sander" drum sander on my drill press, and hand-planed to final thickness.  No routing or chiseling of the pickup, electronics, or neck pocket has taken place to date.
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Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2016, 05:46:00 AM »

The neck.  I "re-sawed" my 3" X 3" maple board, slabbing off a board of suitable thickness for the neck.  I don't have a band saw, so I used my circular saw from both sides.  Then I cut it out to rough shape, using my warmoth telecaster neck as a pattern.  I just clamped the tele neck onto my board and traced it.  Then I rough-cut it to shape with my jig saw.  Next, I planed the top surface flat and true by hand with my jack plane.  After that, I used rasps and spoke-shaves to start the final shaping of the sides and back of the neck.  There is still a lot of shaping left to do.

I have found a nice thin maple board that will become the fingerboard eventually.  I need to groove the top of the neck to receive a truss rod and contour the headstock, front and back, etc.  I am trying to adapt an old hand-powered mitre-saw for sawing the fret slots.  I'll post some picks of that when I get it completed.
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2016, 10:56:50 AM »

GREAT THREAD!!! Enjoying, thanks!!
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« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2016, 02:09:52 PM »

Cool beans. Nice piece of wood.   
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L07 Shooting Star
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« Reply #11 on: November 20, 2016, 07:34:47 AM »

Lots of hand work with hand tools, but I'm learning a lot about using those tools, so it's all good.  If I can build it so it plays with good feel and action and intonates properly, I'll consider it a success.  If it sounds good, so much the better.  If it also looks good, I'll be ecstatic.  We'll see.
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #12 on: November 23, 2016, 03:12:42 AM »

Awhile back, I bought a fret-slotting saw in anticipation of building the guitar I am now working on and eventually an acoustic guitar.  Knowing my limitations in sawing squarely and accurately by hand without any kind of guide, I was very worried about doing it that way.  I discovered there were fret-sawing mitre boxes available from Stewmac and others, but I didn't think it was worth the expenditure given I will probably only slot a handful of fingerboards for the rest of my life.  So I started thinking about making some kind of saw guide or miter box that would be a lot cheaper.  Then, I remembered I had an old Canadian Tire hand-powered mitre box that I had bought at Value Village for $15.00 a few years ago and had never really used.  It uses a long and heavy back-saw that is guided by rollers and saws very accurately given it's heft.

So I decided to try and attach my fret saw underneath the thicker and longer backsaw blade in line with it and centered on it.  I had to remove the turned-wood handle from the fret saw leaving just the blade and it's brass spine.  I divised a means to clamp the thinner blade with it's spine underneath and centered on the back saw teeth by using readily available and cheap aluminum "transition" strip as used in flooring applications.  The 36" strip I used was about 5 dollars.  I cut 2 - 9" lengths, tapped them to accept small bolts, and bolted the strips to both sides of the larger backsaw blade and the thinner fret saw blade.  I had to drill holes through both of the saw blades to accommodate the bolts which went through from one side to the other.  NOTE:  IF YOU EVER TRY TO DRILL HOLES THROUGH A SAW BLADE, BE AWARE THAT IT IS VERY HARD STEEL AND WILL DO A NUMBER ON YOUR DRILL BITS.  Once the bolts were through and holding, I had to hack-saw them flush with the aluminum and file down their heads so it would slide through the upright posts on the mitre saw.  (looking at the pictures will clarify this issue).  With a lot of thinking, "engineering" and ham-handed clumsy hole-drilling and tapping, I created something that worked!

Second and third pics show blade from either end.  It was hard to take perfectly square pics with my phone.  The blade lines up almost perfectly in reality.

I now have a serviceable fret slotting mitre box that hopefully will do the trick if I'm very careful about marking where to cut and lining up the saw with that mark.  It has enough heft to saw smoothly and quickly.  It also has depth stops to control the depth of cut.  I will just have to make test cuts till I get the depth correct.  It ain't purty, but I think it will work great.
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #13 on: November 23, 2016, 03:34:19 AM »

A couple of pics of my first test cut on a piece of spruce.  Cuts came out perfectly square and vertical.  Woohoo!
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
Barefoot Rob
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« Reply #14 on: November 23, 2016, 05:28:39 AM »

