Finally I had the guitar finished but not set up.
I had a quick playing test and most of the fret issues had gone - my initial test had shown that on the E and B above fret 14 it was hit and miss whether you got the right note and that was all gone. There was some buzzing but all notes sounded. However bending the top E choked out - a common Strat complaint but one I wasn't expecting. When I bought the neck off eBay it was specified as having a 9.5" radius. I thought I maybe needed another go at levelling the frets.
Anyway I put it aside for 24 hours to let it all settle at tension anyway.
Next day I checked the relief which without any adjustment had gone from being dead flat without tension to being a little over Fender factory spec for a 9.5 and closer to a 7.25. I decided to leave that as that was close enough for now - I was expecting to return to that but read on for the mystery surprise.
The nut slots were all high - not uniformly some much higher than others. I had thought about putting a Tusq replacement nut in and I might still do that in future but actually this did seem to be a bone nut not just cheap plastic which was a result. Having got that sorted I turned attention to the action. The top E was a little low so I raised it a bit which helped massively with the choking I'd found frustrating on the first play. Not perfect but better. The bottom E was about right so I dug out my 9.5" radius gauge and adjusted the other strings. Felt odd - the middle strings were really buzzy and the B now chocked out more. Head scratch. I could just raise it all but that seemed wrong and as things were moving about I wasn't convinced my fret levelling was necessarily at fault. After a few frustrating minutes I had a brainwave. "Check the radius of the board dummy!".
It is a 7.25" not a 9.5" as advertised. DOH! I'm not bothered - I know some hate the vintage feel but frankly I flip from a 7.25" Strat to a 12" Gibson to a 10" PRS with little bother - my playing clearly isn't that nuanced! Once I set an action more akin to a 7.25" (you have to have it slightly on the high side to stop the choking I've always found) then set the strings to 7.25" radius it came alive in my hands. No choking bends and every string ringing clear and true.
Intonation. I didn't have to set it. Sorry?! What?! Yes I know I was completely blown away by this too. Back on day one my first thing had been to line up the bridge and set it's position. If you remember the neck was floppy in the pocket so I inserted a shim on the treble side. That meant I ended up creating my own "centre line" slightly toward the bass side of the body. But I'd then carefully measured the position of the bridge to be 324mm from the 12th fret. That was my notional intonation point. I used a Wilkinson vintage strat type bridge but with their clever staggered trem block. Now the saddles came factory installed with a stagger. Honest once I got to intonation I was stunned to find that I only had to move the low E and the D a fraction forward and I mean not even a full turn on the D. The other four were perfectly bang on. I was most impressed with that! Seriously I could have left it as was and it'd be better than any guitar I've got home after purchasing from a shop.
I set the pickup heights which sorted out an initial inbalance I'd felt between the single coils and the humbucker - I will say the last bit of that showed to me that this set is much more sensitive to position relative to the string than I've ever before experienced. A small adjustment makes a seemingly large difference in perceived output.
By the way - it's set up with Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys .10 - .46 my regular string of choice.
So final impressions. I love it! No... I LOVE it! The neck is comfortable, maybe a shade chunkier in the very bottom open position by the nut than I'd prefer. Comparing it to my gorgeous Squier JV '62 strat that has the best neck shape ever... I think there is about 1.4mm extra chunk in that area but it is fine and as you progress up the neck any additional bulk is not noticeable at all. Hey I've got a Les Paul Custom with a truly baseball bat neck on that so this is no bother at all.
As I say now set up as a 7.25" it plays really good. Many would baulk at the slightly higher action - I head towards 1.5mm on the top E on a 7.25" rather than normally I go for about 1.2mm on a 10" or above. But I really don't mind and I'm no shredder so it's ok for me.
The Bridge is excellent and will again consider Wilkinson for any other builds/upgrades. I went with a more vintage one after considering the modern looking one which more resembles say a PRS like bridge. However I remember swapping large bulky saddles on the red Squier I updated some years back putting in Fender bent steel and thinking that was the single best upgrade on the guitar as even unplugged it changed how it rang. The really really best bit about this bridge is that it looks all vintage and has that ring but the arm is a push fit - it just stays in place! No mucking about with those little springs underneath that you eventually lose in the case or PTFE tape that then eventually gums everything up. Genius!
Sounds. Well now - the Texas Locos are a revelation. Instant great strat tone - Mayer, Trower, Hendrix, Gilmour etc. etc. all there. I'm so impressed I am seriously wondering about fitting a complete set of these into my beloved Squier '62. The Humbucker I initially wasn't as impressed by but after fiddling with the pickup height it is much better and I'm happy now. I went with this as a set as it was only £75 for the set - incredible value. But I wish they perhaps offered a set with a more PAF like humbucker but it isn't a bad sound just that the Texas Locos are so good it seems just not as great. Also the single coil tone is a bit shrill on it - probably as it is voicing the coil closest to the bridge which is closer than a most of a normal strat single coil would be. But then I have a three single coil strat so it's a nice to have option but not a deal breaker. This is much more likely to be used as a HSS pretty much permanently anyway. The 7 sound? Second guitar I've fitted it to and I honestly don't think I'll bother again - yes they are subtly different but they don't immediately inspire me anyway. Funny enough I don't regularly use the combined sounds on a Strat anyway I use the three pickups in isolation much more.
However my dodgy wiring still strikes. Only in my second playing test did I realise that the tones are wired up wrong! I fixed the pickup issue but not that because fixing the pickup issue now means that we have master vol, tone on bridge and middle and neck tone. To be honest I'm not a tone pot fiddler I normally leave them set where I'm happy and tone shape via other means so it's not a big deal but at some point when I have time I will have to pop the electrics out again and sort that out.
I made this quick video to send to my son. This is the first play through - before the set up work.
Finally full specs for any geeks...
- Mahogany Body
- Maple neck and fingerboard - block inlays, 22 fret, fretboard bound (more like Jazzmaster / Jaguar than a Strat). Adverstised as 9.5" radius actually 7.25"
- Vanson locking tuners
- Generic roller string trees
- Schaller like (i.e. copy) strap locks
- Wilkinson "vintage" bridge WV6 CR SB
- Black perloid scratchplate - handmade from Vanson guitars blank - back plate from Vanson to match
- Copper sheet shielding
- Telecaster type knobs
- Irongear pickups Steamhammer humbucker in bridge, Texax Locos in neck and middle
- 250K pots
- 0.47uf "orange drop" capacitor
- "Oak" switch
- Master Vol
- Tone on neck
- Tone on Bridge and Middle
- Coil tap on humbucker
- 7 sound switch placing Bridge active in all switch positions
- Strung with Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings
- Leather strap by Spartan Music