A twist on an original Epiphone brand. Instead of a traditional 2pickup configuration, this Riviera has THREE P-90s, providing more tonal options, and along with it, more switching dilemma. More on that in a bit…

This comes by the way of Musician’s Friend’s unwillingness to fix “damaged” or “broken” shipments or returns, and instead “pass the savings” on to their customers willing to do the extra work to fix it up.

This sounds and IS great, since the used or blemished merchandise is significantly reduced in price, making an especially expensive retail-priced item within reach of those misers like me. 🙂

but in truth, Musician’s Friend and other companies who do this are not really losing big money by drastically discounting the used or damaged items. Retail companies are alotted damages and returns each year – its a known fact that no shipment in a year will be perfect. There WILL be damaged shipments, customers returning stuff, etc. Thats all already entered in the budget forecasts, its just up to them to control it. Damage control, so to speak. They already “claimed” it, and by selling it again, they actually profit more. Smart and prudent business practice. a Win-Win for both the retailer and us, the consumers.

Anyway, i got one of those returns in this Wine Red P93. The problem? it said volume control not working. NO mention of broken necks or damaged anything. SOLD!

when it came in, it was in pristine condition, still had the original box and the brochures that came with it. When i plugged it in, it works! the volume control issue was when the toggle switch is in the middle position – the volume control for all 3 pickups indeed did not work – it was full on. Well, thats a simple wiring fix! (or so i thought…)

With 3 P-90s, the Riviera has 3 volume controls (1 for each pickup) and 1 master tone control. The toggle switch has Neck and Middle in position 1, Neck and middle and bridge in 2, and middle and bridge in 3. To use just the neck or bridge, simply roll back the volume of the middle when in position 1. When the toggle is in the middle position, ALL of the volume pots work at the same time , so theres not one volume control that works ALL of the pickups at the same time. Thanks to the dumbass who cant understand this, or didnt want this configuration, I reap the benefits of his idiocy.

Then again, in a way i understand the inconvenience of this. No master volume, no quick control. 3 dedicated volume controls on at the same time will do this. Didnt this guy even play a les paul? anyway, i have to say im in a similar boat. I prefer to have a neck- and bridge-only style, but having a 3rd middle pickup can add up to a unique tone.

which it has – problem is its not for good. with the inclusion of the middle pickup the tone becomes hum cancelling with the toggle switch postions 1 and 3, but also make it sound unlike that of a true P90. Its muddy when overdriven. Even at clean settings the highs that P90s are known for are stunted. On its own, its a unique sound, but once you know how a P90 truly sounds like you want to use that P90 for its unique sound. The sound that made it popular.

So on to the drawing board to see how this can be worked out. My main goal was to get it back to standard configuration: Neck and Bridge only, dedicated volume and tone controls for each, and a switch to turn the middle on anytime. Easy enough. I didnt want to drill or cut any holes in, so i used the existing ones instead. changing out the components and wiring is not the problem, its putting them back on.

IF youve done semihollow body work before, you’d know the difficulty of putting the components back on. Ive read and saw online the different ways people attacked this issue. Fish lines, floss, etc. I use 22 gauge SOLID wires. Theyre thin enough to thread thru the holes, and stays in place when working with then. Its malleability allows me to direct the wire thru without too much guess work threading it to the other opening. Ill have a tricks-of-the-trade demo of this later.

Initially I wanted to try and use a 5way strat switch right under the pickguard going thru the F-hole. Then i find that the  F-hole was too narrow, or the strat switch was too thick (even using the box style imports). A 5- or 6-way rotary switch perhaps? nope – again, Fhole TOO narrow again. Im wondering if there is a wider access via the bidge pickup cavity – BB King’s 335 has a varitone switch. But i didnt bother.

There are several options using the current components:

1) Single Master Tone control, Volume pots each for Neck and Bridge, and 1 mini-2way toggle switch to turn the Middle on or off (replacing the middle volume control). this doesnt allow for just the middle pickup alone.

2) same as above, but a mini 3way toggle switch for the neck and middle pickup together (neck, neck+middle, middle). The main toggle switch still toggles between the Bridge and (Neck+Middle). this allows the middle pickup to have volume control and to be on its own.

3) Volume and Tone control each for the Neck and Bridge pickup, with a push-pull pot to turn the middle on and off. No middle only option also.

I had to think about this for a bit – the middle-only option is pretty neat, good for those reverbed-out surf-sound, or if you fancy those spaghetti western themes. Then i realized this was great for a fender strat single coil- with its distance between the neck and bridge pickups, there is a greater sound difference between the three. On THIS Riviera, the proximity between the neck and middle, and the middle and bridge pickups are not that great. And its not a strat anyway, i can do away with that middle pickup sound as a sacrifice. If i want a middle pickup sound, ill pickup my strat instead.

Then i thought about what the P93 is really doing – give you an option to mix that middle pickup with the neck and bridge (which is what the original layout is to begin with). There is NO middle-only sound. By eliminating the need for the middle-only sound option, i stay true to what this Riviera model does.

