ZO-3T Conversion

You may have read or seen something about the Nomad Crush Reverb Store I started this year. Selling these secondhand guitars was an opportunity offered to me that I thought I should take. I was no longer working in my part-time job due to COVID and hadn’t had much luck finding a new job. Lockdown in Melbourne wasn’t a bad experience for me as I made the most of the time to work on music, but I found it to be a little depressing when it came time to start applying for jobs again. Selling these guitars was the first real job I was offered so I took it.

A box of Fernandes Nomads from Japan came to me via Mojo Stompboxes in Sydney. All of the guitars needed to be cleaned, serviced and set up ready for sale. There was a ZO-3T model with a Stratocaster-style floating tremolo bridge amongst the collection of guitars that had a broken headstock and was looking a bit rough. I decided that I’d rather not be selling an instrument with faults, so I would keep this guitar myself and turn it into a regular electric guitar as a fun side project.

The Nomad (ZO-3) typically has active circuitry that is powered by a 9V battery. As well as having a regular output jack, these guitars also have an onboard, five inch speaker. There are various models and they have been made in various countries: Japan, Taiwan and China. Most of the guitars that I have are Japanese and there’s currently two Taiwanese ones. ‘Zō’ means elephant in Japanese and there’s a cute Elephant character that Fernandes use for this model. I chose the name ‘Nomad Crush’ because the word ‘crush’ can be both a noun and a verb. To love or lust after something, or to smash or conquer. Sometimes it’s good not to labour over such things. The name felt good so I committed to it.

The first step in the conversion process to pull it apart which allowed me to learn more about the anatomy of these weird looking instruments. I unbolted the neck so I could condition the fretboard, polish the frets and repair the headstock. Then it was time to work out how I was going to fill the empty speaker cavity.

The ZO-3T straight out of the box, being dissected.

I took some measurements of the empty space and decided that I would make some kind of wooden block to fill it. As I saw the project as somewhat of a prototype, I wasn’t too concerned about going all out and spending a lot of money on it. I already had a few pieces of MDF lying around that made me decide that I’d use that material to fill the hole I’d left in the guitar.

A 16mm piece of MDF was cut, sandwiched and glued together to make the rounded square section, and a 9mm piece would form the circular section. The pieces weren’t the correct depth and wasn’t going to be a perfect fit, but it would suffice. My parents were in town for a few weeks so my Dad was enlisted to help me. He had an electric jigsaw and a few other tools in the storage compartments of his 4WD that were needed to do the job.

I did consider going to a local ‘men’s shed’ to ask for help, but as Dad was in town, I thought it would be nice for us to have something to work on together. My Dad and I haven’t spent a lot of time together since I stopped going fishing with him, which must have been when I was around 12 years old. We tend to drift away from our parents in our teens and since I moved away from home in my early 20’s, I really didn’t see either of my parents often. Now that I am getting older, I’m an wanting to spend more time with them. We’re all getting older. Let’s get back to the guitar project, shall we…

Taking measurements of the cavity. The funny shape in the square is for the back of the headstock.

I asked my Dad how he thought I should best repair the broken headstock. Clamps and wood glue (Aquadhere) was suggested. As the headstock is a weird shape, it was only really possible to clamp it from the top, so it was glued and clamped overnight. The join wasn’t perfect but I had plans to reinforce it with a plate and screws. I didn’t really care how it looked, the main thing was that it didn’t snap under the tension of the high E-string which is where the break had been along the grain initially.

I’d found a metal wood joining plate thing at Bunnings, but Dad suggested that we use polycarbonate instead as he had some for making fishing lures with. I drew up a shape and Dad cut it out with some tin snips for me. I sanded the edges and later drilled some holes in it. It was then fixed to the back of the headstock with small tuning machine screws. It looks a bit strange but doesn’t effect the functionality of the guitar so that’s how it will stay.

Dad cut out the MDF pieces and I sanded them a little to make them smooth. It was time to fasten the block to the cavity. There was a thin piece of MDF at my sister’s place so my Dad first made a thin wooden plate that we’d fix the other wooden parts to. The plate was screwed in place where the speaker normally joins the body, then the other parts were screwed on either side of that. It’s not an elegant piece of work, but it serves it’s purpose. The idea is that it all gets covered by a pickguard and backplate anyway.

The no-fuss method of doing this project would have been to leave a hole in the guitar but it would possibly make it neck heavy like a Gibson SG, which has the very annoying ‘neck dive’. Adding the block would make the guitar solid and replace the weight. So far so good. The main construction was done. The next step would be putting it back together and installing some strings on it. Then I’d have to rewire it with a regular volume pot and connect it up to the output jack.

Since there was already a hole in the guitar for the ‘speaker on’ switch, I decided I’d drill it larger and include a tone pot in the circuit. I made up a jig to work on the electronics outside of the guitar which was a piece of MDF with two holes in it spaced the same distance as it is on the guitar. This was my first ever attempt at wiring up a guitar so it was a good learning experience for me. I will go back and improve on this sometime, but for now the guitar works.

Block installed. Wiring done. Look at how long the wires are! I need to fix that.
On the bench at my workshop with white knobs.
Polycarbonate plate reinforcement on the back of the headstock. The tuner at the end is on a different angle than before.

It was a great feeling to plug the guitar in for the first time and be playing it through an amp. I bought some black Strat knobs and chucked them on the pots after deciding the white ones I had on hand didn’t look quite right. I still need to make a pickguard to cover the hole on the front but the blank was ordered recently and has arrived in the mail. I’ll have to ask someone to help with that because I don’t have the tools or experience to do it. I’ve already knocked out the LED on the front with a rubber mallet and that hole will also be covered with the plastic sheet.

The other thing I’d like to do to improve the guitar is to switch the stock humbucker for a better quality one with four connector wires and add a push-pull coil split on the tone pot. This way I can have both humbucking and single coil options in the guitar. It would also be nice to add a neck pickup but I reckon I’ll save that for another ZO-3 conversion.

Overall, as a prototype, the result is pretty good. I would use MDF again as it’s easy to work with. Perhaps three pieces of 12mm MDF could be sandwiched to form the rounded square section and another 12mm thick disc may just fit in the rounded space. It would be worth trying. When fixing the block to the guitar, Dad and I used whatever fasteners (timber screws) we had on hand. It might be worthwhile to have a few more options on hand next time.

I’ll update this post with some photos of the finished guitar once I’ve made the pickguard and swapped the pickup. If you’re interested in a ZO-3 conversion for yourself, I am open to doing them. Hit me up via email if you are keen. I already have an idea of what I want to do with another Nomad that’s sitting in my workshop and I’ll post some flicks on my Instagram when I’m working on it. But for now the concept is TOP SECRET! 🙂