The Black Strat. Hardware installation. Getting ready for pickup wiring.

The parts from Craig at Overdrive took a while to travel a few thousand miles, and to clear customs over here, but they eventually arrived – beautifully packed. Checking the parts out – they’ll certainly add a touch of quality to the build. Excellent, and faithful reproductions of the originals. The pickguard is made out of single-ply, 0.090″ black acrylic – and has a radiused edge just like the original – as opposed to the standard, angled bevel. The plate is fitted out, on the reverse, with some conductive copper foil over the control compartment only – rather than with a full size covering. This is just how Gilmour’s plate is fitted out, and Craig reproduces the details and layout faithfully.

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The scratchplate is matched with a custom, stainless steel mounting plate for a small micro switch, which is installed between the tone controls and the pickup selector switch. The plate holds the micro switch in the ideal position under the scratch plate, so that just the tip of the switch is accessible from the front. Again, this is a faithful detail of Gilmour’s configuration – and is an authentic alternative to the usual, much more prominent, surface mounted switch found on some “7-way” switching plates. The actual opening for the switch is very small, and precisely cut. So small, in fact that the micro switch which is, in fact, a SPDT, (single pole, double throw (one input, two outlets)), is held in position so that the throw of the switch just fits within the opening . The micro switch has already been positioned specifically for my plate and bracket arrangement – so should fit perfectly, without the need for any fine adjustment from me. The bracket is held in place accurately by the tone pots, and the first job is to install this special bracket, whilst at the same time, locating the supporting control pots.

I’m using top quality, CTS, (Chicago Telephone Supply), pots – all 250k, all with a “True Vintage Taper”. I usually buy a complete kit to fit out each project, and although I have a small supply of spare pots, caps and wiring in the workshop, I usually get everything I need for any particular build, in one kit, from Six String Supplies. The kits are a good start to build on – with everything you need to get a project wired, “Vintage style”. They’re top quality parts, and you can always upgrade from there – leaving the odd spare part for use elsewhere. From this kit, I’ll probably leave the treble bleed component off the initial build, and I’ll be replacing the stock. 450k, Orange Drop capacitor, with a special Luxe, 1969 reproduction, “Orange Dime” cap.

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The acrylic plate comes with plenty of warning stickers, alerting you to the fragility of acrylic as a material. It strongly warns against overtightening any screws or fittings to the plate. Too much pressure can, apparently, crack the acrylic. I definitely don’t want to get caught out like that. The CTS pots always come with various washers to help position and hold the pots in place – but with the additional thickness of the micro switch plate to consider – there’s not a lot of thread left on the face of the plate to secure the pots. With the warnings from Craig, a constant alarm in my head, I want to try and get as much thread at the front as I can – without running the risk that the pots might move about, by not being securely held below. I try various combinations, but finally settle on using the castellated, “lock” washers underneath the plate, with no washer between the plate and the securing nut. The advice from Craig at Overdrive is to tighten only until the screw or nut bites. No further pressure should be exerted on the plate. I position all three pots, with the micro bracket in place, and tighten the nuts to check the fit. The micro switch appears perfectly placed – the two pole operation seems good. All I have to do, is work out which direction is on – and reflect that in my wiring.

Slackening off the nuts slightly- one at a time – I turn the pots to the configuration I need them in for wiring, and bend up the terminals of each, to a 90 degree sort of angle. This will give me a little bit more room, in between, to connect them up. Especially in-between the two tone pots, where things can get a bit cramped. I then add a drop of thread locking compound, (another hangover from my motorcycling days), to each nut, and tighten each up until it just nips. I really daren’t go any further. Hopefully, the thread-lock will keep things securely in place.

With the pots fitted, I then fit the CRL, 5-way blade switch – which comes as part of the wiring kit. The switch is a top quality, spring operated switch – just like Fender used to use back in the day. The attachment screws are flush mounted on the face of the plate – so I swap out the stock screws for the appropriate stainless steel screws from the project screwset, and fit the switch into place. Once again, I add a drop of thread locking compound to the threads, and tighten the screws just enough to nip. The switch is fitted to the plate with the spring located on the side facing away from the pots. This is to offer a little more precious space, when it comes to soldering it all up.

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With the controls in position – I can check the plate for fit, and once I have it in position, I secure it in place with some masking tape strips. I’m pleased to see that the plate is well shaped for the Fender body, and has plenty of clearance at the bridge. With the plate held firmly in place, I then go round the plate, and mark the position of each of the body screw holes, using a new, sharp, HSS drill bit for the job. Sized just below the diameter of the screw holes, I hold the bit vertically and turn it in my fingers, anti-clockwise at first – so that the finish is scored and countersunk a little. Once all the screw holes are marked – I remove the plate, and countersink again with a slightly larger drill bit this time. The idea is to wear away enough of the finish, so that it can’t chip or flake away when drilled, or when the screws subsequently bite in.

With the centres of each hole now established and well marked – I use a hand drill, and the correct size bit, to sink the drill holes to the correct depth. I always prefer the control of a hand drill, and find it makes me take a little more care when drilling.

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While I’m at it – I also countersink and check the pre-drilled holes for the strap buttons. I check the depth and make sure the finish is cleaned away from the screw openings.

It’s noticeable just how much easier it is to drill these holes into a polyester finished body – as opposed to a nitro-finished body. So much less stressful. No cracks – and the edge of each screw hole looks stable. With the holes all drilled, I can add some small tabs of conductive copper tape which will help connect the control cavity with the copper on the underside of the scratch plate. I run two small tabs out from the cavity to surround the two screwholes just below the controls. This will provide two, good anchor points, and will complete the screening around the main controls. With that complete, I screw the plate into position with the 11 screws required. As usual – I use all stainless steel screws, from the project screw set, and I use a little wax on each thread for the first cutting. I avoid putting too much tension on each screw, and each is tightened until the plate is just held in position. Once the plate is secure – I fit the strap buttons. These are Fender, vintage style originals – except, as usual, I swap out the stock screws for the stainless steel alternatives.

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And it’s ready to go. Looking good. Next job will be fitting the pickups, and wiring up the circuit.

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