Dr. Fronkenstein, I Presume? Mad Guitar Science!

I have been having some fun by sticking guitars together.  Specifically, a cheap Stratocaster copy (made by Canvas) with no vibrato and two humbuckers, an ugly body and a wonderful neck (Guitar One), and a cheap semi-strat copy (Behringer) with a nicer-than-strat body, an ugly neck and three single-coil pickups.

From the first, I took the neck, the humbuckers, and the volume/tone pots.

From the second, I took the body and one single-coil pickup.

To these I added a blank Stratocaster pickguard, pickup covers, a couple of knobs, two 3-way switches from AllParts, and an oak dowel from the hardware store.  And copious elbow grease and time with Dremel tool, drill, chisel, and soldering iron.

It all started when I saw the cheap red strat copy for sale on a local site.  For $30, what could I lose?  Well, $30.  But from the moment I touched it, I knew that I wanted that neck.  But the body was a disaster–plywood dipped in plastic, for all intents and puposes, with lots of chips.  And ugly.  But the sound–from two slightly rusty humbuckers…not bad…

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I decided to fix it up a bit.  I could do that.  But I also started looking for a better body.  The one challenge was scale length.  Gibson-style guitars typically have a shorter distance between the bridge (where the strings stop near the bottom of the guitar) and the nut (the divider between the “peg head” where you adjust tuning and the fret board, where you actually play.

Fortunately, research on the web showed me that the Canvas had a Fender-style neck.  Now for a body.

A student at the University where I sometimes teach was selling his Behringer, a sort of semi-strat guitar with a more (to my eye) graceful body, without the flat bottom of a strat:

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Here’s a real Stratocaster for comparison:

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See what I mean?  If not, never mind.

Anyway.  My first challenge, having checked and confirmed that the necks had the same scale length, was to unbolt the necks and swap one for the other.  That’s when I realized I had a problem!  The Canvas guitar neck had a slightly different drilling pattern from Behringer body:

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As you can see, the Canvas neck (on the left) had its holes more widely spaced.  The neck fit the Behringer body alright, but could not be secured.  So:  I drilled out the holes to 1/4″, sanded an oak dowel smooth, and used super glue and pounded the dowel home.  Probably won’t hold up forever, but long enough.

Then I carefully mounted the neck to the body, installed a couple of strings, and flipped the whole meshugas over so I could use the body as a template to drill the new holes.  It worked.  I bolted the neck to the body, and suddenly, things started to look possible!

Then I started thinking about electrics (some people call the wiring of a guitar electronic, but unless there are active components in there doing things, it’s really electric).  I decided that I wanted to keep the two humbucking (“HB”) pickups from the Canvas, and since I had three single-coil (“SC”) pickups lying around…well…one of those, two.  Controls would be three switches (one for each pickup) and the tone and volume controls from the Canvas.

I considered adding a dummy coil to cut down on noise, so a fourth switch.

All of this meant that I needed a new pickguard, which in the case of this guitar, would also support the magnetic pickups.  So I bought one.  Because of the similarity of this instrument to a strat, I thought a strat pickguard might do.  Close, but no cigar.  I had to do some cutting to make it fit:

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Ugly, but this is a cheap guitar, so.  Next step was to cut holes for the pickups.  The Behringer body had what’s known as a “bathtub route,” which means that the space under the pickguard, with some limitations, was fairly open, rather than narrowly cut for the three original SC pickups.  Great, I thought.

Well, as it turned out, not great.  I had to use a Dremel tool and chisel to open up that space in places, carefully, so as not to crack the body.  I more or less succeeded, and the result, after I cut some holes in the pickguard for the HB and SC pickups to pass through, was this:

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FUGLY.

I fixed it a bit by covering the pickups with blind plastic covers.  Less hardware showing.  The holes aren’t perfectly cut, but they’re OK.  Hand tools, people.

Now, I had second thoughts about wiring.  The four switches would look complex, plus, did I really need those switches?  Some of the positions would duplicate the sounds of others.  I made myself a test unit by fitting the pickguard and two strings, and bringing out the wires from each pickup.

I tried various combinations with clip-whips, and decided that what I wanted was to have a standard Les Paul-type switch for the HBs, and be able to combine them with the SC in reverse phase (Stratocasters typically wire the middle pickup reverse-phase, which gives them their distinctive “quack”).  That would give me the greatest variety. I also decided not to bother with the dummy coil, as testing showed little effect without more complex circuitry, and I was in a hurry.

I could have done this with with one AllParts switch and an SPST toggle…  But I also wanted to have the SC available on its own (on its lonesome it wouldn’t care about phase).  A few quick sketches showed that I needed two AllParts toggles to make it work.  Quick trip to the parts store…and disaster.

The Strat pickguard blank normally covers more space than was available in the Behringer body.  So I had to break out the Dremel again to make room for the switches.  Finally, I got everything to fit, then flipped the pickguard over to wire things up.  I made a nice common ground bus to avoid noise, and used my soldering-fu.  I put on some strings, and the result was this:

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The two toggle switches work together to give me quite a range of sounds.  Here’s a demo recorded on my phone, using the the guitar through a Fender Mustang I amp.  You need to go to this link–a hidden page on my professional web site–to hear it:

Mad Guitar Science Demo

I apologize for how totally incoherent I am on that demo recording, and how badly I play on it.  I’m still fighting a head cold (which you can hear) and I’m also not used to the long scale length on the guitar yet.

Anyway, that will give you a sense of the kinds of sounds I can get.  My favorites, as I say on the recording, are the neck HB pickup (a nice round town), the SC pickup alone (a little brighter and more mid-rangy without being harsh) and both HB and the reverse-phase SC together (a bit of rubber-band on the bass strings, rather thin and harsh on the treble, but it cuts through distortion.

Perhaps the best combination would have been just the HB neck and SC mid-position.  Dunno.  But I’m reasonably happy with what I’ve got.

Next steps:  You may have noticed that the Behringer body has a “floating tremelo” bridge arrangement.  I am not a fan of tremelo (I can do real vibrato) so I expect I will be blocking that tremelo, or perhaps even removing it and setting the guitar up with a hardtail bridge at some point.  But for now, this is what I’ve got.

Thoughts?

 

 

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