As I gloated last week, Jane Wiedlin gave me her Hello Kitty Stratocaster — the most bitchin’ $99 guitar ever conceived! I finally had a chance to destroy/customize it yesterday, in what will no doubt be the first of many desecrations/enhancements.
I’d ordered one of those Synyster Gates Duncan Invaders with the pretty white pole pieces for the guitar, but just couldn’t wait to experiment, so I browsed through the ol’ pickup collection, and found a nice Duncan Phat Cat I’d used in a Les Paul experiment some months ago.
I don’t generally recommend choosing pickups because of their names, but come on! Kitty + Cat? How could I resist?
Turns out it was a lucky choice. I hadn’t planned to install a pickup that was actually lower in output than the stock humbucker, but it lets me get nicer clean sounds, and coughs up more than enough crunch when goosed with distortion. Speaking of which: the other custom feature is a built-in-distortion circuit activated via push-pull pot (I took lots of pics of the process for a DIY built-in-effects tutorial I’ll be posting very soon.)
View the carnage in this little video. Thanks, Jane Weidlin! Sorry, Stevie Nicks!
FYI, the onboard distortion is the only overdrive you hear — when the tone is crunchy, it’s on, and when it’s clean, it’s off. The other pedals are homemade delay, trem, and reverb boxes. The looper is my trusty Boomerang III. The amp is a Divided by 13 CJ11. The mic is a Royer R-121 (which, sharp-eyed viewers will notice, has tipped over at a cockamamie angle, though it still sounds pretty good).
- This is further evidence — as if any more were needed — that the pickup is usually the weakest link in low-budget guitars.
- The guitar plays better than you might expect. The frets are a bit rough, but I’ve encountered much worse on more expensive axes. The intonation is surprisingly solid. Granted, parts of my demo are howlingly out of tune, but that’s a result of fresh strings and my overenthusiastic bashing, not the neck itself.
- Hey moms and dads — this would totally make a great beginners guitar. (Especially paired with a $4,499 Diezel Herbert amp.)
- This would also make a great guitar for learning DIY skills — a point I’ll revisit in that upcoming onboard effects tutorial!
Finally, this experience is a reminder that, however much we love geeking out about gear, it’s not the bottom line in music-making. Yeah, this $200 instrument ($99 for the guitar, and a C-note for a nice pickup and the DIY electronics parts) isn’t the the most stellar guitar in my collection. But for better or worse, when I pick it up and play it, it sounds like me.
(I’m starting a new paragraph here, because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m comparing myself to the two musicians I’m about to cite.)
It’s like the famous Jazz at Massey Hall concert, where Charlie Parker played a cheap plastic Grafton saxophone, but still turned in an immortal performance. And if Jimi Hendrix had rocked the Fillmore with a Hello Kitty Strat, do you suppose for an instant that it would be anything less than awesome?