Jun 1, 2017

Lightswitch Strat build

          If not mojo, it's certainly got... well, something.  A Home Depot light switch for one, a $30 neck and a scrap body for two more.  I really enjoy these builds where there design is fluid and the only goal is to make it sound alright and play nice for cheap, and this certainly fit the bill.

          I unfortunately (fortunately?) don't have any pics from when I first got the body and some of the hardware in a Craigslist trade almost a year back, so you'll just have to take my word for it, it was pretty bad.

          The upshot of starting with a terrible but extremely cheap base is that there's almost no way to make it worse.  Starting out, the previous owner had sanded off the poly on an old cheap Strat clone - this was exactly what I was looking for, since I wasn't keen on doing that arduous chore myself.

          Unfortunately, he also managed somehow to sand a big old divot right through the top of the body.  Somewhere out there, a neglected sanding block bitterly whispers to itself, "I told you so".  Copious amounts of wood filler later, the body is both a normal shape and agonizingly ugly.

          Having patched that dent. I decided to just go for it with a white can of spray paint laying around and see if filling the grain was really all that important.  It is.

          Sanding back the bad paint job at least highlighted all the places where the grain needed attention.  This would be important if I was using sanding sealer or grain filler like a responsible woodworker.  I threw some polyurethane clear coat on there because I can't afford to be snooty.

          After drying and sanding it back, the body was then actually mostly level.  I broke out a can of off-white this time, with that "vintage white Strat" look in my head.
         It went rather swimmingly.  The camera's resolution hides the imperfections nicely!  

         Not content to let it look like a decent and somewhat well-taken-care-of instrument, I gave it a hearty relic'ing.  Sure, it might be a passing fad, but I like not having to worry about bumping or scratching it down the road.

          Then came some chaos, amid which I acquired a neck, tuners, and beat up the guitar a bit more out of boredom waiting for all the parts in the mail.  The neck I got on eBay for just under $30 shipped - despite shipping mishaps and poor customer service, the neck is actually fantastic for the price, and even the fretwork was pretty decent out of the box.  The fit into the neck pocket was flawless and action didn't need too much adjustment, so if you're looking for a cheap project neck yourself, I'd recommend giving them a try, it's a very affordable way to go.

          Then a bit more chaos, a crazy wiring idea, and voila.  The pickups and bridge hardware came from the same knockoff Strat as the body, and the tuners were $10 on Amazon.  Throw in a wall light switch from Home Depot and you've got yourself a full set of guitar electronics, more or less.

           I've had a few weird wiring designs on the backburner for a while now and this one kind of came together as a mishmash test of a few ideas.  I make no secret of my dislike for the middle Strat pickup, and figured the best way to use the middle pickup would be... to cancel out the middle pickup's sound, in a sense.

           To get a higher output, I wired the neck and bridge *position* pickups together as one spread-out humbucker.  I really dig the neck-and-bridge in parallel sound I get from Stripes, so figured in series would be worth a try too.  You may or may well not be thinking, "wouldn't bridge+neck pickups amplify the 60 cycle hum?"  If you were thinking that, you would be correct!  Simple fix - the middle pickup is wound with the opposite polarity to cancel hum, so switching the middle and neck pickups' positions solved that.
          That simple "humbucker" makes up one of the two positions - the other adds in the middle pickup in parallel and out-of-phase.  Switching the positive and negative terminals makes it out-of-phase, and the light switch works nicely to reliably and obnoxiously toggle between the two settings.

          This being a never-before-seen setup, at least as far as I know, I wasn't certain how it would work.  It works perfectly, but with a caveat.  That is, in position A it has a rounded but bright tone with a moderately high output, and in position B it has a funky out-of-phase twang with very low output.  The problem is that it is the noisiest guitar I've ever played, and fiercely hums - not the familiar 60 cycle hum, but the noise of a bad ground, and only when touching the strings/hardware, which is the opposite of how it's supposed to work.  The soldering all checks out so there must be something with the design - if there are any electrical engineers out there with advice, that would be superb.

          Hum aside, the rest of the build went perfectly.  The neck pocket fit made adjusting the action a quick job, and intonation wasn't bad either.

          I did find out quickly that the black springs I had on hand were substantially weaker than the Fender standard springs, and even five of them wouldn't cut it.  I replaced all of them later for tuning stability.

          Borrowing a Fender American string tree from Stripes adds some upper-class influence to this beast from the gutters.  I have to admit, for a body that looks like it was dragged through Vietnam, the neck and headstock look pretty flawless.  Too nice to relic, at least for now :p

          That about covers everything for this project!  Feel free to leave a comment below, especially if you're an electrical engineer :)

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