Thinking of a Strat copy to use as a project

I've been very impressed with the guitar builds that I've seen on here and thinking of buying a cheap Strat copy to use as a project. 

The question is, if I buy an old £50 Hohner/Aria and start swapping all the hardware, will I get a decent guitar that's worth the money, or will the body (and maybe neck if I keep it) dictate the tone?

Comments

  • BryBry Posts: 652Member
    Originally Posted by martinsmith99:

    The question is, if I buy an old £50 Hohner/Aria and start swapping all the hardware, will I get a decent guitar that's worth the money, or will the body (and maybe neck if I keep it) dictate the tone?

    I think they'll dictate the playability and feel of the guitar more than the tone. 

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,190Member

    I think I'd say be very careful what guitar your upgrade project starts with. My experience has been that's it's actually a lot easier starting with well-chosen good quality new parts to make a guitar, rather than starting with an unsatisfactory guitar, and hoping to make it into a belter with upgrades.

     

    Often the hardware spec is not compatible with the better parts you might want to fit, and holes are drilled in the wrong places on the body. Also the routing of the body can be incompatible. The finish on cheaper guitars can be quite thick (something I feel does impact on the tone) and it's a royal pain in the bum trying to strip back to the wood prior to refinishing. And even when you do, you may find the body is made of several pieces of low quality wood. A "proper" strat body is 1 3/4 inches thick, but most cheaper strat style guitars don't have that, and thus the trem block on a "proper" strat replacement bridge unit will be too deep. I think there are some decent replacement strat trems made with shorter blocks, but be careful.

     

    I don't know what the exact specs are on everything, and I'm not sure on the body thickness, but if I wanted an economical way into the whole parts building thing, I think I'd be tempted to go with a kit, such as the Harley Benton ones Thomann do, e.g.

     

    http://www.thomann.de/gb/harle...nton_eguitar_kit.htm

     

    and perhaps look to use a few well-chosen better quality parts bought elsewhere. That way, you are at least starting with nice clean parts, and a clean, unfinished body. That would be a lot better/easier for me than having to try to change/undo what has already been done in some factory. There are other people selling kits also, so worth looking around if that interests you. And I should say this is all just my opinion of course, FWIW.

     

     

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,085Member, Moderator

    If you find a guitar that you like the feel of, then as Bry more or less states, that's a good place to start. Personally, I think that the body of a solid bodied guitar, has little or no effect on the tone, though it will effect the sustain. I have solid bodied guitars with SRBF, basswood, ash, walnut and sapele/ mahogany in my collection. I don't feel the wood affects the tone on any of them.

    Hardware and pickups, on the other hand, make a considerable difference. However, don't spend a shed-load of money upgrading a cheap guitar unless it is solely for your own use. You will never recover the money if you decide to sell the instrument. My first build cost me over £800, more than it would cost to buy a Fender Telecaster of a similar spec, but I will never ever see that money back again.

    Guitar My completed Jocko Trucaster 3-6-11

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,085Member, Moderator

    Megi's post went up while I was writing mine, so I didn't see it until after I had posted. I have upgraded cheap guitars but I have never stripped a body. If the body is in a condition that you want to keep, fair enough, but you have to be careful with parts. My first upgrade involved fitting too large a tremolo bridge to a thin body. It wasn't to much of an issue as I always screw the bridge down, on a Strat, but I had to trim the back plate to allow me to fit it back on.

    Guitar 1997 Squier Stratocaster 31-5-11

    I also fitted a Telecaster neck and Squier parts to this cheapo body and made a lovely guitar.

    Guitar Jocko Custom 3-7-11

    I fitted all new hardware, and a new neck, to this Stagg with no problems.

    Guitar Stagg M350 with new Maple neck 31-5-11

    I upgraded an almost new Squier Affinity Strat, fitting stacked humbuckers, and had no problems what so ever. Here is a before and after shot. 

    Guitar 2004 Squier Affinity Stratocaster 31-5-11

    2004 Squier Affinity Strat with stacked humbuckers 2-8-12

     

    As you can see, I am a great lover of Gator cases, which I buy for all my builds.

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,190Member

    Personally, I do feel that the body wood (type and quality) has some perceptible influence on the tone - one would never make a guitar with a balsa wood body, to make an extreme example - you wouldn't expect that to have very good resonating properties. So I feel that variations in other wood types does have an effect. It's not as big a thing as for an acoustic instrument, but still there, and for me, worth thinking about. Again, just my opinion though, and happy to agree to differ - it is subject that gets repeatedly debated.

     

    I do certainly agree that the hardware and pickups can have a big effect. Re pickups, before now, I've had a great, resonant guitar, and tried using what has turned out to be the wrong set of pickups (for my needs). And no amount of tweaking the tone controls on the amp will get things right - the pickups are just wrong. The other side of that coin is fitting excellent pickups to a solid guitar that seems dull and lifeless played acoustically - again the result won't be satisfactory.

