Locking tuners – not so locking

I got home from work to find out my locking tuners had arrived.

Had dinner, bathed the kids, put them to bed… right! time to install the tuners.

These I got from Reverb and sold as genuine Schaller made in Germany for Fender for $79.50 AUD + shipping, on what I thought was a good deal.  Fender part 099-0818-100 6 inline staggered chrome locking tunners.

So finally got to install the tuners. They looked exactly like the ones on my American Stratocaster Plus, which has Schaller locking tuners. So I removed the old fender original ones I installed a few weeks earlier (refer to this post), and commenced to install the new ones… 1 in, 2 in, 3 in with some effort, 4 in…5 in without issues… not… well it got in nicely, but the screw in bushing did not screw in completely which causes the washers to be loose. F%$^%… 6 in… same problem! again the bushings did not screw in properly!

You can see in the following pictures exacly what I mean

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On  this picture you can clearly see there is a gap between the bushings and the washer, specially the bottom one which is close to 1 mm

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I then moved the tuners to different positions to see if I had them in the wrong position (like that is a possiblity) and then I noticed they were not staggered either!!!  all six tuners were short!

So, and against all instinct and knowing these would not work… I decided to give them a try and replaced strings… thinking maybe the loose washer would not be a issue… WRONG! the rattle was very noticeable and unbearable… not to mention the short tuners would fail to keep the guitar in tune when using the tremolo, as the 3 low strings would have too much friction at the nut…

Complete unusable.

So I’ve contacted the seller requesting a full refund or replacement… I’m not fussed either way, all I want are brand new, and fully functional locking tuners.

 

Mod #1 – Quick Electronics connect/disconnect

I got a couple of JST Male to Female connectors to replace the ground and hot connection between the electronics and the guitar output jack. The idea behind this is to have a quick connect/disconnect of the whole electronics. I will also do the same for all the ground connections to the guitar once all the hardware has been replaced.

quickconnect

Getting the JST through the jack routing hole. This is very small, and the connector would not go through it, hence why I had to do this before soldering the jack.

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Here you can see the soldered jack. (red to tip, black to ring/ground). Note that for the new electronics I would require an additional connector for the hot signal coming from the blower switch.

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Back on the pickguard and main electronics, connections are black to ground and red to volume potentiometer

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And this is the complete job.

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but wait!… we still need to do the same for the ground connections. For this I used some eye terminals and JST connectors

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These will be the ground connections to the body and bridge

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As you can see this is a more neat and clean arrangement fir the internals. This will help a lot when the new electronics are installed.

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Why a Partscaster? – Part II

So we stablished we’ll build a Strat based parts caster… but I don’t think I explained clearly why, so here are my reasons:

  • It’s a Fun project. My intention is to build an instrument I’ll enjoy playing, nothing more. I don’t intend to save money on it, nor as an investment… it will always be a partscaster and valued as such. A partscaster is not worth the sum of its components… But at this stage, I think it will play and sound great, and I’ll enjoy that… so that is priceless… for me.
  • The guitar will be mine, I made it, to my taste and to my specs. it’s like making bread… anyone should learn how to do it… it tastes great!
  • There’s no remorse or fear when modding the guitar. I remeber when I replaced the bride on my 1988 Stratocaster Plus…. with the same part number… some background: this was my first real guitar. It was a present from my father. The guitar possibly don’t have much street value, but the emotional value for me is huge… anyway.. I remember replacing the bridge… I was so scared… would it sound the same? it did… will it look the same? it did… will it lose value? it was going to anyway…. and so on and forth… there’s no attachment to a partscaster… you’ll get attached to it if the result is good and you put the hours playing it…. as I always say, love comes through caring….
  • I love putting things together and learning new stuff. I’ve made my own bicycles, sandals… bread… pasta… furniture… a silent speaker (from 90db down to 30db)… etc.
  • Fender doesn’t offer me what I want… well maybe it does, but at Fender Custom Shop prices… seriously, the Gilmour black strat is not worth that much…. don’t get me wrong, if I had the money i’d buy it in a second… for the record, my intention is not to build a Gilmour Black Strat… not yet anyway. And how is this for irony… Gilmour’s Back Strat is essentially the world’s most famous partscaster.
  • Mongrels and adopted dogs make amazing pets…
  • Because I can.
  • and finally… why not?

