Repair log – EBAY purchase, Daphne Blue ‘Stratocaster’ assembled from parts.
Owner – James Stratton, London Guitar Academy, 07957 230354, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purchased for £500, estimated parts value £889.21
© Terry Relph-Knight 09/05/19
Weight = 3.5kg or 7.72lbs.
An EBAY purchase Stratocaster style guitar, presumably assembled by the EBAY seller, from various bits. It is not surprising that the original owner / assembler sold this guitar, because they had made such a poor job of assembling it that it didn’t play well or sound good. Fortunately most of the parts they used are high quality and the damage caused by poor workmanship can be fixed.
The guitar has a high action. The most obvious thing wrong with it is that the neck is not screwed down / has not been properly fitted into the neck pocket. There is a visible gap between the neck and the bottom of the pocket of 1.5mm on the bass side narrowing to about 0.5mm.
Although the neck probably came with a nut fitted, it had been removed and a very poor attempt made at replacing it with a Graph Tech white Tusq nut, now trashed.
The Fender locking tuners were all sitting at odd angles on the headstock because the holes for the dual locating pins on each tuner had not been accurately drilled.
The guitar was fitted with a 1.22m thick, gold anodised Aluminium pick guard. A poor choice because eddy currents in metal pick guards muffle tone, as confirmed by later measurements.
The volume and tone controls sound like they are the wrong taper (first tone is wired to the neck and middle pickups, the second tone is wired to the bridge pickup). Later measurement shows they are all 250K 10% log law pots and the wiring is neat, tidy and apparently without flaws, so I’m not sure why the control characteristics seemed odd, it may be a grounding issue.
Whoever wired up the pick guard (obviously it wasn’t the previous owner as the wiring is quite neat and tidy) did not fit a daisy chain ground wire across the back of the pots. The anodising on the aluminium pick guard is a very good insulator, so the guard cannot be relied on to ground the pots. And if the guard itself is not solidly grounded it won’t act as an electrical shield.
Body – The body has MJT stamped in the neck pocket and is from MJT Aged Finishes of Carthage, Missouri, USA. This body is (probably) a two piece Alder body, finished in a very heavily reliced Daphne blue with a white undercoat. Fitted with standard reliced strap buttons – the button on the upper horn was fitted upside down. There is no tremolo cavity cover and no screw holes have been made to fit one, which is fortunate because the previous owner drilled the holes for the two bridge spring tension screws at quite a steep angle and the springs and spring claw protrude above the level of the back of the guitar. Although fitted with a modern Fender two point vibrato bridge, the body was originally drilled with six holes for the screws of a traditional vibrato bridge and four of those holes remain, between the two-point posts. Originally routed for three single coils, the bridge pickup route has been expanded to a humbucker route, after the body was painted. None of the body cavities are screened.
Neck – There are no identifying manufacturers marks on the neck. It is a single piece, heavily flamed (tiger flame) maple, 9.5 inch radius neck with 21 medium jumbo frets. Abalone dot fret markers, all off centre towards the bass side of the neck by about 1mm. Dark skunk stripe with some staining from the stripe bleeding over into the maple by 2 or 3mm on either side of the stripe. The stripe stops before the end of the truss rod route inside the heel and the remainder is filled with an off cut and some other filler. Finished in a high gloss. The truss rod is a bi-flex rod adjusted at the neck heel (4mm hex key adjustment). I think the neck is a cheap Chinese neck similar to necks listing on EBAY for £88. Like many guitar related Chinese products it looks amazing on first look but has several flaws, poor fretting being the most critical. Bogus water slide Fender decals have been applied to the headstock and roughly over sprayed (Voodoo Decals £5.15 on EBAY).
Hardware – Three, modern stagger, Fender Custom Shop pickups with cream covers (middle pickup is RWRP for hum cancellation in the in-between positions). Prices for a set of Custom Shop pickups vary, but £122 is perhaps typical for a set of Custom 54’s. The pickups are mounted in a gold anodised aluminium pick guard with SLF 4.28.16 written on the back in black felt tip. Cream knobs and switch tip. The tip of the screw-in trem arm is a non matching white (the arm has some unpleasant looking goop on it). The tremolo/vibrato bridge looks like a genuine Fender two point trem with a chamfered steel block and block sintered steel saddles with offset intonation screws. The two bridge pivot posts are screwed down as tight as they will go into their threaded inserts. 3 springs fitted. The neck plate is a square, four bolt Fender Corona plate, with a fifth hole for micro-tilt adjustment, unused on this guitar as delivered (I have now added a Micro-tilt kit).
Fender branded locking tuners, staggered 3 tall for the low strings 3 high for the trebles – typically £ 71.99 a set. The bevelled washers on three of the tuners are fitted upside down. One white Graph Tech string tree.
250K nominal value CTS pots all 10% log law, Volume, 281.2K tone, 233.3K bridge tone. OAK 5 way switch. The three cream with gold lettering knobs are the universal fit type with smooth centre holes. Although these smooth hole knobs can be problematic, they seem to fit tightly on the control shafts for the moment. There is no daisy chain ground between the pot cases, circuit ground relies on the mechanical connection between the pot case to the front metalwork and then through the anodised pick guard.
Pickup measurements –
A set of three Fender Custom Shop pickups
The first set of measurements are no strings, with the pickups mounted in the old aluminium guard. The second column measurements are with the pickups mounted in a plastic pick guard, no strings.