So far so good.Though I have assembled a few dozen or so guitars over the years the main reason I never got into building them was I figured I was already insane enough to just want to fix them.BUT I see you haven't reach that point yet so I assume that you just drink at the end of the day as I just eat toast as booze and other things don't seem to do anything for me.






  nice guitar                                 


OK I drink more coffee then most in reality.
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« Reply #15 on: December 03, 2016, 04:48:32 AM »

So, a bit of a disappointment and a set-back.  I spent several hours very carefully and meticulously marking my maple fingerboard for the location of the fret slots using my telecaster neck as a guide.  Then I spent a few more hours lining each slot up perfectly on my Rube Goldberg fret saw and sawing them.  It took me awhile to get the slot depth perfectly adjusted with the stops on the miter saw.  I was super careful to make sure the blade was perfectly centered on each of my pencil marks on the board.  I even clamped the board in position for each cut.  When I was done, the slots were perfectly parallel to each other and perfectly perpendicular to the edge of the board.  I was pretty pleased with myself for coming up with the saw idea.

Then, I compared the slots side by side with the center of the frets on my Tele neck.  75% of them matched perfectly.  25% or so did not!  Some were out by more than 1/32".  I can't figure out why.  My guess is that there is too much side to side play in my rig and the saw didn't follow the same line from the first cut to the bottom of the slots, but I can't tell for sure.  Bottom line is my fret saw experiment is ultimately a failure.  There is no way I can use the fingerboard since I'm sure it won't intonate properly.  The disappointment comes mostly because the challenge was to make everything from the raw materials.  I have resigned myself to the fact that I might have to compromise on that wish.

So, last night, I went on StewMac's website and ordered a pre-slotted maple compound radius fender-style fingerboard.  The darn thing is only going to cost me 23 bucks Canadian.  I could have saved a lot of time and grief just buying one in the first place.  crying Oh well, live and learn.

Stay tuned.
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
George
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« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2016, 04:22:49 PM »

I have made a worse mistake than that on an electric build, and I was just buying precut/prebuilt parts and assembling them.  I bought a body and a neck from a seller of such things and when it came in I finished the body and I put it all together with my tuning machines, pickups, toggle switches, bridge, etc.  Much to my dismay, I found that when I tuned the guitar it would intonate on the first fret but it was totally out of tune from there on up the fretboard.  Turns out the guy had sold me a 25.5 inch scale neck and a 24.75 inch scale body with predrilled bridge mounting holes and body string through holes.  He denied it and would not make it good, so I took it all apart and used the neck on another body.  Later while adjusting the neck relief, the weld on the truss rod broke and the neck failed.  The seller at least made good on the neck, but it took 4 months of nagging before he finally sent me a replacement.  What a lesson learned...  I am still looking for a neck for that body...  Thankfully all the rest of my homemade electrics have worked out just fine... so far have not broken any more truss rods either....

Keep the faith, it will turn out fine in the end.
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George
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« Reply #17 on: December 21, 2016, 05:32:31 AM »

I have made a worse mistake than that on an electric build, and I was just buying precut/prebuilt parts and assembling them.  I bought a body and a neck from a seller of such things and when it came in I finished the body and I put it all together with my tuning machines, pickups, toggle switches, bridge, etc.  Much to my dismay, I found that when I tuned the guitar it would intonate on the first fret but it was totally out of tune from there on up the fretboard.  Turns out the guy had sold me a 25.5 inch scale neck and a 24.75 inch scale body with predrilled bridge mounting holes and body string through holes.  He denied it and would not make it good, so I took it all apart and used the neck on another body.  Later while adjusting the neck relief, the weld on the truss rod broke and the neck failed.  The seller at least made good on the neck, but it took 4 months of nagging before he finally sent me a replacement.  What a lesson learned...  I am still looking for a neck for that body...  Thankfully all the rest of my homemade electrics have worked out just fine... so far have not broken any more truss rods either....

Keep the faith, it will turn out fine in the end.

