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Building a Strat from used or cannibalised components
If you don't buy my book but use the site info to build a Strat, NO PROBLEM! I still would like to get a pic of the result for the 'Customer Creations' page and comments, questions are always welcome.
If you don't have to or don't want to do cosmetic restauration work like filling up old screw holes, you can put a Strat together and set it up in four hours or less.
You will want a construction guideline in order to prevent you from making deadly and costly mistakes. Uh, why not buy my book??
Only pickguards and tuners normally require some holes to be drilled.
Pickguard & pickups
6 or 12 screws
6 + 2 see text
Jackplate and jack
1 or 2 screws
1. Things you need to know about the components
Necks come in a number of varieties. The main things to watch are:
the serial number and logo plus shape of headstock signifying origin and age (this will affect the price!). Beware of fake Fender decaLs.
fretboard can be maple or rosewood. Rosewood is said to cause a more 'bluesy' tone, and maple a 'sharper'. I've destroyed my ears back in the sixties rocking in front of 200Watts bass stack (15" Goodman speakers), so difficult for me to hear the difference. Wear earprotection!!!
wood, normally maple
skunk stripe present yes or no (walnut inlay at the back enabling access to trussrod during building)
21 or 22 frets. See photo for a 22 fret example, clearly recognizable. Fits standard Strat body no prob.
neck shape - if you are critical, C-shape, V-shape etc.
neck radius (i.e. the fretboard's curve), advanced
SCALE: the standard scale length is 648mm, which is the stringlength between the nut and saddle points of contact. For E1 this is the startpoint and thus fret 12 should be very close to the middle of this. Scale lengths for the thicker strings are a tiny bit longer - roughly increment for each string is its diameter. This a good initial way of setting rough intonation, to fine adjust needs a bit more attention and possibly a good electronic tuner.
age, paint original or refinished (should not be done to an old body, criminal)
routes HSS, SSS, Bathtub or modified
bridge type and width (see tremolo)
wood type - very specialist
The body in the picture is a bathtub, not my preference. Also its drilled for a two point bridge like Floyd Rose or Kahler. Better start with the standard 6 screw vintage type.
Now the coils. The specific Fender sound has to do with the single coil pickups. As single coil can be noisy, the humbucker PU's were designed. Effectively these have two coils switched out of phase, which apart from a totally different sound also eliminates hum.
Another variety in the single coil arena are PU's with humcancelling, effectively humbuckers but the second coil doesn't contribute to the output.
In the book I will only deal with basic single coils in a SSS configuration - three of those.
Here are a few important brands with their single coil product which provide very good alternatives to the original Fender PU's.
Van Zandt - Vintage Plus
Seymour Duncan - California 50's
Fralin - Vintage Hot
DiMarzio - Virtual Vintage
Nordstrand NVS - standard
Rio Grande - MidBottom
Kinman - Traditional
Suhr - V60
If you're in an experimental mood and have the cash, you can experiment mixes of these. A mystery for many is the discussion around alnico and ceramic magnets. Above pictures show on the left alnico - aluminium, nickel, cobalt - more metal like shine, and to the right ceramic less metal like and a bit more a - ah well - ceramic look. Alnico is believed in general to have the better sound and these pickups are in general more expensive.
1.4.1 Pickup wiring scheme
I've added one ground (mass) wire from the pickup housing to the shielding of the PU cavity, this is not in the drawing but easily added, similar to the one called 'ground to bridge', you could call it 'ground to shield'
If you don't have a loaded pickguard, mount all the components on your pickguard, turn it upside down and get your soldering iron out. Cut all wires to the desired length, strip all wires and apply solder to the stripped part. Apply a thin layer of solder to all other contact points like lugs of the pots. This pre-soldering ensures a quick connection.