     

    To ammend what I said before, I think I might consider upgrading an already made cheap guitar, but only if I'd already tried the guitar, and already knew it had a good, resonant acoustic tone, with no dead strings or spots on the fretboard. Also I have to know that the neck is good and straight, and the truss rod works well. I'd have to be happy with the guitar finish as it is. And I'd want to know exactly what the upgrades I need are, what specific replacement parts I'd be using, and that the work could be straight forwardly done.

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,190Member

    Still cross-posting! Nice pics Jocko. image

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,190Member

    I guess all I'm saying is whatever you're doing, start from somewhere decent, be that upgrading, building from parts, or a kit. Don't start with a lemon. image

  • ESBlondeESBlonde Posts: 950Member

    Just a word of caution, if you buy a guitar for lets say £350 with the intention of upgrading it. You will not realise the resale value of the original guitar and the hardware upgrades if you sell it. Typically you would put the guitar back to stock for sale and sell the hardware individually to maximise return (or use it on the next project).

     

    In terms of wood and finish, I think electric guitars are a world of increasing prices for ever smaller increments of perceived improved tone. On your £350 guitar £100 pickups will have a quite noticeable effect on tone (for better or worse) but on a £1,500 guitar you might be hard pressed to notice much difference. Indeed you would probably need to spend hundreds of pounds on several items to notice much improvement. Setting up the action and stoning frets and polishing fingerboards and rolling the fingerboard edges cost little and take a lot of time but can result in massive improvements in playability on all but the more expensive instruments.

    So Martin it may pay you to get a£50 used guitar from the local porn shop and practice first before investing hard cash. You can always sell back the training guitar once it plays better.

  • martinsmith99martinsmith99 Posts: 375Member
    Solid advice as ever.  Thanks chaps!
  • AndyjrAndyjr Posts: 659Member

    I agree with all of the above.  To that I will add a crucial question...what do you want to achieve?

    if it's:

    • Increasing value to then sell - forget it
    • increasing your skills towards more ambitious projects - great way to do it.  But yes - start with a kit or a standard strat or tele copy where good quality bits are available at reasonable cost
    • ending up with a guitar that plays as well as much more expensive ones, at much less cost. Yes, absolutely..but choose carefully (a dog will always be a dog) and don't ever expect to get your money back
    • satisfaction - almost matchless.  There is little that gets close to the satisfaction of a great looking, great feeling and/or great sounding guitar that you've made or improved yourself
  • martinsmith99martinsmith99 Posts: 375Member

    Knowledge and skills to build a guitar from parts.  Also, ending up with a good instrument at the end would be good too.

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,085Member, Moderator

    I started out after buying an old Squier Strat which had been stored in a damp attic. The metal work was rusting, so I decided to replace it all. I also replaced the pick ups and, while I was in there, I replaced the pots, selector switch and wiring (I am an electrical engineer). After another couple of goes at "hot-rodding" I decided to build a guitar from parts. I just decided on my own spec, bought the bits and built it. The result was my Swamp Ash Tele, as shown earlier.

    I have built two more since.

    Coffee and Creme and Heartbreaker 15-4-14

    I like natural wood and use a wipe on, Tru Oil, finish.

    What I would recommend, to anyone thinking of doing work on Strats, Teles or LPs, is to get a copy of the relevant Haynes manual. Just like the car manuals they have everything you need to know all in one place.

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,190Member

    What do you know, I just stumbled on this ad for someone selling the book above, on another forum http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/...6807/fs-guitar-books if of any interest Martin.

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,085Member, Moderator

    Haynes do this one as well.

    Think I'll look out for a second hand Starship, and do it up.

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,190Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    Haynes do this one as well.

    Think I'll look out for a second hand Starship, and do it up.

    A bit of walnut here and there would be nice... image

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    Late to this thread due to hols.

     

    A walnut dash on the USS Enterprise - nice!  A retro Jag look.

     

    Here's a suggestion based on your desire to increase your skills.  Pick up a guitar for whatever your budget is.  Then rather than immediately strip everything off work out how you can make it play better with the current equipment.  If it plays exactly how you want it to play (action etc) then great - work out why you like that set-up.  Is it the neck radius, string height, string tension, fret profiles etc.

     

    To me making a great guitar falls into two camps.  Playability, and sound.

     

    First you need to make it play as is as easy as possible for your style of playing.  Rhythm?  Lead?  Blisteringly fast playing, or do you like a bit of resistance.  8s or 13s?  Alternate tunings?  Want to use a slide?  Is the tuning stable?  Is the intonation correct?  Do you make a lot of use of a trem or do you prefer a fixed bridge?  All of this is 100% about set-up, not parts (just yet).  So for me the first thing to do is take your new second hand beater (or whatever) and really understand how to set it up so it plays like you want it to play.  Set-up is a whole bunch of interactions between all the parts that affect the guitar geometry.  Research and understand all these interactions (and ask questions here).

