Hank Marvin Inspired, Fender “Classic ’50’s” Stratocaster. Bareknuckle “Apache” pickups, and a 50’s wiring mod.

I’ve always wanted to try out a set of Bareknuckle pickups. The “Apache”, single coil Stratocaster set always seem to keep turning up in those “Top Ten” lists, you see in the music press. I’d already bought a set to fit to the 50’s Strat project. The synchronicity of the Apache / Hank Marvin connection seemed too much of a coincidence to ignore. Although Hank himself now uses Kinman pickups in his guitars, I’m hoping the Bareknuckles will go a good way, to begin to capture some authentic, 1950’s mojo.

I’ve also looked at quite a few articles, in “Premier Guitar”, by Dirk Wacker. Dirk has detailed quite a number of the various wiring modifications there are, out there. I’ve referred to his articles for a couple of my builds already, and I’ll be using a “50’s wiring modification”, to configure the tone and volume pots on this build.

The modification is a relatively simple affair – which involves routing the signal from the tone pot to the output of volume pot – rather than via the input. This is the way Gibson wired their guitars in the 50’s and, on a Stratocaster, it’s supposed to make the tone “stronger” and “more transparent”. It’s also supposed to reduce the amount of treble lost when dialling down the tone control. Since I’ll be using an old-style 0.1mf capacitor, the modification might help stop the signal turning too dark, too quickly. I could always consider a treble-bleed modification to the standard wiring – but I’m intrigued by the subtle tonal differences on offer, and incorporating a 50’s modification on a 50’s style Stratocaster would seem to follow logically – even if it isn’t entirely faithful to Hank’s original setup.

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The first job is to connect up the jack plug, and wire it into the ground side of the guitar circuit. A white “hot” wire, and black grounding wire are soldered to a mono, Switchcraft jack socket. The solder joints are angled to make sure the wires don’t travel through the space where the jack plug will sit, when plugged in – and also so that they have as direct a run as possible, to the interconnecting conduit leading to the main control rout. As usual, I protect each solder joint with heat shrink tubing, so that the joints are protected, and the risk of an accidental short circuit is reduced. The black and white wires are then lightly twisted together, and fed through into the main control cavity.

The black, ground wire, needs to connect to the central grounding point. As does another jump wire, (which will eventually be attached to the back of the volume pot). This jump wire will connect all of the scratchplate mounted grounds to the central ground. Over time, I’ve found that I can attach this jump wire to the same lug as the jack ground wire. This just saves on the number of lugs attached to that single grounding screw. Working with the way I’ve brought the body grounds together – it means I can use just one single lug for the whole assembly. Yet, by running a jump lead off to the back of the volume pot, I can remove the entire scratchplate assembly by unsoldering just two wires. This is economical on parts, and also means I can swap out and replace entire, loaded scratchplates quite easily, whenever I ever need to do so.

In the photo above – you can see the finished result. The black and white wires running off towards the top of the image are the two wires which will, eventually, connect to the pots on the scratchplate assembly. There’s enough slack left to allow for the plate to be connected while inverted, and then rotated into the correct position for fixing. The lug is in place, at the central grounding point, and you can see the jack ground also running back from lug – into the jack cavity. A few checks for ground continuity – and I can finally screw down the gold, boat shaped jack plate, using the two gold screws provided.

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With the guitar back in its’ case for a while – the pot and switch wiring needs to be assembled next. Normally, I’d do this pretty much in-situ, directly onto the scratchplate – however, the single-ply material seems awfully thin, and I’m concerned that I might just burn, or at least slightly melt or distort, the plastic with the heat from the soldering iron. I’ve got to remember that my vision is still a problem – and I’ll probably end up struggling here and there. I don’t want to over-cook a solder joint, and end up overheating a pot to the point where it melts, or bends, the pickguard.

I’m using a 50’s style aluminium shielding plate – and this makes a perfect assembly jig. I temporarily attach the pots and switch, and lay the work onto a thick piece of oak, which has been drilled to accept the pot stems, in the usual Stratocaster configuration. I’m using a CRL, 5-way spring switch, a Fender, “Pure Vintage”, 0.1mfd, PIO tone capacitor, two 250k CTS pots and a single, RS Guitarworks 280K SuperPot – together with vintage style, cloth covered wire, and a short length of bare, tinned, copper wire.

