Yellow Strat

Yellow Strat

Year: 2016

Made In: Ireland

Specs: Poplar body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Seymour Duncan SH-4 humbucker

Control: Volume

Cannibalised from my black strat, this guitar is the fluff cut from that guitar presented in fetching Monaco Yellow solely with gigging in mind.

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Green Strat

Green Strat

Year: 2016

Made In: Ireland

Specs: Poplar body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: DiMarzio Fred humbucker

Control: Volume

Built as a twin, this guitar is what I need from a gigging guitar boiled down to its functional essence. It’s three-piece hardtail poplar body mated with a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard, in a fetching Sea Foam Green finish. Points of failure are, hopefully, few and far between, with a single DiMarzio Fred humbucker providing the fire. For a while I did consider leaving out the volume control. No frills, basic and to the point.

Strat Building, Part 2

Happily, all the parts required were received in good time. The internet age has made building instruments a breeze, certainly as far as sourcing parts goes. As ever, Warmoth’s neck is really excellent quality.  This one is a standard maple neck with a rosewood fretboard – the old neck being quartersawn maple with an ebony fretboard. I was lucky to find one with a reverse headstock in their pre-built showcase section. I had 6105 frets installed.

I went with Gotoh for the bridge and tuners, they make solid, high quality equipment. The GFS bodies and Warmoth necks went together with minimal fuss with only minor tweaks to get the necks and bridge holes lined up. I did a minor fret level and dress on the new neck, rolled the edges a little, and I used a bar rather than traditional string retainer on both necks. It makes more sense to have a consistent break angle across the nut for all the strings than stick to an old idea for the sake of it.

Once the necks were on and lined up and lightly shimmed, it was straightforward to put the rest together. A single volume control ensured soldering the wiring together wasn’t an onerous task. Both necks have a similar feel and I have set them up as close as possible to each other, from nut to neck relief. Aside from the rosewood fretboard, the only other significant difference was using a DiMarzio Fred in the green strat, my trusty JB from the black strat moved into the yellow one. Both are tuned down to A with 14-68 strings.

Job done and I’m very pleased with both. Time to put them through some live testing!

Strat Building, Part 1

For my current gig with Two Tales of Woe, I’ve been using my black strat so far. We tune down to A and I built this guitar for gigging in B, so it was the logical choice. It has never let me down, I’ve used it at every gig I’ve played since 2009.

It’s a two-guitar band, my first time ever playing with another guitarist, and I’ve no need for the Kahler bridge. Indeed, I’ve started to worry – for the first time ever – about breaking strings and going wildly out of tune as a result, though I’ve no idea why. I love the simplicity and feel of this guitar for live work so I decided to replace the strat body and build a hardtail.

After shopping around I decided to go with an XGP poplar body from GFS. Actually, I decided to build a backup too. Today, this pair arrived, Sea Foam Green and Monaco Yellow. For the money, I’m happy enough. They’re both three-piece bodies and the paintwork is decent enough.

Both will be single humbucker, single volume and I’m looking forward to receiving another reverse headstock 22 fret neck from Warmoth next week.

Hamer Centaura

Hamer Centaura

Year: 1990

Made In: USA

Specs: Alder body, one-piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Seymour Duncan SH4 Humbucker & SSL1 single coil, DiMarzio Fast Track humbucking pickup

Controls: Volume, Tone, 5-way pickup selctor switch, “thick” switch

I definitely have a thing for superstrats. Presented with the opportunity of picking up this Centaura from the golden age of superstrats, I sacrificed a nice USA Fender Strat without blinking an eye. A reversed headstock, Floyd bridge and stock JB humbucker tick all the right boxes for me.

Hamer are somewhat of an overlooked brand both now and when the company actually existed. My first experience of one was when the guitarist in my band in the early 90’s had a really nice Chaparral he picked up second hand. They weren’t the kind of guitar you’d see in the shops over here. I have always kept an eye out since for a good deal on one.

