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Revisiting My Old Black Stratocaster

MAY 3, 2019
I’ve recently returned to flatpicking acoustic guitar, but it doesn’t mean I’ve forsaken my interest in rejiggering and playing Fender Stratocasters.
 
Here’s my latest rejiggering on my old Fender Standard Squier body with its longtime Kramer Pacer Classic neck, one that I’ve had for a couple of decades. It’s probably my favorite electric guitar neck of all time and it’s been in and out of various bodies since I bought it at “garage sale” just outside a music store in Kingston long, long ago. More recently, my pal, luthier, Mike West, reshaped the headstock for me. I didn’t much care for the droopy faux Strat headstock and it occurred to me that, while there wasn’t enough wood on the headstock to recreate a full Strat headstock, I could fudge a tasty version of a Telecaster headstock. Mike did a great job, as you can see. Over the past several months, Mike has attached the neck to a couple of Strat bodies, but it has ended up back in the black Strat body it’s lived in for most of its life. I just finished installing new pickups— a fairly new Fender Player loaded (Made in Mexico) loaded pickguard. It's a HSS (Humbucker, Single Coil, Single Coil) setup. Earlier, I wired in two other loaded pickguards, but found them wanting—even though both were more expensive Fender pickups. So, that’s the story, morning glory. If you know about and love electric guitars this might be of interest. If you don’t, it is probably another of my Boring-to-Almost-Everybody posts. 
 
(If you are interested, check out details on how this unfolded below.)
Here’s a photo of the original Kramer neck that I had fastened to a Made in Mexico Strat’s body in the late ‘80s.
The Kramer neck remained in that black MIM Squier body for years, but I never liked the guitar’s sound. Then, about a year ago, I asked Mike West to put new pickups in it, I think a set of Seymour Duncans I’d grabbed on eBay. I didn’t particularly like those results and that led to more changes, all built around the Kramer neck. Sometimes we’d change out Strat bodies and try various pickups in each setup. I have other Made in Mexico Strats that I’ve tinkered with—changing out necks and pickups—and I now have four of them that sound fabulous. For some reason the Kramer Neck ended up in bodies and electronics that failed to move me. Mike has been patient as he’s helped me mix and match necks to bodies and pickups to those combos. I’ve learned a lot about pickups and wiring them, so it’s been much more fun than frustrating to seek and tweak Strat parts in an attempt to create a match for that modified Kramer neck.
Here's my rough drawing on imposing a quasi-Telecaster headstock over the original Kramer headstock
And here’s Mike's reshaped neck, sans hardware.
Here’s the final Kramer neck attached to the Squier MIM black body hanging out with my Mike West Telecaster (which I call my WestCaster)
I read great things online about the Fender Noiseless pickups so we tried those. Nope. Others failed too, all kinds of Seymour Duncan combinations, Fender setups, among them a Robert Cray Strat set, which didn’t cut the mustard. I put them in another Strat and they sound great! Go figure. The most recent attempt was a nifty loaded pickguard with Fender Texas Specials in neck and middle positions and a Fender Atomic Humbucker in the bridge. Might have worked if I played some Stevie Ray blues, but I don’t. 
 
Now, finally, I think I’ve found a great set of pickups that fit perfectly in that old Kramer Neck Black Strat. I bought a barely used Fender Player loaded pickguard from STRATosphere. It’s an HSS setup in a parchment pickguard. Nothing fancy, but it sounds really good. Time will tell—I sometimes know right away if a guitar is perfect and other times I need to play it for a while. In the meantime, I keep my solder iron handy, just in case!
 
Here’s the latest version with the Fender Player pickups in their original parchment tone pickguard. 
The Kramer neck remained in that black MIM Squier body for years, but I never liked the guitar’s sound. Then, about a year ago, I asked Mike West to put new pickups in it, I think a set of Seymour Duncans I’d grabbed on eBay. I didn’t particularly like those results and that led to more changes, all built around the Kramer neck. Sometimes we’d change out Strat bodies and try various pickups in each setup. I have other Made in Mexico Strats that I’ve tinkered with—changing out necks and pickups—and I now have four of them that sound fabulous. For some reason the Kramer Neck ended up in bodies and electronics that failed to move me. Mike has been patient as he’s helped me mix and match necks to bodies and pickups to those combos. I’ve learned a lot about pickups and wiring them, so it’s been much more fun than frustrating to seek and tweak Strat parts in an attempt to create a match for that modified Kramer neck.