The CRL switch is a high quality, spring switch, and in this build I’ll be using a modern 5-way switch instead of the period correct, 3-way option. You can still get those in-between tones using a three way switch – just as the old school players used to do – but what’s the point when you can have a 5-way switch to do the job easier? 250k pots are standard for single coils, and CTS, “vintage taper” pots are found on countless custom builds. The RS Guitarworks “Superpot” is supposed to offer a more responsive, even volume roll-off, and I’m hoping it’ll work well with the 50’s style wiring schematic. The Fender capacitor is their “Pure Vintage”, PIO (Paper in Oil), reproduction component – designed to look and perform like the distinctive “Phone Book” type caps from the period. The 0.1mfd capacitance is “heavy” and should mean that the tone takes on some “dark” characteristics when the pots are dialled back. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – and so I have an RS Guitarworks, 0.50mfd alternative stashed away in the parts box. Just in case.

Once the soldering iron is up to temperature, I first tin all of the relevant lugs, and also melt a couple of big splodges onto the backs of the pots – where the pickup ground wires and capacitor run to ground. Then I tack a measured piece of tinned copper wire to the sides of all three pots. This acts as an efficient way of connecting all three to the main ground. The capacitor is put in place next – shaping and cutting the lead wires to ensure that the cap sits flat on the back of the tone cap. One wire is cut short, and is turned back on itself towards the back of the tone pot. The other is shaped so that it passes through tab three on one tone pot, before running onto the middle tab on the other pot. I’ve found that it’s a good idea to bend the wire so that there’s a bit of slack in between the two pots – just in case you ever need to get the cap out again. Because the wire is held in place by solder joints at each pot – sometimes you end up having to snip the wire to get the thing out. If you’ve left yourself a little slack – it’s easy to bend this out so you can potentially re-use the cap somewhere else. You just have to make sure the slack isn’t going to snag on anything and short out. You can always slip a little tubing over this bit, if things get dangerously tight – but I’ve turned the pots sightly so that I have a little bit more room to play with, and there seems to be plenty of space.

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With the cap, and running ground wire in place, I solder lengths of white cloth covered wire in place, to complete the circuit as-per the schematic. I’m as careful as I can be – to make sure the runs are well routed, and that the wires aren’t too short. Ideally you need to build in a little wriggle room – just in case you have to go back and check any solder joints. The completed circuit, and the shielding plate it sits on, can now be attached to the scratchplate. I like to use a little thread-lock compound on each of the nuts holding the pots in place. This helps them stay in place, stops them working loose over time, and then stressing your wiring as they turn. It’s also vital that you don’t over-tighten the nuts. It’s easy to crack and split some scratchplates by over tightening the attachments.

The pickups can then be mounted to the scratchplate, using rubber hose springs and, in this case, counter-sunk, stainless steel adjustment screws. I lightly twist each of the paired wires together, and hold them in place here and there with short pieces of shrink tubing. The ground wires are bunched together, looped around between the switch and the volume pot, and are then trimmed to an equal length so that they can be soldered onto the back of the volume pot. The “hot” wires, (having first been identified and temporarily labelled), are laid with a similar amount of slack in them, before finally being soldered into place on the switch.

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The scratchplate assembly is now ready to be attached to the guitar body. A single wire running from the switch to the volume pot, remains unsoldered. This will share a connection with the hot wire running from the jack.

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The guitar body is covered with a towel for protection, and the plate is roughly positioned upside-down, but roughly in it’s intended orientation. The two wires from the main control cavity are then soldered into place – the ground jump wire to the back of the volume pot, and the jack’s hot wire, (together with the unsoldered switch wire), to the middle lug of the volume pot. The plate can then be turned over, slipped into place, and the gold retaining screws tightened down to secure it. The pots are turned up fully, and the plastic tone knobs pushed into place. I attach the volume knob first – with the “10” located so that it points to the nearby, bridge pickup attachment screw. The two tone knobs are then located so they match the volume knob’s orientation. All of the plastic hardware – knobs, switch tip and pickup covers – are Fender “Original Vintage” components – in “Aged White”, to contrast with the parchment pickguard. I think they work well with the maple neck and the gold hardware.

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