Friday, August 17, 2018

DIY Stevie Ray Vaughan Strat Build | Part 2

In Part 1 of our DIY Stevie Ray Vaughan strat build series, we detailed budding blues guitarist Shuen's choice of a quartersawn flamed maple guitar neck. After the first few coats of nitrocellulose lacquer were applied, the gorgeous figure of the flamed maple is finally starting to really show through.

Nitrocellulose lacquer takes several days to dry between coats, and longer if humidity is high. While she waits for the neck to receive its final coats of lacquer, she could now turn her attention towards purchasing a guitar body.

Your (SRV) Body Is A Wonderland 

I don't know if she was being serious but Shuen initially indicated to me that she wanted to go with a cheap Squier body. Which went against the grain -- pun intended -- of her original intent of getting the best possible after-market parts for her DIY SRV strat build. My reaction to that of course was why would she want to couple a beautiful 450 dollar quartersawn flamed maple neck with a glued-together-from-5-or-more-pieces-of-wood, el cheapo Squire Statocaster body?

No offence meant to any Squire guitar owners out there. Your guitars rock. But only if it was made in Japan in the 1980s.

After trawling eBay for a good fifteen minutes in between sets at my regular Saturday night gig, I suggested that she look into getting an actual Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model guitar body . EBay seller The Stratosphere had a few nice ones on sale, loaded with Stevie Ray-approved lefty gold Fender bridge, neckplate, neck screws and backplate. After a few messages back and forth the next day, we both agreed on the one that had the nicest wood grain of the four, made from two pieces of alder and joined right down the middle.

Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan body in 3-tone 'burst
Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan body in 3-tone 'burst

The good thing about guitars with finishes like the Fender 3-tone sunburst is that the grain of the wood is plainly visible and for this reason, guitar companies also typically save their better-looking woods for their guitars with transparent finishes. No ugly knots or unsightly grain -- those are reserved for solid colors.

Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan body in 3-tone sunburst
Dig that mellow 3-tone sunburst!

Ebay seller The Stratosphere has an interesting business model. They seem to routinely take apart various models of Fender guitars -- even the Custom Shop ones --  and list the necks, bodies and hardware separately.  Perhaps they move stock more quickly this way, rather than selling complete guitars.

Wherefore Art Thou UPS?

The Stratosphere shipped the SRV body via UPS.

Now I don't know about the quality of service of UPS anywhere else in the world, but the service of their Singapore division leaves much to be desired. They seem to require more than one delivery attempt, which makes me wonder if the first delivery attempt was even made at all.

Case in point, my own recent experience with UPS prompted me to advise Shuen to leave a clear notice outside her office door. In spite of the sign, she received an SMS message from UPS that a delivery was attempted but was unsuccessful since no one was there to sign off on the package. And since they had her cellphone number which was stated clearly on her door sign and the package, they could at least have called when attempting to deliver.


UPS Sign
The now famous UPS sign that UPS missed

At any rate, after a phone call to UPS customer service in which she made her dissatisfaction clear, she received the package with the SRV body the next day.  The phrase 'Hell hath no fury..' comes to mind.

Pickup The Pieces

Shuen and I entered into a heated debate on the merits of purchasing a loaded pickguard versus obtaining the pickups, potentiometers, capacitor and 5-way switch separately and doing the soldering of the electronics ourselves. And by 'ourselves' I meant bringing it to a professional who could do it properly.

Loaded pickguards, on the other hand, are off-the-shelf units that come complete with pickups and soldered electronics. The only soldering that needs to be done is the connection of the ground wire and the output jack. She decided, wisely I think, to go the loaded pickguard route.

After another round of debates about pickup choices -- this one more testy than the first -- Shuen decided that the Fender Custom 69 pickups were the most pleasing to her musical sensibilities. And lo and behold, there was another seller on eBay, Twilight Guitars, offering a loaded pickguard with this very pickup configuration.

Pickguard with Fender Custom 69 pickups
Tortoiseshell pickguard loaded with Fender Custom 69 pickups

On her initial enquiry email, I suggested that she ask if they could do a simple wiring modification where the second tone knob controlled the bridge pickup. The conventional 3-knob Stratocaster wiring is master volume and two tone controls, one for the neck pickup and one for the middle.

The shrill beast that is the bridge pickup is untamed by the tone controls and, in the wrong hands, has been known to blow audience's minds but not in a good way.  She checked with the seller and they replied that they already include this mod as a standard feature on all their loaded pickguards. Awesome.

Loaded pickguard with Fender Custom 69 pickups
Loaded pickguard wired by Twilight Guitars

Shuen chose a tortoiseshell pickguard and white parchment pickup covers, knobs and switch tip which look stunning against the sunburst of the SRV body. Yep, it's all coming together very nicely.

Fender SRV body with Custom 69 pickups

(Photo credits: Shuen Ong)

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

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