Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Introducing the CMS Guitar" photo session

I did a photo session at "LHC Point 5" where the CMS detector is located 100m underground. The area with the detector itself is not accessible due to ongoing collisions, but we also have a great 1:1 scale photo of the experiment there, which you can see in the photos below.

Go to this gallery on flickr to see the full set. All photos by Julia Hoffman.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Neck refinish

The neck refinish is done. Here is the back of the neck, sanded down to bare wood:

And here is is a few days and about 8 coats of Danish Oil later:

The heastock had some little irregularities in the paint over the decals for some reason. I decided to get rid of that, sanded the finish flat with P1000 wet&dry sandpaper, shot a few more coats of clearcoar and leveled that. Then followed up with a set of micromesh pads and finally buffed up to a mirror shine. Here's the result:

And here's the fingerboard after a re-leveling, P600 sandpaper and some Danish Oil.

Now I can put the new strings on and do a photoshoot and then a videoshoot hopefully. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 24, 2012

New pickups

The new set of pickups is here so I disassembled the guitar to put them in. These are Merlin Pickups (a Sabotage humbucker and a Twins mini humbucker), should sound awesome!

In the beginning I encountered a slight complication: the body cavity for the neck pickup was matching the stock pickup shape (the top pickup on the photo below) whereas the Twins mini humbucker has a little protruding plastic part at the bottom (which is in fact common for pickups of this type).

I had to make room for that so I used a dremel to sand away some wood in the cavity:

I painted the cavity with black conductive paint and installed both pickups:

Can't wait to hear how they sound - I just have to do the neck now. I decided I will strip the stock paint and just give it a matte danish oil finish. Should be ready in a few days.

Monday, September 10, 2012

In the news

The CMS guitar is getting noticed! I wrote a small note for the CMS experiment website and we have been spotted by Discovery News. Wow!

Meanwhile I'm working on a few minor upgrades. I will change the strings to flatwound with wound G, that should help the sustain. I need to get new pickups for her - the cheap stock ones sound ok, but get microphonic feedback when playing loud (i.e. live) which I had to fight with through the Hardronic show. Finally - I need to finish the custom volume knob.

When all this is done I have some recording projects queued up for this guitar. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

First live performance

Here it is - video from the first live performance of the CMS guitar, less than a week after I finished putting it together:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

MC Hammer

I'm still working on the videos from the Hardronic performance, so in the meantime I thought I'd share another video that I made recently. The song is "Hammer of a Down" - a blend of MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" together with "Chop Suey" by System of a Down. And the video is about... what happens when people working at CERN need a little break.
Check it out:

The video of the debut performance of the CMS guitar is coming very soon!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

CMS guitar @ Hardronic 2012

This year's Hardronic broke all the records. We had over 1000 CERN personnel plus guests rocking out!!

The guitar played great. I tried to play great. The videos are coming, watch this space.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Ladies and gentlemen: the CMS Guitar v1.0 is ready.

As announced earlier, the instrument will debut during the 2012 CERN Hardronic Music Festival on Saturday July 21st, during my performance with Miss Proper and the Moving Targets, around 23:30 CET.

You can watch it either in person or through a live webcast, details at http://musiclub.cern.ch/hardronic


As the neck is drying I finished up with the body - put in the switches and knobs, pickups, soldered the connections in the electronics compartment

And this is how she looks now:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Headstock decals

The final touch to the headstock is the logo. Two logos, in fact. One is the official CMS logo - like in http://cms.web.cern.ch/. The other my logo - "TRAQ guitars". The second one goes on dark background so I had to make white lettering. The way to do this is to print out the black letter outline on decal paper and color the inside white. Then when the decal is applied upside down, the black lines covert the white and create nice edges for the letters. Here's what it looks like:

I had quite a number of failed attempts with this, from accidentally tearing the decal to brushing over it with nitrocellulose lacquer and ending up brushing the decal itself away. So i decided this needs to be sprayed, the only thing I had available in a spraycan was automotive acrylic clearcoat (I didn't want to fire up the spraying rig again, plus I've run out of 2K paint anyway).

So I buried the headstock face in that. This is an intermediate picture after several layers:

Since I could still see the surface having a different texture over the decals, I levelled the whole thing with P1000 wet&dry sandpaper and sprayed on a few more coats. Waiting for them to dry now.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Frets, dots etc.

Getting the neck ready for action. First I installed the side dot markers:

After that the time came for the instalation of the five frets.

