I’m a hardcore Les Paul lover. For years I refused to play anything else but Les Pauls. I tried to get all the tones I wanted from them, but three years ago that started to change. I got myself a hollowbody Les Paul and saw myself using that guitar for ‘hollowbody tones.’ With that guitar as a stepping stone, a small urge developed inside me to get a Strat and a Tele. Not just any Strat and Tele, but guitars based on vintage models: ash, alder, maple and rosewood, in the period correct combination.
It helps a lot to live in a place where high-end parts come (relatively) cheap, so I got myself some Strat and Tele bodies and necks, and with the help of some friends in my country (and some friends at Seymour Duncan) I started constructing. I’m used to having parts that fit together almost perfectly, so these parts proved to be more challenging than usual, but fun to do nonetheless.
So, the first guitar to be completed was a Strat. I don’t know why, but I felt like finishing the Strat first. And what did I come up with? A nice body made of two pieces of super lightweight alder with a moderate flamed maple top (just 3mm thick, so it won’t do anything for your tone – it’s there to look amazing, and in my opinion, it succeeds in that goal!). In the 60s Strats were made of alder and had a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard, so I started searching for a nice maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. And after 20 minutes of munching through a huge pile of necks I found the neck perfectly suited for my needs. A nice medium chunky neck with lovely perpendicular grains, topped with an Indian rosewood fingerboard. Dark, narrow-grained; just the way I like it. Of course, looks aren’t everything. I tapped each neck, again and again, to find the neck that had the best ring: the longest, the richest in fundamentals and harmonics, the one that I just had the best ‘click’ with.
Even though Seymour Duncan’s California Set is based on the 50s and the neck and body are styled after 60s Strats, I went for the California set after all. These pickups were supposed to deliver a clear yet warm tone with a lot of clarity. Lots of highs, lots of smooth lows but not so many mids: exactly what I was looking for for in a Strat.
So, after some hours of tinkering, screwing and soldering, my new Strat was finished. I turned on my mesa Mark II, and hit the first E chord. For some reason, the E chord is the first chord I always play when I test a new pickup, but I guess we all use the E chord whenever we get a new guitar…
The tone was amazing. Lovely bubbly on top, sweet and mellow in the mids and chunky. Those vintage Strat tones you always hear on records: this pickup set delivers the goods. I tried many Strats and most of them sound too modern: too tight, too hot, too much attack, too much mids, too much compression. But this set is extremely organic and pure. I am not sure, though, if it’s the pickups or just the woods are very dry and work great together. What I do know is that this set works very fine for me. I just can’t get over how clear and kind these pickups sounds. The in-between positions are extremely quacky, just the way you expect a Strat to quack.
Will it do the harder styles such as metal? I don’t think so, but let’s be honest: do you really want a set that can do those vintage tones so well to do metal? With the right amp and maybe a powerful stompbox you can push your set to do some 80s rock and metal, but when you endeavor into the higher gain territory, you might need a pickup with a bit more mids and just a tighter feel overall. But for what I want it to do, which means the softer, cleaner music styles, this set can hardly be beat.