Okay, this project Strat is no longer a 1991 MIM (Made In Mexico) Fender Stratocaster: it's now officially a '90s Parts-O-Caster. Last week I ran across a nice MIJ (Made In Japan) two color sunburst Strat body for sale locally:
|Mid '90s MIJ 1957 Reissue Series Stratocaster Body
It came from a mid-'90s Japan Fender 1957 Stratocaster Reissue Series guitar; the previous owner (Nashville-Cat Tele-slinger extraordinaire Chris Wade) had used the neck for a custom build, and the body had been sitting around for some years. It's just a great slab of wood: thinly finished, mid-weight, tight grained alder, with the perfect arrangement for a toneful multi-piece body - center block running straight down the middle, plus side wings. Hang it up by a wire, and tap on it with the handle of a screwdriver, and it makes an almost marimba like note! Yeah, it's got a few scratches and dings, but the finish is nearly flawlessly done, and it feels great in your hands. Also, and this is strange and cool - the finish smells incredible, a lot like an old Japanese lacquer box.
Luckily, since it was directly patterned from a 1950s Strat, the body was already drilled perfectly to accept the 8 hole '50s reissue gold anodized aluminum pickguard that I had installed on the Demon White '91 MIM Strat. Since that has an 11 hole body, a couple new pickguard mounting holes were added to fit properly:
|1991 MIM Strat "White Demon"
This guitar became the "White Demon" after its incredibly thick factory finish, obviously possessed by some evil spirit, had successfully resisted all efforts to alter the Beach Boys White color. Since the time of the above linked blog post, I've also tried both oil and water based stains (no effect), different brands and colors of shoe polish (shrugged them off), and even Olde English dark finish restorer (made that stuff cry like a baby, while it walked away laughing).
Luckily, most all of the parts from the White Demon bolted right up to the "new" body, no problem, except for the tremolo bridge. Fender used different string spacings, and different mounting screw dimensions, for various Strat bridges over the years. After finding that the MIM bridge didn't line up with the mounting holes in the MIJ body, I got on the web, and ended up gaining a little knowledge, and a large headache. There's too much random and often misleading information, most of it posted by angst-ridden forum lurking hobbyists obsessing over minute arcane details.
|Obsessing Over The Details
It looked like I needed a new tremolo bridge. There's a lot of choices out there, but as I found out when looking for size reducing retrofit tuning machine bushings, you can order part after part after part on eBay, most of which don't actually work or fit, and there goes three or four weeks out of your life, as well as a bunch of cash. Bad enough with a $7.00 set of bushings, but guaranteed to put you in a bad mood with a $50 - $100+ bridge.
So before ordering online, I put up a WTB (Want To Buy) listing on local craigslist, and the next day I had a nice Gotoh trem that the previous owner had removed from a '00 Japanese Strat when it was new. The only catch was that the original bent steel bridge saddles with the "Fender" stamp had been replaced with some other saddles of unknown origin. The good news is these replacement saddles are the correct size, have excellent build quality and finish, and the best news of all was the price: zero, zip, zilch, nada, free, gratis, no chargealoni. I ended up giving the guy a re-tube set for his old Champ Amp, because doing a trade feels good.
I've since learned that these saddles are from Allparts, and are Japanese made reproductions of stock 1970s Stratocaster cast zinc saddles. From a distance, they even look a lot like the vintage '50s style stamped steel kind:
|Gotoh Trem Bridge With Unknown Saddles
After putting on new strings (.009 to .046 - a good blend of low string twang with bluesy high string bend-ability), adjusting the the neck into a place where the E strings are equidistant from the edges of the fingerboard, and setting saddle height and intonation, it was time to play this Parts-O-Caster.
