Replacement Level Parts, Playable Strat
Last year when I built Sexcalibur from parts, I have to say it was a pretty deluxe kind of operation. If there was a wonderful thing I could throw at, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab it and stick it in. To date, it is the most elaborate electric guitar I own. It may get even more elaborate if I decide one day to put in the super-switch to replace the current 5 way switch. Sexcalibur was supposed to be the electric guitar to end all electric guitars for me, and it sort of was until after I finished, I got the bug to simply put together more projects because the assembly process was such fun.
This of course led me to the Moby Rick Rickenbacker 4001 re-conditioning project that ate my brain, and then a kit guitar and fixing my friends multiple guitars… In all of this frenzy I came up with the concept of doing a project where I would source third party guitar parts and create what is known as a Parts-caster. And being a bit of a sometime baseball stats nerd, I thought it might be fun to source particular parts; that is to say, source parts that were the least expensive but still reliable. In short, a Parts-caster made up of replacement level parts.
Working The Problem
There are some things in a guitar that demand a higher standard than other parts. The canoe jack plate should look good, but the variance in function between a cheap Chinese steel one and a nice chrome one from North America is not much.
The place where you cannot give up any performance on a guitar equipped with a tremolo is in fact the tuners. There are a lot of dodgy tuners available out there for joke-like prices for Chinese tuners, but you want something that either locks or is geared at a high ratio, if not both. Fortunately Wilkinson make such a tuner. These babies have thumb wheel locks, much like the Spertzels on the real US Fender Stratocasters. The saving is only $20 compared to a set of Fender locking tuners, but this is the bit you just can’t compromise.
The search for a neck was interesting. There are quite a few third party makers for guitar necks, but it’s actually hard to find the right price for the right neck. I guess that’s the nature of most markets, but careful parsing of all the necks available yield a a Squier Fender neck from the 1980s or 1990s. It is a fairly thick neck with minimal camber. It is maple with a rosewood fretboard, and a badly done black paint job on the front of the headstock. All the same, the frets were impeccable and the rosewood fretboard was actually one of the best I’d ever felt. Rather ironic for a piece that as being sold for a give-away price.
The body also took me on a wild goose chase. the first body I tried was made of Paulownia, but it turned out the neck pocket was out of alignment an incorrectly routed. It was a shame because it promised to sound very good. This led me to a alder body out of a supplier in HK who sells these for an ungodly cheap price of $45. This one fit the neck like a glove. However, it is very heavy.
The other part I should mention is that there are quite a few manufacturers out there doing interesting things. They sport their own little brand names such as ‘Guitarheads’ and ‘Diesel’. While I haven’t fully explored their wares properly, I will vouch for their hot rail pickups. they’re very gritty and have a healthy output with plenty of articulation.
The Parts, Costed
The neck was $50.
The body was $45.
Tuners are from Wilkinson. $35
I got a pair of roller string trees. $5.
The Tremolo comes from Canada. It’s the old style 6 screw version. $20.
The Knobs are from Japan. I got a full set of 3 pot knobs and 1 knob for the 5 way switch. $15
The harness is some kind of Korean or Chinese Strat harness. The pots were in metric. It saved me a load of hassle, so it was worth just grabbing a whole harness. $20.
I pulled off the ceramic capacitors and put in a paper oil capacitor I got for $6.
The ‘Planet Terror’ Scratchplate and Backplate came in from Canada as well. $45
The pickups are generic Hot Rails. I don’t know where they are made, but they’re dirt cheap and actually sound really good. They even come with 4 wire config which means I could theoretically coil tap; for the life of me I can’t bring myself to do it. Set of 3: $45.
That comes to about $286. Having assembled it and played it, I can tell you it’s much better than anything you can buy for that price; it plays like something at least twice as expensive.