Building your own Strat-style guitar is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences I’ve discovered. I started as a teen, inspired by Eddie Van Halen, and never stopped. I was mesmerized by all the inner workings and details that came together to make a killer sounding, classy-looking guitar that played great too.
The options available to home builders these days make it possible to build truly unique, one-of-a-kind instruments you just wouldn’t find hanging on a random music store’s wall. Not only neck/body/fingerboard wood combinations, but bridge and pickup configurations as well. If you’re meticulous and plan EVERY detail of the guitar, you will end up getting exactly what you want.
Conversely, if something goes wrong spec wise, you really have no one to blame but yourself (ouch). That’s why it’s important to go over every detail with great care – (ideally) no surprises later. Having said that, you can’t plan for every contingency – but it can’t hurt to try, right?
Not to worry! You don’t even have to be able to do all of the work yourself if you have access to an affordable, quality local luthier. You can also have the finish work done by a professional if you’re not planning to buy pre-finished parts (I do both). But the selection of parts is critical if you’re going to end up with your dream Strat. Decide in advance what wood type you want the body, neck and fingerboard to be. Research the wood types and sonic characteristics of your favorite guitars and your favorite guitarists’ instruments; this will give you a ballpark (and budget) to shoot for. Once you’ve got that set, use a checklist like this to iron out of all the minor details:
- Nut Width – What’s your favorite? Are you using a locking nut? Will you need a shelf milled for it, or will you be using a traditional nut? If the latter, what material? Bone, synthetic, Graphite? Pre-slotted nuts are available in most commons sizes, but you may need to have one cut if you use an uncommon size (like 1 3/4″) and can’t do it yourself.
- Neck Back-shape/profile – Order according to preference. Do you like a fat, vintage-style neck, or a more modern, wide-thin feel? You’ll need to specify.
- Fret wire – Know your favorite size and order accordingly. Be prepared to have a qualified technician do a fret-dress if you can’t do it.
- Body Pocket/Neck butt width – Make sure these dimensions match when you order so you don’t have time-consuming problems mating the parts later. Also, when considering your neck’s truss rod, you’ll need to decide between single and double-expanding versions, and whether you want it to adjust at the butt of the neck or at the headstock.
- Pickup routing – There’s a multitude of front and rear-loaded pickup options available for bodies, and you’ll need to decide (and be certain) what you want in advance. If you’re going to do a rear-loaded (no pickguard) design, figure out how many controls holes you want the body drilled for and (exactly) where, and drill them. If you’re going to build a more traditional front-loaded Strat design, do you want to have extra room under the pickguard should you decide to go for a S-S-H or H-S-H pickup configuration later? You might want to consider a body with a “swimming-pool” rout.
- Bridge configuration -Are you going to use a traditional Strat bridge? If so, two or six-pivot point? Are you going to use a Floyd Rose? Original (OFR) or after-market (it matters) model? Will it be top-mounted or recessed? Specify when ordering! This will also determine whether you want to order a body with a straight or angled neck pocket if you’re not okay with using shims.
- Tuning Machines – Be sure to order the correct model for your headstock orientation ( 6R, 6L, 3+3, etc), and consider the tuning ratio: Most quality machine heads are 16 to 1 or better.
Once you’ve got all the basics figured out regarding the neck, body, bridge and pickup options, it’s time to start ordering parts! Look for Fender-licensed manufacturers to assure uniform parts sizing and fit. I’ve had great luck over the years with Warmoth, Musikraft, Boogie Bodies and KnE for necks and bodies, but that barely scratches the surface of vendors out there, including Allparts, StewMac, USACG among others. With your neck and body ordered, you can then move on to pickups (I recommend Seymour Duncans of course!) and hardware. Select your bridge and tuners, and make sure the neck and body you order is drilled/routed to accept them. For pickup selection, use resources like Duncan’s Tone Wizard to figure out your dream pickup combination. Remember, you’re going to need a neck plate and screws, all the switches, (correct value) potentiometers and capacitors for whatever you’re doing electronics-wise, and an output jack. Don’t forget to think of the little things, too – Strap-locks, string trees, mounting rings (if needed), jack plates, screws… every single part. Trust me on this: don’t overlook a little detail and have to go on a parts hunt to finish your build at the last minute! Even if you don’t do the final assembly yourself, spec’ing out your own custom-designed Strat is a joy you won’t soon forget – it might even become a lifelong obsession for you as it did for me!
What options would YOUR perfect Strat include?