Tech Spec

James F Bisset: 50th Anniversary Guitar

So, I started with a Japanese 'Hank Marvin' Squier Strat that I loved for its feel and which I'd customised over the years with new pickups, paint job, scratchplate and etc.. I wanted to replicate the guitar as a quality Strat with the sound to match.

The body:

The original intention was just to replace the basswood body on Hank with a better quality wood, so after a lot of research and indecision about Northern Ash, Swamp Ash or Alder, I plumped for a one piece Alder body from Except Warmoth didn't have any one piece bodies and after phoning them and chatting to one of the Warmoth guys I accepted that two pieces would still give me the Stratocaster sound. Still, if I marked my order as being for an unfinished body to be finished clear, they would supply a well matched body of two pieces. Hmmm... judge for yourself.

JB 50th Anniversary Strat body unfinishedYou'll notice that I went for a humbucker route for the back pickup. This gives me the option of fitting a reverse angle back pickup a la Hendrix or (obviously) a humbucker should I want to. The picture show the guitar half way through the grain-filling process; a sensual experience on the beautifully curved strat body that I would recommend to anybody with as little life as I have.

But the difference in sound with this one change to the guitar was remarkable. Before, it sounded like an electric guitar, now it sounded like a Strat (for more details, have a look in the progress blog).

The neck:

It began to dawn on me that Hank now only had the bridge and neck as original parts. If I put in a new bridge and neck then I would be able to restore Hank to its original spec and have a new guitar as well!

So I ordered a 'vintage' style strat neck from Warmoth. Hank has a one piece maple neck and fingerboard which I profiled. The closest match I could find on Warmoth was the vintage neck with the Eddie Van Halen 'Wolfgang' profile. At the last minute, I decided to choose a rosewood fingerboard (I'm still not quite sure why). The fingerboard plays fine and sounds great, but the truss rod adjustment requires taking the neck off the guitar, which is a pain in the butt. And as a result, I still haven't got the guitar set up right. By the way, I've also got stainless steel frets on there.

The body and neck were both finished in nitro-cellulose.

The pickups:

As stated elsewhere, the pickups are Kent Armstrong 'Standard', 'Vintage' and 'Screamer' from neck to bridge. But they are around 15 years old, so I can't guarantee that they sound like current Kent Armstrongs. The 'Screamer' is a coil-tapped humbucker, using the technique I learned from Dan Armstrong of earthing one coil by wiring it through the tone control. With the tone control wide open one coil is earthed, but as soon as you ease off the tone to thicken the sound, the second coil kicks in.

The wiring:

The wiring allows any combination of pickups. The first pot is a volume control for front and back pickups, the second pot is a volume control for the middle pickup. The third pot is tone. I use a 3 position switch because when I'm jumping about on stage, I always seem to knock 5 position switches out of their carefully selected position. This wiring obviates the need for a 5 postition switch.

The control cavity is screened using copper foil and wired using star-grounding technique.

You can download a diagram of the wiring: fiftieth-3pickup-wiring.pdf (480k)