Then theres the 4th option: i stumbled upon the FREEWAY! courtesy of Stewart-Macdonald (stewmac.com), this  toggle switch does one unique thing – give you SIX switching options instead of three. It feels like youre changing gears on a manual drive car. 🙂
The switch gives you: ALL 3 at once, neck only, bridgle only, bridge+neck, bridge+middle, and middle+neck. Notice this switch ALSO does NOT give you a middle-only option. The wiring diagram for it for a 3-pickup configuration gives you a twin volume and tone for neck and bridge – no volume or tone for the middle alone as well.
RIght now i do not have the switch (yet), so im wondering how the volume works when the middle pickup is on. WIll the volume for either the neck or bridge roll off if the middle pickup is active on that position? The diagram suggests so, but theres only one way to find out – install one!

But for now…
I opted for option 2.
In the end i ended up with a single master tone for all, and a separate volume pot for the Neck(+middle) and Bridge. The 4th hole for the middle was used for a mini 3way togle switch, that controls the Middle and Neck pickups.
think of the new configuration this way: Neck and middle P90s work as one controlled by the mini-toggle switch, and the Bridge is on its own.

It works this way:
The main toggle switch controls Neck and Bridge selections, and the middle position has both of them together, like a regular 2 pickup configuration.
The mini 3-way toggle switch controls not just the middle but the neck pickup as well.  It becomes active when the main toggle switch is in the neck or middle position.
In the up position the minitoggle switches just the neck on, middle is off. The middle position of the mini-toggle switch turns both neck and middle on. down, the mini-toggle turns just the middle on.
By removing the middle pickup when switching, this allowed the neck or bridge P90s to work on their own, bringing out their TRUE sound. This was the sound im looking for! The plus is when the neck is engaged, its got that mellower tone due its mix with the middle pickup. the mini-toggle switch allows me to switch between the two at that position.

Another thing i did was to swap around the neck and the middle pickup, with the middle pickup being a reverse wound coil. This made the original 1 and 3 position humcancelling. Since i prefer a more traditional neck+bridge sound, swapping the middle to the neck made the neck+bridge hum-cancel.  Of course it would hum in the neck-only and bridge-only positions – its single coil! This brings out that raspy biting tone P-90s are known and loved for.

SO! as a (semi)final thought, that freeway switch will be installed once it’s in. I dont relish this much, as i have to “go fishing” again. But the end result is the pay-off – MORE TONE OPTIONS!

For now, this will suffice – the basics are there already. 🙂

UPDATE: November 23, 2012, 04:57:52 PM
Never did get the Freeway from Stew-Mac, and stuck with the separate mini-toggle switch for the Neck and Middle pickup, then mixing those as 1 pickup with the bridge with thte main toggle switch.

One thing i did do was change out the gaudy gold hardware with chrome parts, all thanks to another musician’s friend condition purchase – a “cracked neck” Wildkat. And to round out the ‘chromization’, i got nickel pole pieces for the pickups, switched out the gold kluson button tuners with tone-pros locking tuners with the green tulip knobs, and put in roller tunomatic bridge for smoother vibrato from the chrome bigsby culled from the Wildkat.
Man! this looks even better with chrome parts! Just check out the Black Royale P93- Similar great look.

next, the electronics get the traditional les paul wiring. i Kinda like having a dedicated volume and tone knob for the bridge and for the neck+middle pickup. This also solves the missing middle only option.

UPDATE: February 05, 2013, 11:10:23 AM

They sound great! Some of those who have this guitar yank the pickups because they immediately think “import= inferior”. I agree- to some degree. Being a bargain-hunter, i come across these imports all the time, and for the most part the pickups are there to make a sound, but it’s hit or shit.

This is a hit.

Using a Fender Twin clone in the Plush P1000-s all reverb’d out with a hint of overdrive, it sounds like a dirty surf machine. Or if you dig Interpol’s sound (which i most certainly do!), it gets you there easy.
Or just straight up dry dirt on the Prosonic set to 30W, it gets that distinct clear saturation with a nice top end. No mud at all. in all 3 single coils.

The “mud” may possibly be also because of the original stock wiring, which always had the middle pickup on, with only it’s dedicated volume pot the only way to “turn it off” (roll it back fully). Youre not truly disconnecting it from the circuit, and highs may still be getting grounded, so you lose the top end. Rewiring it to isolate the middle pickup with a mini-toggle switch assures it’s truly NOT working when it’s turned off.
It may also be losing a bit of the highs with the ‘robust’ coil winding. The coils measures at a hefty average of 12k, when vintage-wound P-90s top out at 8k only. Sounds good as it is, but for the adventurous, unwinding a few turns should lower the resistance. 3 pickups to change can be cost-prohibitive.
I’m keeping the pickups stock as is.
Unwinding coils WILL HAPPEN, but with the P-90s i harvested from the WIldkat, which is now on the 70’s 335 lawsuit guitar, to give it a different tone (as if a fully hollowbody thinline guitar isn’t a drastic difference already).

At any rate, i STILL have to change the wiring of the Riviera first, which itself is a major pain. The next project to complete this project!