Thursday, 29 October 2015

The start of the Strat upgrade project

I have another guitar project underway.  Using some money I got for my birthday I bought a cheap second hand Squier Strat off a local instrument sell/swap noticeboard on Facebook.

Here is the guitar I got - an affinity Squier strat.  Nice colour I thought and very clean.  Previous owner had it as a spare to a "real one" as he called it and wasn't using it much.  I negotiated a cash purchase and a little discount from his asking price.  All cool.

 The plan all along was one I've had in my head for a while to buy a cheap but reasonable Strat copy and upgrade it a bit... well a lot actually.

So the plan is to replace all the electrics in it.  I wanted a sort of Dave Murray Strat like idea with strat sized humbuckers in it.  However Dave's guitar if you buy his latest Fender signature offering is north of £700 (which is good value actually given the hardware you get on it) but also a bit of a no-no for me features a Floyd Rose vibrato.  I'm not a lover of them much at all personally preferring the more traditional strat type including the one of my PRS which is firmly in that stable of design.


I wanted single coil humbuckers - preferably hot rails like Dave uses.  Actually he has recently changed for an all hot rails set up with the launch of his new model to one featuring two hot rails in neck and bridge and a JB Jr in the middle position.  Recently Seymour Duncan launched a Dave Murray loaded scratchplate featuring that set up.  They are however as rare as Hen's Teeth in the UK and well north of £200 anyway... like I say makes the Fender model look very reasonable.  Anyway I was thinking of more versatility in the set up myself.

My initial thoughts were for a HSH arrangement with a single coil in the middle.  But as I was buying cheaper non match set pickups I was worried about getting a matched set.  In the end I've gone for three hot rails from the Artec range which were really good value and had some good reviews around.  To retain versatility I wanted to coil tap them in some way.  Original thoughts were three pull pots one on each - but that is clunky and I want strat style knobs on it still which to me don't lend themselves well to pull pots.  So I decided there is room for two small switches amongst the knobs.  My first thought was to have one switch to coil tap both the neck and middle at the same time and one on the bridge.  This would give HHH, SSS, HSS and SHH combinations - not sure on the last one, certainly novel.  But I mused on this - one glaring thing is that I'm missing the HSH combination I original was going for and that seems a useful one, given the many guitars you can buy that offer that out the box.  Thinking more on it I have coil taps on some of my two pickup humbucker guitars (my old Nunostrat and Gordon Smith Graduate) and frankly I mostly favour the bridge as a humbucker with the coil tap on the neck useful.  I rarely coil tap the bridge on those guitars.  So I wanted definitely the HSS set up as that is one combination I'm after with this guitar I don't have in my arsenal currently, along with HSH again a variant I don't have as such.   Therefore having gone through this all I've decided to wire it up as the bridge permanently in humbucker mode and the middle and neck coil tappable independently on the two switches.  This gives the HSS and HSH modes along with HHH and HHS as well. I'm using perloid scratch and back plate - again the Murray model influence, plus looks good with the colour of the body.


Originally I had thought to replace the whole bridge unit with something like one of the Wilkinson Strat replacements - probably a modern looking one aping a bit the PRS trem style.  However once I got the guitar and looked at it I realised that the Afinity model (well this one at least) is one of the thinner bodied Squiers.  I thought they only did this with the bullet models but it seems not.  The body noticeably thinner than a standard Squier.  A quick check against my trusty (very) old JV model shows a difference of 5.1mm (46.9mm vs 41.8mm) measured on the top horn.  Therefore most normal trem blocks at 40mm won't fit - or at least will stick out the back.  I measure this trem block about 4-5mm shorter than that which is in line with the difference noted.  Obviously I could buy a new bridge that is compatible with the trem block and reuse the one in the guitar to retain the distance.  However that seemed a bit of a huge compromise as the main upgrade would be the block and the saddles anyway.  So after some thought I opted instead for new saddles only.  I found some reasonably priced on eBay.  I've gone with the more traditional bent steel ones as consensus, shown by Fender returning to feature them on the American Standard, is that these sound best anyway.  Getting some that were the correct (narrow) string spacing was the key point.  Another difference from USA or Mexican or Japanese reissues is that the cheaper strats from the far east have a narrower string spacing at the bridge.  After some umming and erring on my side I've also decided on fitting set of sperzel style locking tuners too as I've found locking tuners on vibrato guitars really useful in tuning stability.  So I've now ordered a suitably value for money set.  Finally I'll be sticking on some Schaller style locking strap locks - which I use as default on all my guitars anyway.

Once completed then the only original hardware will be the bridge except the saddles, the string trees and the plate holding the jack plug... everything else will be replaced!  Oh the neck plate will be original too I see no reason to update that ;-)

Here's some photos of the guitar in a state of disassembly to allow me to check fit the scratchplate - a couple of screw holes don't line up so I've filled them with old cocktail sticks and glue and will drill new ones later - same on the backplate too as my replacement has USA screw alignment.

You can see all the pickups, switches and pots in place now on this one - again a trial fit to make sure nothing it catching anywhere before I start to solder it all together which is the next major task and will be the subject of the next update no doubt.


  1. Just curious...and this will make how many guitars? I'm still struggling with a 12-string Epiphone strung with just six strings. Imagine what THAT sounds like!

    1. Now... do you include guitars that I don't technically own but have in my possession? My son has one here and I've another that a friend has never collected back.

      Ok - ignoring the games in the house currently are.
      7 acoustics
      1 Bass
      1 Mandolin (not technically a guitar ;-))
      10 Electrics

      So... 19 ish..