Stratocaster Rebuild, Part II

If you read my last post, Stratocaster Rebuild, Part I, you know that I’m’ rebuilding my 1993 American Standard Stratocaster that has been disassembled for at least 6 years. Here’s the latest update.

Today, most of the parts for the rebuild arrived. I’m only missing a couple of parts now, and only one is essential. For the electronics, I’m missing a few capacitors (I have some I can use, but they’re not the ones I want to use), a resistor (not essential), an input jack (also not essential, but I would prefer a new one). I’m also missing the pickups (more on those in a second).

Here is what I’m working with (click to enlarge):

Stratocaster Parts

So for the pickups. I was never really satisfied with the pickups that came with the guitar, even though a lot of people with the same pickups seem to enjoy them. I think a large part of my dislike of the original pickups is that I had only ever used this guitar with solid state amps. Solid state amps, while working well for certain specific situations, sound sterile and cold, and don’t have the same dynamics of a tube amplifier. Unfortunately, I got this guitar and the amp sometime around my freshman year in high school, and I bought into the “need more watts” philosophy instead of the “need better tone” philosophy. I wanted to play loud, so I got a loud amp.

Well now that I have a better sense for amplification technology, and am in general a much better player with much more selective tonal preferences, I use a tube amp. It’s not an all-tube amplifier (Peavey Delta Blues– solid state rectifier), but it sounds pretty good to my ear. It gets me much closer to the tone I seek, which is close to Buddy Guy’s strat tone (the one that SRV emulated as well).

Choosing pickups is a mind-numbing and excruciatingly boring task, considering they’re just some magnets and some wire. There are so many options available from so many manufacturers, and prices vary from $20 to $500 for a set. The decision process is even tougher here in Savannah since the guitar shops don’t have a large enough selection for you to try a wide range of pickups. Likewise, you can’t just order a set, test them, and send them back if you don’t like them. Pickups need to be soldered in, and are generally not returnable.

I went with a set from a company called GFS. They make their pickups in Korea (South, I assume) using the same materials as the big manufacturers and the boutique manufacturers. The main difference is that the pickups are wound by machine instead of being wound by hand, which believe it or not does make a tonal difference. But for the price, GFS was the way to go for me.

Here is the set I chose: ’64 Stagger Vintage Grey-Bottom boutique Strat Set.

They’re wound a bit hotter than standard vintage pickups, coming in at 6.5K for the bridge, 6.3K for the middle, and 5.8K for the neck. The neck pickup is, in fact, a bit colder than the pickups that originally came in my guitar, which all came in around 5.98K. I’m hoping these will provide a good amount of “quack” and some nice “bell” tones in the appropriate switch position, and I think they’ll work out just fine.

The pickups are set to arrive next week, so hopefully by next weekend I’ll be able to get the guitar assembled and setup. Audio files will follow shortly after that.

Stay tuned for more!

Stratocaster Rebuild, Part I

Back sometime around 1993, my dad bought me a really nice guitar– a Fender American Standard Stratocaster. It’s a beautiful American-made instrument in a color called “Caribbean Mist,” which is really a metallic teal. It’s got an alder body, maple neck, and rosewood fretboard. I still remember the price– $450.

Over the years I have played the heck out of it. One problem though– I haven’t played it for at least the past six years. At some point before we moved to Savannah in 2001, my bridge pickup broke. It’s amazing it lasted that long, really. This guitar has been put through enough torture to make the CIA jealous.

So before we moved, I disassembled the guitar, and when we arrived in Savannah I stuck it in the closet, where it has pretty much sat since. Well, I’m finally getting it back together, and boy is it a good feeling. While it seems simple enough to buy a set of pickups, stick them in the guitar, and get playing, in reality it is far from simple.

Shortly after we moved, I met a guy through a family member who is a master craftsman, and he has access to some beautiful exotic woods. I decided to strike a deal with him. I would provide a simple website for him, and he would provide a book-matched, flamed maple pickguard based precisely on the pickguard off my Strat. I gave him the pickguard about five years ago I’d say, and at this point I am really not expecting to get it back.

So, that puts me down one pickguard, and one pickup. Obviously those require replacement. I’m not just stopping at those two items and calling it a day.

My plan is to replace all of the plastic on the guitar– the pickguard, pickup cover, knobs (originals lost, current ones mismatched), switch knob, tremolo arm knob, and backplate (lost in the years). I’m also replacing every single electrical component on the guitar– the potentiometers, the 5-way switch, the input jack, the pickups of course, the actual wire inside the guitar, and the capacitors, since Fender included cheap capacitors, and since capacitors lose their effectiveness over time.

The first step is to order the parts. So far, I’ve ordered all of the plastic parts, including a white pearloid pickguard, and an aged white Fender Stratocaster accessory kit. I’ve also ordered all of the electronics but the pickups and the capacitors. I’ve ordered a new audio-taper CTS potentiometer for the volume control, two Fender No-Load potentiometers for the tone controls, and American-made 5-way switch, and some vintage-style cloth-covered wire. I’ll be ordering the pickups, capacitors, resistor, and a Switchcraft jack this week.

Before I can do any actual assembly, I will be shielding the cavity of the guitar. I’ll be using copper tape with conductive adhesive to shield the entire body cavity, whereas I used aluminum tape last time. The idea is to encase all of the electrical components in a grounded shield to aid in rejection of interference and noise. It’s a pain in the butt, but the results are amazing.

After that, I’ll be installing the tone and volume potentiometers, the switch, the output jack, and the pickups, and soldering it all together. I plan on using a “star ground,” which means that the typical ground loops that are present in most Stratocasters will be eliminated, and the guitar will have a lot less undesirable noise.

I’ll post my progress here as I go, and when all is said and done, I’ll post some audio clips.

Stay tuned…