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!

Back in the studio (part 2)

Music

With a second full national lockdown upon us in a few day’s time, we had a very small window to finish the bulk of the tracking for Last One Get The Lights, the in-progress LP from the Nick Gladdish Band. John Timney (drums, engineering and production on this record) and I met at The Space rehearsal studios in Carlisle with some guitars, a laptop, and a sense of urgency which wasn’t entirely helpful…

We managed to get several small bits done in just two hours. These included the few remaining rhythm/textural guitar parts, lead parts and full-on guitar solos over five different tracks. As well as borrowing John’s beautiful 12-string acoustic for a small part in one of the songs, I also used my Artisan lapsteel, Squier Strat and the new custom made Elderwood semi-hollow (read about that one here), all going through my Fender Mustang III amplifier. We might find there’s a few bits which need fixing, but if there is, we’ll have to wait until after lockdown!

Tomorrow, John will record the vocals (and a few other bits) with Nick back at Traxx Studios in North Tyneside (where the main chunk of the LP has been recorded, as documented in part one). Nick has lived with these songs for a most of this year, and in some cases even longer, so should be able to get the vast majority of them down tomorrow.

After that, it’s a case of adding Shannon’s backing vocals remotely, then mixing…

Still, at least we have all of lockdown to do that part!

More updates to follow, as and when they occur. Until then,take care of yourselves out there…

Tonerider pickups Vs Squier Classic Vibe Pickups

Advice & Tips, Guitars & Gear

Last year, I was in the process of changing the pickups in my two Stratocasters. One, my blonde Squier Vintage Modified (pictured below), was fitted out with custom pickups handmade for me by Rohdan Pickups in the USA. These were made using Alnico III magnets in the neck and middle pups, the same as the very first run of Fender Strats in 1954. The bridge was a mix of Alnico V & II, for better definition, without the harsh trebley bite.

strats

My three Strats, before I sold the red one (top) or changed the pickups in the other two…

For the other guitar, my trusty Mexican HSS Strat (the blue one, pictured above), I only needed replacement neck and middle pickups. I was playing with different groups with less emphasis on heavy rock, and needed something more versatile. I’m still really happy with the Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker in the bridge (this is usually a Les Paul replacement/upgrade, and has a great tone for classic rock). Having loved the sound of one of my other Strats, a Squier CV, or ‘Classic Vibe’ (Simon Neil signature model, based on a CV 60’s model), I started researching it’s pickups online. I thought I might get an idea of where to look for similar-sounding pups to install in my Mexican Strat. However, in my search, I happened upon an interesting, and ultimately money-saving, discovery…

Tonerider Pickups

Tonerider make replacement pickup sets for Strats and Teles. They appear to operate out of Squier’s main factory and sound as similar to the pickups used in Squier’s Classic Vibe guitar range as to lead most people to believe they are the stock pups built into the instrument.

An excellent article by Tidy Words seemed to confirm what many Squier player had long suspected, and which Tonerider set was (allegedly!) being used in which guitar:

  • CV 50’s Strat – Tonerider Surfaris
  • CV 60’s Strat – Tonerider Classic Blues
  • CV signature Strat (Simon Neil signature, etc) – Tonerider Vintage Classics

For full details, you can see the full article here.

tonerider

Picture courtesy of Worth Point.

The takeaway message…

If you have a Squire Classic Vibe guitar, don’t upgrade it with Tonerider pickups, as they are already in there! And frankly, if you’ve bought a CV guitar to get the overall ‘vibe’ of a certain era in Fender’s history, the stock (Tonerider) pickups do a great job, and don’t need replacing in the first place! These guitars are well built and in terms of sound, playability and build quality, give the ‘real’ Fenders a run for their money – at a fraction of the price!

On the other hand, if you like the Strat you have, but want to improve the pickups, you could do a lot worse than the Tonerider range. Check out their full range of Strat pickups here.

How did it work out for me?

I bought a City Limits single coil set from Tonerider. These use Alnico V magnets, and are aiming for the ‘Texas Blues’ sound Fender Strats do so well – think ‘SRV’ and you’ll have a fairly good idea what I mean.

city-limits-new

Picture courtesy of Tonerider.com

I sold on the bridge pickup and replaced the Vintage Noiseless ‘hot’ pickups I had in the neck & middle positions. I now have a much more Strat-like guitar. It works for blues, rock, funk, jazz and everything else I throw at it. In combination with my blonde Strat, I have a fairly versatile setup, and don’t expect to be changing the pickups in either of them again anytime soon. For those interested, you can hear them on the most recent music releases I worked on, which are currently among the Popular Tracks section of this Spotify page.

Good luck in your buying choices!