Top 5 Strat Upgrades?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner: Guitar & Bass Technical Discussi' started by SlideGeetar, Feb 26, 2012.

  1. SlideGeetar

    SlideGeetar Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2010
    Messages:
    190
    I recently bought an arctic white MIM Stratocaster w/maple fretboard. Found it used, cheap, on Craigslist and always wanted a Jimi guitar so I went for it. Too good a deal to pass up. I didn't think it would be anything more than an extra guitar to fool around on once in awhile, but it quickly became my go-to guitar over my $800 Gibson SG Special Faded with P90's.

    I've upgraded the jack and the switch to some proper quality parts (CRL and Switchcraft), and changed the tone cap to a Mallory 150 series (I also have a Sprague Orange Drop 418P series that I may try).

    I've upgraded the pickups to a set of Fender CS 69 and I bought a Duncan SSL-1 to put in the bridge (but haven't installed it yet).

    So my question is now that the Strat has become my axe of choice, what can I do to it to increase the playability and tone? I'm going for a 60's/70's rock sound, leaning towards gritty/vintage rather than modern/smooth.

    In other words, what are your top 5 Mexican Strat upgrades? I plan to get a pro setup and a new nut but not until I have it how I want it (hardware/electronics/etc). The tuners don't bother me, the neck is not bad, but I'm guessing the bridge/trem setup is a prime suspect for replacement? Callaham sells a whole bridge/trem assembly for $165 and I may snatch that up. For one it would be nice to have a trem arm with zero play, and two - I've heard great things about those Callahams improving sustain. I don't need sustain for days but the stock bridge/trem seems to kill the sustain somewhat quickly (at least I think it's the bridge/trem's fault).
     
  2. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Messages:
    21,869
    you're on the right track. better pickups make the biggest difference (i'm not sure that the duncan would be all that much different than the '69s, though. usually you want a stronger bridge pickup, and the SSL-1 is just another vintage-output unit. an SSL-5, on the other hand...)

    a better bridge, especially one with a steel block, would be the missing piece of the puzzle. the steel block is a key ingredient of the vintage strat tone.

    a good setup is vital, but i wouldn't worry about replacing the nut; the stock material is just fine, once it's been slotted and profiled properly (part of the aforementioned good setup).

    finally, with your non-RWRP pickups, you would be a good candidate for the ilitch backplate system, to kill the hum.
     
  3. SlideGeetar

    SlideGeetar Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2010
    Messages:
    190
    Right on. Thanks!

    With the pickups... the CS69's all measure 5.5k on my meter, but the SSL-1 is supposed to be 6.5k so that's kind of what I'm looking for, a little extra heat in the bridge rather then just plain old 5.5k across the board. The CS69's are incredible though. Very low output but they're definitely my "cup o' tea". I almost always use my DAM Red Rooster clone anyways. I set it to give just the right amount of grit and boost and it's tonal nirvana! heh. I recently built a '67 VOX wah (Clyde McCoy) to vintage specs using period correct caps and parts... sounds incredible. Jimmy Page (early) and Jimi tones galore.
     
  4. Rod

    Rod Tone is Paramount Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2004
    Messages:
    10,566
    Location:
    New England
    Go to guitarfetish.com. they sell full size steel blocks you can bolt on your exsisting bridge for $24. They sell alpha pots for $3. Change those out as well. If you want an amazing neck get a Warmoth or musicraft or USACG used from here on the classified pages. I like hot bridge pickups. 10000 ohms.
     
  5. SlideGeetar

    SlideGeetar Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2010
    Messages:
    190
    I think I'm going to go Callaham rather than GFS. I can sell that assembly and get most of my money back if I end up not liking it for some reason, but I bet I'll be satisfied. I've bought pickups and guards from GFS before and they have good stuff but it's not always the best. And if I get this Stratocaster just right, I can sell my $800 Gibson SG and come out ahead. Can't sell it for $800 but I can get $500-$600 with the hardshell case.
     
  6. mikefair

    mikefair Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2008
    Messages:
    557
    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    I though the Raw Vintage springs made a really significant difference in tone and playability in my Strat. Small outlay too.
     
  7. fr8_trane

    fr8_trane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2005
    Messages:
    5,624
    Location:
    New Brunswick, NJ
    Personally i think the GFS block is just fine. Its full sized and all steel. not sure what more your getting for the huge upcharge from callaham except that the trem arm will not wobble like the GFS.

    I also went with the GFS solid steel saddles as well. I don't buy into the stamped steel vintage mojo thing at all.

    All that said I upgraded my MIM to a bladerunner trem and haven't looked back. Its not a vintage piece but IMO its better design all the way around and its a drop in replacement for ANY strat. YMMV.

    Other mods

    Move the tone control from the middle pickup to the bridge only (not bridge and middle) You get the tone control in its most useful location and the now unloaded middle pickup will improve the quack tones from the 2 and 4 positions on the switch. The only possible drawback is the middle will be a bit brighter than normal but i never use the middle by itself anyway

    I like the gotoh staggered tuners as well. You can get rid of the string trees in most cases because of this which is one less friction point to impede tuning stability.

