Tools of the trade… wood choices in Strat-land.

The two "chosen ones".

The two “chosen ones”.



After owning a few “uber” vintage Strats, I’ve found a couple of great guitars that sit with the “good ‘uns”, and I think that my ears have really become sensitive to the differences between individual guitars of this particular model – now that I’m a Strat Cat again. A big reason for the re-visiting of my once favourite model, is that I now have the tools in the amplification department to get good gain at lower volumes – pretty much any sound that I want (thank you, Two Notes Torpedo and QSC!) – handy, or even necessary, in a 3 piece setting.

I have owned a couple of real ’56 Strats in the last few years, and while both were magical guitars, they were a little strident – in fact, they could shatter glass if you cranked ’em up. My beloved 64/65 Strat, which now resides with my best pal Pete F., on the other hand, was balanced across the range. Why was this so?

The beloved 64/65 "Troiano" Strat

The beloved 64/65 “Troiano” Strat

Well, the acoustic properties of an electric guitar are well known to us all – that’s why YOU could hear the difference between a guitar with a loose truss rod and the same guitar with a straight fingerboard and a tight truss rod – yes, you could! So to over-simplify a bit, maple board Strats are brighter and thinner sounding than rosewood board models… often clearer and more articulate too. Ash bodies are also brighter – and if they are light-weight – thinner sounding. An Alder body has a more even tone, with lots of mid-range and smooth highs and big smooth lows. Sure there are other woods, but these are the typical configurations.

Maple Neck / Alder Body

Maple Neck / Alder Body

So what I didn’t like about the ’56 Strats was the ash body/maple neck combo. Not to run that sound down – a killer tone you’ll hear on many records – but not MY sound. And it certainly works for Teles!!! In early to mid ’56, the bodies changed to alder, and to me, the ’56s with an alder body and a maple neck sound killer! I have this combination in my current maple neck Strat – and while it’s articulate, it has a smooth top end. My LSL Rosewood board “Strat” is a bit different… it has a gorgeous rosewood neck with rolled edges – a very similar neck to the 64/65 – but a little bigger… however, it has a lightweight swamp ash body that helps give the guitar it’s 6.7lb weight. This guitar rings! I swear you can hear the trem cavity / springs / control and pickup routes … very nuanced, very lively… real “cluck” and just killer… and the rosewood neck tames it just enough! This guitar “talks”! I LOVE it!

LSL Saticoy "Strat" gut shot

LSL Saticoy “Strat” gut shot

One last thought… well, two actually… I’m a big fan of a slightly hotter bridge pickup in a Strat. It takes the edge off and balances well with lower output N and M pickups – 6.5k – 7.5k is ideal. The “Troiano” has that ( a lucky accident?) and so do my Strats featured here. Secondly, I always wire a tone control to the bridge pickup… like a Tele… and just as usable!


The 1968 Fender Telecaster Un-wrapped.

Close up and personal ’68 Tele


Full view of the glorious ’68 Tele

I took a flyer on a 1968 maple necked Telecaster that was on ebay. It’s “all there” (including the original case) … nice vibe… pretty worn. Just a REAL relic in spades! There’s 50s-like neck wear on the nitro fingerboard. A very cool nicotine orange to yellow to white to blonde body. This was a somewhat unexpected purchase… I threw in a low $4500 offer and it was accepted! I received the guitar a couple of days ago, and I must say that this seller should have been a little more careful in his description. There were a few undisclosed issues. The neck pickup was wired out of phase and had a 2.5k DC resistance – indicating a potentially broken/shorted out pickup. The frets didn’t seem like the stated “original frets”…but that’s OK, the slightly larger than stock size wire and perfect condition just saved me a re-fret! I plugged in my “Bri approved” Weller WESD51 soldering station, reheated the neck pickup wires at the pickup… and low and behold, the pickup was fixed!

This guitar, despite my initial disappointment, turned out to be a great Tele! Plugged in, the 7.2k bridge pickup really rocks! Lots of metallic clang and twang, with plenty of output… just fabulous! A winner. The neck plays smoothly due to 45 years of love. The guitar weighs 7.3 lbs – nice and light. The 5.5k neck pickup sounds musical, but it doesn’t seem like the best match for the bridge pickup – a little weak. And it therefore doesn’t give us the best middle position sound either. I’m not opposed to reversible mods – so I took note of the this issue.

It’s interesting how after a while playing around with guitars you sometimes get an intuition about what changes might work, and I immediately thought of the Fralin wound Jim Weider “Big T” neck pickup. It’s got bigger magnets and a moderately low wind for a nice clear, but robust, punchy, and slightly dark tone (at least darker than all those other “tall” neck pickups like the Twisted Tele pickup that Fender makes). So the Big T went in the guitar and it’s “the magic”, the “Shiznitz”! I also replaced the severely corroded switch while I was at it. The ceramic .05mF disk cap was really “on / off”… no taper at all… so given the fact that I’d already done some (reversible) mods to the guitar, I threw in a paper and oil cap of the same value – one of those big, fat gold cylinders. I think they call it a “guitar cap” or something. Wow! Don’t let anyone tell you that all caps of the same value sound the same. The new cap had a very gradual tone roll off with numerous very musical tones built in – a whole rainbow of sounds!

So there you have it! I put ‘er all back together and I’ve been playing this great ‘ole Tele for the last day or so non-stop! Don’t let anyone tell you that great Fender guitars stopped in 1965 when Leo sold the company! This is one GREAT Tele! Compared to my favorite Tele (and I’ve compared my favorite, “keeper” to many others) – a lightweight knockoff Top Loader with a fatty neck – this ‘68 is at least it’s equal… maybe better. Mission accomplished.





“Light Is Right!” Really???

Here I was last night running around looking for my trusty “fish scale” – which I use to weigh  guitars – ironical considering that I’ve been stewing about writing a Blog entry about how the weight of an electric guitar affects the tone (I love it when a guitar seller says “8lbs on my bathroom scale” – you get it – and it’s 10 lbs!!!).

I used to be 100% in the “light is right” camp until I began to notice that sometimes a heavier instrument just sounds better. Case in point – I had a lovely 7.2lb Korina PRS with 3 X P90s for a while… I sold it…and, you know the story, I had to have another! Well, the next one was the same guitar exactly but it was 8.2lbs – a full pound heavier. And, my goodness, it sounded better than the lighter guitar! What’s with that? As Bill Collings, no stranger to guitar building – both acoustic and electric – says (I’m paraphrasing here): a really light guitar will have less of the fundamental, less middle, that can make a truely great guitar!

Now there are exceptions… for me, Teles with maple necks and ash bodies – the lighter the better. I currently can’t put down my 2 Underwood T style guitars… 6.9lbs for the Blackguard Tele and 6.4lbs for the Esquire… and they RING LIKE A BELL!