Sunburst Goddess

Fender 400 changer well

This is the ‘well’ the top part of a changer for a Fender 400 pedal steel guitar fits into.

And therein lies a story, a story I will summarize.

I bought a Fender 400 pedal steel guitar in May. However, in July I was scanning various craigslist and happened upon a dude who had a “closet special” Fender 400 a few road hours away. It came with a somewhat hard-to-believe tale: it was a gift in 1970 and the guitar went back into the closet shortly thereafter.

Please mama, don’t put tape on your boy’s guitar.

I drove down, learned I was the only serious buyer (against the usual craigslist scammers,) and bought it. It came with a case, manual, picks and bar. And, much to my surprise, a couple of knee levers—one disassembled, and the other assembled but non-functional. I gave the rig a look-see. Hmmm, closet maybe, but closet subject to barn dust, judging from the fine brown coating on the otherwise pristeen case.

The underside of the guitar was not pretty.
Fender 400 underside
But, lo-and-behold, there was a crosspiece, and a taped-together wooden knee lever, and, a single raise-or-lower rodded changer loop.

I did some quick, ridiculous calculatin’. I already have a well traveled in the past, new-to-me, and aces Fender 400. It is identical to the new candidate I’m staring at. Buy it? So, I figured I end up with a case once I sell my other steel guitar. Good. Deal.

Only when I’m back at the shack do I realize, after a more leisurely inspection, that I’ve also bought the experience and learning moment too. I’m going to have to take the guitar apart and dis-assemble the changer, clean all the parts, reassemble, and, hope to God, I’ve got a second ‘player’ equal to the first.

Two hours were spent taking it apart, two hours were spent cleaning the parts, and, finally, about three hours were spent putting it back together. Incidentally, alkaline carpet spot cleaner–Folex–and water is good solution for soaking parts. Hardest part was figuring out what tools I needed to stretch the return springs, then hold this stretch, and then slip one end over the tab. It was a bear until I figured out how to do it, but otherwise the crude mechanism goes back together easily.
Fender 400 panhead cavity
In the small world of Fender 400 pedal steel guitars, discovering a number 5 on masking tape in the panhead cavity is a meaningless surprise. My modestly informed guess is that both my guitars are most likely candidates for the end of the Fender 8 string cabled steel’s run, say 1970-1974. Basically, in every respect, the two 400’s are identical. They could have been made on the same day, or six or seven years apart.

One great advantage of having the changer and pulley and cranks completely in pieces was that this afforded me the opportunity to surgically apply Tri-flow lubricant to the changer, and clean and lubricate the pulley discs and pedal cranks and all the moving parts.

Next I used acetone to clean the chromed parts and Goo Gone to remove the sticky residue from the surgical tape the youthful original owner used to mark the fret positions. The sticky part came off, but if you stick your nose up close, you’d see that the tape’s grit literally was fossilized.
Fender 400 pedal steel guitar - parts
I was very careful not to lose any wood screws. springs, or tuning screws. The only mistake I made was to erase the photos I took of each part—after I had cleaned all the parts.

Then came the moment of truth. Slapped 8 strings from a C6 set on it. Ran it into the Peterson Strobe software, tuned strings and pedals to my ‘Open E sort o’ 9th,’ and got to slidin’. I figured I’d break in the new set and break my heart, or not, over about a week or so.

Verdict? First, I put it back together correctly. The six raises raised and the two lowers lowered. Second, would it stay in tune? Sure. Just like the other one, every now and then it needs the pedal tuning tweaked, but the main tuning holds like a champ.
Very clean Fender 400 pedal steel guitar

The biggest delight was A-B-ing the two identical guitars. The Fender jazzmaster pick-up on the closet/barn special is a bit more live; say 15% than the same pickup on the other guitar. The action is very close to the same for each guitar. I use the short pedal throws, and the spiffier guitar is just a little bit quieter with respect to the mechanical sound effects which go along with playing. Cosmetically, the second “barn” guitar is, in my weird world, an A- and the first is a solid B.

Throw in the minty case makes it all a great deal. Yet, only is it so because I took the barn special apart and cleaned up and rebuilt the mechanism. And, it shines.

But, I don’t need two!

2 identical Fender 400 pedal steel
Two identical Fender 400 pedal steel guitars - probably 35-40 years old

3 thoughts on “Sunburst Goddess”

  1. Hey i wouldn’t mind knowing a bit more about that lever there. I’ve got 2 off an unplayable steel waiting to be used, and a 400 to fit them on. Just lacking a bit of know-how.. Great job you did in putting this one back in shape. Any help welcome. Thanks!

  2. Any knee levers on a cable Fender 400 are by definition added on by somebody.

    I eventually took the lever in the picture off. It worked but it just wasn’t in a very useful location because it was too far to the right in relation to the D floor pedal. It used a rod that had attached to it the threaded end piece that could screw into the the typical ‘female’ Fender piece-and-loop. So, it could raise or lower a single string.

    There are a lot of ingenious ways to put knee levers on a Fender 400 as long as you have figured out how to attach the pedal to the changer. The lever pictured here basically is using the door hinge model. Another challenge to any knee lever is making sure it returns.

    Alas, my response isn’t much help, but there is a lot of help and old archival material at the Fender Steel Forum.

    I know also that this guy provides rods and is working on a knee lever kit.

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