Projects and Musings

Westone Thunder 1A restoration

The Thunder 1a - after the rebuild.

The Thunder 1a - after the rebuild.

It’s not often I get to see one of the guitars I lusted after as a kid, but I have recently had two of them through the workshop in quick succession.

the Thunder 1 from Westone was one of the more affordable guitars that had some real quality. It was still way beyond my bank balance as teenager, but all the same it wasn’t in the Fender or Gibson league and yet it offered so much to the working player at a reasonable cost. In the early 80’s the 1a in light oak finish was £185 - whereas the Les Paul standard was about £750 and a Strat around £350. That’s a big difference for such a well made guitar.

The original had an active circuit board which came to me disconnected and not reported as working. the customer wasn’t keen to keep it, but didn’t want to lose the layout of the guitar as was orignaally configured, and also didn’t want it to be altered aesthetically.

The choice then was to use some passive pickups, in this case some slightly overwound Alnico II pickups, to create a blues rock machine for the modern era. the question was, what do I do with the configuration? I have three switches, and three pots. The obvious move is two volumes and a master tone. That would link up then with two coil tap switches for maximum flexibility. But there’s still another switch….

Two obvious choices come to mind - either a blower (the bridge full on with nothing else in the circuit are quite popular these days), or a kill switch. But with the four conductor pickups the option of a phase switch comes in to play. With the two conductor pickup, this simply unearths the chassis and makes a noisy circuit. But with the 4 conductor design then the coils can be reversed without disturbing the earth, or upsetting the ability to coil tap the pickup.

The results were interesting, and especially in the upper range of the guitar where it simply howls.

All in all, the biggest problem I found with the guitar was the neck. It had been stored for a while, and I think there had been some swelling of the fretboard. The Frets were a bit worn, but nothing that in normal circumstances couldn’t have been recovered. However with the unevenness of the fretboard that couldn’t really be done. So the neck was de fretted and levelled, and new frets were installed to match the size of the original ones as closely as possible.

The bridge saddles were also a bit beyond hope - which also suggests that there was a little damp involved.

The results have been very pleasing. strung with 11s, it’s a proper blues rock monster now and has a great feel.

If you have one of these that’s looking a bit the worse for wear, spend some time and money on it - you won’t be disappointed.