(Eds. note: this article is very old… I moved it from its former site at j-shirt.com/louieo/mustang. I hope you like it. Also, the photos are ultra-low-resolution from my friend Toby’s 2000-vintage digital camera. Good times!)
Sometime in the Spring of 2000 I was on the verge of graduating from the UW, and I decided to get myself a graduation present. Having majored in English, I had little money and no prospects, so my present would have to be on the cheap-to-somewhat-less-cheap order of things. So I bought a vintage Fender Mustang via Ebay auction.
I’d wanted a Mustang for a long time, having found them to be both attractive and comfortable to play, plus I think they sound good. The choice was made.
As with a lot of my Ebay stories, it was not the smoothest of transactions. The guitar seemed great in the pictures — it was green! There are no naturally green Mustangs, and this was a really cool shade of green. Green being my favorite color, I had to bid on it. And so I did, and won the auction at $335, and with shipping it came to $360. Not a bad price for a Mustang, I think, which generally go for $500 at local stores.
So, the guitar arrived and was a bit of a project. The guitar itself was ok.. the only problems body and neck-wise were a stain on the headstock (which was mentioned in the auction) and the somewhat dribbly paint job (not mentioned) — the paint clearly ran in places. Not a big deal though, certainly not a problem. The problem was with the switches.. someone had decided to install a toggle switch for the two pickups in place of the two sliding switches that are normal in a mustang. The switches were still there (though not wired and also broken), but whoever did the modification cut a hole between them for the toggle. This was mentioned in the auction, so I can’t complain, though it was a dumb thing to do.
(Eds. note: I can see what the previous owner was thinking replacing the sliders with a 3-position toggle, which is that it seems a simple way to activate neck, bridge, or both pickups. What you lose though is the ability to phase-reverse the pickups, which strangely enough is something I’ve ended up doing all the time. Best to leave it alone)
All this was easy enough to deal with, but what sucked was that the seller promised three things that he did not provide: he promised to send me new switches, the vibrato (or “whammy”) bar for the bridge, and the original pickups (which had been replaced with Fender Lace Sensor pickups). These things were mentioned and promised in the auction.
So, email negotiations ensued. When he failed to receive the switches that he ostensibly had ordered for me, he said he would just mail me the $18 for new ones, in addition to the vibrato bar and pickups. I honestly don’t remember whether the $18 ever arrived — I’m pretty sure they didn’t, and I know that the pickups and whammy never came. He stopped answering email at some point.
So that sucked. But hey, at least I had the important thing, which was the guitar. A couple of evenings worth of work was all it took to get it up and running. First in line was a good cleaning. I took it completely apart and cleaned its various parts. Upon doing so I noticed another thing the seller had neglected to mention, that the original tuners had been replaced with Grovers. This is a good thing really, as stock Mustang tuners generally are not good.
Taking one’s guitar apart is good practice, I think, as you learn a lot about it. As for cleaning, I use Windex, which is probably wrong, but it works for me. Kids at home though should note that a fine guitar polish and lemon oil are the proper tools of this trade. Something like that!
I put the neck back on with a shim to give a bit of downward neck angle. I like neck angle. I noted something. The guitar had been advertised as a 1969 Mustang. The date print on the neck was illegible, but seemed to be either 1968 or 1969. The “Contour Body” decal is present on the neck, which I think means ’69. I’m not sure when the contour body was introduced on the Mustang.. I’ll have to go look that up (or someone out there can leave a comment and tell me). The neck plate, however, which goes between the body and the screw heads, has a serial number which suggests 1974 (when you look it up). The body seems to have no date or serial on it anywhere, but it is of the contour body design, so it must be newer than ’68 which I think is when it was introduced. That or it’s a fake. So I’m not sure what year this guitar is. (eds. note: I wrote all this ten years ago and have since completely stopped caring about the guitar’s pedigree.)
At any rate, I bought two new Mustang switches at the Trading Musician for I think $8. It was less than $18, I’m pretty sure of that. I removed the toggle and filled the hole with a piece of black plastic from a DVD case that I had lying around — one of those that AOL now sends their free installation disks in. It’s not a great match for the pearloid pickguard, but it stands as a reminder of how not to rewire your vintage guitar.
I noted one last thing out of place, or so I thought. There was no wire grounding the bridge, nor was there a hole for a wire from the controls cavity to the bridge cavity. So, I drilled a little hole and ran a wire to the vibrato. This might have been a bad move as I’m not sure whether Mustangs had grounded bridges or not, but I’m pretty sure it’s fairly necessary to prevent buzzing. If anyone has information on this please leave a comment. (eds. note: this guitar has always buzzed a bit. The ground wire helped a lot but the buzz is still there on just about every recording I’ve made with it, including the new An Invitation to Love EP)
So anyway, at the end of all of this, I had the guitar back together, I set it up, put on new strings, the wiring was good, it sounds good and plays well, and overall I’m pretty happy with it.
Update: September 2011
I stopped playing the Mustang for a few years after I got a Silvertone 1457, which became my go-to guitar on my solo albums. The mustang’s sound was always a bit on the thin side and the Silvertone was just better for solo gigs. I’ve switched that up the last few years though, I play the Mustang in my rock band An Invitation to Love. Hear it in action on our new EP.
By the way, probably the best link on the web for Mustang info is this one: