FENDER '54 PINE SUPER STRAT
With all those crazy pine Telecasters, it was just a matter of time before I went off and did a pine Stratocaster. But could a pine body hold a Floyd Rose?
It has long been said that pine is addictive wood (?), and while I was in the middle of creating pine after pine aged Teles, I stumbled on a killer relic'd Fender Stratocaster with a Floyd. And a similar one with a maple fretboard: 1 2 3. Well why couldn't I basically do this Strat - but in pine?
It was easy to get the Mighty Mite maple neck, which already came routed with the Floyd nut shelf. I just aged it and added the Fender Stratocaster waterslide and a set of nickel Wilkinson Deluxe vintage tuners. But it took a while to track down the pine Strat body, but I eventually found one on eBay (Spalt King Guitars) in December 2013 and I was ready to go. I just painted it black and aged the crap out of it. Also relic'd some Schaller strap buttons and a Fender neck plate.
When Floyd Rose starting making the affordable Floyd Rose Special tremolo in 2008, the company added a few new "color" options in addition to the standard chrome, black, and gold. One of them was "antique silver" and I remember thinking that it would look really cool on a relic'd guitar - so that's the Floyd I went with. The question that was always in my mind was could the pine wood withstand the force/tension of the two Floyd pivot post/bushings? If you've been around Floyds and guitars long enough, you've most likely seen more than a couple of blown-out Floyd bridges where string and use tension cracks the wood in front of the pivot screw/post toward the neck. And pine isn't exactly known for its durability.
I thought my best gamble would be to go with a Floyd post/bushing mounting bar as I had seen on some Ibanez guitars, although I replaced the stock hex screws with slotted screws. So I carefully (and I do mean carefully as in measuring 2x and drilling once) installed the thing, hoping that there was enough wood in front of it to hold the tension. I also counter-sunk it into the body face, so it's flush (some fine chiseling work there, I must say). It looked good and seemed ok, but this wasn't an ash body so I wouldn't know for sure until I strung it up, played it for a while, and let time have its way with it.
For the electronics, I went with a pair of Fender 50s Reissue single-coils (middle reverse wound) and a black DH-1/Atomic for the bridge. The single coils came in a pre-wired SSS Strat pickguard and I just had to remove the bridge SC, wire in the DH-1, and swap pickguards (I had a white SSH WD pickguard handy). Since I wanted this to resemble an old '54 Strat that had been upgraded (like the owner added a Floyd and a humbucker in the 80s), I used only slotted screws for that vintage look. Stratocasters first were introduced to the world in 1954, so I purchased a 1954 quarter to place under the antique silver Floyd Rose Special. And to complete the Floyd, I added a black EVH D-tuna, a brass Big Block, and I swapped out the stock Special saddles (zinc) for a Korean-made 1000 series set (steel).
The moment of truth came and this pine axe passed all the tests. The Floyd has held! We'll see how it does with time, but so far, so good. And that pine - what a tone. Great pickups and like all the other pine guitars, it sounds amazing just strumming it on the couch. And the relic'd aged look - front and back - is a thing of beauty. Of course I would never do this to a real '54 Strat!
FENDER BLACKMORE STRATOCASTER
FENDER BLACKOUT STRATOCASTER
Ritchie Blackmore playing with Rainbow, 1981
Rainbow's Straight Between The Eyes (1982) and Deep Purple's Perfect Strangers (1984)
Fender's Ritchie Blackmore signature model - note the scalloped fretboard and the dummy single-coil pickup in the middle position
my Tokai Springy Sound Strat with a scalloped Mighty Mite neck
The main differences between my version and the official Fender Blackmore edition are:
--mine has a standard rosewood fretboard instead of scalloped rosewood fretboard
--mine has a working middle single-coil pickup instead of a dummy
-- -- -- -- -- --
Scorpions' 1982 album, Blackout
Fender Stratocaster, with black body, pickups, and pickguard along with a rosewood fretboard
Mike Peterson (left), with his black Strat - an early 1980s Japanese Squier with a half-sanded body and CBS headstock
Similarities between these two Fender projects:
--both have thin Fender Squier bodies (1 9/16")
More info on my Squier Thin Body projects
--both have Fender Squier necks
--both have Gotoh/All Parts chrome locking tuners
--both have aged wood and hardware
--both have custom sets of G.M. (Guitar Madness) single-coil pickups (black covers)
--both have harnesses with XGP 330k pots, Oak Grigsby 5-way switches, Orange Drop tone capacitors, and a Switchcraft jack
--both have steel GFS "shorty" trem blocks (39mm)
--both have black tremolo arm tips
--both have aged black Strat knobs
--both have aged chrome Schaller strap buttons
FENDER CLAPTON STRATOCASTER -Blackie-
FENDER GILMOUR BLACK STRAT
history of Eric Clapton's Stratocaster, "Blackie"
Clapton with Blackie, circa early 1980s
Blackie, front and back
saw Blackie at the "Play It Loud" exhibit at the NYC MET in September 2019 1 2
Fender Squier body with All Parts maple neck
white pickguard with G.M. pickups
-- -- -- -- -- --
history of David Gilmour's Black Strat
Black Strat, front and back
Gilmour with the Black Strat, circa early 1970s
recent Gilmour with the Black Strat
Black Strat close-ups
Fender Squier body with Mighty Mite maple neck
black pickguard with G.M. pickups
Similarities between these two Fender tribute projects:
--both have thin, black Fender Squier bodies (1 9/16")
--both have maple necks (All Parts & Mighty Mite)
--both have aged wood and hardware
--both have custom sets of G.M. (Guitar Madness) single-coil pickups (white covers)
--both have steel base plates installed for the bridge single-coil pickups
--both have harnesses with CTS 250k pots, Oak Grigsby 5-way switches, Orange Drop tone capacitors, and a Switchcraft jack
--both have steel GFS "shorty" trem blocks (39mm)
--both have narrow Fender-stamped saddles (2 1/16")
--both have aged white Strat knobs
--both have aged chrome Schaller strap buttons
FENDER BLUES STRATOCASTER
My Duo-Sonic really turned out well. In early 1998, while back in San Diego, I frequented Guitar Trader, which had a top-notch repair staff, led by Fred of The Repair Zone. Fred was big into retro gear, including Bigsby trems. I thought it would be cool to put a Bigsby on a guitar. Trader also sold these new-old stock (NOS) Mexican Fender Duo-Sonics pretty cheap, so I bought a 1996 model in white for the Bigsby.
Of course, I had to take off the existing bridge and fill the holes, so I figured I'd repaint the body. I was looking for something in the "light-orange" range, but "peach" was the closest spray can color I could find. I thought that the peach body/white pickguard scheme looked like one of those orange/vanilla popsicles. Whatever.
I had a new Seymour Duncan Hot Stack neck position pickup (with a white SD pickup cover) that was supposed to go in another guitar. I just had to order the matching bridge pickup and I was set. Unfortunately, the Duo-Sonic has a face-mounting output jack pickguard, so I had an on/off switch wired in its place. I drilled a side hole and put on a chrome football jack plate. I replaced the original volume and tone knobs with chrome Carvin minis. The pots are Carvin, too.
I sanded off some of the finish on the back of the maple neck and treated it with lemon oil. I swapped the stock tuners for chrome locking Sperzels, and added a cool string tree. Of course, the strap buttons are Schallers. It still has the original 3-way switch with the cream knob, and the neck plate is also original.
The installation of the Bigsby went well - no problems. The paint job looks good, too. The guitar has an overdriven, nasty single-coil sound, but without the hum. That Bigsby, though, won't stay in tune to save your life! Overall, this guitar rocks and having a shorter scale guitar (22.7") makes for fun playing. If you want to hear this guitar in action, it's the main guitar on Foam Tide off my first CD, man makes plans and God laughs.
FENDER HENDRIX REVERSE STRAT
I always thought it was cool to see Jimi Hendrix (a lefty) play a right-handed guitar essentially upside down. So here's my take...
