- Body: “Hardtail” SC SSS body (#830232), by guitarbuild.co.uk
- Body Tonewood: Alder – 2 piece
- Body Weight: 2.2 kg (4lb 13oz)
- Body Finish: Custom finished by hand. Imitation gold leaf, over Fontenay base coat and “Antique Gold” gilt varnish undercoat. Finished with gloss nitrocellulose lacquer. Antique gold, vinyl “competition stripes”.
- Neck: Fender “Classic Player ’50’s” Stratocaster neck 2019
- Neck Material: Maple
- Neck Profile: “Soft – V” shape
- Tuners: Gotoh(?) 6-in-line, Vintage Kluson style tuners
- Fretboard: Maple
- Fretboard Radius: 9.5″
- Neck Finish: Satin Urethane finish on back of neck, with Gloss Urethane headstock face
- Number of Frets: 21, Medium Jumbo style fretwire
- Position Inlays: Black dot
- String Nut: Shaped and polished bone
- Nut Width: 1.650″ (42 mm)
- Neck Thickness: 1st Fret – 0.850″ (21.59 mm), 12th Fret – 0.890″ (22.6 mm)
- Scale Length: 25.5″ (64.8 cm)
- Neck Relief: <0.010″ (<0.254mm)
- Strings – D’Addario, Nickel Wound – EXL110 – .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046
- String Action at 17th Fret: Treble Side – 1/16″ (1.6mm), Bass side – 5/64″ (1.8mm)
- Neck Plate: Genuine Fender “F” stamped neck plate – Chrome
- Pickup Configuration: S/S/S
- Body Shielding: Heavy grade, copper sheet, with conductive adhesive backing
- Bridge Pickup: Fender “Vintage Noiseless” Bridge Pickup, 9.8K
- Middle Pickup: Fender “Vintage Noiseless” Middle Pickup, 9.8K
- Neck Pickup: Fender “Vintage Noiseless (Hot)” Neck Pickup, 9.8K (measured)
- Pickup Switching: CRL, Sprung 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. (Standard Modern Stratocaster)
- Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1 (Neck and Middle), Tone 2 (Bridge)
- Pots: Volume – 1 x RS Toneworks, 500k “Super Pot”, (special audio taper), Tone – 2 x CTS Premium, 500k pots (audio taper)
- Tone Capacitor: 1 x “K40Y-9”, Vintage 0.1µF PIO capacitor
- Treble bleed circuit: 1 x “Orange Drop 102K”, 0.001µF capacitor, with 1 x 220k ohm, carbon composite resistor, (connected in series – “Kinman” style)
- Jack Socket: Switchcraft mono socket
- Wiring: Gavitt-style, Cloth covered, 22 gauge
- Hardware: Chrome & Nickel, with Stainless steel screw set,
- Bridge: Fender “Vintage Stratocaster” Hardtail bridge
- Saddles: 6 x Fender, “Classic” saddles. Fender stamped. Nickel plated
- Jack Plate: Fender, Vintage style chrome “boat” plate, with Switchcraft mono jack plug
- Switch Tip: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage”
- Pickup Covers: Fender “Noiseless” – Aged White
- Control Knobs: Aged White, Fender “Pure Vintage”
- Scratchplate: Custom reliced, by Guitar Garage. Genuine Fender, 11-hole, 3-ply (MBM), mint green acrylic
- Strap Buttons: Genuine Fender Vintage style, with white felt washers
- Guitar Strap – Souldier, “Regal” Black / Gold – Recycled seatbelt with Vintage fabric – Black leather ends – Silver hardware
- Hiscox “LiteFlite” Hard Case – ABS, with grey acrylic plush
It’s strange – putting a guitar together, despite having no real enthusiasm for any of the component parts. I certainly never set out to “posess” an all-gold guitar. I’d probably consider anyone who wielded such a thing to be, shall we say, “slightly over-rating themselves”. Gold guitars are for the likes of Prince and Clapton – surely? Or perhaps the sort of thing that Jeff Bezos mimes along to “Sultans of Swing” with, in front of his bedroom mirror.
And it’s the same with the rest of the build. A hardtail Strat? – “surely it’s not a proper Strat if it doesn’t have a tremolo?” Noiseless pickups? “They’re really humbuckers buddy!” “Strat’s have single-coils don’t they?” And, let’s face it… competition stripes??…
In fact – the whole project seems to have developed as a classic case of “Covidcaster”. Faced with Lockdown isolation, and with a collection of spare parts, which I just don’t want to see go to waste – I started out, toying with the idea of reviving some gilding skills that I’d neglected recently. I originally studied gilding about 10 years ago, and apart from a few, small projects along the way – I’d never really found a decent sized, practical project, to get involved with and test my skills. I have previously experimented a little with gilding a guitar body – but I quickly became aware that the scale of the piece involves no small amount of skill, to pull off convincingly. (My first attempts got buried under some other test processes on a “beater” body. I always think it’s a good idea to have a “throw-away” type of subject hidden away in the workshop somewhere. A thing that you can try things out on. Make mistakes. Who knows if it will ever see the light of day?…)
Anyway I had a small booklet of fake gold sheets in my workshop – more than enough to cover two or three guitar bodies. A spare bottle of oil size too, and that stuff doesn’t have an endless shelf life. My vision’s still bad, with my cataract getting worse and worse by the week. So I needed to find something creative to do which focused primarily on technique. Something which I could spend a lot of time poring over, and making mistakes. It occurred to me that I could make all the mistakes I needed to with fake gold, and it wouldn’t have to cost me a penny. And it would occupy me for a few more weeks and months, during Lockdown.
