Mex Strat Project

I used to be dead against the Stratocaster. “They’re so common, everyone’s got one”, I thought. “Hank Marvin plays one! He dances in a square!” The Strat also conjured up images of guys wearing Stetsons and cowboy boots playing country music. Hmmmm….

Then, one day, I thought, “Well, if everyone’s got one, there must be something to it …?” So I went out and tried one in a store. “Yes,” I thought, “this feels good.” I realised that most of those country guys play Telecasters and Hank Marvin is actually a really good player. I noticed all my guitar heroes are Strat players – Knopfler, Gilmour, Clapton… it was time to bite the bullet and get a Strat. But which one??

As I write this page, a quick check on Guitar Amp Keyboard shows 66 different types of Fender Stratocaster available! And that’s not even counting the colour options for each of those!!

I thought, “If I’m going to have a Strat, I’d better make it a good one.” Around that time I found out I was going out to the US for work. Fender guitars are virtually half price in the US compared to the UK, what we pay in pounds, they pay in dollars! Here was my opportunity! Well, to cut a long story short, I put some cash aside so I could go guitar shopping while I was out there and I came back with a beautiful 2004 American Deluxe Ash Stratocaster in Tobacco Sunburst.

I love my AmDlx Strat to bits… but with so many options available for Strats I now feel I need more! The AmDlx Strat has a modern feel. The S-1 switching and the SCN pickups cover a lot of ground but generally stay near the middle of the road. I want something with a more vintage, bluesy vibe. Something that has real punch. My AmDlx Strat is just great how it is so I’m going to put together something new that combines some of my favourite things and see how it turns out…

Target specification

OK, so, things I’d like to see in this new guitar:

  • V-neck. I’ve tried a few Strats with the V profile neck and like it a lot, the soft-V. It’s got a nice chunky feel that’s difficult to describe. Not as deep as you might imagine. You’ll find this profile on a lot of the Artist Series Strats so it’s pretty popular with the masters… I actually wanted the American Deluxe V-Neck Stratocaster when I went out to the States but I couldn’t find one.
  • Punchy pickups. I want a sound that’s punchy, something with character. I’d also like to be able to calm it down a bit by rolling off the tone control so the guitar stays versatile. I’ve tried Lindy Fralin Blues Specials on a friend’s Strat and was mighty impressed!
  • Vintage look. I don’t really like to stand out in a crowd. I want something with a vintage vibe but nothing flashy.

Things I’m not sure about:

  • Colour. There are 99 colours on the Fender Colour Chart at the moment! Too many to choose from…? And if you put a Strat together from parts you could finish it yourself in any colour, pattern or design you want! I’ll just leave the open and see what becomes available to me. Let fate decide.
  • Wiring. As you can see from my HSH wiring page, I’m prone to tinkering with electronics. Should I stick with the standard Strat 5-way switching? Or come up with a few extra options? Dare I alter the look of the Strat with an extra switch or two? Or go for hidden push/pull switches in the knobs…? I can see a lot of time is going to be spent mulling over this one…

The Strat begins to form…

14/05/06 – A couple of weeks ago I got wind of a good opportunity – a guitar store had closed down and the whole stock was being auctioned off! The auction list was online and, after checking it, I thought there was enough stuff on the list to give me a good chance of coming away with a bargain… and I was right. I walked away with a Mexican “Classic ’70s” Stratocaster for roughly half the shop price. This is going to be the basis for this project. Check it out:

OK, so it looks like that’s sorted the colour issue. According to Fender, this model Strat is available in 3-Colour Sunburst, Olympic White, Black or Natural. Looks more like Arctic White to me (check their colour chart) but I like it so who cares?

What else? Well, it’s got a U profile neck which is pretty chunky. It’s also got “vintage” frets which are on the small side. Not sure how I’m going to get on with the neck but I’ll give it a go and see how I feel when the new pickups are in and it’s all set up. The guitar has the Fender “Micro-Tilt” feature for tweaking the neck attachment so this should be good if I do end up changing the neck for a V-neck.

The tuners are the Fender type with the “Safeti-Post” for slotting the string end into. At the moment I’m pretty sure that locking tuners are the way to go for good tuning stability when setting up a tremolo but, again, I’ll give these a go and see how it turns out.

The pickups it comes with are actually pretty good, positions 2 and 4 stand out really well. But the guitar is very noisy and probably has next to no shielding inside. OK, so I’ve got to shield the guitar properly (that’s to be expected) and I’m still going for a set of Lindy Fralins. While I’ve got these pickups in though, I have made a set of recordings for comparison later on. I’ve also recorded the AmDlx Strat so we can see how the two Strats compare against eachother, before and after. I used the same lick and amp settings as the recordings I made of the Godin SD so they can also be used for comparison.

At the auction, the guitar was lot number 68 and it has a sticker showing this by the upper cutaway. I figure I’ll leave that there for a bit of extra character.

Now that I know the Strat’s body colour, I’ve got a better idea of how I want it to look. As it is, the current look is too bright, too clean. I want to swap some of those plastic parts for the more aged, yellow-ish plastic you find on really old guitars. This picture shows the kind of thing I’m aiming for…

Maybe I’ll bury it in the garden for a few weeks for good measure.