Warning: if you're tempted to measure the resistance of your PU coils, be careful. Your multimeter should apply a very very low voltage when measuring. Too high without current limiter may burn your PU coils. This set of pots and a capacitor is referred to as 'electronics' , but these circuits are extremely basic and in fact passive (there are no active elements such as transistors or integrated circuits). Things get more electronic when preamps and the like are added. Currently outside the scope of this edition, but I'm now in the process of writing a fourth book on electronics and mods. The drawing gives a basic schematic but by no means the only way to wire up the PU's.
1.4.2. The 5-way switch that really is a 3-way switch
Many people only have a vague idea how that PU switch on the Strat works, let alone how it must be connected. My book explains more about it but here are some crucial details as well as a series of pictures that show how the switch operates.
Basically on the Strat we have a double rotary switch with three contacts in and one out. - The two switches are on one axle and thus operate in perfect unison. The modern switches dont look this way, but behave the same.
- The runner is broad enough to touch two contacts when placed in the middle (this was how the early players tricked the two additional positions with a 3-way switch.)
- So we have 3-way switches with 2 additional stops in between, yielding 5 possibilities
The PU;s are connected to one switch, the tone pots to the other and the two outputs are bridged and go top the volume pot.
i have publsihed all 5 pictures as a video clip, which shows the working quite nicely. Here I show the first 3 positions, which should suffice to clarify the operation.
The red lines are active connections in that position.
Have a look:
Note that there are now also the following more or less related switches:
MEGASWITCH, basically a real 5 way switch (no aritificial stops_)
SUPERSWITCH: this is a nice beastie if you like soldering. Its a 4 layer , 5way switch. So you can imagine there's a confusing amount of configuration possiblilities.
S! SWITCH: is a pushpull pot with built onto it two dpdt switches.. You see this one used in combination with the superswitch.
I will follow these switches up on the electronics pages.
1.5 Tuners / machines - whatever
See photograph above with a very vintage (1963 Musicmaster) example of slotted tuners with non-threaded bushings. By the way, the Musicmaster is a wonderful guitar with a great sound from its single PU, and vintage still affordable - not for long though.
See the Precision Bass page how to set up strings in slotted tuners. The PBass pegs are larger, but the principle is the sameTuners, machines, machine heads, pegs and more aliases are used. They come in small number of variations.. With bushings that have to fit in the headstock, with threaded bushings that are screwed on the machine. Then there are vintage slotted tuners and new models with a hole thru the peg.
1.6 Tremolo and bridge
There are 2point pivot models like Floyd Rose and the hardtail (only bridge, no tremolo). FR is somewhat more complex, the hardtail somewhat less.
The tremolo parts are
- bridge with saddles, block and baseplate with 6 screws
- the whammy bar
- spring claw with 2 screws
- 5 springs
Holds the neck - body connection. Most common is the variant with 4 screws. In the seventies Fender experimented some time with a 3-screw connection and a triamgular neckplate, which is not ver popular.
Recently (Anniversery models) there are neckplates with 4 screws but asymmetric. The Precision Lyte models have a similar genetic quirk. The 4-screw type fit Stratocaster, Telecaster and Precision Bass.
Vintage neckplates may hold a serial number - and will cost if real. Many fakes around. Serial numbers moved to the headstock lateron.
1.8 The rest
Stringguides or tree
My book deals with the tremolo bridge 6-screw vintage model only, it is what makes the Strat, uh Strattish. Be on your guard, there are two sizes (distance between saddles) so check before you buy.
2. Putting it together
2.1 Mounting the neck
Turn in the screws in the body so that they just emerge above the fact of the neck cavity.
Match the 4 screws carefully against the corresponding holes in the neck
Tighten the screws going diagonally as well as round the clock, take care all screws are tightened and with the same force. This is not necessarily the first step. You can opt to mount the neck at a later stage.
I myself have this funny urge to have a guitar in my hands as quickly as possible, and for me thats neck plus body.
