Tuesday, May 16, 2017

REBUILD FENDER JAPAN STRATOCASTER WITH SEYMOUR DUNCAN PICKUPS AND POTS

MADE-IN-JAPAN FENDER STRATOCASTER
 WITH SEYMOUR DUNCAN PICKUPS
by Mark King for proworkshop.com

MADE IN JAPAN FENDER STRATOCASTER AT BEGINNING OF THE PROJECT
PRELUDE

I bought this Japanese Fender Stratocaster at a Pawn Shop in Jacksonville Florida around the year 2000. According to the Fender web site and the serial number on this guitar it was originally manufactured between 1984 and 1986. The pawn shop used price was only $180 with a nice hardshell case. It's time for a rebuild!

The original MIJ Fender pickups sounded blah, too much midrange, not enough high frequency clarity and thin in the low frequencies. I was experimenting with the "Little '59" pickups by Seymour Duncan and I had come up with a completely unique pickup design that fused a single-coil and a mini-humbucking into a hole the size of a regular Gibson Humbucking pickup. A tiny toggle switch selected which of the treble pickups was active when the regular Strat pickup selector was back in the bridge position. This combo pickup delivers the real tone and volume of a humbucking or the chimey clarity of a single coil depending on which position the mini switch is in. I've since installed this custom double-pickup on one of my Les Pauls too. 
LITTLE '59 AND APS SINGLE COIL PICKUPS
A guitar shop in downtown St Louis did the original rebuild mechanic work around 2003, they fabricated a custom pickguard and wired it up. Unfortunately the pole pieces on the neck and middle pickups were not aligned under the strings on the custom pickguard. This caused the neck and middle pickups to be a bit weaker than they should have been on the bass strings. 

I love the way this MIJ Fender guitar feels and plays, the neck has 22-jumbo frets. The neck is wide and it is thin front to back. The tuning machines are very smooth and hold their tune quite well. It's also the only Stratocaster I own with a Rosewood fingerboard. I decided it was time to do something about the ill-fitting pickguard. I've acquired several guitars with humbucking pickups on them since first modding this instrument so I decided to take this revision back in the direction of the classic Fender Stratocaster configuration with three single coil pickups. 

GETTING THE RIGHT COMPONENTS

FLAT TOP SEYMOUR DUNCAN PICKUPS
Selecting pickups is always fun, for this project I went with a set of SSL-2 Vintage Flat by Seymour Duncan. The pole pieces on the tops of these are flat as opposed to the staggered pole pieces on regular Stratocasters. I've been annoyed by the staggered pole pieces at times so I wanted to try these and hear if they had a more even pickup across the strings. 

I bought black replacement pickup covers from Amazon because I wanted an all black theme and Seymour Duncan did not offer these pickups in black at the time I ordered. Fortunately the imported no-name black covers fit the Seymour Duncan pickups perfectly. The center pickup is reverse-polarity and reverse-wound while the neck and bridge pickups are identical. 
NECK AND BRIDGE POSITION PICKUPS
MIDDLE PICKUP, NOTE RWRP (REVERSE WOUND, REVERSE POLARITY)
For the potentiometers I used Seymour Duncan YJM speed pots. These have virtually no turning resistance, they're fantastically easy to turn and once you get used to them you'll never want harder to turn pots ever again. 

The tone controls require a capacitor to do the high-frequency cutting, for this I went all out and ordered an Emerson paper-in-oil tone cap from Stew Mac. After scouting the internet for advice I chose the .047 mfd value. 

The stock pickup selector switch in the MIJ Stratocaster is a big bogus looking thing that had gotten quite noisy over the years. For this guitar rebuild I chose the 5-way made-in-USA CRL-brand from Stew Mac because it includes the correct mounting screws and both black and white knobs for the switch (I needed the black knob).

The Japan Stratocasters have slightly different pick guards than the American made models. I did not want to do a bunch of hole drilling and mods so I went looking for an original made-in-Japan Strat pick guard. I found a company in Japan that makes them and sells them through Amazon. I ordered a solid black model and it arrived a couple of days later. 
PARTS AND PIECES BEFORE ASSEMBLY
Black genuine Fender Stratocaster knobs topped off the black theme I was going for.

ASSEMBLING THE NEW PICKGUARD

Before building up the new pickguard I had to remove the old one so I could see what I was up against inside the body and to check the fit of the new pickguard. This Japan Stratocaster is equipped with a Gotoh tremolo system that also had to be removed to get the old pickguard off. The new pickguard was perfect except the two mounting holes on either side of the tremolo were in the wrong places. I drilled new holes in the body at the two locations on the new pickguard. All the other holes lined up perfectly. 
JAPAN STRATOCASTER WITH PICKGUARD REMOVED
After acquiring all the parts I mounted the pickups, pots, capacitor and switch to the new pickguard. For my wiring I used Teflon-coated silver-plated copper. It took about an hour to mount the components, tighten it all up and then solder the connections. I kept the schematic close at hand and wired it exactly like the drawing. 
MOUNTING COMPONENTS TO NEW PICKGUARD
FRONT VIEW OF COMPONENTS ON JAPAN STRATOCASTER PICKGUARD

OTHER WIRING MODS

I replaced the wiring to the output jack with shielded cable, the goal was to reduce hum if possible. I installed a new ground wire to the tremolo system so it would be long enough to land it on the master volume pot. 
JAPAN STRATOCASTER OUTPUT JACK WITH BRAIDED SHIELD
OUTPUT JACK READY TO INSTALL
One deviation I planned was in the tone control area. I wanted one of the tone controls to work on the bridge pickup and the other tone control to work on the neck and middle pickup together. 

