The Fender guitar is one of America’s classic standards. Most musicians try one out at some time in their career, and it has become ubiquitous on the stages of bars and dives. For my own part, I am not a Stratocaster fan. However, in 2005 my ex-wife bought me an American Standard Stratocaster for Christmas. Perhaps I had asked for a Gibson Les Paul or a Paul Reed Smith, but who can remember the exact petty details of a life long since abandoned. The reality is that an American-made instrument is usually a thing of beauty, and compared to my 20 year old B.C.Rich Warlock made in Korea, it was a godsend. Still, for the past 7 years it mostly sat in a case or gathered dust [except for this rare appearance posted by a student; 25 pounds heavier and days after the end of my marriage…but at 1:40 the solo remains a favourite].
Why? I held more than a few negative emotional associations with the instrument, and the thin sound of the single coil pick-ups never really delivered the sustain or tones I like. Given how much my life has changed, given how my entire identity has altered for the positive, I felt that now was the time to reinvent the guitar. It was time to rebuild the heart of the Strat: new pick-ups, entirely new wiring and a pin-up pick guard/tremolo guard.
Rewiring a Stratocaster is NOT a simple endeavour. I knew this from previous failures to improve my Harmony Strat electric purchased at the Bangor Service Merchandising store for $119 in 1984. Therefore, I needed to arm myself with a wicked soldering iron, all new wiring so that the other electronics could simply be slotted back inside, and I needed the right pick-ups. I decided to turn to Seymour Duncan for the pick-ups, All-Parts and Warmoth for the other tools and pieces, and Axtreme Creations for the sexy pick guard assembly.
I will admit that none of this was cheap. I bought the best that I could find, and I specifically chose parts that fit my vision for a Deluxe Stratocaster: hot-rodded coils, dice volumes, and bomber-style girls in vintage poses. I wanted the type of machine that fit the “tattooed, hot-rod, Kustom, 1950s style”, but I also wanted it to sound like a monster from beyond.
My orders went fairly well, especially given that I needed to purchase all of the parts through American dealers. One issue was discovered when I attempted to plug in my Hakko soldering iron for the first time: All-Parts forgot to include the required electrical adapter plug. One week later, the part had arrived and I was ready to go. I decided to spend the $120 on the Hakko iron because it had controllable voltage and for a few of the connections I wanted to make sure I had clean joints. In the end, the iron worked like a dream and I felt quite comfortable with each solder point I made.
For pick-ups I chose to go with three different styles. A Seymour Duncan Duckbucker in the rear for edgy metal, a classic stack for a more standard tone, and a Quarter Pound Staggered in the front for a rich, thick sound. One never knows how the final product will come out, but in my case each of the pickups produced a distinct sound that would be usable in all of my possible playing situations. Nice. $230 for the electronic coils.
The entire process took about two hours from start to finish. I simply worked my way slowly through the provided schematics for each pick-up and then compared those to the untouched stock pickguard assembly. The knobs and guards were all easy to apply, and the electronics were not the nightmare they could have become if I had used a cheap iron. When I first plugged the beast in, she sang with a crunchy tone that I had dreamed of hearing since watching Rick Springfield’s Beat of the Live Drum tour on video over and over again. Yes, I did mix up the connections on the instrument jack, but after a few rewires I was able to get rid of the hum caused by the mistake. The electronics are silent and the tones are pure.
Did I find what I was looking for? Yes…but…what I noticed most about the F&ckyMonster is that she is sensitive to my playing dynamics and that I must be mentally present when handling her. She brings out the best in me, but if I lose my focus, then the incredible tones and subtle clarity turn into shrill cacophonies of wasted noise. This hot-rodded axe is a beautiful counterpoint to the thicker tones of the Paul Reed Smith Swamp Ash Special I recently picked up, and between them both I cannot imagine any songs that I could not bang out o a stage or a studio. And the look…hot and bothered in a way that I could only have hoped for in my dreams.