2.3 Apply shielding
Get your alu adhesive tape and apply shielding to the inside of the cavities. Make certain that the strips slightly overlap and also overlapt a tiny bit to the face of the body. There they will contact the shielding on the inside of the PG and create a nice closed Faraday cage.
Add a screw (spare PG screw) and a small soldering ring to the bottom of the cavity which will be the mass connection to one of the PU pots.
2.4. Load the pickguard with pickups
If you have a loaded' pickguard complete with pickups, pots, switch and fully wired you can skip this step.
If not now mount the pickups with springs or rubbers (sic!) and get your soldering iron out. Prepare the lot upto the leads that go to the jack. Ref an example or the wiring drawing above. Dont touch the metal part of the soldering iron with your fingers, it hurts and as a customer said "human flesh stinks when burned".
2.5 Mounting Loaded pickguard on the body.
Check if the holes in pickguard and body match. I wouldn't put an 8 hole PG on an 11 hole body vice versa. So get another PG if needed.
Now check the holes in the PG against the position of the corresponding holes in the body. With almost 100% certainty one or more holes will not match.
Get your trusted sate sticks out, look for the best position of the PG with a corresponding hole and fix that in place with a sate stick. Repeat with as many holes as possible, basically two will do. Now mark the remaining positions on the body and drill with a 2mm drillbit.
Lead the necessary wires to jack cavity and tremspring cavity and solder the wire to shielding.
Fix the PG in place with 4 or 5 screws - rest will follow at the end. Don't fix all screws when you still have to step back and unscrew for some reason.
2.6 Wire up jack and mount jackplate.
You will have two wires coming from the PU s, one black and one white.
The black goes to the outside of the jack connector, the white goes to the core. If in doubt check with your multimeter.
Alternatively you may have a shielded cable here. The mesh here is mass, and the core carries the signal (also called hot).
I've used a method described by Dan Erlewine. You need to make a wedge shaped wooden block, 6 cmwide, 5 cm high and tapering from about 1.8 cm to .6 cm. You may want to have a few blocks with slightly different dimensions.
As soon as you have a string mounted you can set up the trem in your favourite position using the block as in the photograph, no springs yet. You can fix the trem with the backplate flush with the body - allowing only dives - or with more space, allowing whammy up as well as down.
You have the springclaw already at 2.5 cm.
String up completely, not yet to pitch
Now add three springs as in picture (5 springs if you are into heavy gauge strings)
Tune to pitch
Now haul in the springclaw using the two screws, see pic
The block will come loose when spring and string are balanced, with the trem in your chosen position.
Readjust springclaw when you change to different string gauge!
3.3 Neck relief
Place a Capo on position one, just before the fret. Now depress each string at fret 17 and measure open space between top of fret 8 and underside of string.
This should be very small in the order of 0,25 mm. or less.
If the neck is too hollow you have to adjust the trusrod. De tune your strings to take away tension. Very carefully a quarter turn at the time to the right (clockwise) will straighten the neck. Retune to pitch. Preferably leave it for day and check again.
If the neck is too concave release the trussrod (turn anticlockwise), the strings will pull the neck into position.
Some guitars have a trusrrod that can work bothways. Standard is however a trussrod that only pulls the neck straight.
Action is very much determined by your own preference - more than the other measurements.
It is measured with the capo still at fret 1 and you look at the string height between fret 17 and underside of string. A good start is 1.5 mm for E6 and slightly less for E1. Thicker strings need more space.
Take it from there.
Adjust by raising or lowering the saddles using the small Allen hex screws.
3.5 PU to string_distance
With the bolts either side of the pickup adjust the height to around 2.3 mm whilst depressing the string at the last fret. For the higher strings take a bit less more like 2.1 mm.
Experiment, but as you take a smaller measure check sound and sustain as the magnets can mute strings if too close. Too far will of course yield a lower output signal.
3.6 Nut action
Depress each string right over the third fret. There should be a bit of distance - light shines thru - between fret 1 and the underside of each string. If the string is touching fret 1, your nut slots may be too low and you may need to shim the nut or get a new one.
