Christopher Cyr: BelAir Mods
I travel a lot. Like 50 weeks out of the year a lot. I have been playing guitar professionally for over 20 years. For the longest time, I have tried to carry my guitars with me wherever I went, but it just got more and more tiresome to do so. I have even at times bought a used guitar where I was, played it while I was there, and then donated it when I left. But I just kept missing bringing MY guitar. Something I could get used to. There really are not many options when you consider a travel guitar. I have gone the acoustic route with travel guitars, only to feel like I am playing a weird instrument that sounds between a ukulele and a banjo, to the travel electric route which looks like playing a guitar neck with a pickup attached. I wanted a “real” guitar with a real body and a real neck with normal tuners that did not require major retraining for string changes.
Then I saw the Voyage Air guitars while running a web search for full-size solid body electric travel guitars. I never heard of the company before, never saw one, and never heard what one sounded like. The fact that they had a solid-body full-size electric guitar with a folding neck was enough to pick one up. I bought the Belair. What was interesting to me was that I bought it from Guitar Center that was a dealer, but had never seen one either. When it came in, I unboxed it at the store for everyone to see and play. Everyone was impressed, myself included, but of course, like all guitar players, I had to make it ‘mine’.
I almost sent it back, with an emphasis on almost, thinking that it was defective. I was an early purchaser, and by mistake it did not come with a manual, so I thought since it had four control knobs in a Les Paul fashion, that they were laid out that way. It was pretty funny after I figured it out, but it compelled me to write a review of the guitar and submit it to Voyage Air. What wound up being a simple email, turned out to being a six-page document with critiques and complements of my guitar. What I also included were the things that I wanted to do to the guitar. I got such a fantastic response back from the company (a phone call a couple of days later encouraging me to make the mods), I knew this guitar was not going away.
Everything you get with the Belair is great when you purchase it. The fit and finish are perfect, the hardware is quality, and the pickups sound really nice. With all P-90’s you are going to get hum when using them by themselves. Those controls drove me nuts after playing LP’s for such a long time. I re-configured the controls, and put push-pulls pots in the volume knob positions. I changed out the knobs themselves for amber top-hat style knobs.
Because of the size of the P-90’s my pickup choices were limited. Also, I did not want to cut/route out the body. After some searching, I found that TV Jones, made a version of his custom Filtertron pickup in a soapbar P-90 configuration, so I ordered one and installed it. When you order from them, they actually wind the pickup at that time, so it takes a couple of weeks for it to arrive. It is coil-tapped and connected to the push-pull on the bridge pickup configuration.
For the neck pickup, I chose a GFS vintage Filtertron style pickup with a P-90 ring around it. This too is coil-tapped. What these pickups give me is a much hotter and brighter sound, no hum when I want it, and single coil sound when I need it.
The last thing I did was to put locking tuners on the headstock. They work great, and keep the strings where they need to be, and changes are easier.
So what’s next, you might ask? On the guitar, I am going to replace the bridge with a piezo one so I can also get acoustic sounds, and install a 2.5 watt headphone amp that can turned on and off with a push-pull on a tone knob.
Next, I am going to do something about the case. While the case is probably the best travel case I have ever seen for a guitar, I need one smaller that fits in a commuter plane overhead compartment. The compartments are much smaller than the bigger planes. Even though this case is small, I still have to valet check it at the gate, so I have to take my laptop out, etc. As a stopgap, what I have found, is that the Belair actually fits in a normal backpack with the headstock poking out. I have been putting a golf club driver sock over it to protect it, but I want something that looks a bit better. As a bonus, I can stow it under the seat! How many guitars can do that? Thanks for reading and I’ll keep you posted!
A few months ago, Chris Cyr explained how he had modified his Voyage-Air Bel-Air guitar to suit his specific preferences and needs. His guitar is a work in progress, as he continues to modify various features of an already great guitar. Here’s an update:
Just wanted to touch base, and let you know how the Bel-Air is doing.
As you know, I am not finished with the guitar. I now am in the process of adding Graph Tech Ghost Peizo Saddles and an Acoustiphonic pre-amp. These should add an ‘acoustic’ tone to the guitar’s output, separate from the electric-guitar pickups. I am taking pictures every step of the way.
The picture here shows the parts I’m about to install. Most of this will be internal to the BelAir – to maintain the guitar’s stock appearance.
But right now, even without these upcoming mods, I am getting 8 distinct tones from the BelAir - without having to make any adjustments to my amplifier. Amazing.
Also, I have a couple of interesting ideas that I have come up with and wanted to discuss with you. We’ll be in touch!