Natural Ash Stratocaster. Specification after upgrade

Just what I always wanted

SPECIFICATION Modification from previous, in red italics

Body

  • Body: Swamp Ash – 1 piece, 1.77kg
  • Body Shape: 60’s Stratocaster, by guitarbuild.co.uk
  • Body Colour: Natural Ash
  • Body Finish: Crimson Guitars Finishing Oil

Neck

  • Neck: Fender Classic 70’s maple neck with large “CBS” headstock
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Fret Size: Fender “Vintage style”
  • Position Inlays: Black dot
  • Fretboard Radius: 7.25″
  • Fretboard: Maple
  • Neck Material: 1 piece maple
  • Neck Finish: Gloss urethane finish
  • String Nut: Polished bone
  • Nut Width: 1.650” (42 mm)
  • Scale Length: 25.5″ (64.8 cm)
  • Neck Relief: <0.008″ (<0.2032mm)
  • Strings: D’Addario, Nickel Wound – EXL110 – .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046
  • String Action at 17th Fret: Treble Side – 4/64″ (1.6mm), Bass side – 5/64″ (1.9mm)
  • Neck Plate: Genuine Fender “F” – 4 Bolt, Chrome Neckplate. Serial stamped #220609

Electronics

  • Pickup Configuration: S/S/S
  • Body Shielding: Heavy grade, copper sheet, with conductive adhesive backing
  • Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan SSL-5 Custom Staggered, 12.9K
  • Middle Pickup: Fender Custom Shop, Custom ’69 (Abigail Ybarra – “AY” initialled), 5.74K
  • Neck Pickup: Fender Custom Shop, Custom ’69 (Abigail Ybarra – “AY” initialled), 5.33K
  • Pickup Switching: Standard Stratocaster, 5-Position Blade – Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Bridge and Middle pickup, Position 3. Middle pickup, Position 4. Middle and Neck pickup, Position 5. Neck pickup.
  • Controls: Master Volume, “Bridge Tone Modification” – Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle and Bridge Pickup).
  • Jack Socket: Switchcraft Mono socket
  • Pots: 3 x CTS TVT (“True Vintage Taper”) 250k
  • Tone Capacitor: Luxe 0.047 µF “Orange Dime” reproduction
  • Wiring: Cloth covered, 22 gauge

Hardware

  • Hardware: Nickel/Chrome
  • Tuners: Genuine Fender 70’s, “F” style Nickel Tuners with Logo
  • Bridge: Callaham Vintage Stratocaster Style Tremolo with enhanced Vintage Block
  • Jack Plate: Fender Genuine Part – Chrome
  • Switch Tip: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage”
  • Tremolo Arm/Handle: Callaham ’64 Virtual Pop-In arm (6″ – Standard length)
  • Scratchplate: Genuine Fender, 11-hole – Tortoise, 4-ply – Aluminium Shielded
  • Pickup Covers: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage”
  • Rear Cover: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage” (but not fitted)
  • Strap Buttons: Genuine Fender Vintage style, Nickel, with white felt and brown, recycled leather, washers

Accessories

  • Guitar Strap – Souldier, Custom Series – “Greenwich” Yellow/Black – Recycled seatbelt with Vintage fabric – Black leather ends – Silver hardware
  • Fender G&G Deluxe Hardshell case – Tweed, with red plush interior
A quick, cosmetic restyle finishes the job

The Ash Strat was my first ever build, and the first Stratocaster I could call my own. I put the original version together, with the rough intent to build something which sounded reminiscent of David Gilmour’s famous Black Strat, and up until now – any modifications I’ve made, have mostly been to the electronics. Although the neck was switched out in favour of a real Fender example, at a relatively early stage.

I always liked the “natural”, oiled finish on the guitar – but as I’ve learned more about the actual form of the Stratocaster, I’ve realised that the original body looked a little too angular at the arm cutaway. I eventually worked out that it was likely a “Vintage reissue” type – slightly more angular, and with the two pieces of ash joined centrally. I set out to achieve more of a late ’60’s look – so I suppose the body was always going to be swapped out at some stage. I also wanted to try out a one-piece ash body to see if the sound and feel of the guitar benefited. After being impressed by the quality of guitarbuild’s shaping and finishing processes on previous projects, I decided to pull the trigger, and finally replaced the original.

I chose the actual piece of ash from a shortlist of three, and selected this one for the combination of weight and figuring. After using just about a full bottle of Crimson Guitar’s Finishing Oil – polished all the way up to 12000 grit – the new body looks amazing, and I’m really pleased that it hasn’t coloured up the ash too much. The body now matches with the, slightly pinkish, new-looking maple of the neck much better – and both are now slowly mellowing in tone. The combination now looks a lot more “planned”. In matching the body to the neck, I also managed to do away with the maple shim I’d had to insert previously. Clearly – there was something slightly out of whack with the original neck pocket after all. Good to get things round to how they should be.

Swapping out the scratchplate

I’ve also recently taken the opportunity to swap out the black scratchplate for a tortoise plate. Obviously – it’s reproduction, tortoise effect – but a lot closer to the late 60’s / early 70’s vibe I’m trying to draw reference from. In truth – there’s not a whole lot of difference. There’s just a little more warmth from the deep red of the tortoiseshell print. The effect is similar to the oxblood colour against the wheatgrass of Fender grille fabric. Overall – it conveys that “woody” Fender character much better, and seems just that little bit more authentic.

Lighter strings, newly shaped and polished, bone nut

One further, slight modification was to swap out the “heavy bottom” strings, for a set of slightly lighter ones. When I adjusted the neck action, I was concious I was getting towards the end of the adjustment range. A set of slightly lighter strings helped reduce the string tension, and thus I managed to get the neck action down to below 0.008″. I’ve also learned the benefits of carefully shaping and polishing the string nuts on my guitars. Having not been as impressed as I’d hoped with the TusqXL experiment, (actually – not so much to do with a dissatisfaction with Tusq. I think I actually filed the B string slot down a hair too much), I decided to order up a few bone blanks and take the time to properly learn how to slot and shape them. It still takes me ages, but when the nut is shaped and polished properly, it really helps the finished look. And the sound is spot on too. I eventually swapped the TUSQ nut out for a well-shaped, and polished bone nut.

Tortoise and Tweed. Wood and wire

The end result is as playable as ever, and my favourite Stratocaster build to date. Body aside – it’s pretty much all genuine Fender now, apart from the Callaham bridge assembly – which is now the only component remaining from the original build. And I consider the Callaham to be a quality upgrade over the standard Fender bridge anyway. When it comes down to it – the guitar looks good, sounds good, plays good. It might have taken me a couple of years to finally shift things round to this particular configuration – but I think I might finally be, where I originally wanted to be. I’ve managed to track down a Vintage style G&G Tweed case to complete the project, and house the Ash Strat in style.

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