If its much more you will notice playing in the open and first positions is painful on the old fingertips. You can mightely improve this by filing the nutslots down - carefully!
3.7 Final intonation
Check the harmonic (flageolet) at fret 12 with the note when depressing the string at fret 12. They must be the same. If not adjust by moving the saddles for- or backward. If the depressed note is sharp, increase the stringlength.
You have to redo this any time anything is changed: neck relief, string gauge, action etc.
3.8 Now put whammy bar in place
That is, if you really want it.
Very often the whammy bar refuses to remain in your preferred position , it dangles.
Get a cheap ballpoint like a BIC and remove the little spring. Insert the spring under de bar. This will give enough friction to hold the bar in any position. The spring diameter must be smaller than the bar.
3.9 Done (the easy stuff)
Go and plug and play. Recheck your settings or adapt them when you don't like something. As long as you don't overstress the trussrod nothing can go bust.
4. Now building a Strat from undrilled kit
On request of a customer I bought one of these complete kits. At the workshop we found that nothing had been drilled, and also the nut still had to be routed into he neck. For a 4 hour workshop not a realistic goal, leaving aside quality of the components. An issue is that they come without any documentation.
We'll have a look here how to go about placing the bridge correctly, preparing the neck/body joint and aligning and fitting the neck.
And all that witthout any specialised equipment. If you have to get 400 euros of special tools for a one time project, you might as well go to the shop and buy a brand new MIM Strat!!
Check text below, alternatively find a template on e.g. the luthiers pages of eBay.com
4.1 The bridge position
We need the bridge in place in order to line up the neck. Lining up we do with the two outer strings (see later). There are two important dimensions here, the vertical and the horizontal position - as follows:
For now you have to find the middle line of the body and place te bridge such that the space between the two middle saddles lines up with that line.
If you place the body upside down, look in the spring cavity. There you can also easily draw a center line,in this case it must line up with the small hole for the middle spring.
Another useful measurement is that the body at the widest point is 322 mm (standard). So if your middle sits roughly at 160 or 161 mm, you are not far off.
The scale of a Strat is 648mm, so the other dimension of your bridge should allow for a nut - saddle distance of around that. You need enough headroom there to adjust intonation. Check against your pickguard.
Based on all this mark the position of the two outer screws, and fix it in place.
So far so good. Now the body - neck joint.
4.2 Body - neck joint
Get your neckplate and fit into the neck pocket. The line between the two innerscrews should be about 16mm from the cavity wall. The neckplate must be perpendicular to the body axis. and a few mm from the open side.
Mark the holes and drill (use a stand!!) vertically thru with a 4.5mm bit.
Now turn around the body and mount the neckplate with for screws, the tips just remaining under the surface - thats important.
Get a clamp and two pieces of wood. Fix the neck in place and hold it with the clamp.
Now mount the two E-strings and give some tension. You should have mounted at least the relevant tuners on the head of course - minor detail., so do that first.
Check if the two strings line up nicely with the sides of the neck. Wriggle the neck in place (if it is far off you have a problem). This one looked reasonable.
Now turn the neckscrews so that they just bite into the wood of the neck. You now have good position markers to drill the neck.
Next drill the neck and mount it on the body as usual. Use a 3.5mm drill and dont go deeper than 15mm - protect de drill with tape.
The rest is small stuff. Important though is to drill the connections between pickup cavity and jackcavity, as well as the channel between pu cavity and the spring cavity at the back , which is where the ground lead to the springclaw should go. You need a very long (15 cm) 4.5 or 5 mm drill.
What annoyed me with this (cheap) set is that the local guy somewhere in the far east, tightened the trussrod so hard that fret 2 was higher than fret 1. I quickly loosened the trussrod, which solved the problem - luckily no damage.
On the other hand this set was so cheap that I felt obliged to experimentwith some woodwork!!
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