How To Soup Up Your Strat:
mods and upgrades for a Fender Stratocaster style guitar.
Simple changes to an instruments hardware can make a huge improvement in the feel and tone. Lets take a look at the shop “demo- caster” I recently put together to present some ideas on how to customize your guitars hardware to get the most out of your instrument. This instrument demonstrates a handful of the options available. However, half the fun is picking and choosing the mods you like to create a customized guitar that fits your needs and tastes.
The common Squier standard series Stratocaster used here should be familiar to most guitar players. While it is generally considered a solid “starter guitar”, especially after a proper setup and/or a fret leveling, it is certainly not anyones idea of a tone monster. However, a few choice modifications can take this guitar way beyond the starter pack special and in to the realm of the “real instrument”. If you would like to experience any of these mods to yourself, please feel free to take the guitar for a test drive next time you are in the shop.
Strap locking systems:
As far as I am concerned, no gigging guitar should be without some form of strap locking device. The Schaller style pictured are one of the great options that we offer. They cost about $20 and in many circumstances are field installable by the average player with access to a wrench and a screw driver.
For some, strap locks allow for crazy stage tricks like spinning the guitar over your shoulder. For the rest of us, they are a reliable piece of security against dented guitars, broken headstocks, and really awkward moments on stage.
String Guide Upgrades:
The roller string guides pictured at left are another inexpensive way to improve your guitar. String guides or “string trees”are often a necessary evil on a Strat. They help to get the proper downward tension and keep the high strings sitting in the nut slot.
However, this added friction is the enemy of tuning stability, especially if you like to lay on the vibrato bar. These simple roller guides do a great job keeping the strings at the correct angle while reducing the amount of unwanted friction.
Tuning Machine Upgrades:
While we are on the subject of reducing friction, and increasing tuning stability, lets talk about locking tuners. When stringing a guitar with standard tuners, it is necessary to wrap the string around the post several times in order to prevent it from slipping and being pulled off of the tuner. While these extra wraps are effective for this purpose, they create another potential area of friction that can throw you out of tune.
Locking tuners work by eliminating the need to wrap the string around the tuner post. While they are not a substitute for a properly cut string nut, and a well setup guitar, they are
another tool available for improving your
guitars functionality. These Fender/Schaller style locking tuners will drop right into many Fender guitars without permanent modification to the instrument.
Earvana Upgraded String Nut:
Have you ever noticed that your guitar sounds slightly out of tune when you play first position chords? I personally have always found the open “D” and “A” chords to be particularly flagrant offenders. This problem exists in varying degrees on all guitars. The primary offender is typically the first few frets on the 3rd string playing sharp when fretted. It is contributed to by a number of things, including fret height and width, how much pressure the player applies when fretting notes, as well as the physics of something called “end tension” on the string.
The Earvana brand string nut pictured above offers a solution without the need for special tunings required by other products, like the Buzz Feiten tuning system, which we also offer. The Earvana nut is manufactured with an offset design (all strings don’t leave off at the same spot as with a traditional nut) in order to compensate the tuning of the first few frets. There are different versions available designed to fit most any instrument. They are made using a smooth synthetic “graph-tech” type material.
Strat Saddle Upgrades:
Speaking of Graph-Tech: “string saver” saddles are made of graph-tech’s proprietary material. The same used in their popular string nuts and acoustic guitar saddles. They also feature stainless steel adjustment screws. These saddles are designed to improve tone and reduce string breakage. By using resonate graphite they won’t form burrs that break your strings like metal saddles can, and the stainless steel adjustment screws are more resistant to rusting so that your instruments hardware will remain easily adjustable for a long time.
Electronic Upgrades for Strat:
Now its time to talk electronics! Before replacing the bland stock pickups with a set of Seymour Duncan Noiseless Single coils, I elected to shield all of the control cavities with copper foil. While this definitely won’t turn your single coil pickups into humbuckers, 60 cycle hum will not be eliminated, shielding allows you to substantially reduce unwanted RF interference and hum. To do it properly, all cavities must me fully shielded and connected to ground.
With the pickups installed and the control cavity shielded, it was time to start tricking out the tonal palette. This Strat is now equipped with the “seven way mod”. There are a few different ways to do this, but the version shown here uses an Emerson Custom blender control (underneath the cream colored control pictured) to blend in the bridge pickup. This allows you to blend in both bridge and neck pickups together when in position 1 or 5 on the toggle switch. It also allows for all three pickups to be turned on at once. These two new pickup configurations are not available with stock wiring and can offer a great new color.
Tone Control Upgrades:
I also wired this guitar to have a “master tone
control”. Instead of the traditional configuration, where two tone knobs each control different pickups, now one knob adjusts the tone for all three pickups. Additionally, the use of
a special “no-load” potentiometer completely removes the tone control from the circuit when turned fully clockwise. This allows for maximum treble output from your pickups when the tone control is turned off. (super handy for brightening up dark sounding guitars!) The control is also wired using the “grease bucket tone circuit” to create a much more pleasing and usable tone control sound than the stock configuration. The guitar is finished off with a high quality Emerson Custom volume control to ensure smooth operation from 1 – 10.
The mods presented here are just a few popular options of the many available to upgrade your Strat. To cost inquiries please our price list. Guitar Repair Long Island stock many of the parts necessary for these mods a well countless others. If you have any questions about these or any other work, please reach out anytime!
About Guitar Repair Long Island:
Guitar Repair Long Island is the area’s premier destination for fretted musical instrument care and maintenance. We fix all fretted instruments, including: guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles. Conveniently located in Ronkonkoma NY, the shop is dedicated to providing quick, honest, and reliable service. Our vast experience in all aspects of instrument repair ensures that we can help with whatever your needs are. Contact us or book your appointment today