There is a book available – put together by Phil Taylor, Gilmour’s long term guitar tech. “The Black Strat” is a comprehensive study of the history of Gilmour’s iconic Stratocaster. Getting hold of a copy would be a logical first step – but there’s a hitch. Now out of print after four editions – even secondhand versions can run to over £100.00. If you can even find them.
So my research will have to be a bit more piecemeal. There is a fair bit of information already out on the internet, and many people have already taken the Black Strat as inspiration for their own partscaster projects. I’ll be searching for useful information wherever I can find it. Thanks if you’ve already been there and documented your builds for followers, like me, to learn from.
Part of the challenge of this project will be to try and find genuine Fender parts to reproduce some of the authentic vintage components of the original. Obviously, since NOS, (New Old Stock), parts are not, necessarily, still in production – some of these parts may have to be compromises. Approximations of the originals – but the best I can find, and those suitable to fit, and combine with other available parts. It’s going to be a case of seeing what’s available out there. I’ll have to take it bit by bit, and come up with a plan. Maybe something like this…
Fender, Vintage 60’s MIM Stratocaster Body (Alder, Black, Gloss Polyester Lacquer)
Gilmour’s Strat was originally a 1969 era sunburst Stratocaster – sprayed black. Rather than source a new, vintage-correct, sunburst Strat body – only to respray it, I’ll be looking for the best compromise for the money and effort. For a 60’s correct shape, this is the most likely match I can find at the moment. The lacquer on the original is, I think, nitrocellulose – so polyester is a compromise (although it’ll be nice and shiny, for sure). The shape should be accurate and should take a vintage specification, 2-7/32” screw spacing, bridge. It’s an alder body. It’s genuine Fender. The only problem is – I can’t find a UK supplier. Import only at the moment, so the hunt is on for a good deal.
Fender Classic Series 50’s Stratocaster Neck, (Maple, Soft-V profile, Vintage Frets, Amber Nitrocellulose finish)
My previous partscaster projects have shown me that the neck is vital – both to the quality of the overall build, and the eventual playability of the guitar. No surprise, I suppose. It’s the direct connection to the player. I’ve learned that I tend to prefer vintage style, 7.5″ radius necks over more modern, flatter, wider styles – so I’m encouraged to find that the neck on the original Black Strat is a late 50’s style, all maple neck with a 7.5″ radius. This Classic Series neck is finished with an amber nitrocellulose lacquer – just like the original. It’s genuine Fender, and it has the all important, period Fender logo on the headstock. Supplies appear to be sporadic here in the UK – but I should be able to pick one up at a decent price, given time. It’s just a question of catching the suppliers whenever the limited stocks are in.
Fender Pure Vintage Tuning Machines – Polished Nickel (Fender 099-2074-000)
Callaham Custom Numbered Neck Plate – Polished Nickel (Callaham CA24001)
Fender Output Jack Assembly – Chrome (Fender 099-1940-100)
Fender Vintage Strap Buttons – Chrome (Fender 006-3267-049)
Fender Stratocaster Accessory Kit – White or Off White (Fender 099-1395-000)
Stratocaster Screw Set – Stainless Steel (Charles Guitars CH24065)
With so many different types of headstock available – it’s not surprising that there tend to be different sizes and standards. Much of it comes down to the size of the peg holes in the headstock. Conversion bushings are available to help – so I’m optimistic I’ll be able to get a set of suitable tuners to fit properly. It’s just a question of double-checking the mounting holes. These tuners are Fender branded, but there are alternatives available by Gotoh which are supposed to be of equally good quality. I’ll do a bit more research on the originals and see if alternatives might be more appropriate from a visual point of view.
The neck plates by Callaham are machined from heavier gauge plate than the originals. They are supposed to remain flatter when the screws are tightened, which stops the corners digging into the body. The result is supposed to be more resonant. Since Gilmour’s Black Strat is an undisputed tone monster, I aim to protect the body a bit and beef up the tone at the same time.
