I have an old WordPress site that I don’t use. Maybe I should update some things there. Here is an article from November 5, 2016. I updated the original post to include the latest changes.
Now that the election is almost over, I am going to focus more on other things. It’s hard being both passionate and hateful of politics. Today I decided to introduce my guitar project – how I will have my dream electric guitar on a budget.
I’ve wanted to own a dream guitar all of my life. Instead, I’ve bought and sold guitars with no satisfaction for any of them. Now my budget is very low and bottom-feeder guitars are the only guitars I can afford to look for the holy grail. I’ve owned some high-end guitars but have never liked them. I finally realized that it hasn’t been sound as much as it’s been feel to invoke happiness. If I can enjoy the feel of the guitar, I can always fix the sound part. This doesn’t count for acoustic guitars. I owned a high-end jumbo and found the parlor-sized is the way to go for me. I hope to find one I like without going through the same process I’ve done with electrics.
The feel issue goes back to 1979. Having bought a Hohner Les Paul Custom copy, I thought that Les Paul-style guitars fit me since Jimmy Page was someone I looked up to. I was in the Army and I had traveled temporary duty to a base for a couple of months. While there, the recreation center had two beautiful sunburst Fender Stratocasters to sign out along with an amp and play in a booth. It didn’t take long before I came to like one of them better than the other because one had a chunky neck and the other had a slim neck. I loved the feel of the chunky neck. I melted when I played this guitar. I was infatuated. But the Army salary made it impossible to buy a Fender guitar and I ended up forgetting about the feeling…
…Until 2011. I was in a Music and Arts store and spotted a Fender Road Worn 60s Stratocaster and picked it up. Wow. I immediately recalled the feeling I had in 1979. I discovered that the style of neck was known as a ’62 “C” styled neck. My budget being what it was, I looked for similar neck styles on Squier Stratocasters.
Project Start – The Stock Guitar
The guitar I chose for this project is the Squier 70’s Vintage Modified Stratocaster with a rosewood fretboard and a cream-colored body. There are many reviews on the Internet, but none of them reflect my view about this guitar, so here’s my review:
I went into music store to find out which Squier Strat had a neck close to what I was looking for, and this model was the one. The street price of these guitars is $300 but I found one on ebay with free shipping for $220. I loved the guitar when I got it, but like every low-end guitar, I needed to modify it. The first thing I did was place my Babicz FCH bridge on it. I block these tremolo bars anyway, but I didn’t like the quality of the bridge.
The problem that stands out for me on these guitars is that the alignment of the bridge to neck is slightly off and the neck and middle pickups have pole spacing that is too wide. This causes a problem that is more aesthetic than sound-related. Here’s a picture of a stock VM and you can spot the string alignment over the pickups, but also notice that the strings aren’t centered on the neck as well.
BTW, these pickups are Seymour Duncan pickups, but since SD commissions outside plants to manufacture these, they’re known as “Duncan Designed” and this model is the SC-101 model. They are very good pickups with Alnico 5 magnets including the pole pieces. Why the pole spacing issue exists, I do not know.
Don’t let these issues make you run away. This is the best Squier Stratocaster. The Classic Vibe series has the best Telecaster model.
Next Phase – The Neck
I found a Fender 60s Road Worn neck on ebay! I paid $300 for it. After installing the new neck this became an even better guitar. The money was well spent so far. It has the feel that I remember in 1979 plus, relic-ing the neck gives it a smooth feel, not a sticky or even silky feeling. Some people think that making a guitar look well used is crazy, but having a broken-in feeling on the neck is great.
When you see the picture below, you’ll notice how the strings align over the pickups and the neck. I have no problem with that since this is a dream to play.
So that’s where I am now. I plan to replace the pickguard with a Bakelite pickguard and decide how to change the electronics. I really like these SC-101 Duncans, but I’d like to put a slim humbucker with a coil split in the bridge position and have a push-pull switch on the volume knob. I also want to convert the tone controls to have bass-cut and treble-cut circuits. I may opt to include a 7-way switching option and possibly have a way to combine pickups in series. I plan to keep the budget under $1,000.
Here’s the guitar as of November 5, 2016:
The Last Changes
This project had to be put on hold due to our move to Florida and all of the priorities ahead of it. I wish I kept a timeline from when this project started. The good news is that it rocks! When I played this guitar, it had the feel, but not the sound that was to my liking. After assessing what moves were needed, it was decided that no passive circuits were going to be used for volume or tone. A Morley Volume Pedal and Equalizer pedals would give a more solid tone stability when changing the volume. It was also decided to replace the three pickups with two humbuckers.
I had some Epiphone pickups from my Les Paul that were doing nothing, so I purchased a hand router (a cheap Harbor Freight model) and a two-humbucker pickguard. Putting the Epi pickups in, the guitar sounded better, but I wasn’t satisfied yet.
The best sound an electric guitar can make comes first from your fingers. After that, the pickups are the best investment for a guitar. The Squier Duncan-designed pickups are good single-coils, but even they can be bettered at a heftier cost. The Epiphone pickups are not as good. I had taken them out of the Epiphone guitar and replaced them with GFS pickups, a good low-priced alternative. For this project, no compromise would take place. I wanted good pickups that wouldn’t break the bank but could provide a solid Gibson PAF sound. Gibson pickups were on my list, as well as Seymour Duncans and DiMarzios. I found a set of DiMarzio DP103s used on ebay for $140. The bobbin color matched the guitar. It was perfect.
I decided not to do a switch to single-coil even though the DiMarzios were wired for it. I replaced the five-way Stratocaster switch with a four-way model, so the choices would be bridge pickup, neck pickup, both in parallel and both in series. Also, a switch was added to reverse the phase of the pickups when both are on. The volume and tone pots were removed so that no resistors or capacitors would affect the sound. The phase switch uses the center hole and two guitar picks cover the other holes underneath.
It sounds great now. The phase switch does not make much of a difference but there is some. Now to learn where and when to use the different settings. There will be some aesthetic changes to come, but everything else is perfect. I have no desire to buy another electric guitar. I’ll keep the Epiphone – it has a specific purpose. The Squier Telecaster has been sold (actually swapped for a Vox AC4TV). This is everything I want in a guitar for rock music.
The current look of the guitar is the featured photo.