Tuesday, 15 July 2003

Guitar Project: "Frankie 2"

This weekend I started to put together a second "Frankenstrat" from various odd bits and pieces that I had been accumulating. I had acquired a very attractive Strat body with a red transparent finish. Thinking that this could be the starting point for a really classy looking guitar, I bought a pearloid scratchplate, which came "loaded" with pickups, pots, wiring, etc (I got it for a very good price).
Strat body, with pearloid scratchplate in place

I already had a neck that I though would be suitable for this project, and indeed it was of the correct scale length and fitted the neck pocket in the body perfectly. Just one bizarre thing about this neck though, it was a left-handed neck with an Explorer-style headstock! Nevertheless, I thought it looked well cool, and let's face it - bog-standard STRATS ARE BORING! I wanted this one to look just that little bit different. (Actually, it strongly resembles one of the Strat-type guitars made by the Robin company in the 1980s.)
Strat body, with left-handed Explorer neck attached

So, I went about attaching all the parts: scratchplate, neck, tremolo claw, trem-bridge, springs, etc, and then wired it up to the jack socket. Plugged it in and ... it doesn't work. Arghhh!!! Looks like I've mixed up the wires and soldered the wrong one to the tremolo claw (for the earth), and so forth.

So... I had to remove the scratchplate so as to re-arrange the wires and poke them through the correct holes for the jack socket and tremolo cavities. But, as I was to find out, I couldn't take the scratchplate off with the neck in place, as the neck had a fingerboard extension to allow for 22 frets, and this was overhanging the scratchplate and stopping me from removing it.

I had to take the whole thing to pieces and re-wire it, then put it all together again. Once again I tested it through an amp (I had strung the guitar with a single string for testing purposes). Still not working! Grrrr... back to the drawing board again.

I tell you, I had that guitar assembled and then taken apart so many times that day that I lost count! I then got out my original Frankenstrat project guitar, and had a look under the plates of that one to see how it was wired up. I also consulted other Strat parts that I had, including another pre-wired scratchplate, a bunch of electrics without the plate, and the Strat-style guitbass that I'd been putting together recently. Would you believe it? It seemed that the electrics of no two Strat-style guitars (that I could lay my hands on) were exactly the same! However, in the end I think I worked out what was supposed to go where, and also discovered that I hadn't wired the original Frankenstrat properly either, as the tone controls were not working (this I fixed, obviously).

Despite getting all three guitars - Frankenstrats 1 and 2, and the guitbass - wired up as they should be (and double-checking against a circuit diagram I had found on the net), every time I tried out the guitars on my amp I was hearing a horrible humming.

At the end of Saturday I can tell you I was thoroughly sick to death of Stratocasters. However, yesterday it occured to me that the new Vox Brian May Special amp that I had been testing the guitars with might simply not like Stratocasters! So, again, I tried out all three guitars on my little Washburn practice amp. Perfect!!!

So, a word of warning there: Don't get a Vox Brian May Special amp if you want to play a Strat through it, because it'll sound awful. It's not a problem for me as I have other guitars.

Frankie 2, looking cool, but still some work to be done on itBut that wasn't the end of my problems with "Frankie 2". Remember that upside-down Explorer style headstock? Well, I soon discovered that my low E-string would fall off the nut because of the extreme angle of the head. I tried stringing all the string up "the wrong way around" and then the high E-string fell off the other side. So, I've now got this stupid situation where all the strings are strung normally except for the low E, for which you need to turn the machine head in the opposite direction from all the others in order to tighten the string. Not a very good situation really, so I'm going to have to find some kind of string retainer to screw to the front of the headstock for the strings to pass under.

So, how did the string stay in place on that neck originally, you ask? Well, the neck shows signs of having a lockin nut fitted. Not thinking that a replacement locking nut would be needed as I was only fitting a standard Strat-style tremolo to this guitar, I simply glued a non-locking roller nut in place. This turned out to be another mistake, as I hhadn't considered the height of the nut. I really should have filed out a little channel for it to sit in, as currently it is 1.5 mm too high, so the action at the bottom (headstock-end of the neck) is too high, making chords a right pain to play.

However, I did do quite a nice job of cutting out and shaping a little plate to cover the holes from the old locking nut on the headstock. I made the shape deliberately asymmetrical to echo the shape of the head, and I think it looks quite nifty!

So, still a few things to sort out on this guitar (see part 2 - coming sometime in the future), but it does look cool!

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