A few years ago, I bought a Strat partscaster at a second-hand store. An examination of the guitar showed several nice components, including a WD neck and a Bill Lawrence stacked humbucker bridge pickup.
I didn’t like the body, though. It looked it was made of plywood. Now, plywood bodies can sound OK and the guitar did sound good. But I decided that at some point, I would upgrade the body.
Originally, the idea was to replace only the body. But when I embarked on the project, I kept changing my mind. As it turned out, only the neck, tuners, neck screws, neckplate and jack socket migrated to the new guitar. I also installed an unusual tone system.
Except for the pots, knobs and strap buttons, all of the new parts came from Guitarfetish (GFS).The body is an XGP Swamp Ash body in a beautiful two-tone vintage sunburst. The pickguard is pearloid. I had to modify it to accommodate the WD neck. The fretboard extended past the body of the neck to support a 22nd fret. The fingerboard was so thick that there wasn’t room for the pickguard between the fingerboard and the body. So, I cut away part of the pickguard.
For pickups, I chose GFS 1960’s Repro Overwound Alnico Hot Strat pickups. I believed any decent alnico magnet pickup would work. I liked the idea of overwound pickups because I have a small tube amp and I want to see if I can overdrive it.
The pots and knobs came from stewmac.com because I wanted their CTS full-size pot with push-pull DPDT switch. I added the other two pots and the chrome knobs to the order.
Here’s how the tone control works: the volume control is the same as a standard Strat. It has a treble bleed mod with a .001 capacitor and a 130K resistor. The second knob is a master tone control. I chose a 1meg Alpha pot and a mylar .047 capacitor. Strats usually have 250K tone knobs. 250K tone knobs, even when at full treble, still allow some of the high frequencies to be filtered to ground. The higher resistance of the 1meg pot blocks more of the signal, maintaining more highs.
The real fun is with the third knob. It’s the CTS pot with the DPDT push-pull switch. When the knob is pushed in, it does not affect the signal or the switching. When it is pulled up, the bridge pickup signal is diverted to the CTS pot instead of to the five-way switch. At one extreme of the pot’s sweep, the bridge pickup signal is sent to ground. At the other extreme, the full signal of the bridge pickup goes to the volume pot.
This setup gives you two more pickup options and is useful in blending the bridge pickup with the other pickups. With the knob up and the pot wide open, you can get the neck-plus-bridge sound by selecting the neck pickup on the five-way switch. By selecting the neck-plus-middle position, you get all three pickups. You can blend the bridge pickup in the circuit, which is like having another treble control.
The rest of the guitar: the bridge is a Wilkinson classic vibrato and the five-way switch is a U.S.-spec switch from GFS.
I set it up as best as I could. It plays well and sounds like a Strat. I estimate I’ve got $300 in it, including the cost of the original partscaster. It compares well to a Squier Classic Vibe Strat that I once owned.
- Tim Wood