It’s been approximately 58 years since Leo Fender debuted the Stratocaster — and 57 years and 364 days since players started messing with it.
Strats just seem to invite modification. Sometimes it’s to address a perceived shortcoming: “The bridge pickup is too thin.” “Too much buzz.” “The trem won’t stay in tune.”
But sometimes it’s just a wild-eyed quest for something new and exciting.
Often this involves transplanting parts from other guitar models. Sometimes the strat simply rejects the new organs, but in the most successful cases, the implants expand the instrument’s capabilities in inspiring new ways. (To paraphrase The Six Million Dollar Man: “We can make it better…stronger…faster….”)
“The Mongrel Strat Project” is an ongoing series of strat-mod experiments ranging from simple pickup replacements to real mad scientist stuff. Some things we’ve covered so far:
• Installing a prewired pickguard. I perform a complete tonal and electronic makeover in just a few minutes. My example features the Seymour Duncan Everything Axe pickguard and an inexpensive, Mexican-made Strat.
• Installing an onboard clean boost. How to get more oomph from your passive pickups by installing a battery-powered booster. (I use Duncan’s GEQ-1 Firestorm, the same circuit used in the popular Pickup Booster stompbox.)
• Mongrel Strat #1. Next, I tried a very different pickup recipe using three non-traditional strat pickups from Seymour Duncan: a Twang Banger (a bridge pickup that has a metal bottom plate like a tele bridge pickup for a huge, clanging tone), an APS-1 middle pickup (whose Alnico 2 magnets give it a slightly warmer, softer tone relative to a vintage Strat pickup with its Alnico 5 magnets), and a Danelectro-style Lipstick Tube in the neck.
• Mongrel Strat #2. After that, I combined the Twangbanger with a pair of more traditional vintage-style SSL-1 pickups, but I upped the weirdness factor by adding a Vari-Tone circuit — the quirky, multi-capacitor tone control found on such Gibson models as the ES-345. I unlocked some new sounds, but only you can say whether they were better left locked.
• Mongrel Strat #3. Then I tried combining the pickup choices, using a traditional-style SSL-1 in the middle with a Twangbanger at the bridge and a Lipstick tube at the neck. I also revisited the Vari-Tone idea via a monstrous 12-capacitor version. (Result: Many cool new sounds.) And since this installment involved constructing a new guitar, I tried out some new-fangled Strat replacement parts like Planet Waves locking/trimming tuners and the latest Wilkinson trem.
• Mongrel Strat #4. Yet another Twang Banger-fueled model, this time with an SSL-1 in the neck and an SSL-1 (RW/RP) in the middle. But this time around, I’ve used “Nashville-Style” Tele wiring, with the middle knob serving as a blend control. The down side: No access to the sound of the middle pickup alone. But oh, the upside! You get the outside pickups together, all three at once, and most important, the ability to adjust the blend in the “out of phase” combined-pickup settings. I love this Strat recipe!
The series will continue! Feel free to offer suggestions — and share tales of your most memorable mongrel strat experiences.