Modding the Stafford SF-S1 to Recreate the Nirvana Unplugged Guitar

In our last episode, I talked about my search for a guitar similar to the Nirvana Unplugged D18-e, and finding a similar - but far more affordable - Stafford SF-S1.

Once I got it, in order to bring the Stafford more in line with the D18-e guitar, there were a few easy modifications I could make. Let's go down through the list:

Bridge Pins

The easiest of these were the bridge pins, and I swapped in some ebony pins on my Stafford in place of the original white. It's entirely possible that D18-e guitars exist with white pins, so this is a minor detail anyway.

Oversized White Volume and Tone Knobs

Getting the white knobs was near impossible, because while finding large appliance style knobs to fit was easy, finding them in the appropriate off-white was not. Similarly, the D18-e knobs apparently had small black diamonds marks on them. After exploring some online options from some modders, I decided to buy some 25mm silver knobs from Amazon and spray them with some white acrylic paint. I had to be careful with excess paint around the bottoms, but in the end I think they were fine. I also detailed in the black diamond-shaped marks with a fine brush, and then put on a thin clear coat for protection.

painting silver knobs white

Now of course, the big difference between this and the D-18 is that the Stafford has four knobs and the D-18 has three. I'm willing to live with four, because removing one and patching a hole isn't really an option.

Black Knob Labels

As for the black ring labels that go underneath the knobs, this was also a big challenge. In the end, I actually just designed something 1 and then printed them up on regular computer paper and then sprayed on a layer of clear-coat. I didn't want to just apply the paper under the knobs, because they wouldn't have the right thickness, so I managed to find a 30mm O-ring in the plumbing section of my local hardware store which I could them stick the labels on. Being 5mm wider than the 25mm knob, this effectively just put a 2.5mm black border around the outside, which judging from pictures of the D18-e, was just about right.

From there, some sparse bits of double-sided tape could stick them onto the body. The result is below. It was a crude solution, but I'm actually pretty happy with it. Though I am keeping the original Gibson knobs should I ever decide to part with this guitar down the road.

bass treble and volume labels

Pick-up Switch

The black pickup selector switch was changed for a off-white one to match the D18-e. I have to confess here that I went through a couple of different white switches here, but none of them screwed on quite right. So in the end, I just painted the original black switch with an off-white color to match the knobs.

Once the knobs and labels were put on, I was quite pleased with how it turned out. It really did look very much like the Nirvana MTV Unplugged guitar.

Stafford SF-S1 modded

Pick Guard

One change I didn't make was adding a tortoise shell pickgard instead of the SF-S1's default black. While this wouldn't have been hard, I always felt like the pick-guard on the Cobain guitar looked pretty dark anyway -- so for now, I'm keeping the black one.

One Missing Piece: The Bartolini Pick-up

Of course the big missing piece for a Cobain D18-e replica would be the Bartolini 3AV pickup, which are super rare and a little pricey, and most of the dealers (Sweetwater, etc) are US-based and don't ship to Japan. I did find one just recently, but I'll leave that for part 3, because that's another little mini adventure.

Overall Impressions

So what do I think of my new SF-S1 guitar? Overall, I think it plays pretty well, both when plugged into an amp and - pardon the pun - unplugged. The built-in mini-humbuckers sound decent, at least to my beginner ear. And so for now, I'll stick with it. If I grow out of it and want something better later, I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

But everything kinda hinges on the Bartolini pickup, which I'm hoping to sort out in the next month or so. Fingers crossed!

  1. If anyone wants the PDF of my design, get in touch with me. Printing it was a little tricky, because while my design is for an A4 sheet, most home printers do not print right to the border. So there was some trial and error in printing this a little bigger to compensate for the printer shrinking it down again. In the end, I think I had 34mm diameter in my design, which my printer then shrunk to the right size. 

Posted on April 05, 2024 under categories: Music, Japan and tagged The Stafford SFS1, Guitar