1965/66 Pleasant SEL-220 hotrod

I call these projects "hotrods" and it's a way for me to use up perfectly good vintage bodies and necks I have used for parts over the years to restore other guitars that are essentially lying around gathering dust, so, I "hotrod" them with new hardware and get them playing again so someone can appreciate them. I've done this many times with guitars like Teiscos, Guyatones, Victors, and many more. I have quite a collection of Pleasant guitars, even though I sold a bunch of them a while ago and some I've used for parts to complete/restore guitars to sell.

I have several SEL-220s which I've written about before as I LOVE the shape and aesthetics of these wonderful mid sixties Japanese guitars made by Shinko Gakki. Since I've fixed up a few to make them complete I have a couple here that have been donor guitars, like this one.

 

This one still had most of it's parts and was in good condition and I have another one here that is nicer, in a rarer colour that needs some parts so I decided to make this one the "hotrod"

First thing I do with these is strip them completely and check the body and neck are good and that the trussrod works. If they need excessive work (some would say this is already excessive for a guitar like this) it can become not worth the effort and these usually go back on the pile to hopefully be used down the track for something.

This one was pretty good with a good body and paint, a nice neck with paint intact and trussrod working and the frets were still in pretty good condition so, away I went.

Sometimes I make the hotrods look as close to original as possible using modern parts but this one was begging me to do something a little more, adventurous with it.

The original scratchplates are metal with either no finish or powder coated (mainly in black) and carry the Pleasant made square pole pickups and a multi slider switch mechanism worthy of an old organ. They're very well made and the electrics are superb with great design and engineering. Since the body has a swimming pool rout for 2, 3 or 4 pickups and the whole switching mechanism, I had PLENTY of room in there to go crazy.

I traced the original plate as I think it works so well with this beautiful shape. Pleasant guitars all have a great eye for design and aesthetics so I decided not to try and outdo them with a new plate shape, but, I thought I should try some a little ... different.

I considered a few different pickup options and I love putting mini humbuckers in these builds as not only do they look great (and not like a "standard" pickup) but they sound great too being my second favourite design after the Mosrite/P-90 design. I love the original square pole Pleasant pickups but got to thinking about those Guyatone slug single coils I like a lot and then thought "why don't I just make a couple for this?" 

I wound a couple of hi output T-90s and used steel slugs and ceramic bar magnets to keep it all vintage Japanese. I don't pot my pickups but I do sometimes wind them tight and seal them in enamel if they're this high in output. I decided to do neither with these to try and replicate the vintage Japanese vibe even more. With high output pickups this means they can be a little bit microphonic, but then, so were the originals. 

I shielded the cavities and scratchplate, which I also don't normally do to try and tame the high out single coils a little and, 

To shield the Tym Buzzrite fuzz that is built into the guitar with all the controls being where the complex switching system was on the original. Since I had so much room the body cavity, I decided it might be cool to jam a sixties fuzz into that spot with controls above the strings. The fuzz is a slightly modifies version of my Buzzrite, which is a copy of the Mosrite Fuzzrite, with controls for Volume, Depth and Expander with an ON/OFF toggle switch.

The battery is accessed by removing the 3 screws in the scratchplate around the controls and lifting it slightly to remove the battery. The great thing is there was no routing or modding the body to do any of this which means it could be taken back to original if a donor guitar ever turned up.

 

The rest of the electrics are just the simple master vol and tone and 3 way pickup switch. The output jack is a stereo jack which cuts the battery to the fuzz when not plugged in, to save battery life and the fuzz is on a true bypass switch so if the battery runs down while you're playing, the guitar still works as a "normal" guitar.

 

The bridge is a generic roller Tune-O-Matic and the vibrato is a generic B1gsby, both of which are available online at good prices. These vibratos are heavier than the original units being made out of some metal alloy but they are actually great vibratos for the most part. Every so often you get one that's a little stiff but you just need to realign the bearings properly and they work fine. The arms do come loose but can be tightened with the nut holding them on.

I cut a piece of scratchplate material to put under the vibrato to cover the holes of the original vibrato and to give it a more .... non original look. 

The original tuners worked well on this guitar but I thought if I'm going to this much trouble I may as well put a set of sealed gear tuners on. This of course left visible holes from the original tuners but I wasn't that concerned. 

These Pleasants were well made and the SEL-220 was the equal top of the line model with the SEV-218 and cost 22.000 JY in '65, which ws the same price as the Teisco TG-64. They are solid timber bodies laminated (sandwiched) down the middle and this factory was the early adopter of the multi laminate neck design that many, including Kawai would soon use. This is a very strong and stable way of making a neck. These have a 24.75" (Gibson) scale with a rosewood fretboard although some Pleasant guitars used a zero fret and/or solid timber necks it made no sense as far as price point went with both entry level and top tier models utilizing both or neither. 

So, this hotrod went to the shop yesterday and lasted about an hour on the site before it was snapped up. I'm stoked this guitar gets to play and be enjoyed again. I hope the new owner digs it as much as I do. I kinda wanted to keep this one, but, well, it will end up covered in dust in the corner of my workshop so ...

Mar 03 2020 Written By: Tim Brennan