The pickups

As I wrote before, I love strats, they play just so nice. But I also like different guitars, and different sounds.

The firs time I heard of the Blacktop Stratocaster, I was really intrigued: A Stratocaster with dual humbuckers, and ‘vintage’ humbuckers while we are are. The demos available online sounded great, but as the guitar is no longer in production, I could not find one to test. So I bought one second hand.

I loved it. It was so familiar, yet so different. It played like a Strat, yet is sounded like no strat I’ve heard before. So it became one of my go to guitars.

But the AlNiCo V vintage pickups, while they sound really good, they are quite a high output, and as a result, they tend to mud things a little, specially when you are after the “Tube amp just breaking” tone… you know, that super clean yet crunchy sound. It just doesn’t happen. the pickups are simply too hot for that.

Enter the P.A.F. pickup. The 58-60 Gibson sound. that’s exactly the pickup for that job. While I love the Les Paul sound, I just can’t feel confortable playing it… maybe is a combination of the neck scale and the radius… and the weight… or who know… its just not right for me.

So I had narrowed down to a few PAF reissues, including Gibson and DiMarzio, and then I was lucky to try a Suhr Standard with a Thornbucker neck pickup… and that was it. exactly the tone I was after.

So more internet research and heaps of online demos and review later, I think the thornbuckers are the way to go. I believe they will provide that clean-dirty super clean and warm tone.

I’ve decided on the raw nickel covered ones, as there will ‘age’ its looks quicker (they will develop a patina), and I think they will look cool.

I have also decided on the 53mm for the neck.

thornbucker 2

lets just hope these fit on the HH pickguard…

The Hardware (AKA The Shopping List)

So here’s my shopping list. This will probably change over time, but this where I’m at. I might write a post or two about some of the choices I made, but I’m happy with them so far, and only time will tell whether I’m truly happy with them.

  • Fender/Schaller Staggered Locking tuners  – Received & useless (read this)
  • Gotoh NS510TS Bridge
  • New HH Pickguard – Shipped
  • Fender 4P5T Superswitch  – Received
  • Linear 500K Taper for Volumen  – Received
  • DPDT on/on mini toggle switch for Blower switch – Shipped
  • Suhr Thornbucker Neck on Raw nickel – Shipped
  • Suhr Thornbucker 53mm Bridge on Raw nickel – Purchased
  • Wiring, and 2 Pin MULTI Pin Plug /  9V battery clips, for a quick connect/disconnect of the loaded board  – Done (read this)
  • Copper tape for cavity shielding – Shipped

Planning The Electronics

Grab some coffee as this might be a rather long read.

As I mentioned on previous posts. I have another Fender Blacktop Stratocaster, which is one of my favourite guitars. One of the things I really like about it is the pickup configuration (HH), and the 5 position switching. As logic would dictate, I will configure the new guitar with the same configuration and pickup selection options.

But it’s not a mere pickup replacement operation. Something I dislike in ALL my guitars, are the tone knobs: I never use them. I’ve played for 30 years, with several hiatus while I pursued other hobbies, and played different styles of music, and never used the tone knobs…. maybe if I played Jazz….I have even disconnected them in a couple of guitars when I replaced the pickups.

So now I have the opportunity to remove the tone pots altogether… and also do a few other things.