    Make sure to purchase some guitar lube for the nut and saddles. The cheapest most easily available stuff is the teflon oiler from Radio shack. Pretty much the same thing as big bends but for much less dough
    http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2102643

    For a new nut consider the graphtech tusq XL. Its impregnated with teflon. great for trem guitars.
    http://www.graphtech.com/products.html?CategoryID=18
     
  8. kstrat62

    kstrat62 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2005
    Messages:
    1,107
    Where do you get these?
     
  9. burningyen

    burningyen Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Messages:
    9,997
    Location:
    NYC
  10. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Messages:
    21,869
    No, that would be a step backwards! Mexi standard fenders already have CTS pots, much better than alphas any day.

    Also, +1 to moving the second tone pot to the bridge by itself; you get a smoother bridge pickup (now having one tone pot instead of none) and a clearer N+M sound (one tone pot instead of two).

    The 6.5k Duncan might indeed be just right behind the mid-5k fender pickups.
     
  11. analogsystem

    analogsystem Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2010
    Messages:
    737
    Location:
    Seattle
    #1 strat upgrade is free. Connect the bridge pickup to a tone knob.
     
  12. SlideGeetar

    SlideGeetar Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2010
    Messages:
    190
  13. SlideGeetar

    SlideGeetar Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2010
    Messages:
    190
    I find the stock pots on my MIM to be very good. No scratchyness and a good taper. The axe is a 2005 so that's pretty good lifespan thus far. I do have three 250k audio taper (Allparts/CTS) pots on standby though, just in case.

    I modified the wiring so that the middle tone control is now middle AND bridge but I'll go ahead and change that to bridge ONLY, next tim I change strings. I agree that would probably be best.

    And yes the 6.5k Duncan SSL-1 is a real sweet match for the 5.5k Fender CS69 neck and middle. I actually really dug the CS69 in the bridge spot, but it was a weird weak bridge tone. VERY vintage. I liked it but I like it better with the slightly hotter SSL-1 in the bridge. Gives it just a tad more balls and versatility. Perfect vintage staggered set.
     
  14. Ronsonic

    Ronsonic Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2006
    Messages:
    3,330
    Location:
    Sunny Tampa, Florida
    My list is much like everyone elses:

    Put the second tone knob onto the bridge p/up.
    Raw Vintage springs (disclaimer / plug - I sell them)

    I also like vintage strength p/ups in the middle and neck with something stronger in the bridge. Lots of good ones out there.

    Most importantly of all set it up well. If you have any ability to do your own work this is a chance to cultivate it. Take your time, work in steps, it doesn't all have to be done in one session on the bench. That's for real pro's. If it takes a few weeks to get something perfect, that's fine. Play, tweak, play, adjust, play, play, play.
     
  15. Jahn

    Jahn Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2007
    Messages:
    22,972
    Location:
    NYC
    i have the raw vintage springs in my strat too. a great set up is key, i usually don't keep the action this low but on my strat, it totally works. i unblocked the trem, so now it floats, really great sustainy sound now when i warble it a bit. oh, and the clapton has a TBX and midboost in there, those are both really handy.
     
  16. ATL Strat

    ATL Strat Silver Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2006
    Messages:
    151
    Location:
    The East Coast, USA
    Go for the Callaham block and bar. I even put these on my top end CS strats. The fit of the virtual pop in bar is worth it by itself.
     
  17. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2005
    Messages:
    4,044
    Location:
    Hills of WV
    All the above plus an Acme or Fralin blender pot; one volume, one tone(no load is good), one blender.
     
  18. AceBSpankin

    AceBSpankin Kind of a big deal Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2009
    Messages:
    1,491
    Location:
    DevilsLake,ND.
    What about springs? How many is the "right" amount? I have 4 and my bar is real stiff, maybe too stiff. But...... it doesn't move much while bending so I don't have to fight that!! Any preferences??
     
  19. Matt L

    Matt L Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2011
    Messages:
    7,374
    Location:
    Southern Maine
    What do you guys think about the stock pickups in the Classic Vibe '50s Strats? On one hand, they seem pretty decent, but they do seem a bit weak when I turn on some gain. Should I bother upgrading the electronics first, or just do everything? I've got 10-54 strings with trem decked w/ 5 strings tuned to Eb, and it sounds pretty damn good, even compared to my American Standard. I've got a set of Suhr ML neck and middle pickups and a Duncan SSL-5 ready to go into it......
     
  20. Mark Robinson

    Mark Robinson Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Messages:
    4,962
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    A lot of it is personal choice. Like many players, I prefer a hotter bridge pickup than stock. I recently began using an SD Twangbanger in the bridge. When I was wiring the guitar, I surveyed my new CTS 250K pots. I was replacing the pots, since I had a bridge humbucker in there before with 500k pots. Two of the new pots were fine, pretty much on the money but a third was quite low. So when those strings were worn out, I swapped in a 300k in the treble pickup tone position, and that Twangbanger is alive now. Nice and steely, I'm happy.
     

Share This Page