We've all seen the old pictures - Jimi Hendrix with an upside-down, right-handed sunburst Fender Stratocaster. Fender has wisely marketed a right-handed (reverse headstock) Fender Hendrix Stratocaster - sunburst with rosewood fretboard (note that the bridge pickup is reverse slanted) so players can get that Jimi vibe. You can even pick up the colorful Fender Hendrix Stratocaster - Monterey Pop Edition - also with the reverse-slanted bridge pickup. But these guitars aren't really what Hendrix did with his Strat. These are right-handed bodies for right-handed players and the only thing that ties them to Hendrix in that way is either a reverse headstock or the slant of the bridge single coil. Fender knows that it would be way too uncomfortable to play something upside down. The output jack would be stabling you in the forearm and the controls are designed to be down and out of the way - not up in your chest. But I wanted to play a guitar upside down, so I tracked down a used lefty Fender Squier body with a nice sunburst finish. Here we go.
OK, so I had a left-handed body. The next question was - do I stay with the lefty tremolo (like Stevie Ray Vaughan), or do I want to go with a standard right-handed trem? It obviously would have been easier to stick with the stock left-handed trem, so of course I decided on swapping it with a right-handed one. I had to add and remove wood to account for a right-handed tremolo in a left-handed body (as on SRV's Number One) - front and back - but it turned out pretty clean (front and back).
I picked up a used Fender Squier neck (rosewood board, 21 frets) and sanded down the headstock and added Fender and Jimi Hendrix signature waterslides. The tremolo is a GFS model with a big steel sustain block and Fender-stamped saddles. I added locking tuners and Schaller strap buttons, and a chrome Fender neck plate. I debated between a black or white pickguard, and ultimately went with the black one. More on that in a second.
For the pickups, I went with a set of white US Tone Works VS60s, which achieve 1960s "Vintage Strat" tone with the aid of Alnico 5 magnets. They sound just fine and they weren't too expensive. I wired everything up with CTS 250K pots, a CRL switch, a .022 tone capacitor, and a Switchcraft jack. And the white pickups with the black pickguard... The farther I got along with this project, the more it resembled SRV's guitar than a Hendrix instrument. So at this point I added an SRV-inspired Custom decal behind the trem. I guess this axe is a tribute to both of these guitar heroes who died way too young.
This project was actually a lot of fun - especially re-shaping the tremolo cavity. And I can totally see why Fender and other guitar manufacturers don't market upside-down guitars - not comfortable at all to play! Oh well. It allows me to appreciate Hendrix even more!
I didn't mean to assemble this guitar. But the project turned out more than okay.
In July 2007, I was searching eBay for a fretless guitar neck and I found one - attached to a body. The fretless guitar was a bit over $200, and even though I just wanted/needed the neck, I went for it because it was such a good deal. Since I just wanted the fretless neck for a different body (see my Texcoco Fretless), I ended up with an "extra" guitar body.
The body of unknown origin was originally blue (original blue body with fretless neck), but I decided to repaint it an orange/red color. I mixed some yellow with red and hand-painyed the body with foam brushes. It looks cool, as it has some interesting paint textures to its appearance. And I think the body is just plain, old alder.
Having an "extra" body means ordering an "extra" neck, so I found a deal on a maple neck (also of unknown origin) on eBay for $40 from Dragon Mountain. I had to level the frets a bit, but overall it's an incredible neck. I sanded off the satin finish and oiled it - now it's one of my best feeling necks. I found someone who makes custom Fender headstock decals, and had him make one for my Fender Lipsticaster. Nice touch.
For the electronics, I gutted the original cheap pickups and replaced them with a GFS Pro-Tube Lipstick set (I wired them up myself). The middle pickup is reverse-wound, so it gets quiet tones in the 2 and 4 positions.
As for the hardware, I stuck with the stock tremolo, but added Graph Tech saddles and a black trem arm knob. I also kept the stock white pickguard, which has a cool Firebird logo etched into it. I replaced the stock white knobs with black Alesis knobs from an old, non-working reverb unit - they look cool! I added black Schaller straplocks and black/chrome Gotoh locking tuners. I also tracked down a white trem cavity cover for the back.
The Lipstick pickups are cool and I love the neck. And it was super-cheap and super-easy to put together, so I'm glad that I ended up with this "extra" guitar.
