Refreshing my Strat (and adding a Tele mod)

Guitars & Gear

After commissioning my custom ukulele (which you can read more about here), I was more or less set in terms of the instruments I needed with my current musical projects. There was just one guitar which wasn’t quite right

My oldest Stratocaster hasn’t seen much of the stage recently, and not just because of playing less gigs due to various lockdowns, etc. The action had felt off, and it seemed to be because of the bridge, or rather the saddles. After twenty-two years, the small screws in the saddles had corroded to the point that strings could not be raised high enough for my liking.

I contacted Elderwood Guitars (who built my beautiful semi-hollow guitar) to discuss repairs. I also decided to make a few changes while this axe was in the shop…

What’s new?

I don’t really have the need for an HSS guitar nowadays, so used this opportunity to have the bridge humbucker replaced with a Tonerider Vintage Blues single coil. This would better match the two City Limits pickups in the neck and middle positions. Barrie at Elderwood was able to change the pick guard and brave the bridge pickup within the larger cavity in the guitar (cut out for the original humbucker).

I also asked for the ‘Tele mod’, i.e., a switch whi h allows me to activate the bridge pickup in any position, effectively giving my seven different pickup combinations, including the lovely sounding neck & bridge pairing. This is one sound Telecasters have always had that was not available on a standard Strat.

With a switch taking the place of the second tone control (the remaining tone control becoming a master for all three pickups), I now had a guitar that could provide this, as well as the classic ‘quack’ from the out-of-phase Strat positions (2 & 4) – the best of both worlds, in my mind (and to my ears).

Finally, I figured that since these modifications would result in a different sounding guitar, perhaps it ws worthwhile refreshing the instrument visually as well. The old Midnight Blue finish had certainly acquired its fair share of chips and dents over the years. Barrie smoothed these out before hand painting the guitar in a burnt orange hue, which you can see below…

Before (left) and after (right) shots of my oldest Strat (pic courtesy Elderwood Guitars)

To me, it looks very similar to the orangey shade of older, worn down fiesta red guitars. It lends a classic vibe to my oldest Strat – the oldest guitar in my collection, in fact. The vintage feel is aided by the off-white pickup covers and scratchplate.

How does it sound?

It sounds like a classic 60s Strat or Tele, depending on your pickup choices. The neck & bridge combination has widened the sonic pallette of this guitar, making it my main choice for soul, funk and rhythm & blues gigs. Another great job by Barrie!

What are the best mods you’ve made to your guitars? Get in touch and let me know!

Upcycled music: Neil McHardy ukulele review

Guitars & Gear

Last year, I commissioned another custom-built instrument. I was in the market for a ukulele I could take out to gigs, as my existing concert sized one did not have a pickup or preamp attached. Knowing Neil McHardy in Cumbria has built a few ukes recently, I asked if he would consider making a tenor sized electro-acoustic model for me. McHardy guitars operate from a village in Cumbria, making acoustic instruments out of recycled wood. Some of you may remember built his first ever classical guitar at my request, mainly out of an old table (you can read the full review by clicking here).

This time around, I was happy to let Neil design it pretty much however he wished. I am a fan of his signature offset sound holes, and my only stipulation was to include a preamp so the ukulele could be used for concerts and recording. As always, Neil sent regular updates on how the build was progressing (see pictures) and was always happy to impart gems of guitar and uke building knowledge.

Size matters

So what is the difference between a concert and tenor sized ukulele? A tenor is larger than a concert, sometimes up to four inches longer, but they are tuned the same. In fact, soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles can all be tuned the same (G4, C4, E4, A4). The main difference is volume and depth of bass response which the larger bodied instruments benefit from.

An example of the size and scale differences between different types of ukulele

With tenor ukuleles, some players also use a G string which sounds an octave lower (G3), effectively making he open strings sound exactly the same as the highest four strings of a guitar at the fifth fret. I can see how some players might find this easier, especially if they are migrating to the ukulele from the guitar. Personally, if I needed that sound, I’d put a capo on one of my guitars, so I have opted for the more traditional uke tuning.


The finished instrument is made from recycled Douglas Fir and Spanish Cedar. The face plate and scratchplate (or golpe) are made from fallen trees Neil found on a walk, and feature the most stunning grain, on which Neil has placed the tuning pegs in a line (rather than two per side, as is traditional).

With the addition of a good value preamp (powered by an easily removable 9 volt battery), this new uke was fitted with strings and Neil contacted me to collect it.

I love the look of the grain on the golpe and faceplate, and was impressed with the instrument’s volume when strumming it unplugged for the first time. Plugged in, it sounded the same as it did acoustically, just with the potential to go a lot louder – which is exactly what I would expect.

Family photo with my previous McHardy build, my gorgeous classical guitar

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to try it out onstage yet, but I plan to use it in an upcoming recording project (more details on that to follow). But when that material comes to the stage, this uke will be out on the road with me. I can’t wait.

Elderwood Guitar review: my custom-made semi-hollow

Guitars & Gear

I have never owned a semi-hollow guitar before, despite having played 335 style and ‘thinline’ guitars on several occasions. This year, I had the budget to rectify this, but with so many great options out there, I was undecided on where to invest my hard-earned money.

