Strat Mods to Improve Primary Tone

FLICKOFLASH

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FLICKOFLASH

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Take care of your neck cavity. Uninstall the neck and check the cavity; it should be absolutely free of any paint, dirt and other things. Over the years I've found a lot of funny things there -- credit cards, paper, cardboard, etc.

Also, The bottom and sides of the neck cavity should be absolutely plain and free of any paint. If they're not, take a piece of sandpaper and rework your cavity until you see the plain wood. If you feel that the neck does not fit the cavity because the cavity is too wide or too low, get your guitar to an experienced luthier who will "shim" it. Bad work at this critical point can ruin your guitar's tone!

Check the corresponding part of the neck (the so-called "neck heel") that is attached to the neck cavity. Often you can find stickers there -- scrape them away. I also highly recommend sanding away all the paint until you can see and feel the plain wood. You don´t need any paint there, and a strong and even "wood to wood" connection will enhance the tone transfer dramatically. Bolt on the neck screws very tight, but don't overdo
 

FLICKOFLASH

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Let your guitar breath. For this, you should take away the paint at any location that can´t be seen. One critical location is the surface underneath the bridge of a Strat. Eric Johnson knows what he's doing when he does this to all of his guitars. You can also completely remove the paint of the inside of the pickup cavities and the entire surface underneath the pickguard
Fender has an interesting little detail on the Eric Johnson Strat. They sand away the paint on top of the inertia bar (a.k.a "tremolo block") that is attached to the bottom of the tremolo bottom plate for a better tone transfer. At first I thought that it was voodoo and marketing, but later I had to take out the inertia bar on one of my own Strats, and since it was out anyway, I gave it a try and the result was stunning. The tone is stronger -- it was like "freeing" my guitar. So give it a try and listen to see if it makes a difference on your guitars.
 

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Different materials can really make a difference. I'm sure you all know the discussion about the Les Paul aluminum stop tailpiece, right? So here are different materials I've tried that made a big difference to the tone:

- Nut Material: This is a wide field to experiment in, which I've discussed at length in a previous column, but for me nothing beats a good bone nut. Others prefer brass, wood, stainless steel, plastic, etc. You have to try it on your own what you like best, but changing the nut material really makes a big difference in tone

- Bridge Saddles: You should think about replacing the standard diecast saddles with the original sheet metal ones that were used during the fifties and sixties when you want a vintage tone. Brass or stainless steel saddles are also a good choice for a Strat.

- Tuners: Different tuners will make a difference in your tone; heavier tuners like most Grover products will give you more sustain and a stronger and louder primary tone. The old Kluson tuners will make your Strat more open and transparent sounding with a faster attack.

- Bridges: If you have a cheap diescast bridge, you should think about replacing it with a metal one.

- Tremolo Bar: The material of the inertia bar is crucical for a Stratocaster's tone. Even here diecast is the standard today; historically correct and awesome sounding is steel. This mod is highly recommendable for all Strats!

In general you can say that particularly diecast tends to dampen your guitar's primary tone and should be replaced with more vibrant and resonant materials for a better and faster tone transfer.
 

FLICKOFLASH

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Increasing the mass of your guitar will have a noticeable influence on the tone and can help to get rid of certain dead spots on the fretboard. A classic trick is to clamp or screw some metal to the headstock of the guitar. I recommend checking out the "Fat Finger" clamp from Groove Tubes. The difference is subtle but audible and I can only recommend trying it. For a quick test, you can also use a metal capo from your acoustic guitar; the Kyser "quick change" model works great for this.
 

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It makes a big difference to the tone of a Strat if you use string trees or not, and where you place them. Using string trees changes the pressure that comes from the strings to the nut, and the higher the pressure, the stronger the tone. I use "butterfly" metal string trees for the D,G,B and high E string and I place them not too close to the nut, because I do a lot of "behind the nut" bendings.

To close, here are some more tips about your guitar's electronics and peripheral things:

1. Check the wiring of your guitar, you will often find a lot of crappy cables in there. Get a high-quality cable and rewire the complete electronics. It´s nearly unbelievable what this can do to your tone.

2. Check the pots, pickup selector switch and output jack. If you find some poor quality, made-in-the-far-east parts, get them replaced with quality parts.

3. Restring your guitar with pure-nickel strings and hear details you've never heard before from your guitar.

4. Replace your cables with a very high quality cable (eg. George L's) and hear some more details you've never heard before while playing.

5. Try different plec materials and hear what you like best. From my experience I can say that the shell-colored celluloid plecs have the best Fender tone with a percussive attack and a lot of twang.
 

FLICKOFLASH

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Take care of all the screws on your guitar. They should be fastened very tight for a better sound, but don't break them! Critical locations are the screws for the neck, the bridge and the tuners. Check them regularly. Loose screws can also be the reason for penetrating, rattling noises on electric guitars.
 

Skynyrdpicker

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Great tips! Got a lot of work to do on mine... I wonder how much of a difference some of this makes, though! The cover in the back? How does that change anything? :hmm:
 
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Take care of your neck cavity. Uninstall the neck and check the cavity; it should be absolutely free of any paint, dirt and other things. Over the years I've found a lot of funny things there -- credit cards, paper, cardboard, etc.
I once had a guy bring me a guitar that had the neck shimmed with, I kid you not, a wad of Kleenex. Tweekers do weird stuff, I'll tell ya!
 

FLICKOFLASH

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Great tips! Got a lot of work to do on mine... I wonder how much of a difference some of this makes, though! The cover in the back? How does that change anything? :hmm:
Must be something to this :hmm: know of any pros with the covers on ??
 

uOpt

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Another thing is the string trees.

Height and position change things dramatically.

Different kinds of tree I dunno.
 

Bes628

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im thinking about having my bridge pickup connected to the 2nd tone control knob...and just have the neck and middle wired together....anybody here experiement with that ?
 

KP

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im thinking about having my bridge pickup connected to the 2nd tone control knob...and just have the neck and middle wired together....anybody here experiement with that ?
I did it the other way around. Neck on Tone 1 with middle and bridge on Tone 2. It gives you a lot to play with on tone color.
 

kspeed

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Dig the tips, Flick :thumb: Been wrapping my strings as demonstrated above for years but never thought about deadening trem springs.

FYI popping off the back plate on a PRS makes an audible difference, too ;)
 

5F6-A

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don't agree abut blocking the trem
 

Nigel Tufnel's tech

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Great tips! Got a lot of work to do on mine... I wonder how much of a difference some of this makes, though! The cover in the back? How does that change anything? :hmm:
The experiments Ive done i hear a difference, My conclusions are that the cover mutes the resonance of the body a bit, the same way if you play a cord and then grab the body with your hand, you hear a change,

The back cover has 6 points of contact were vibrations are transmitted to a piece of soft plastic which effectively does what you hand does if you grab the body. You get even more resonance it you take the pick guard off and mount the pickups directly to the body, but it wont look very nice.
 

Kuroyama

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One thing Ive read and tried successfully is decking all three pickups. A lot of people have em reaching sky-high and tickling the strings. Well, not actual contact, but close enough for the magnetic field to reduce sustain. Drop the pups to pickguard height. Try it for a while, then maybe raise em a few millimeters with the usual side to side angling as you like.

But its the reduction of height that'll increase that sustain, and allow more string vibe. Try it and see. Its the most non-invasive mod I know of!
 




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