For my taste the vintage Stratocaster guitars which don't have a tone control on the bridge pickup are too bright at times and that limits the usefulness of the bridge pickup. I figured out how the tone control needed to be wired and drew up a schematic to guide my wiring and assembly. This wiring uses one tone control that is shared by the neck and middle pickups and one tone control over the bridge pickup.
SCHEMATIC FOR NECK-MIDDLE SHARED TONE CONTROL WIRING
UNPLANNED

The Gotoh tremolo system on this Japan Stratocaster was very tight against the new pick guard assembly so I removed the tremolo parts. The fingerboard extends a bit over the pickguard which made it difficult to get all the pieces to go together so I removed the bolt-on neck. With the neck and tremolo system off the guitar it was easy to line up and install the freshly wired pick guard. 

The holes in the maple neck are stressed a little each time the neck is removed. This is why I don't like taking necks off Fender guitars unless it's absolutely necessary. I tried everything I could but in the end I took the neck off so I could get the pickguard to go under the fret board overhang.

FINAL ASSEMBLY
PICKGUARD ASSEMBLY WITH NEW PICKUPS AND WIRING COMPLETED
I don't like to depend on that little bit of shielding-foil to make the electrical connection between the components in the control area. I added a solid 18-gauge copper bus wire soldered between the potentiometers to beef up the electrical connection and keep impedances low. Contrary to some myths putting a ground wire between the pots does not create a ground loop or hum.

Since the neck and tremolo needed to be removed to get the pickguard on or off the guitar I tested the freshly assembled electronics before buttoning everything up. I plugged the guitar into a small amp for testing, then I tapped on the pole pieces of each individual pickup with a metal screwdriver while testing the selector switch in every position and turning the volume and tone controls. Everything worked perfectly right away, always a relief when doing DIY projects :-) 

After installing the 11 screws that hold the pickguard to the guitar I reinstalled the tremolo system and the neck. 

The final step to playing the guitar was putting on a new set of strings and tweaking up the tremolo to the right tension. 
NEW PICKGUARD ASSEMBLY INSTALLED

HOW IT SOUNDS

This guitar sounds fantastic. I've never heard any Seymour Duncan pickups that I don't like and these are no exception. The sound is very classy and vintage, the pickups have great single coil tone. With the reverse-wound, reverse-polarity pickup in the middle the guitar is humbucking when the selector switch is in positions two and four of the 5-positions available, as you'd expect the guitar is very quiet and rejects hum in these positions. The tone controls work as planned, one for neck-middle pickups and one for the bridge pickup. 

The Emerson paper-in-oil capacitor in the tone control circuit has a nice progressive feel when combined with the new YJM speed pots. Here is link to the Proworkshop review of the YJM speed pots.


FENDER STRATOCASTER MADE IN JAPAN
This project turned out great and took just a little over two hours to complete. Installing all new electronic parts was a good decision, it's so nice to have a quiet switch and pots. The pickups are also awesome, very happy with the sound quality. I've found it's important for these types of projects to have everything on hand before starting, this allowed me to power through the job and get it done fast. 

CONCLUSION

The Seymour Duncan pickups and pots breathed new and exciting life into this guitar. The selector switch is absolutely noiseless when switching. When the volume control on the guitar is down it is dead quiet which tells me it was worth the extra effort to install the shielded wire from the master volume control to the output jack. 

This guitar went from sitting around not getting played to WOW, cool vintage Stratocaster tones. Overall I'm very happy with the way this project concluded. 

Good music to all!
MIJ FENDER STRATOCASTER WITH NEW PICKGUARD AND
SEYMOUR DUNCAN VINTAGE FLAT TOP PICKUPS

THE PARTS USED AND WHERE TO BUY THEM:

Seymour Duncan SSL-2 pickups (neck and bridge position)*1

Seymoure Duncan SSL-2 RWRP (for middle pickup position)*1

Seymour Duncan YJM speed pots from Amazon.com

Black Fender Stratocaster knobs from Amazon.com

MIJ Pickguard from Amazon.com

You can find other interesting parts for MIJ Fender instruments by Googling "MIJ Stratocaster", that should locate the manufacturer who is selling parts through Amazon.

CRL 5-way Stratocaster switch from StewMac.com

Braided shielded cloth output wire from MojoTone.com

*1 pickups were custom ordered through Sweetwater (don't forget middle pickup should be RWRP, they had to order it for me, it was not a stock part at the time I needed these)

UPDATE: The internet is experiencing unprecedented hacking, I deactivated the links because something odd was happening. These are the sources the parts were acquired from.