Enter Elderwood Guitars, a one-man operation based in Carlisle, in the north of Cumbria. I had seen a few Elderwood models for sale in a guitar shop in Newcastle, and a couple of players I know spoke highly of these instruments. Barrie, the man behind Elderwood Guitars, makes it his mission to create the guitar of your dreams at a more affordable price. You are involved in all aspects of the layout and design of your instrument, which is largely made up from recycled wood.

You may remember another guitar built for me, a nylon-strung classical guitar, which was also crafted by a solo luthier in Cumbria and made form recycled wood (and if not, you can read about that guitar by clicking here).

The two main principles of making something beautiful from old wood, as well as being able to design the guitar to my own specifications, was something which greatly appealed to me. To that end, I found myself in conversation with Barrie near the start of lockdown, and soon we went back-and-forth with ideas and draft designs. Rather than going for a more straightforward 335-style design, I was inspired by some of the beautiful high-end creations of small guitar companies such as Kauer. In the end, the final design looked like this:

The fifth & final draft of my custom design. Picture courtesy of Elderwood Guitars

My guitar would be an offset semi-hollow with a serious vintage feel to it. The two humbuckers and sound hole on the upper half would be covered in a gold foil/mesh, and the neck would feature block markers. For the finish, I requested as close to British Racing Green as he could manage, with cream for the pickguard, binding and truss rod cover, likening the overall colouring style to that of a classic Mini Cooper. You don’t see many green guitars and I have always wanted one. Now I just had to wait for it to be completed (although since lockdown meant that I wasn’t gigging, I was in no hurry).

Over the next few months, I received occasional updates from Barrie which always got me salivating:

Barrie checked back to confirm my preferences for pickups, tremelo, control layout, as well as general updates on progress. He seemed to be having a busy summer but as each guitar was finished and presented on his Facebook page, they continued to look and sound as high quality as I had been told they’d be.

At last it was ready to collect in early October, and it did not disappoint…


  • Offset semi-hollow body, made from recycled pine
  • Maple neck, with rosewood fingerboard featuring block position markers
  • 3-a-side headstock
  • Bigsby-style vibrato system and ‘roller saddle’ bridge
  • 2 x Vanson ’57 Alnico II humbuckers
  • 1 x volume & 1 x tone control
  • 3-way pickup selector switch, plus mini-switch for coil-tapping
  • Push button to bypass volume control (see below)
  • Side-mounted jack socket (secured by four screws for greater stability)

This guitar certainly looks the part. The green finish contrasts beautifully with the pickguard and copper coloured control knobs. After sharing the images above on my Facebook page, I was inundated with questions and compliments about the it. It’ll certainly make a visual impact at gigs (whenever they start back up again).


Acoustically, this guitar is much louder than my other electrics. It’s interesting just how much difference the resonance of a semi-hollow together with the sound hole, can make. The matched PAF-style humbuckers give you all the tones you would expect from an early Les Paul, but with more airiness due to the mainly hollow body. These humbuckers are made by Vanson, a budget brand readily available on websites such as Amazon. Barrie shares my sentiment that one shouldn’t have to, and doesn’t need to, pay over the odds for a combination of magnets and copper wiring. I had said early on in the design process that I was happy with ‘budget’ pickups on this guitar, and they certainly sound as good as anything the big name brands churn out!

The bridge pickup provides everything I need, from classic rock crunch to an almost rockabilly style twang – the Bigsby certainly comes to the fore here. The neck pickup gives up warm jazz tones on a clean amp with the tone rolled back, and splitting the humbucker into ‘single coil mode’, I’m able to get a sound remarkably similar to a Strat or Tele in this position, which is no bad thing as far as I’m concerned. With both pickups engaged, I’m in my beloved funk and soul territory, great for rhythm playing and bluesy licks. Not only that, but it feels like BB King’s trademark singing lead tone is virtually built-in to this instrument.

Is it any good?

Oh yes, it’s very good. I love it! I’ve certainty enjoyed playing it so far, both through my amps and unplugged. It sits perfectly on a strap and the neck is comfortably chucky, like a true vintage instrument (which is exactly how I like it).

My only hurdle so far has been getting used to the Bigsby-style vibratio. I don’t use the vibratio arms on my Stratocasters, but as well as the right hand aspect, Bigsby units are notoriously tricky to keep in tune. However, this is something that can only be changed through practice and getting used to using it, rather than anything wrong with the guitar itself. Nonetheless, Barrie’s aftermarket service has been top drawer, offering all sorts of advice on how to get the most from the unit, as well as tips on maximisng tuning stability.

Finally collecting the new axe. Picture courtesy of Elderwood Guitars

I expect to be in the studio again in the coming weeks, recording a new LP with the Nick Gladdish Band, and this guitar will be coming along with me. I’ll share links to sounds and videos of this guitar in that (or any) setting as and when they become available…

If you are interested in your own custom-made guitar, Barrie can be contacted directly through Elderwood Guitar’s Facebook page. I’d recommend that you take a look through the numerous creations he has made, and make sure you have a good idea of what you are looking for when you drop him a line. Once you do, you will meet an affable and courteous man dedicated to making the best instruments he can, at a price point open to all of us – and that, like his guitars, is truly something to be admired.