Hammered them in, made sure they stay put by running superglue down the slots, leveled, recrowned, dressed the fret ends and finally polished to a mirror shine:

Then after installing the nut I could finally put on two strings to make sure everything is aligned and working.

After that I've taken her apart again to do the final bits of work - headstock logo, electronics installation etc.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Announcement: First public performance coming soon

I am planning to debut the finished CMS Guitar at the 2012 CERN Hardronic Festival on July 21st, during my performance with Miss Proper and the Moving Targets. The festival will be webcast live to all the world. Details will follow soon on:


Monday, July 9, 2012

Some work in the headstock area

After the neck came out of the clams with the fingerboard on, I turned my attention towards the headstock. First, I want to add something to the part where the original logo is. I chose padouk again since the color is already present throughout the design. 

I managed to cut out a piece matching the shape and glued it on. On the following day I put together a simple jig for shaping the edges of the fingerboard. Running the neck along I can precisely trim it down to get the fingerboard with almost perfectly matching the neck. Then I can finish up with sandpaper glued to an I-beam to make sure the line is straight.

Finally, I used the sanding drum to shape the part of the fingerboard behind the nut. Here's how it all came out:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gluing on the fingerboard

The fingerboard is now in the clamps for 24h. After that, the fingerboard and the neck will be One. (I hope)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Inlay done!

I have to say I'm proud of how this turned out. After two tests in different wood to get a feel of the technique I finished the inlay in the ebony fretboard for the CMS guitar. Here are the last steps:

I sanded down the two lines, time to start on the hardest part - the little "electromagnetic shower" at the 12th fret.

I had to freehand this with no templates, I just drew the lines in pencil and kept going over them with deeper and deeper passes, trying to repeat the same path each time, so that the channel didn't get wider than the router bit (which was already a bit too wide for the veneer strips). Here's what I got after 5 or so passes:

Since the lines are intersecting, the best way to do it I came up with was to glue the veneer in two steps. First, four maple strips:

Then, after sanding these down the following day, the padauk. As the lines curve a lot more here I though I'd try pre-bending the veneer to avoid it breaking on me. I tried my soldering station, set the temperature at the lowest I could get (200C) and tried to bend the strips after wetting them. It took 2-3 tries to get what I wanted, but the result was surprisingly good - I nearly perfectly reproduced the curves:

So after another day of waiting for the epoxy to harden, here's the end result after initial sanding.

Not bad for a first time, I'd say. :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On the discovery of a new particle (Higgs?)

And so it happened today and we have announced the observation of a new particle at the LHC. CMS and ATLAS both  showed evidence on the level of "five sigma", which means that the probability that what they're seeing is just a result of pure chance is more or less the probability of rolling the dice eight times and getting a six each time.

This particle might be the Higgs boson - something that was postulated for the first time in 1964 and had since then escaped detection. The significance of this discovery is bigger than many people think. Some are calling it the biggest scientific achievement of the 21st century, and something bigger than the landing on the Moon - and I think they're right.

Let me try to put this into perspective, from the point of view of a physicist working on the same experiment but searching for different, yet undiscovered, particles. This will be a bit long, so bear with me.

First of all - particle physics is what we call "fundamental research". We don't ask "what can I use this for?" or "whom can I sell it to and for how much?". We ask "why?". And we're trying to find answers to this question studying Nature at the deepest and most fundamental level - at tle level of interactions of particles that everything Science can describe is made of.

Its a bit like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle. Blindfolded.

You reach into the box, hoping that your hand finds a new piece, and then try to arrange the pieces into something that makes sense.

And in fact in the 2nd half of 20th century we managed to arrange them pretty well, into something that we call the standard model of particle interactions. It's the most precisely measured theory to date. In the early 1990's it looked more or less like this:

You can see it looks pretty good, there are just two missing pieces. The one on the right was pretty obvious and it was found in 1995 by the experiments running on the Tevatron collider in Fermilab near Chicago. That's the top quark, the sixth particle in a family of particles making up the protons and neutrons in the atomic nuclei. Something that just had to be there.

The missing piece in the corner is something different. That's the Higgs boson. We need it to complete the puzzle, without it our theory is incomplete in an obvious way... but that's not the end of the story. You can see that the puzzle should extend in other directions, we believe that this is also the case with the standard model. We have many reasons to believe that the standard model is not the final, ultimate "theory of everything". In fact it doesn't even describe "everything" (it cannot describe gravity for example). But we have yet to see something new, some piece that would fit somewhere along the borders.