FENDER MJ STRATOCASTER -First Sting-
Matthias Jabs with his striped Gibson Explorer, circa 1984
Matthias Jabs with his "Trouble" Strat - 1963 Fender Stratocaster body and 1964 neck, Floyd Rose, and Bill Lawrence L90XL box humbucker, circa 1986, with close up
Jabs with his "Trouble" Strat, circa 1982
Jabs with his "Trouble" Strat, circa 1984 1 2 3
FENDER NASHVILLE TELECASTER
How does one take a very, very good Telecaster and improve on it? Fender Squier made it very tough.
In 2009, I noticed that Fender Squier had put out two very cool Telecasters as part of its Classic Vibe and Vintage Modified series - a standard Tele with a pine body, and a three-pickup model made from cedar, respectively. I was deeply intrigued with both of these, but I ended up ordering a custom pine Tele-like body from Tomahawk Custom Guitars for my Charvel Telehawk project, so I investigated the cedar Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster SSH more closely.
So why the name "Nashville Telecaster"? I guess that's what Fender calls its standard Telecaster with a Strat pickup wired up in the middle with a 5-way pickup switch instead of a 3-way switch. I have read that a lot of the country players in and around Nashville made this modification back in the 70s and 80s to make their workhorse Tele more versatile for studio session work - adding that Strat pickup with a 5-way switch for more tonal options. And that's pretty much what the Squier SSH model is - except it has a mini humbucker in the neck position instead of the classic chrome Tele neck pickup or a Strat neck pickup. And the chrome control plate is reversed, in that the volume and tone are closest to the neck.
In general, the reviews on the Squier SSH guitar were great and that had a lot to do with the stock Seymour Duncan Designed pickups and the quality maple neck. And how cool is it to have cedar guitar body? So unlike most projects I undertake, I thought I wouldn't have to replace the pickups or the neck, and for less than $300 - I figured I was getting a deal. Around this time, however, I saw that Mighty Mite was putting out birdseye maple Tele necks with the 12th-fret black dots spaced in a more narrow fashion - like Charvel's spacing. And of course I thought this was cool to the point where I really had to have one - even though I had no idea at the time what guitar project it was for. Anyway...
After getting the Squier Vintage Modified Tele, I formed some fast opinions. Nice heavy body with a quality neck. But A LOT of gloss on the neck, and my plan was always to sand down the headstock and apply a 70s-style Fender Telecaster waterslide, so... I decided to use the newly acquired Mighty Mite neck for this project and either save the Squier Tele neck for a future "relic" project, or sell it on eBay. Problem solved. Other modifications to the stock guitar were as follows: swapping the original chrome strap buttons for black Schaller straplocks, going with chrome Fender/Schaller locking tuners, replacing the stock Squier neck plate with a chrome Fender 'F' one, replacing the stock chrome bridge saddles for Graph Tech String Saver saddles, and switching the stock output jack cup plate for an Electrosocket cup plate. I also swapped out the stock white plastic nut that Mighty Mite used on its neck for a Tusq nut.
The stock Duncan Designed pickups (all humbuckers!) are what really make this guitar an amazing value. The chrome mini humbucker (Korean version of the SD Vintage Mini Humbucker) in the neck position gets a perfect raw tone, while the stacked middle Strat pickup (Korean version of the SD Classic Stack Strat) adds more possibilities to the guitar than a standard Tele. And then there's the stacked Tele bridge pickup (Korean version of the SD Vintage Stack Tele). I had read about this beast online before I even got the guitar. Basically, the guys at Fender/Squier thought it would be cool to make this axe even more "Vintage Modified" if they reverse wired the bridge pickup so it would be out of phase. All the reviews I read said it sounded like crap and they were right. Luckily, this is a simple 10-minute soldering fix. I also swapped out the stock ceramic tone capacitor with a Sprague Orange Drop .022uf cap, which is typcially used for Les Paul/humbucker-equipped guitars. Nice improvement, and an easy soldering job.
What else can I say? Another stock Fender Squier guitar that gives great value. Very good quality stock parts and not much left to modify, although I always seems to find a way to do that.
FENDER SQUIER SUPER SONIC
This one took forever to finish. I saw this unusual Fender Squier Super Sonic guitar hanging on the used wall at a local music store back in November 2002. It took two years, but it's finally done!