This guitar needed a bit of work, for sure. The guy selling it was a little liberal with the details but there was nothing I couldn’t sort out quickly.  I levelled and dressed the frets and replaced the two bridge posts, bringing this guitar back to the standard it should be at. What a standard it is, too. It’s a large radius fretboard mated to a slim but rounded neck which is very, very comfortable. It feels quite traditional but is deceptively thin. It’s only when you play a more standard neck that you realise how thin it actually is. Initially, the return to pitch wasn’t good but, after replacing the two worn bridge posts, the German Schaller made Floyd Rose bridge is solid as a rock.

You can’t go wrong with a JB, so there are no worries on the tone front. The guitar would have had a pair of SSL1 single coils as stock but the neck pickup was replaced with a DiMarzio Fast Track at some point. This is a fine pickup in its own right, so no concerns there either. There are no clever wiring tricks with the pickup switch, both humbuckers remain in serial mode when individually selected and when combined with the middle single coil. Each position has a unique sound to it and all a very usable.

This guitar also features a “thick” switch, a little mini-toggle which engages a treble bleed circuit which is a nice feature, meaning you can get a fatter tone without changing pickup.

The slightly smaller body is light and comfortable with the output jack on the rear end and strap button moved slightly up from centre to accommodate. The blue colour of paint changes depending on the amount of natural light. It brightens up, much like in the pictures, in daylight and turns almost navy blue under artificial light. There’s a metallic gold layer of paint under the top blue coat and, somehow, they both interact in this unusual way.

All in all this is a very nicely put together guitar, compact in size but rich in quality and versatility. It is a great neck shape, rivalling the feel and comfort of Charvel but with a much more accessible truss rod. I think we’ll be spending a lot of time together in the future.

Bacchus Duke Master

Bacchus Duke Master

Year: 2007

Made In: Japan

Specs: Mahogany body & neck, maple top, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Bacchus STP-1 P90 pickups

Controls: Volume x 2, tone x 2, three-way switch

Another import from Japan, you either really like the brown oil finish or you really don’t. I picked up this Duke Master new after having my appetite for P90s whetted by PRS. The PRS didn’t stay long after the Duke arrived.

A much darker sounding guitar than the PRS, the Duke doesn’t have the ear-grating brightness of its predecessor, instead it’s a mean sounding hound-dog growl with that characteristic P90 twang. It’s equally at home clean or smothered in dirt.

It’s chunky from head to toe. The body is thick and deep, the neck is exceptionally chunky. When you pick it up, you know it’s 100% serious business. Despite the size, it’s not overly heavy, though it is a substantial piece of equipment. The big neck still accommodates a nice low action with Bacchus’ usual exemplary standard of fretwork.

This one is built for comfort, built to last.

Charvel So-Cal Style 1

Charvel So-Cal Style 1

Year: 2010

Made In: Japan

Specs: Alder body, one-piece maple neck and fretboard

Electronics: DiMarzio Tone Zone & Evolution humbucking pickups

Controls: Volume, 3-way switch

It’s all about the neck.

This is almost the perfect rock guitar, there’s no other way to put it. There’s nothing here which doesn’t need to be here, it’s stripped back and distilled to the essence of what a rock guitar should be.

When you start with the familiar Strat core, mated with a Floyd Rose bridge and two good quality humbuckers, it really is hard to go wrong. The alder body is light and resonant, routed for HSH underneath the plate. The bridge sits flush on the body, there’s no routing to allow the bridge to raise pitch too much.

The pickups are reasonable output, enough to drive an amp well, but both clean up nicely. The Tone Zone isn’t too far away from the sound of the wonderful JB, which is just fine by me. Really, there’s little to complain about, it’s a great sounding guitar.

Now on to the neck, probably the greatest production neck out there. It’s an amazing shape, supremely comfortable. It’s not a skinny Wizard type, it’s not a chubby traditional type either. It’s somewhere in the middle, but delightfully rounded, even with quite a flat fretboard. It feels just right. The oil finish is smooth and quick. It’s the kind of neck you’d be happy with on any guitar. It’s spectacular.

The mystery is why they made it so you have to take the neck off in order to access the truss rod. A spoke wheel, move it to the headstock, anything but what they actually did. It’s the one infuriating mistake on the almost perfect rock guitar.