     

    Once you've got it playing as well as you can, does it still have any shortcomings?  Then you can start looking at putting in higher quality replacement parts.  I'd start at the middle of the neck and work to either end.  Do you need to re-radius (or replace) the neck for our preference?  Are the fret profiles right for you (short and skinny/tall and fat etc).  Any buzzes/farts/notes choking off when playing that might indicate one of more frets being high/low (assuming everything else is set-up correctly). Is the action at the nut optimal (too high/low).  Is the neck angle correct (i.e. do you comfortably have enough string height adjustment at the bridge) Is the truss rod set optimal for the string tension?  Once you've got all that as you want it you could look at maybe changing out the tuners if the ones already installed feel cheap/gritty/have slack etc.

     

    To be honest, starting with a neck that has the right radius and fret profile (that is also straight and true and doesn't exhibit any major flexibility) is probably the major criteria for your donor guitar.

     

    Once the playability is the best you can get it, then how does it sound?

     

    First up for me would be the sustain.  Here's where you can start swapping stuff out rather than just adjusting.  The nut - is it plastic?  If so a bone or Graphtech or similar replacement will likely make a good difference to sustain (and be a cheap replacement).  Then look at the bridge and the materials it's made of.  Does it look/feel cheap?  Does the bridge look OK, but the saddles look worn or cheap?  Are the saddles of the type you prefer?  Is the whole bridge conducive to you style of playing (e.g. do you use a lot of palm muting on the bridge - is it sharp/comfortable?).  Changing out the bridge might increase sustain and/or make the guitar more comfortable to play for your style.  Same with trems - I'm not a trem user so others will have more insight than me in that area.

     

    Then it's onto the sound.  Does the volume and tone circuit have the expected effect, are the pots smooth in operation and is the whole thing quiet (no hiss or buzz).  Lots to play around with here, and you may have to fiddle if you start swapping out pups.  Don't discount the difference some proper shielding will make if it's currently unshielded.

     

    Finally the actual noise it makes - changing the pups will have the biggest impact on the sound.  But if everything else is set up perfectly before you get to this stage it'll be far easier to have determined what the natural potential of the guitar is and the delta between the sound produced by the current pups and the sound you hear in your head.  If everything is set-up optimally at this point you'll be far better placed to make a better informed decision on which pick-ups you should go for.

     

    Hope this helps.  Always ask here and you'll get a raft of responses (many of which will be based on individual preferences and you'll have the fun of sorting out which answer is best for you!).

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • Screaming DaveScreaming Dave Posts: 781Member
    Originally Posted by Megi:
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    Haynes do this one as well.

    Think I'll look out for a second hand Starship, and do it up.

    A bit of walnut here and there would be nice...

    I put a couple of Bare Knuckles engines in my star ship, swapped out the warp drive for a Fernandes Sustainer so it goes at infinite speed forever and some nice Wilkinson phasers and Schaller photon torpedoes.

     

    Oh, and a pearloid dashboard

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    I added the Grover Tardis to mine and regularly jam with Jimi.

  • Screaming DaveScreaming Dave Posts: 781Member
    Oohh! That's a whole new thread. Your guitar turns out to have a flux capacitor installed who would you go back and jam with?
  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    Great idea.  Go on then - start a new thread.

  • Screaming DaveScreaming Dave Posts: 781Member
    But, back to the thread ....

    I really believe the wood affects the tone, and a lot of the cost savings on less expensive guitars are in the quality of the timber used. Go too far down the scale and I personally think you'd be wasting your money putting high quality hardware on a budget guitar. It's like putting lipstick on a pig.

    That said, get a reasonable guitar and a few tweaks and upgrades can make all the difference. But the first tweak should be a decent set-up. (That's your cue, Richard!) a good set-up can take a dog of a guitar and turn it into ... Well ... A pedigree dog, at very least. Never underestimate the value of getting a decent set-up included with a new guitar
  • Just TelJust Tel Posts: 512Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    Haynes do this one as well.

    Think I'll look out for a second hand Starship, and do it up.

    Well you got the manual so all you need is the guitar and here's two of em

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    It's a guitar Jim, but not as we know it.

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    I feel a new band coming on:

     

    Jim Kirk and the Stubborn Klingons

  • Screaming DaveScreaming Dave Posts: 781Member

    Would they open with "Wipeout"?

  • lancpudnlancpudn Posts: 1,393Member
    Originally Posted by Reg Sox:

    I feel a new band coming on:

     

    Jim Kirk and the Stubborn Klingons

    They have a tool now for stubborn Klingons.

     

    image

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    Reminds me of when I lived in Australia.

     

    The word "daggy" as a description for something that's not exactly salubrious has entered the mainstream lexicon in this country, but I never knew the origin.

     

    Downunder the origin of an "dag" refers to the poo encrusted wool that surrounds a sheep's backside (basically dried stubborn Klingons).  These get removed periodically before flies or other insects introduce larvae and/or infection sets in.  The cut of piece of encrusted wool is your actual "dag".

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,085Member, Moderator
    Originally Posted by Screaming Dave:
    It's like putting lipstick on a pig.

    What if she is a pretty pig?

  • Screaming DaveScreaming Dave Posts: 781Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:
    Originally Posted by Screaming Dave:
    It's like putting lipstick on a pig.

    What if she is a pretty pig?

    Well, in that case just do what you gotta do!

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