Friday, June 5, 2009

A Black Lacquer Custom Stratocaster, Unique, Supremely Playable, Rich Sound

I had recent occasion to make a customized Strat for a local musician. The goal was to provide a black Strat with lots of tonal flexibility, REAL playability, unique visual and sound (but familiar, too).

I began with a Fender FSR Straight Six Stratocaster: black nitrocellulose lacquer, a great maple neck with medium-jumbo frets, a good pickup route, and reasonable cost.

I searched extensively for the right pickguard, the right electronics, the right pickups, and the right wiring sequence for this instrument. After receiving a custom-made pickguard (wasn't pleased with it), I ended up buying a genuine Fender HSS B/W/B pickguard. I used the Straight Six's Fender Atomic humbucker on the bridge. After trial and error, I ended up using a GFS AlNiCo magnet middle pickup, with connections reversed (not reverse wound). I originally planned on a NICE USA SCN Fender pickup, but it sounded out of place (great! but not right with the other players - I wanted some vintage mixed with hotness, mixed with some new sound not heard on every other Strat out there). I ended up using a wonderful, sweet DiMarzio True Velvet pickup in the neck (I love those. I'll use one again in my next Strat creation, but maybe in the middle to give it some SWEET crunch and munch.)

I used an unusual Sprague USA .0333uf capacitor on the central tone. I also decided to do a variant on the greasebucket and treble bleed mod thing with a nice resistor and a .001uf Mallory Mustard cap - twisted tight and soldered directly to the in and out leads on the volume pot. I did a common open copper ground, used silver-bearing solder, genuine Fender potentiometers, a genuine Fender (looks like a CRL?) 5-way blade switch.

So, we get:
Neck and Middle humbucking
Middle and split coil of Atomic Humbucker
Full Atomic Humbucker

I used shielded wiring for the signal lead from the Switchcraft USA jack, and good old American copper wiring. I tied everything off just right so that the pickguard literally drops in the Strat's cavity with NO wiggling or fiddling. Just wire in the Jack, the ground, and drop it on.

I used genuine Fender aged (sort of cream parchment) parts for the back plate, the knobs, switch tip, and pickup covers for the singles. I even used real Fender nickel screws everywhere.

As a bit of a signature, I put a Fender "F" neck plate on the neck/body screw joint along with some nice Fender neck screws. I leveled, crowned, dressed and hand polished the frets and even softened the edge of the fretboard wood to feel smooth to the hand. Spent a good amount of time taking a Fender nut and making it just right for this guitar. Loaded it up with Fender .009-.042 strings, set the intonation and action... and the sound has been screaming joy ever since.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Telecaster Modification - Gotta Love a Blondie

Recent work on a second incarnation of the Blonde Bombshell... The first two modded Telecasters (the first was blonde and maple, the second antique white and maple) sold right away, so I thought I'd do another.

The second incarnation ("Marilyn Monroe") is a beauty with a ceramic GFS crunchy mini humbucker on the neck position, a nice hot Don Lace Sensor Red Strat pickup in the center, and a nice simple vintage-style MIM Fender reissue Tele bridge in the bridge position.

This particular guitar started life as a MIC Squier Affinity Special Edition Telecaster... but it came out the other side of my custom bench - not quite the same thing...

This particular guitar has a custom bone nut, a mint green custom pickguard, hand chiseled cavity, and a 5-way switch:
Bridge/Bridge-Middle/Middle/Middle-Split of Neck HB/Neck HB

I used the Seymour Duncan wiring method for this, just in the reverse of an HSS Strat-style wiring diagram with the use of a nice USA Fender 5-way blade switch. I used a decent Sprague Orange Drop tone capacitor and opted for Alpha full-sized potentiometers on this particular guitar.

It plays like a dream. I crowned, dressed, and end-filed the frets by hand, polished them up, and leveled them to be smooth as glass. Very nice playability, and one-of-a-kind sound with versatility. You can get the basic Tele bridge sound of old, plus a little bit of a Strat-like sound, and that down-and-dirty Gibson-like sound on the neck. The other two positions give new sounds unique to this instrument: and they're both great on clean, jazzy, overdriven, or even distorted.

Here are some drooly pictures for my mod fans:

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Fun With Pot (well, really - Opening up a Potentiometer)

I recently received a new CTS/Fender 250kOhm potentiometer via online purchase through the mail. Unfortunately one of the ears was broken completely off and was nowhere in the package. This particular pot would have been of no use to me. (Customer service sent me a new one right away, with no fuss. It was a wonderful experience.)

P.S. Don't try this at home with a good potentiometer, it might not work when you put it back together - disclaimer and all that.

So, just for fun and to show everyone what's inside, I tore it open and took some pictures - I thought the parts were very interesting.

First, pull back the little ears on the pot body to allow the potentiometer to come apart:

Now pull off the top bezel and the ear contact plate:

Now with most of the inside assemblies pulled apart:

And now a look at the insides and the back of the pot (with manufacturer, and date code):

I really like CTS pots for guitar and bass work. There are other good ones, too, but CTS seems to be very reliable and even supplies some pretty great guitar manufacturers with OEM pots.

I hope you enjoyed this little voyage into tone and volume control. More to come...

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