The strat upgrade is done!
Some pics to run through the work. We'd left it last time with all the components fitted onto the scratchplate but nothing wired up. It is half term week from my course giving me a couple of days where weather and waiting in for a heating engineer meant I had a clear few hours on the bench (i.e. dining room table suitably covered with rugs, old t-shirts, etc.)
Here is the start of the wiring - some of the wiring for the pots and switches done.
Here with the pickups connected up - There is actually a simple but major error on here that I spotted later...
Here she is naked - stripped of all the hardware I was replacing, i.e. bridge saddles, tuners, strap buttons, scratchplate and backplate.
Dignity being restored with tuners, saddles and strap locks installed.
A close up of the saddles. I can't say how much if at all they improved the sound as clearly in this rebuild I can't to a side by side comparison with the old ones and the same electrics. However when I tried it out as bought it was ok but a bit lifeless, or soulless - it just didn't "ring" like some of my others. I'd assumed the quality of the body wood and the bridge block being a cheaper cast one. However once all assembled she does indeed "ring" / "sing" much better. How much is due to the saddles? Hmm.. I'd actually wager a fair bit - for only about £15 a simple, easily reversed upgrade I'd recommend now to anyone with one of these. Do check your string spacing - this like most Far East ones is 52.5mm across all strings vs a USA (although Jap reissues as well - so check!) are 56.5mm. These were sold as genuine Fender ones and are stamped as such. You can find similar unbranded ones under £10 which would still be worth a punt as I say they can easily be swapped back.
So the scratchplate held in on a couple of screws for final "tap test"**. I did one test before fitting in then one before all securely fixed in case I shorted something out. But all was good to go.
Nearly there - strung up and being set up. Like most modern Fenders the radius is a 9.5in. So I got the two E strings about where I wanted on action and set the rest to a radius curve - you can see my set lying by the neck support. However final "fertling" was by eye, ear (little buzz on A string at 12th fret) and feel.
Reclining in the sun having been polished up and played.
This shows the new rear backplate fitted to match the front just for completeness.
Final summary. Well having played it for an hour or so it is really good. I'm extremely pleased with the result. As I say as bought it was "ok" but not a singing stunner. Next to my 1983 Squier JV Strat (modified with old 90s USA Standard electrics - the one with the TBX control), possibly an unfair comparator, it was a bit flat and non descript. Now however it does "sing" and "ring" more to my ears even unplugged I think leading to my thinking the saddles were the best investment on this upgrade. Soundwise it works a treat. The Artec pickups are really excellent for the money. The neck in a brooding heavy bluesy bruiser in humbucker mode with some crunch on the amp. The middle is a great singing sound in either humbucker or single coil and the bridge is a bright singing humbucker sound. Being single coil humbuckers mean they seem to maintain some of the Strat single coil flavour in the humbucker mode. There is a bit of a drop in output when switching to coil tap mode but actually that can be used to an advantage potentially. Over all I'm really pleased with the result. I may get around to a video / audio example at some point so watch this space as they say.
** What's a Tap Test?
Simple - plug the guitar wiring into an amp - I use an old practice headphone amp called a pocket rocket as the headphones help determine exactly what is going on. Then tap the pickups with a screwdriver - this'll show your switching is ok, it isn't all going to earth and pretty much ok to fit down. I did this when it was all soldered up including the earth connections to the bridge etc. It was time well spent in this case. In getting my head around wiring the coil taps etc. I'd connected the neck and middle pickups to the wrong lugs on the switch. A simple few second fix but better than before all strung up!