For the plastic parts in the accessory kit, I’m not sure whether to go with an aged white, or clean white finish. It might even eventually come down to what is available. The numbers on the tone and volume knobs of the original Black Strat have a bit of a distinctive, green colouration. This is down to the oxidation of the gold paint originally used, and it would be good to feature this on my “reproduction”. I may be able to figure out a way to modify a set of original knobs – I know they can be bought from some custom parts outlets. I just need to make sure that whatever colour the plastic parts end up being, is consistent throughout and that the knobs, pickup covers, switch and tremolo bar ends all match. (The back plate is missing on Gilmour’s original).
The screws on the Callaham bridge are already stainless steel, (the set as supplied by Charles Guitars has Callaham bridge screws included). This stainless steel screw set by Charles Guitars therefore makes it possible to unify all the various screws supplied from all the various parts manufacturers, and replace them all in Stainless Steel. The screws are sometimes the first parts to suffer when manufacturers start looking at costs, and it’s always worth getting good replacements.
Callaham Vintage S Model Bridge Assembly w/Custom 4¼” Tremolo Arm (Callaham CA21001)
Fender Pure Vintage Stratocaster Tremolo Assembly (Fender 009-4247-049)
I installed this same bridge on my Ash Stratocaster, and it’s a quality bridge with some nice engineering improvements over the Fender original. The steel block is big, fat and heavy, and should provide good resonance and vibration transfer. The bevel on the bottom of the plate is also better shaped, and the tremolo arm linkage is much more positive than on the Fender bridges I’ve seen. The bridge on my Ash Strat is currently blocked, (which is a bit of a waste of a tremolo bridge, you may say), – so I did wonder about recycling it onto this project, but the quality of these bridges just stands out, and I think I may look to get another for my Black Strat. The bridge kit is designed to fit the vintage specification 2-7/32” screw spacing, and comes with claw, springs and tremolo arm. The arm supplied is usually of standard length, but is also available at the shorter, 4-3/4″ “Gilmour” length.
The Fender “Pure Vintage” option is supposed to be made to the same specifications as the period original bridges, sometimes supposedly using original tooling and processes. There is some thought, on the usual chat boards, that the steel on the Callaham bridge is a bit harder – resulting in a “brighter then Fender” sound. The Fender bridge also comes in as more expensive than the Callaham option. In the end – it may come down to cost and availability. Perhaps the Fender option is, “more authentic”? Perhaps not.
I suppose I could always try the Fender option, and take the opportunity to A/B it against my Callaham bridge?
Black 1 Ply 0.090″ 11 Hole Pickguard (Custom Routed For Mini-Toggle)
Custom Stainless Steel Recessed Mini Toggle Switch Mounting Bracket
Northwest Guitars ST11-DG and DGMB-01
Overdrive Custom Guitar Works Bespoke #4031P
The pickguard on the Black Strat is vital to the overall look, and switching functions of the guitar. It’s not a Fender standard plate – so pre-fabricated versions tend to be custom made. Currently, it seems my choice is between a plate supplied by Northwest Guitars here in the UK, or another by a custom maker in the US. The cost difference is substantial – so there may be a quality issue here. (The US version is custom made, the Northwest Guitars version is mass-produced in Korea). I’ll have to see if I can find out what the difference is, and if it’s worth the extra cost to import. It’s likely the edge detailing will be different – so I’ll have to see if that’s something I can tackle myself, with a Dremel or some such. The important thing is that the plate is correctly routed to take a recessed toggle switch. The mounting of the switch needs a special bracket to allow mounting off the underside of the pots. Both suppliers have a solution. I think the Northwest Guitars plate will likely win out, due solely to the overall cost – just as long as the quality is up to scratch. However – with the bracket currently “out of stock” – I may have to bite the bullet and go for the bespoke, custom option.
