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This was a project my old man took to give me a guitar I would bang on the road wherever I went. Since todays finishes are so tough and durable, it would take forever for a guitar to get in such a shape, so he started me off with a custom relic job, in the style of Number one, Stevie Ray Vaughans favorite guitar.
So why customize an already unique strat you ask? Well the problem lies in a lack of features this strat came with, despite it's good looks. For one thing, it came with a single humbucker pickup, and a single volume knob. On top of that, this guitar came with a hard tail bridge, no tremolo whatsoever. Some may like this in a guitar, but not your standard strat player, used to pickup selection and whammy bars.
5 way switch
2 single coils
One So-Cal Strat
Fender locking tuners
CTS 500 pot
5 way Stratocaster switch
Middle Texas Special pickup
Neck Seymour-Duncan Jeff Beck Junior pickup
Floyd rose bridge
3 way on-on-on mini switch
Mounting rings for single coil pickups
The process described here aplies to all guitars, and we advise you take this kind of project on only if you know your way with tools, as you can accidentaly cause a lot of damage to your instrument if you make a mistake. The best advice we can give you is measure 10 times, cut or rout only once, because once you do, there is usualy no way back.
The tool you will need the most for this kind of modification is a router or a Dremmel tool with the routing set, as routing is needed for the pickup cavities, as well as the bridge, and elecronics. In the picture to the right you can see the typical measurements to route a hole for single coil pickups. On the next image you see pickup cavities for single coil pickups, and in the next, routing of a guitar in progress.
We chose a Texas special single coil pickup for the middle position, known for it's quack, twangy sound. In the neck position, we installed a Seymour-Duncan Jeff Beck Junior humbucker in a single coil shape. We also added a mini on-on-on 3 way toggle switch to chose between Parallel/coil split/Series wiring of the Jeff Beck Junior.
This is a typical stratocaster routing template. This one does not include measurements for a floyd rose bridge, but you can get the idea where to place the pickups, switch, and controls. Ofcourse the routing on the right applies to stratocasters that have a pickguard, and this does not apply to a So-Cal strat, where the 5-way switch, the mini 3 way switch, and the tone knob need seperate cavities routed into the body. The best way to rout for the electronics is to drill pilot holes where wanted from the front (be sure to tape up the finish to prevent damage), and then route from the back.
It's best to use a template when routing. You can make a template out of plywood first, next place the template on top of the guitar body and clamp it down. Use a pattern cutting router bit.
The first stage of routing out a guitars cavities is to pre-drill them with forstner bits, this makes life much easier on the router bit and keeps them sharp and useful for much longer, it also helps prevent accidents and back strain as the actual routing takes a much shorter time. On a side note it is important to remember to keep the forstner bits themselves sharp as well.
After the cavities are pre-drilled it’s time to move on with the routing, and this means templates.
Its important to run the router in the proper direction of the pickup template. Since this is known as an inner cutout, and most routers spin the bit in a clockwise direction, you will need to move the router in a clockwise rotation when routing the pickup cavity.
This is what a pickup switch slot looks like, in the making. What you need to do is route from the back of the guitar to make room for the switch, take measurements for the 2 mounting screw holes, and cut a slot for the selector. If you don't have large professional tools, the slot can also be done with a Dremmel tool. Another way would be to use an X-Acto knife and a jig saw.
To the left you can see a routed cavity for a Floyd rose bridge. To get the proper distance, measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret, and the same distance is needed between the 12th fret and the point where the string touches the bridge. There is also a need for a cavity on the back of the guitar body to fit the claw and springs. After routing this out, you will also need to install a backplate.
Above you can see a wiring diagram on how to connect a 3 way mini toggle switch for series/split/parallel humbucker operation.
Series is also known as "normal" humbucking mode, think of a Les Paul sound. Split is when you split the coil of a humbucker and use only one side as a single coil pickup, has half the power and also introduces hum. Parallel mode gives a sound similar to a single coil, but without the hum.
You need basic soldering skills for this job.
Here is a schematic for connecting 3 pickups, 1 volume and 1 tone pot:
The next step was to replace the tuners with Fender locking tuners. If you are wondering why, the fender locking tuners have a thumb screw on the bottom, that when tightened, locks the string in place. This makes a much easier job of string installation, and ads to tuning stability.
To do this job you'll need a drill, some small drill bits, a 10 millimeter wrench, a strait edge, and some patience.
After removing the old tuners, the first thing to do is place the tuners into the headstock tuner holes. You want to keep the tuners aligned with the strait edge, while finger tightening the tuner nuts. The reason for this is because there are two small alignment nubs that need to be drilled out for.
We've found that instead of trying to make some fancy template, it's much easier to just put the guitar tuners in place,and tighten them down gently. At the same time making sure that the tuners don't go out of align by using the strait edge.As you tighten the nuts, the alignment nubs wil make small indentations in the wood where you must drill.
Use a 1/16" bit in your drill. Then use some masking tape to mark the drill bit for depth. Don't try and wing it without the tape, the few extra second is worth not drilling through the front of the headstock.
Once the 1/16th inch pilot holes are drilled, use a 3/32" bit, but check the nubs width on your model because the nubs may vary in size a little. You want a nice, snug fit, so if your unsure, use a smaller bit. Remember the depth tape, and your patience. Once you've got the holes drilled try out a tuner for fit
Make sure the tuners fit all the way into the alignment holes, and lay flat on the back of the headstock. If you can't pull them in flat by tightening up the tuner nuts, then ream the hole a little with your drill. Never use a hammer or any hammering action to try to fit them or you risk cracking your headstock.
You can get a routing diagram in inches or milimeters here:
All repair and setup articles on this website are provided 'as is' without warranty of any kind.. The entire risk as to the results and the performance of the information is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Bluesmannus be liable for any consequential, incidental or direct damages suffered in the course of using the information on this site. If you are not sure you can do this you are safer leaving the process to a professional. - Bluesmannus Team