Thanks for the encouragement.  I'm still plugging away at this thing and am about to provide a couple of posts updating my progress.  Here goes.
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #18 on: December 21, 2016, 06:59:35 AM »

Since my last update about the screwed up fret board, I have addressed the neck proper while I awaited the arrival of the pre-slotted fret board and a bunch of other parts I have ordered including fret wire and truss rod.  I decided to use the "low profile truss rod" offered by Stewmac.  It requires a slot in the neck that is 1/4" wide by 3/8" deep below the bottom of the finger board.  I have chosen to install it so the adjustment is at the body-end of the neck (old school fender style) as opposed to trying to make it a "bullet" type which, for me, is beyond my skill.  Plus I lack the sophisticated tools I would have to possess to make it that way.  I would prefer it the other way, but so be it.  So, I had to cut the groove down the middle of the neck to accommodate the soon-to-arrive truss rod.

I actually have a router (Bosch Colt), which you would think is the tool to use for this task.  Problem is I haven't used it yet or learned how to best jig up to do such a straightforward job.  I don't have a router table, and don't even know if I have the right bits.  Plus, in hindsight, I should have done this job while the neck was still a rectangle and not tapered to it's final rough shape.  This is just another lesson learned that I won't repeat in the future.  So, I decided to do this groove with a hand-tool; a good old fashioned router plane.  I don't own one, but luckily I work where we sell world-class hand tools like this.  http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page.aspx?p=52609&cat=1,41182,48945,52609

So I borrowed one from our "Seminar Room" and installed a 1/4" wide blade in it.  I made a jig to steer it straight, and attached the neck to the board with carpet tape so that I could run it down the center-line and spent an evening cutting the groove.  Once I learned how to use it and adjust the blade depth for each pass, it cut like butter and was a very satisfying experience.

The pics were taken before the truss rod and the actual finger board I intend to use was delivered.  In the mean time, I decided to spot-glue my screwed-up finger board to the neck and proceed with trimming it and shaping the neck using it as a surrogate for the final fingerboard.  At this point the fingerboard was still flat on top, so I decided to use it to practice putting a compound radius on it with my set of StewMac radius blocks.  I won't need to do this with the fingerboard I will ultimately use, but I thought this would be a good training exercise.  My surrogate fingerboard turned out very well in terms of putting a compound radius on it.  Too bad I can't use it because of the slots being wrong.

So here is disappointment #2.  The groove I cut with the router plane is perfectly square, the correct width, and a little too deep.  But somehow in the process, even though I thought I started at and followed the center-line of the neck from body to nut end, I somehow got the thing tracking towards the treble side as you get to the nut end.  It must have shifted slightly on the double sided tape with the first few strokes!  I didn't catch this right away, so I just let the router plane guide itself on this wrong track and merrily cut away thinking "how nice is this"?  When I was done, I discovered the groove is skewed towards the treble side by at least 3/32"!  I only discovered this after completing the whole groove.  I'm thinking this won't be good as the truss rod should be more or less perfectly centered down the entire length of the neck.  I could kick myself for letting this happen.  I'm thinking the only way to fix this is to fill in most of the slot with some glued-in maple and re-cut the slot.  I would love to take the chance that a slightly askew truss rod would still do the trick, but my gut tells me uh-uh, "don't do it"!  It's an experimental guitar in some respects, but I still want it to be a playable and adjustable guitar.

NOTE:  the above work was done over the last couple of weeks.  My next post shows what has been done as of today.  
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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« Reply #19 on: December 21, 2016, 08:14:28 AM »

Over the last few evenings, I have shaped the neck using a Lee Valley low angle spoke-shave, a Japanese contour plane (my absolute favorite shaping tool), and a couple of rasps.  I did this with my surrogate fingerboard attached.  I used my profile gauge to compare my new neck to my Warmoth Telecaster neck's profile, fret by fret, while purposefully making my neck a bit thicker and a bit more "U" shaped.  I took profiles one fret at a time and adapted my desired shape accordingly.  My neck is now ready for final sanding, I hope.

The pics show the neck I'm copying, the tools I used to shape my neck, and an example of how I used the profile gauge to shape the neck fret by fret.  After final sanding, I will remove my surrogate fingerboard and eventually attach the real fingerboard, trim it to the neck, and unify both pieces into the final shape.

The pics show the two necks, the tools being used for shaping, and an example of how I'm using the profile gauge as guide.  
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"Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges."

Became a Shooting Star when I got my 1st guitar.
Back in '66, I was 13 and that was my fix.
Still shooting for stardom after all this time.
If I never make it, I'll still be fine.


 
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