The guitar came in black with two humbuckers mounted to a white pickguard. My plan was to route out the wood under the pickguard so it could hold three mini-humbuckers. I decided that I would re-paint the body a seafoam green color, and replace the usual stock trem and tuners. I had it all planned out right after I bought the thing. I just kept putting off the work, although I did take the neck with me to San Diego in 2003 to have my Dad re-drill the tuning key holes with his drill press. Without the right tools, that's a tough job.
One of the first things I accomplished was ordering the custom white pickguard from Chandler (I use them for all my custom pickguards). Over time, I ordered three Seymour Duncan mini-humbuckers - Vintage, Seymourized, and Custom. I also ordered several custom decals from Speedy Signs for the body back and the the headstock back - Fender, Squier Super Sonic, two NOs with a line through each (one small one for the back of the headstock and one large one for the back of the body), and three faces for the back of the headstock - happy, medium, and sad.
What took forever was the routing of the body for the pickups. I worked with a router and chisel, and the thin strip of wood between the middle pickup and the trem springs started to crack. I used a couple of screws and some wood glue with clamps to strengthen it before painting. I also changed the switch in the upper bout to a Strat-like, 5-way switch, replacing the original Gibson-like, 3-way switch, which seemed to get knocked all the time as I played it. After assembling all of the above-mentioned parts and the usual Schaller locking tuners and straplocks, a Wilkinson/Gotoh Vintage trem, and a pair of Q-Parts skull knobs, I finally finished routing the body. I originally planned to hand-paint the body with foam brushes to give it a textured look, but decided to spray it.
This guitar turned out really nice. It looks pretty retro and with the three minis, it gives me a lot of versatility. I also have the middle and bridge pickups hooked up to a coil-split switch to get a Strat-like tone. It's my only guitar with mini-humbuckers and the only one with the big Strat headstock (reversed). Another success story!
FENDER STRATOCASTER (70s)
The big CBS headstock. There's something special about the classic 1970s Fender.
When I was putting together my Texcoco Fretless guitar - before it was going to be a fretless - I had purchased a Mighty Mite CBS rosewood neck to go on the Texcoco Fretless body. When I picked up the fretless guitar that eventually was parted out into the Texcoco Fretless and the Fender Lipsticaster, the music stopped and the Mighty Mite neck was left without a body. I went on eBay and bought a B. Hefner Co. swamp ash Strat body for less than $100 and was ready to go. But who feels like wiring up a three-pickup Strat with a five-way switch?
During the summer of 2007, I got into GFS pickups and thankfully, they sell their Strat setup pre-wired - how easy is that? I ordered their '64 Stagger Texas Surf/Blues set with a mint green pickguard and just had to wire up the ground and output jack. I did, however, swap out the pickup covers for cream-colored ones.
As far as painting the ash body, I decided to paint it green with a brush to get a textured look - very similar to my Texcoco Fretless guitar. That went fine. The neck had a light finish on it and I was able to find a 1970s Fender Stratocaster waterslide on eBay. It got kind clouded - depending on the lighting when you look at it - when I used a duster to clean it. I think it froze. I won't try that one again.
For the hardware, I had won a hard tail Strat body, so I just went with a chrome string-through-body hard tail Gotoh bridge from StewMac. The tuners are also Gotoh (chrome locking). It was an easy project from start to finish and I love those GFS pickups - and that CBS look!
FENDER STRATOCASTER (90s)
There's just something about a cream Stratocaster with a white pickguard.
I had already put together a Stratocaster with a CBS headstock (Fender Stratocaster (70s)) to represent the 1970s, so I thought I should put together a modern/vintage one to take on the '90s - just like Fender starting doing in the 1990s. Kind of a vintage '50s vibe with locking tuners, noiseless pickups, and a 22-fret fretboard made out of canary wood... Anyway, I really got serious about making this one in January 2009 when I was checking out some Warmoth necks online and stumbled on a birdseye maple Strat neck with a canary fretboard. The canary wood has this yellow-orange-tan color to it and the black dots really looked good. I knew this expensive neck ($300+) would be the perfect neck for a cream Strat project.