How does it sound? As expected, it's not too very different from the White-Zombie O'Caster; after all, it is still basically a Strat. Also as expected, the cast saddles and large Gotoh zinc block sound different than the previous stamped sheet steel saddles and brass block. Then again this MIJ body is fine grained alder instead of the MIM's unknown wood, so who knows what component(s) made any tonal difference. Overall, it's maybe a bit "airier", slightly more top end, but still well balanced tonally - well okay! Good enough for Rock And Roll.
|Good Enough For Rock And Roll
And now, here's a few notes about some of the idiosyncratic (meaning: weird, odd, unexpected, or just plain wrong) details of this Mexi-Japa-Parts-O-Caster:
• A gold anodized pickguard just looks cool. Plus, pickups hanging off metal instead of plastic seem to give more of a Telecaster bridge pickup kind of bright shimmering tone and twang. Whether that's true or not, a gold pickguard still looks great, and as a plus, they never warp, and there's no need for an additional electrical interference shielding layer.
• Where's the volume control? I've always played finger style, often planting my right hand on the bridge of whatever guitar, and the Strat volume knob position always felt too close, and in the way. For that reason, I stayed away from Stratocasters for a long time until (duh) I figured out I could move things around. So - a volume pot farther away from the bridge, and just one tone knob. The hole where the volume control used to be is filled with a really old nickel plated steel plug.
|Old Strat Knob
|Gibson Speed Knobs
However, jumbo sized Gibson "Speed" knobs are made of some sort of plastic that, although hard and shiny, is really kind of, well - sticky, and surprisingly grippy. Even during a really hot, loud, and intense gig, sweat pouring off you and dripping everywhere, maybe even some beer and drool flying around too, barely able to hold onto a pick, you can still reach down and hit that Speed Knob with the side of any finger or, heck - the side of your whole darn hand, and it moves, man - turn it up quick, turn it all the way up, 'cause it's time for a slamming solo.
|Gotoh Tele Knob
|Daka Ware Switch Knob
|What's Up, Jack?
|A Duo Of Duos
|El Cheapo $5 Pickup
How many times have we heard someone say that a particular pickup sounds very "P-90 like"? Way too often, but - this ceramic bar magnet pickup does, in a big way: sweet and round at low volume, fat and gritty when pushed. A nice neck pickup, with a very smooth and jazzy tone. Okay, it does squeal a bit at high volume, but that's cool in a rock and roll kind of way. Interesting, and good enough as a cheap experiment, until it gets replaced by whatever comes along next.
|Nickel Neck Plate, Slotted Nickel Screws
|International Neck Of Mystery?
I've played some Mexican Strats and Teles from various years that were really nice playing and sounding, good quality guitars. Other MIMs were, well - not so much. A '93 MIM Strat I used to have was merely okay; nice looking but unexceptional tonally, and changing pickups and other parts didn't help very much. Have you ever played any '70s Fenders? There was a huge amount of variance in quality control back in that era - many were truly awful, a very few were great, and the majority were just okay, not good or bad, and they were all made in the same U.S. factory.
|Starting To Get A Nice Patina
Compared to the neck, the original MIM body, 5 or 6 pieces of an unknown wood glued together, encased in an incredibly thick polyester skin, was decent in its way, with average, not bad but not great, quality. Now, the combination of the beautifully made MIJ body and this stable, toneful MIM neck add up to one very playable, and fine sounding guitar. Sure, it took a while to get the parts together, as well as taking time to set it all up properly, but the trip itself can be as satisfying, and fun, as reaching the destination. In any case, something tells me we're not done with this journey yet.
For a progress report on how this Strat sounds in a real live rock jam setting, check out my post Rock And Roll Time, Again. In it I talk about joining a local rock band, and having to quickly put together a performance rig, including effects pedal setup, out of whatever junk I could grab out of the garage.
• And lastly, here's my take on the whole "where was it made?" thing - maybe it's a statement, maybe it's a joke, but - Belgium is about the coolest name for a country, ever. And besides, that's where the legendary Hercule Poirot was born. Good enough for me.
|Made In Belgium? Really?
Next, in Part 4, we'll finally get around to installing a tone control pot, after we audition a few tone capacitors first. Also, who knows, there may be a new pickup or nickel plated part to put in, too, so stay tuned.
To see the first two installments of our journey with this Parts-O-Caster, go to Part 1, and Part 2.
As always, click or tap on any photo above to access larger, higher def images. All photos except Mr. Monk were taken with a Lumix ZS-25.