Wednesday, August 15, 2018

DIY Stevie Ray Vaughan Strat Build | Part 1

A good buddy of mine, Shuen, recently mentioned that she wanted to put together a Stevie Ray Vaughan-style strat from after market parts. A capable guitarist steeped in the Texas blues tradition, she wanted to know what the best options were as far as neck and body woods, neck profiles, pickups, electronics and hardware.

Having gone this route very recently with my Warmoth/MJT strat-style partscaster (an article on which will appear very soon), I felt I could give her the benefit of my experience as far as some of the potential pitfalls of assembling a DIY guitar. As well as the frustration she might encounter with a certain well-known courier company. But more on that later.

My first reaction when Shuen told me that she wanted to get the best parts for her DIY build was why not just buy a regular Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model Stratocaster. After all they were pretty common on the used market for 500 to 800 bucks below retail.

Wring That (Guitar) Neck

Her response was an expletive-fueled rant about the shape and feel of the SRV necks from Fender.

When the dust had settled and I had stopped blushing, I gathered that the stock SRV necks were too big and chunky for her relatively small hands. And the glossy polyurethane finishes on them were something she just couldn't jive with.

Fair enough.

I tried to steer her towards ordering a Warmoth roasted maple neck with stainless steel frets which I felt would give the best bang for her bucks.

My own experience with Warmoth necks is that they require minimal fret dressing since their frets are already so meticulously installed and level.  And she could choose the neck profile that best suited her, out of dozens of neck shapes. Roasted maple necks also do not require a hard finish, a plus since she liked the feel of raw wood so much, and the stainless steel frets were likely to last for a couple of decades before they were even worn enough to require a fret dress.

And it's a heck of a lot more fun wringing that neck for those huge Albert King bends on slippery smooth stainless steel frets, let me tell ya...

But of course, off she went shopping to Singapore's guitar haven, Peninsula Shopping Centre, in search of a new neck.

What she purchased wasn't half bad, although pricey at 450 bucks. It wouldn't have been my personal choice but she chose a quartersawn flamed maple neck, with a rosewood fingerboard and medium jumbo frets. Quartersawn flamed maple is one of those rare wood types that one doesn't see very often, hence its higher price tag.

Regular flame and quilt maple is commonly derived from flatsawn wood, so to see a combination of flame maple on quartersawn is only less rare than finding a pearl in a dinner plate of oysters, as far as guitar necks go. Even Warmoth charges a premium for it.

But most importantly though, she felt the neck profile fit her hand perfectly.

Quartersawn flamed maple strat neck with rosewood fingerboard
What every girl wants - a nice dark rosewood fingerboard with medium jumbo frets
I recommended that she go with a gloss nitrocellulose finish for the headstock but a matte nitro finish for the back of the neck since she was averse to the sticky, tacky feel of a gloss finish. Nitro finishes I feel, allow for maximum resonance and are not as thick as polyurethane finishes which basically encapsulate the wood in a layer of plastic polymer.

quartersawn flamed maple neck
What every girl needs - a quartersawn flamed maple neck

And as luck would have it, the same shop she bought the neck from also offered guitar finishing services in nitrocellulose. Nitro, I might add, is one of those hazardous materials that require a  spray booth, full protective gear and a respirator mask when being applied.

But about a week after sending in the neck for finishing, Shuen suddenly remembered that the edges around the headstock felt sharp to the touch -- a testimony to the accuracy of CNC machining technology, no doubt. Unlike polyurethane which covers quite thickly, the nitro finish would only yield a finished sharp edge. She called the store only to be told that they had already sprayed the initial coat. They didn't mind sanding over the sharp edges on the headstock but informed her that it would add another two weeks to the finishing process.     

quartersawn flamed maple headstock
Nitro tint comparison with a vintage Stratocaster

The pictures of the partially finished neck they sent over as a teaser are nothing short of stunning! Nothing like glossy nitrocellulose lacquer to bring out the natural beauty of wood.

quartersawn flamed maple neck
Highly figured quartersawn flamed maple!
(Photo credits: Shuen Ong)

Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 of Shuen's DIY Stevie Ray Vaughan Strat Build

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