For the body, I eventually tracked down someone on eBay selling a beautiful yellowish-cream, basswood Squier Stratocaster body with a white pickguard for less than $100. (Note: There are some serious differences between arctic white, vintage white, off-white, ivory, cream, and yellow Strat bodies. You really have to see them in person, because these descriptions really cover all of the color shades between pure white and bright yellow.) I ripped all the guts out and ordered a GFS Neovin pre-wired pickguard for $150 and was glad I did. These noiseless pickups are THE BEST Strat pickups I've ever heard - the bridge cuts through and the neck pickup has that glassy tone. And they are 100% quiet! And because I ordered it prewired in a pickguard, I just had to wire up the trem claw ground and the output jack - how easy is that?
For the hardware, I ordered a GFS MIM (Made in Mexico)-spaced tremolo (2 1/16") with a nice thick block. For the tuners, I found a chrome set of locking Fender/Schallers that even have the Fender 'F' on them (which match the chrome Fender neckplate I bought). Add in some chrome Schaller straplocks and white knobs, and the this baby was done. The GFS pickguard was actually white/black/white plastic, so I swapped it out with the original Squier all-white guard - looks better.
The neck is flawless and the pickups are beyond solid. Over 10 years late, but this is one modern vintage Strat.
FENDER MINI STRATOCASTER
Another 22.7"-scale guitar. Also, my Mini Strat is my only guitar that has a solid plywood body. Oh well, it plays great! This guitar is also an example of spending A LOT more on the modifications than the guitar itself.
I ordered this Fender Squier Mini Strat during the summer of 2001 from Musician's Friend for about $80. I bought a "real" Fender Stratocaster decal off of eBay for about $10 and then I was set! This guitar features some pretty hot DiMarzio pickups. There's a Cruiser (bridge model) in the neck position, a Chopper in the middle, and a blazing Fast Track 2 in the bridge. The pickups alone were over $200! The Fast Track 2 is DiMarzio's version of Seymour Duncan's Hot Rails - it's loud! I have a Fast Track 1 in the neck position on my Hohner G3T.
But that's not it. You can probably imagine that the bridge on an $80 guitar is cheesy, too. I replaced it with a Carvin hard tail bridge with steel saddles. I had to drill through the plywood body, as this bridge requires the strings through the body, and I had to pop in those lovely string ferrules. That mod went well - looks halfway professional.
I put on two chrome Carvin mini knobs, and the volume and tone pots are courtesy of Carvin, too. The 5-way switch is Fender USA. I used a real Fender neck plate, but the pickguard is stock. Schaller straplocks and chrome locking Sperzel tuners, of course, although I had to re-drill the tuning post holes for the Sperzels and that did not go well at all.
The guitar is set up very well and has a variety tones - classic Strat to full-blown humbucker. The short-scale neck creates a wide string reach, which opens up a world of chord possibilities. This was the main guitar used on Mile Marker Unknown off of bikini.
UPDATE: April 2020
I just had to replace this neck with the super-wide, 12th-fret dots and the two-tone headstock...
Other Smithtone guitars featuring THE Fender logo:
Fender EVH 5150 Stratocaster
Fender EVH 77 Black Strat
Fender EVH Frankenstein Baritone
Fender EVH Wolfgang F
Fender Vintage Pine Tele Bass
21 PINES, CALIFORNIA
Fender '49 Spanish Electric
Fender '50 Esquire -2 Pickup-
Fender '51 ''Nocaster'' -No Guard-
Fender Broadcaster Jr
Fender Esquire ''Hot Mod'' -No Guard-
Fender Esquire -Split Rails-
Fender Esquire -Tapped-
Fender ''La Cabronita'' Especial Custom
Fender ''Nocaster'' Esquire
Fender Telecaster -'73 Merlot
Fender Telecaster -Bigsby-
Fender Telecaster -Dirty Harry-
Fender Telecaster -EMG '76-
Fender Telecaster -Strat Tone-
Fender Telecaster -Strate Plate-
Fender Telecaster -Texas Special-
Fender Telecaster -Western-
Fender Tele-Bigsby PAF
My Fender Basses and the Headstock Logo
previous story back to the BEHIND THE GUITARS page next story