How are we looking for new pieces? We're reaching into the box where the pieces should be. Building stronger and stronger accelerators, we're able to reach further and further into the box. Remember, we can't see, we can just reach out and hope we find something.

And today we finally announced that our hand searching the box found a new piece:

At first glance it looks like it could be the missing one there in the corner. But checking whether it fits exactly will still take some time. This is the situation we're in at this moment.
What are the possible outcomes?

Option one
It is the standard Higgs boson. Everything fits. We have solved the puzzle... and unless we find some other new pieces in the meantime, we are starting to be in trouble:

we sort of expect there to be more to it, but we're not really sure where to start looking... game over?

Option two
It is some more exotic variant of the Higgs particle - it fits, but not exactly in the spot we thought initially:

this is much a better option as we would finally have a clear indication where to look for new things. Look: there's a whole new unpopulated row now!

Option three
It is something that ends up not fitting at all. I'd say its very unlikely, but possible - and would for sure be fun.

And what is my part in the game? I, along with many other physicists, still have my hand in the box. We're still reaching out, way beyond the spot where the piece found today was lying. We're doing this in parallel to the Higgs searches, hoping that we will eventually find something like this:

A completely new particle, in a completely different place. Hinting at a lot more to come...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Painting time

And so the time has finally come to do some spraying. I'm a little uneasy as this is my first time with a real automotive spray gun. And I'll be using 2K urethane clearcoat - catalyzed two component paint. So any screw-ups will be hard to fix, but at least the paint should be durable and dry quickly (days as opposed to weeks). No test runs this time - it either works out or it doesn't. To make this even more fun I'm doing three guitars at the same time, as you can see in the picture below:

After shooting the first coat of clear I had the guitar looking like this:

Following this with a second coat after 30 minutes, the clear is flowing out quite nicely.

Time to lay her down to sleep. It turns out that I don't have the amount of paint to do many coats, but from what I know on cars they only do about 1.5, so if I manage to get three or four in total I should be fine... I think. I will probably not be sanding this since I'm anyway keeping the puzzle-like surface so... we'll see.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


In this press release CERN is announcing a special seminar next week, on July 4th, where the ATLAS and CMS experiments will present recent results from the search for the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is a particle that physisicts have been searching for for over 30 years now, its one of the things the Large Hadron Collider was built to look for. Its the final missing piece in the... puzzle we call the Standard Model - the theory describing the interactions of all known particles.

With the amount of data collected in 2012 we should be able to tell whether the hints we saw in 2011 were just statistical fluctuations that went away with more data, or whether they're still here - which would mean that we really are seeing... something.

So the question now is: should I rush to quickly finish the CMS Guitar in a week? :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time to get busy

I'm moving on to cutting some of the real wood. Here's the channel I routed for one of the long inlay lines in the ebony fretboard.

I had to fight with the Stewmac Dremel routing attachment to keep it from moving my router bit around, which was causing the channel to be a little wider than planned. In fact in one place I managed to route two channels side-by-side, which is really bad but I will have to cover it up somehow - either add a short parallel inlay line or just fill it with black epoxy. Will see.

This time I took pieces of veneer spanning the whole length of the inlay channel:

Here's the first line after cutting off the excess and rough-sanding it down a little. Looks like I have a few gaps that I'll need to fill, should have used more epoxy it seems. But first I'll do the rest of the design.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Inlay tests - done!

Ok. This pretty much resembles what I wanted to achieve. Time to start on the real piece of wood now.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Inlay test: seems ok this time

With the epoxy dry I can now cut off the veneer that's sticking out:

Revealing the inlay looking pretty good for my taste: 


Looks like I might be able to pull it off this way. Especially since the real fingerboard will be ebony, its a lot easier to mask any imperfections with epoxy in ebony as its nearly black..

But before I move on to the real thing I want to do a test run for the whole design. I made another template for the other muon track and routed out another channel. Filling it with epoxy mixed with wood dust again:

And another series of veneer strips is in place:

Once this is done I'll have to tackle the hard part again: the little shower of tracks at 12th fret that I will probably have to freehand again one way or another. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Inlay test: Take Two

I'm fighting with the inlay again. Time to try something planned-out more thoroughly. I've made a guide for the Dremel attachment to follow exactly the lines that I want to have on the fretboard:

With this I can rout a much nicer channel for the inlay.

The dust from the routing gets mixed with epoxy to have something roughly the same color filling any gaps

And I can now glue two lines of wood strips in - maple and padauk. Leaving this overnight to make sure the epoxy sets in and then we'll see what came out.