Bridge – Seymour Duncan SSL-5 Custom Staggered Bridge Pickup
or – Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Hand Scatter-Wound SSL-1C DG Pickup
Middle – Fender Custom Shop Custom ’69 Middle Pickup
Neck – Fender Custom Shop Fat ’50s Neck Pickup
The project is, primarily all about building a quality instrument to house this very special array of pickups. The middle and neck pickups are both by Fender Custom Shop, and are already highly sought after upgrade items for Stratocaster players. The Fat 50’s pickups are most usually sold as a complete set – with slightly different pickup windings for each position. It’s therefore possible that I may have to buy a complete set just to supply the correct middle pickup. The Custom ’69 pickups are identical in each position, and so it might be slightly more likely I’ll be able to find a single pickup. It’s possible, in the case of both Fender Custom Shop pickups, that I may be able to obtain what I want in the second hand market – but much of that market is in the USA, and so it may be a lengthy search to find the right supplier and the right deal.
The bridge pickup is where a lot of the classic Gilmour tone is generated – especially with the special bridge switching system installed. The SSL-5 is a standard upgrade route for countless Stratocaster players, already looking for that certain tone. The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop 1C DG version is a rare, hand scatter-wound version which is supposed to copy the actual construction of Gilmour’s own bridge. Let’s say it’s on the wish list. The 1C DG is available with a RW/RP option. This should allow for hum cancelling to be achieved when using the bridge switching system. I aim to copper-line the interior, and do everything I can to cut down on any interference hum – but the RW/RP option is interesting, and should work with the Fender Custom Shop pickups without having to reverse the wiring on either of them.
CRL 5-Way Pickup Selector Switch
2 x CTS 250k TVT Tone Control Potentiometers
CTS 250k TVT Volume Control Potentiometer
2 x 0.022 uF 100 Volt 225 Series Sprague Polyester “Orange Drop” Tone Capacitors
Treble Bypass Filter (AKA Treble Bleed Filter)
SPDT Mini Toggle Switch
Luxe Vintage Cloth Covered Wire
Conductive Adhesive Copper Shielding Foil
The electronic circuit controls the iconic tone of the Black Strat. The special, recessed toggle switch allows the Bridge pickup to be switched into the usual 5-way Stratocaster circuit in slightly different ways. This provides a number of extra, distinctive, tonal possibilities. Heady with the success of the wiring job on my Jaguar project – I want to try and do all of the wiring myself on the Black Strat. The combination of CRL / CTS controls, together with the 0.22uF, “Orange Drops” should provide a good quality basis on which to wire the system. Luxe wire should add a finishing touch. I’ll line the guitar recesses with copper foil, as usual, to add a level of insulation from outside, electrical interference. The treble bleed filter isn’t, I think, authentic – but it was a useful, incidental addition to my Strummercaster project, and I may add it into the mix here. I just need to find a decent wiring diagram somewhere…
Custom Made, Replica Gilmour Guitar Strap by Martin Pryce
Another one for the wish list – but you never know. Gilmour’s strap was originally owned and used by Jimi Hendrix. It was bought by Dave Gilmour’s wife, and given to him for his 60th birthday. I can’t think of a better way to top off the overall look of my reproduction. Martyn has carried out restoration work on the original strap, and has therefore had a chance to do some proper research into his replica version. There are some cheaper copies available out in internet land – but I’m a great believer in getting the best quality possible, wherever possible. As with most things in life – you tend to get what you pay for.
G&G Fender Stratocaster case (Reconditioned)
I really like a nice vintage G&G case to house my Fenders. They are built to last and tend wear like a favourite jacket. In fact – a bit of wear often adds to the whole thing. The locks and catches are the bits that tend to get bent and trashed over the years, but it’s a shame to throw out a hand-built case just for the sake of a few bits of hardware. Replacements aren’t easily available in the UK, despite the fact that they were historically made and supplied to G&G by Cheney – a UK based manufacturer. However, G&G have now taken over the production and supply of these vital parts, and they are still available to purchase, albeit all the way from the USA. Overall – it’s well worth ordering up replacements and re-fitting some of the old G&G cases. It’s a relatively simple process which not only saves a bit of money – but also rescues an otherwise well built case, (and it’s character), from the rubbish heap. I recently picked up a couple of second hand, Fender branded, G&G cases to refit, and to replace some of the bulky Hiscox Lite Flite cases I’ve accumulated over the years. The G&G’s make the perfect home for my Fender projects, and the best example will be reserved to house the Black Strat project as it comes together.