Here’s is what I want from the electronics:

  • 5 way “Blacktop” pickup selection

1 – Bridge Humbucker

2 – Neck + Bridge Outer Coils

3 – Neck + Bridge Humbucker

4 – Neck + Bridge Inner Coils

5 – Neck Humbucker

  • No tone knobs
  • Suhr like Blower switch (AKA True bypass)
  • Better volume control

so here we go…

The pickup selection

So first I needed to find the correct schematics of the Fender Blacktop Stratocaster. Unfortunately, Fender website was no help, as the HH strats service manuals are for HH strats with different switching options.

After digging for a while, (and is incredible the number of incorrect diagrams out there) I found what I was looking for in the Strat-Talk forums. I verified this against the wiring of the actual guitar. The wiring diagram can be found below.

actual blacktop wiring

This was very useful, but I quickly realised that the color coding is for Fender’s proprietary humbuckers, and I would need to translate to the brand pickups I would be using (Suhr Humbuckers, more about that decision on another post). I would also need to remove the tone pots, and add the blower switch.

The Blower Switch

I use my volume knob a lot to control my sound and dial the sweet spot, and also like more gain and byte when soloing. Sometimes you have found the sweet spot, switch to your neck pickup, full volumen…. shred!…then time to go back to that sweet spot… uh… where was I?…

So the idea behind the blower switch is that this mod allows the guitar to completely bypass all the switches and controls when engaged, the bridge pickup is connected straight to the guitar output.

The Seymour Duncan blog explains how to do this mod, so I will bypass the explanation.

I initially thought of using a push/pull volume, as It would give a more minimalistic look to the guitar, but then, the whole idea of the blower switch is to avoid messing with the sweet spot, so HANDS OF THE VOLUME. as a result, I will use a DPDT on/on switch. This will make soldering easier, and any service easier. I also have plenty of room to put this in the guitar, as now I don’t have tone controls.

The volume control issue

There are essential two types of taper (volume) pots: Audio (Logaritmic) and Linear.

Most guitarrist (and most guitars) use Audio pots. The problem with that is that audio rolls off faster (at the halfway mark the audio is anything between 25-35%). and to address mantaining tone, people use treble bleed mods.

A linear taper gets rids of those issues, and there’s a smooth volume sweep from 1-10.

The final wiring diagram

So here’s what the partscaster wiring will look like… for now 🙂

WIRING

 

 

 

 

So… what’s next?

First I had to get the guitar in a working state, to make sure it would be playable, that I would enjoy playing it, and worth modifying it.

I’ve been around for a while, so luckly I had enough spares to quickly get the guitar to a decent and usable state. I replaced both the tuning machines and the bridge. I installed genuine Fender tuners and vintage tremolo bridges. I also polished the frets and cleaned the fingerboard, and….and immediately I had a usable guitar.

It is a Mexican Fender Blacktop Stratocaster, looks like a Fender, plays like a Fender, and sounds like a Fender.

A good starting point.

Now what?

pickquestion

I always liked the American Standard bridge sadles, locking keys are a must, Piezo pickup not a bad idea, and love HH configuration on a Strat. So my plan is as follow (for now), not necessarily in this order:

  • Replace synthetic bone nut with a Grapth Tech Black Tusq (PT-5000-00) nut.
  • Replace pickguard with HH pickguard
  • Replace standard Fender tuners with Fender® American Deluxe Locking Chrome Tuners Staggered Posts
  • Replace pickups. While I like the I’ve Hot Vintage Alnico Humbucking Pickups, I think they are a bit too hot for what I intend to do. But single coils would be too tame. Besides, I already have another Blacktop Stratocaster, so why would I want two guitars to be the same?
  • In the short term Replace the vintage standard fender bridge saddles, or even better, replace the whole bridge with Gotoh NS510TS bridge.
  • Long term, replace bridge with Fishman VMV Powerbridge Pickup with the additional Powerchip. I have the same functionality on my Parker Fly Deluxe and I love it. It would require drilling a hole for the battery pack so I might leave that for a Warmoth Body.
  • Maybe a blower switch, I have never used one, but I think is a neat feature.

That’s it for now…