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The FrankenStrat (part II)

(continued from yesterday’s post)
The Electronics
So, now that I had the beginnings of a cool guitar, I needed to outfit it with some pickups. I knew that a red tortoiseshell pickguard would look super cool against the pale yellow body, so I ordered a loaded pickguard from Carvin. The pickups actually sound really good, with a vintage vibe but not a lot of noise. They’re three single coils, classic Strat-style. However, they also add a special “7-way” switch to allow you to add the neck pickup to any other pickup combination; so, in addition to the typical five-way switching of a standard Strat, you also can flip the switch to get the previously unattainable neck and bridge combination, as well as all three pickups simultaneously.

Another thing trashpicked at GVOX was an old Fishman Strat-style bridge with piezo elements mounted in the saddles. Each of the tiny wires for the piezos had been severed, presumably for testing with pitch-to-midi systems, so I had to carefully re-attach them and wire it up as best I could. Once I did that, I got an active blending preamplifier from Bartolini to blend the piezo-electric elements with the magnetic pickups. I moved the “7-way” switch on the pickguard and installed the blend knob inline with the other two pickup knobs (vol/tone), and drilled tiny holes in the pickguard to allow access to the gain micro-pots for each pickup channel.

So electronically, the FrankenStrat exceeds the capabilities of most other Strats; allowing for 7-way pickup selection, “acoustic-like” piezo pickups in the bridge, an active blending preamp… it’s pretty awesome sounding.

The Final Touches
All that was left were some final touches. I got a custom matching (well, almost) back plate cover made, put Grover locking tuning machines into it, and most recently, got a custom neck plate with a holographic laser-etched “Custom Shop” logo design on it. I sanded most of the finish off the back of the neck and protected it with Boiled Linseed Oil, which is one of my favorite techniques for a really comfortable and fast neck. Finally, I took it to a trusted guitar tech and had him fully set it up for action and intonation.

While I’m not a great guitarist (I’m far better on bass) this guitar is like “going home” for me. It’s a little heavy, thanks to the Squier body, but it balances really well on a strap or on my knee. Perhaps it’s the special time and effort I put into it, but it just feels like “my” guitar and no one else’s. I’ll never get rid of it. If you’ve never dabbled with putting a guitar together with parts, no matter where the source, I highly recommend it. It’s a very rewarding experience!

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The FrankenStrat

Here she is, my favorite electric guitar. It’s a true FrankenStrat, and over the years I’ve put a lot of work into it and I’m quite happy with the results.

Humble Origins
The guitar got its start when I worked for a music software company. Among the products offered by GVOX was a computer interface for guitar; it allowed you to connect the guitar to your computer and use it for learning and composition. Nowadays, guitar-to-MIDI systems by Axon, Roland and Yamaha surpass (by far) the capability of the GVOX Guitar System, but at the time, they were cheap and pretty effective.

Over the years, they’d acquired a fair number of guitars at GVOX, for testing, giveaway prizes, etc. They had even forged a special relationship with Fender at one point to market and sell a “GVOX-Ready Strat” which had the mounting hardware for the GVOX pickup built in. So there were a lot of guitars around the office. I even had a pretty cool Strat next to my desk. That said, some of the technical gurus had even, at one point, apparently been working on wired-fret guitar systems and other such tech toys – so a lot of the guitars around the building had been somewhat “abused.”

One such instrument provided me with the body for my favorite guitar. One day, while helping to take out the trash, I noted that a Squier Strat was being sent to the dumpster; its electronics gutted, its neck de-fretted and cracked… but the body, a cool yellowed semi-transparent, was in really good shape! So the body (with permission, of course) ended up in my back seat instead of the dumpster.

Similarly, some months later, I was helping to clean out our basement storage area and a Mexican strat whose body had been heavily battle scarred (but whose maple neck looked to be almost perfect) was marked for disposal but found its way to my house. A little bit of Dremel work later, the neck fit securely into the pocket, and I had the beginnings of a rippin’ Strat!

(to be continued tomorrow)

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