20/05/06 – OK, as luck would have it, I’ve picked up a set of Lindy Fralin Blues Specials off ebay, saving quite a bit off the UK price. Not only that, but the pickup covers just happen to be “aged white” (although they look a bit more like Fender’s “mint green”). Clearly this is a sign. God is with me on this one. An interesting piece of trivia is that the guy who sold me these is the manager of a guitarist who is signed to Steve Vai’s label, Favoured Nations. Does that give this guitar a claim to fame…? Time will tell I guess.

Wiring-wise, I’m going to fit these babies in the standard Strat 5-way config to start with, then see how I feel.

I’ve ordered some stuff from Axes’R’Us: tremolo arm, springs, Fender “aged white” plactic parts, adhesive copper tape for shielding the guitar. When this lot arrives, I’ll fit the electonics. I also picked up a 2nd hand pickguard off ebay which looks a little more low-key than the shiny new one the guitar has at the moment.

22/05/06 – Cool, the hardware has arrived so I guess I’ll be fitting it tomorrow – watch this space for a photo tutorial on shielding soon….!

25/05/06 – Well, good news and bad…

I followed this tutorial from the outstanding Guitarnuts website. If you haven’t seen this site before, make sure you check it out. The lack of proper shielding and acceptable electronics in guitars is unforgiveable. It doesn’t cost much and significantly improves the quality of your output. How guitar manufacturers get away with it is beyond me! Ah well, it’s fairly easy to fix and you’ll feel a big sense of pride when you do it yourself. All the fitting went well, I’m particularly proud of the job I did on the shielding with the copper tape, check out the pics…

The original factory wiring.

After cavity shielding.

Cavity shielding close-up.

My new wiring & shielded pickguard.

Job done.

…but, after fitting strings and setting up, I’ve discovered that the bridge pickup is faulty. Very quiet with a sound that I can only describe as ‘mushy’ – not like a bridge pickup at all! Once the pickup was taken off the guitar I measured it’s resistance as about 3.9 kOhms, not the 7.2 kOhms listed on the Lindy Fralin website. Damn. Well, that’s the risk of eBay.

The situation should be saved though… Charlie Chandler’s Guitar Experience are the UK distributors for Fralin pickups and it’s my lucky day: they just happen to have one LF Blues Special bridge pickup in stock and, if they can’t repair this one (or it’s not cost effective), they’ll sell me this as a replacement. So the money I saved on eBay disappears, but the end result is good. And boy, will it be good! The neck and middle pickups sound amazing! Can’t wait to get this going now.

Unexpected bonus – the bridge pickup I may get as a replacement happens to have the optional LF base plate fitted so should give me some extra punch and some ‘thickness’ at the bridge. Sounds good. I rarely switch to the bridge, it’s not usually to my taste. This may be what I’ve always been lacking…?

Lessons learned? Yes.

So far:

  • Copper shielding adhesive tape is great but be careful – this stuff is wafer thin and my fingers are now covered in paper-cuts from pushing it all in the cavities. I can’t actually play for a few days!!
  • The 36″ x 2″ length of tape I was sold is only just enough to shield a Strat. Absolutely no left overs = no room for error or experimentation. I was lucky to get it right first time.
  • Double-check for stray wire ends before you fit the pickguard back on – I had a whisker come loose from the neck pickup connection to the 5-way switch which touched the shielding and grounded the pickup when I put the guitar back together. The fault was easily diagnosed and found but careful checking would have saved me some time.
  • Check each pickup has an output before you put the strings back on. The fault above would have been found a lot quicker if I’d plugged the guitar in and gone through the pickup selections, tapping the pole pieces with a screwdriver. You’ll quickly see if any pickup’s output has been accidentally connected to ground – the selected pickups should make a fairly loud popping sound through your amp if they’re connected, if they’re not connected  you won’t hear anything.
  • eBay is a risky business!

27/05/06 – The new replacement bridge pickup arrived this morning. So, off I went to work (it’s Saturday) to use the superior workshop facilities. I don’t have any bench space or a decent set of electronics tools at home so I generally do anything like this out of hours at work where I can spread out and do a proper job.

The optional base plate is indeed installed on the pickup as promised and appears to be magnetised.

The pickup went in easy enough, checked out OK and I’m now enjoying playing my new beast!

As with the Godin, I’ve made a set of recordings to compare the pickups with the others I have. It’s a bit of an experiment really, I’m not sure the recordings do each pickup justice, but head over to my Pickup Comparison page and see what you think…

If you like what you’ve seen on this page, have a look at my buddy Frank’s page on what he’s done to his MIM Classic 70’s Strat. He’s got that Hendrix tone! Sweet.

Frank’s also pointed me at a couple of other pages that should be of interest if you’ve read this far:

Fender Highway One Stratocaster goes Noiselessand Alan Ratcliffe’s page on hotrodding a Strat

2 thoughts on “Mex Strat Project”

  1. HI, many years ago i rewired my ’57 (reissue) strat, three position switch so I could have pick ups’ 1, 2, or 3 as per standard or any combination (eg 1, & 3. 1,2,3 together). This was achieved by having the middle tone control wired as a volume for the middle pu (only) which was “on” all the time. place the selector in the middle, turn the middle pu off, or the mpu could be faded in to any of the other pu sounds or the other pus faded into the mpu. I got this dia from a Guitar Player mag from some time in the 80s’. The strat was stolen and I cant find the wiring dia. I would greatly appreciate if you would know of this mod and possible supply me with it.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Rick. Sorry for not replying sooner. I’m afraid this one isn’t familiar to me, I can only suggest trawling the forums online… good luck!

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