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…

The guitar – A bad DIY

I decided to go with a cheap strat rather than starting from scratch with something like Warmoth guitars (eventually I will), but I just wanted to start with a solid basis for my first customisation job.

So the next step was to find a cheap Stratocaster… either eBay or Reverb would provide. and Reverb did.

I found a  mexican Fender Blacktop Stratocaster with Gotoh parts, rather cheap, and clearly someone else’s customisation job gone wrong.

MexBlacktop

The guitar appeared to be in fair condition, and the listing did specify the changes made to the guitar, including removing the pickup covers (in my opinion, a crime).

On close inspection things were not so good. On the following pictures you can clearly see the bridge is too wide for the guitar. The string spacing (E to E) is 56mm, while the Blacktop Stratocaster has a vintage 51mm string spacing. This results in strings nearly outside of the fingerboard. and the strings sit outside of the humbucker poles, which according to DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan is a big no.

wrong bridge

Now the tuners. The guitar came with Gotoh SG381 Cosmo Black machine heads, which as you can see, the holes did not match the Fender two post alignment holes. The previous owner didn’t even bother to screw the tuners in, so the guitar would go immediately out of tune.

Machine Heads

The guitar did sound the same as my other blacktop stratocaster. although there was a short circut at the multipole superswitch which was quickly fixed. sound wise it was a blacktop stratocaster. The neck was all you can expect of a Fender neck, although it had some signs of neglect.

In summary, the guitar had good sound but was unplayable.

Just a bad DIY. Maybe not the intention of the previous owner, but certainly as a result of his actions.

 

Why a Partscaster? – Part I

I’ve always loved Fender Stratocasters. Ever since I can recall I’ve found it be the most beautiful guitar ever. Besides David Gilmour (praise him!) uses them.

On the same token, your Standard Fender Stratocaster, is not cheap and might or might not have the features you are looking for, and when you have paid good dollars for a Made in USA Stratocaster, it’s kind of painful to made modifications to it (at least for me).

I currently have several guitars, and have had some more over the years. Some of the other guitars have features that I certainly liked, and other guitars are so out of my reach. As time passes, I always keep coming back to the familiarity of a Strat neck and balance. They are just so nice to play.

Stratocasters are very versatile and simple instruments, and they are easily modifiable, and that makes them the ideal canvas for my next guitar.