However – I did need to find a suitable body to experiment with. (Something pristine – not my “beater”). I’d previously bought a used, Dakota Red, Mexican Stratocaster body as a potential gilding subject, but thought better of it, and gave that a 50’s makeover instead. As lockdown continued, I thought I’d try and keep a few orders for parts flowing to some of my usual suppliers, where I could. Most places seemed to be keeping going in some way – some managing to offer an online delivery service through the pandemic. Guitarbuild happened to have a hardtail Stratocaster body, in stock and ready to go at a good price – so I pulled the trigger.
The way I figured it – a hardtail – not having to get involved with the tremolo, meant that I could theoretically focus mainly on the finish. I’d seen a Fender Custom Shop Strat done out with gold leaf, and wondered, primarily, if I could match the “look” from a “decorative” point of view. I think my initial focus had always been on the finish of the guitar body, and the practicalities of pulling off a decent gilding job. I’d be taking traditional gilding techniques and applying them specifically to guitar finishing. This might not prove to be as simple as it sounds. Whilst gilding requires a sturdy undercoat and foundation for the gold to be applied onto, guitar finishing seems much more focused on providing an extremely thin, but durable coating, which lets the wood “breathe” and resonate properly. Without a practical route map, and with an understanding that much of what I’d be doing would be intuition, and trial and error – there seemed little point in overthinking the other components in the early stages. I was OK with the idea that the guitar might take shape as it went along. I had a rough idea in mind – but realised I’d have to be open to change, depending on the outcomes as things progressed. As with most “art” pieces, I realised there was a fair chance of failure – so no point being too precious about things. If this was going to end up as another failed experiment – then so be it. In Lockdown, you learn to appreciate the process – lose yourself in “the moment”, and enjoy the journey.
So, when it eventually came to building up the instrument – the other components which became matched with the body, were mostly “spares”. The majority had been sitting around in boxes – waiting for a suitable home. As I’ve developed, I’ve realised my favourite necks have a 7.25″ radius. This 9.5″ Fender “Classic Player” neck, therefore, found itself “out of favour”. The same was true for the Vintage Noiseless pickups, I ended up using. I bought the pickups and the neck, together with the custom scratchplate, for an earlier planned, Eric Clapton inspired effort – but that hadn’t gone according to plan. (In fact – it became the “experimental “beater” I described earlier. As I say – sometimes there are failures along the way.
Fortunately, the spare parts complemented the “look” of the emerging gilded finish well. The finish ended up with much more detail than I’d originally managed to achieve with real gold, although I did discover, along the way, that nitrocellulose lacquer didn’t adhere particularly well to flat areas of metal leaf. Hence the competition stripes. Let’s just say a few “troublesome” areas had to be stabilised and hidden from view. Once any questions of stability had been addressed – a few more standard Stratocaster parts and a Fender Hardtail bridge were required to finish the build. By then, I was becoming increasingly confident that the various, disparate parts were beginning to make some sort of sense together.
Once I was fairly confident that the guitar was going to be interesting enough visually – My focus began to shift from gilding practicalities, to making the thing work well as a musical instrument. I knew the hardtail bridge would take a little bit of the characteristic, tremolo spring resonance away from the sound, and I discovered that the “Vintage” Noiseless pickups were, in fact, more akin to humbuckers, than traditional single coils. In a way – I began to see the over powered, Noiseless pups as an ideal match for the hardtail. Although I still very much wanted the guitar to be a true Fender “Stratocaster” – I thought I was heading towards the ideal sort of instrument to overdrive. A Stratocaster, certainly in “feel” – but with a little bit more power, “under the bonnet”. But that was before I did a fair bit of research on how to actually hook up the pickups.
I did a lot of research before I finally came across a way to customise the tone circuit towards a genuinely more “Vintage” sounding response. (Call me old-fashioned – but that’s how I like my Strats). Even then – I had to learn exactly how to “tweak” the standard settings, and begin to understand how specific changes might possibly change the sound in different ways. I might not have originally set out with the intention of getting things to work exactly the way they’ve turned out – but I certainly learned a lot along the way, and also found a way to adapt my approach as I went along, so that the end result was as good as I could possibly get it. As things progressed – the process and the component parts, very much dictated how this one would ultimately work out.
Some projects are all about the process, and less about the actual finished object. But as an ex-fine artist – that’s often my take on things anyway. (It’s certainly been more the case in Lockdown). What can I say?… All in all – the guitar plays great, sounds great, and I love some of the detail in that finish, but I still have to admit – when it comes to getting a “favourite” out of it’s case, I have a feeling this one might get overlooked more than some of the others in my collection. That’s not to say the whole experience has been a failure. I just never really wanted a gold guitar myself, that badly, to begin with.