One thing I’ve been really wanting for a while now is a Strat. I’ve been playing Ibanez guitars equipped with Floyd Rose type bridges pretty much exclusively since I was 16. Now the thing is, I wanted a Strat, but not many actual Fenders or Squiers (or other guitar companies building Strat-style guitars) offered what I was after at a good (read: cheap) price. Most of the Fenders and Squiers I looked at have 9.5″ radius fretboards, which would bug me after a while. I wanted black hardware too, and Fender doesn’t seem to have many models like that anyway.
I couldn’t really afford to buy a guitar outright, so I decided to build a guitar using various parts as funds became available. I also didn’t want to have to worry about painting the body myself, so I needed to find a finished body that had the specs I wanted. I was happy to clear the neck myself, as I’d used a spray-on polyurethane in the past that turned out ok.
So the basic things I wanted from my Strat were the following:
- Alder body routed for at least a humbucker in the bridge, preferably white
- Maple neck with maple fretboard
- Vintage six-hole bridge
- Black hardware
- A large radius fretboard like my Ibanez guitars, or at least a compound radius
- Two pickguards for testing out various pickups for review – an EVH style single humbucker setup, and a traditional Stratocaster single coil setup
All of this had to be affordable too. I didn’t want to end up spending over a thousand dollars. So this seemed like it could be a hard ask: a high quality guitar for several hundred dollars tops. Turned out it wasn’t too hard, and it took me just a few months to get together.
The most important part of the guitar is a neck. I didn’t want to scrimp on this, but I also had fairly specific requirements for it. I started looking at various online stores that sold guitar necks and bodies to see what was available. I didn’t want to bother with fancy flamed or birds-eye maple, just a solid piece of maple that would do the job. Warmoth quickly became the place to buy the neck from. Unfinished necks with basic timber selections were of a reasonable price, even after I factored in shipping from the US to Australia. Even better, Warmoth have their showcase section where you can sometimes find bargains.
I ended up scoring a great deal on a Vintage Modern one-piece maple neck with a compound radius of 10-16″, and since I got a good price for the neck opted to get it loaded with stainless steel frets and a nice Graphtech TUSQ XL nut. It had abalone fret markers, and whilst that wasn’t something I was specifically after, they looked pretty nice. I put my order in and about two weeks later a beautiful-looking neck was waiting at my doorstep.
Once it arrived I got onto spraying the neck with the polyurethane. I taped over the nut and spent the next two weeks spraying several light coats of poly. I had a few setbacks, including dropping something on the fretboard that left a small dent, a bit of fluff, and a few runs. After sorting this all out to some extent (still have a slight dent and a bit of fluff) and scraping the poly off the fretwire, I ended up with a great feeling neck. Sure there were a few runs on the headstock, but they weren’t obvious unless you went looking for them.
During this time I scoured eBay for a white alder body that wasn’t too expensive, and had at least a bridge humbucker routing. For my budget I was restricted to Squier Classic Vibe and Mexican-made Fender Stratocaster bodies. I ended up scoring a 2011 Standard Stratocaster body. When it arrived I was pleased to see that it was pretty much mint. I’m guessing the guitar had barely even been played, and was bought solely for parting out and selling on eBay.
I also bought a nice etched neck plate and gasket on eBay. The wife picked out one with a ’50s-style pinup girl etched, and it looks great on the guitar.
To avoid the need for string trees on the headstock I set about finding some nice staggered or height adjustable tuners. An Australian luthier supplies shop had some Gotoh HAP-M tuners in black for sale on eBay for a price I could afford, so I went with them. These locking tuners have height-adjustable poles, and have a much better turn ratio than some of the competition’s offerings so it was an easy choice.
Now the plan was to have two separate pickguards for the guitar, one with the stripped back EVH style single humbucker setup, and a more traditional Stratocaster single coil setup. For the single coil setup I’ll be going with a Seymour Duncan loaded Strat pickguard, but for now I’m rocking the single humbucker setup. For the pickguard I again returned to eBay, where I found a nice cheap three-ply pickguard with single humbucker route and offset volume control. This was the perfect layout, and the seller stated that the screw holes would line up with standard Mexican and American Stratocasters. Thankfully all the holes did line up well enough, so it was easy to install the pickguard.
I installed a spare JB that I had in my parts cupboard, and a push-pull volume pot that would allow me to switch between series and parallel wiring, making this guitar a lot more versatile than it looks. The JB in series doesn’t clean up overly well, but switch to parallel and it sounds much like a beefed up single coil, with a great clean tone. This is perfect for my needs.
The last part in the equation was the bridge. Whilst I do have a special bridge coming for this project, I was going to have to wait for it to arrive. I decided to pick up a cheap bridge to use for the time being. Wilkinson have some great hardware at budget prices, so I picked a black Vintage six-hole bridge from their lineup. It comes with a nice large sustain block and a pop-in whammy bar, something I prefer over the old screw-in types. The only issue was that I wasn’t sure if the screw spacing was going to match my 2 -1/16″ MIM/Import spacing. Most Wilkinsons come with 2-1/8″ screw and string spacing. I ordered it from my local shop anyway, and when I picked it up and took it home I found that the spacing was 2-1/8″. This wasn’t going to be a major issue as the middle four holes on the bridge would line up with the body, and that would be fine for me to use it set as a hardtail for the time being until my new bridge arrived.
If you’ve got a MIM/import screw spaced body it’s a pretty easy fix to install a Wilkinson bridge, so don’t be put off by the 2-1/8″ screw spacing. All you need to do is drill out the two out-most holes and fill them with some dowel, using a good wood glue to stick them in. Once that’s done all you need to do is install the bridge using the four middle screws, and it’s an easy job to drill new holes for the outer two. The dowels will be covered by the bridge, so the fix will be all hidden. You’ll be glad you did as the 2-1/8 string spacing is much more comfortable than 2-1/16″, which I believe can feel a little cramped.
With all of these parts I was able to put everything together and string it up. Once I had the action and intonation all sorted I was extremely impressed with how the guitar sound and played. I could not believe that for about the cost of a Squier Classic Vibe series Strat in Australia I had put together such a fantastic guitar. I would not be able to find a guitar off the shelf with the specifications and playability of this guitar for for even double what I spent putting this Strat together.
Putting together your own Strat such as this one is such an easy thing to do. The fact that you can build such a killer guitar, with all of your personal specifications, for such little coin with a little effort and hunting around is simply amazing too. Unlike building a guitar from scratch, most people will be able to do this with a bare minimum of tools and know how. If you haven’t built your own Strat what are you waiting for? Get out there and have fun.
What would your ideal Strat-style guitar be like? Comments below!