NeckD.C. resistance = 6.2K
L in H (Al, plastic) Q (Al, plastic) ESR in K (Al, plastic)
100Hz 2.503 2.499 0.25 0.25 6.26 6.25
120Hz 2.5 2.506 0.3 0.302 6.27 6.25
1000hz 2.381 2.525 1.957 2.39 7.64 6.61
Magnet polarity = South
Low E gauss = 1110 gauss
High E gauss = 1110 gauss
Middle D.C. resistance = 6.28K
L in H (Al, plastic) Q (Al, plastic) ESR in K (Al, plastic)
100Hz 2.579 2.583 0.255 0.256 6.35 6.33
120Hz 2.573 2.587 0.304 0.308 6.36 6.33
1000hz 2.429 2.605 1.953 2.44 7.81 6.68
Magnet polarity = North
Low E gauss = 1110 gauss
High E gauss = 1110 gauss
Bridge D.C. resistance = 6.47
L in H (Al, plastic) Q (Al, plastic) ESR in K (Al, plastic)
100Hz 2.686 2.69 0.258 0.259 6.52 6.5
120Hz 2.684 2.684 0.309 0.311 6.53 6.5
1000hz 2.539 2.712 1.99 2.48 8.01 6.84
Magnet polarity = South
Low E gauss = 1180 gauss
High E gauss = 1110
The magnet strengths indicate they are Alnico 5, so these aren’t Fat 60’s. The low E and high E are extraordinarily well balanced for strength. Which may just be coincidence, or an indication of the care taken in manufacturing the Custom Shop pickups. At these strengths the damping effect of the magnet field on the strings is quite noticeable and the pickups must be set low in the pick guard to avoid the low E from warbling / pulsing.
As the measurements show the aluminium pick guard has a significant damping effect on the higher frequencies, about 8% lower inductance at 1000Hz. Compared to the Bare Knuckle Mothers Milk pickup set – neck and middle are around 2.3H and the bridge is 3H at 1000Hz – in the clients other Strat, these pickups will be a little darker in the neck and mid (2.5H, 2.6H) and a little brighter for the bridge (2.7H).
Fender custom shop pickups
Fat 50’s Alnico 5 Neck: 6.0K 2.4H. Middle: 6.3K 2.75H. Bridge: 6.2K 2.8H Formvar wire, Black Forbon flatware
Fat 60’s* Alnico 2 Formvar wire, Black Forbon flatware
Custom ‘54 Alnico 5 Neck/Middle Pickups: 5.9K 2.4H. Bridge: 6.5K 2.75H Formvar wire, Black Forbon flatware
Custom ‘69* Alnico 5 5.8K 2.2H Enamel wire, Grey Forbon flatware
Texas Special*Alnico 5 Neck Pickup: 6.2K 2.4H. Middle: 6.5K 2.6H. Bridge: 6.5-7.1K 3.58H
Enamel wire, Black Forbon flatware
The three pickups in the guitar are only labelled with a Fender Custom Shop sticker. They have Formvar magnet wire wound on black Forbon flatware. Identifying exactly which set of Fender Custom Shop pickups they are can be determined by a process of elimination comparing the magnet wire type, the flatwork colour and the measurements of the pickups, with the Fender published specifications above. Right away the Custom ‘69 and the Texas Specials are eliminated because the pickups in the guitar have Formvar magnet wire, not Plain Enamel.
The closest match between the measurement and the published Fender specs is the Custom ‘54s.
Work done – Disassembled the guitar. Screened all the body cavities with self adhesive copper tape.
Transferred the pickups and electronics from the old aluminium pick guard to the new orange ‘Big Cat’ pattern plastic pick guard (actually the pattern looks like amber toned blotchy vintage tortoise shell). Modified the tone control wiring so tone one is on the neck pickup and tone two is on the bridge, partly because the protruding tone-two, bare wire link on the back of the pickup selector switch was shorting to the copper tape screening. Previous to screening this was pressing on the bare wood of the control cavity and didn’t allow perfect seating for the pick guard. Replaced all the rusty pick guard screws with stainless steel screws, which I spin polished.
Also spin polished the heads of the four original stainless steel neck screws.
Sanded the neck and body neck pocket to improve the neck fit. Used a blade scraper to remove the hump from the back of the neck where it fits the pocket, which made a big difference to the fit. Drilled out the over large screw hole in the neck, plugged it with a glued in hardwood dowel, re-drilled the screw hole the correct size and threaded the neck screw in with a little wax. Reinforced all four screw holes in the neck with superglue. Drilled the neck pocket in the body and fitted an M5 T nut ( three for £2.43 or £1.08 each) and M5 by 8mm grub screw (£0.16 each, 3mm hex key for adjustment) Micro-tilt neck angle adjustment. Drilled a shallow 19mm diameter hole on the back of the neck heel and glued in a 5p coin to act as a Micro-tilt pressure plate. Reversed the upside down strap button.
Corrected the uneven tuner fit by plugging all 12 tuner locating pin holes and then re-drilling them, so the tuners now sit in a straight line. Reversed the three upside down tuner washers.
Removed the old, very poorly fitted Graph Tech nut, cleaned the lumps of glue from the nut slot and replaced the nut with a new Hosco bone nut. Smoothed the sharp ends of the nut and filed the nut slots for correct string height.
Improved the fit of all the frets using a Stewmac Jaws Fret Press and smoothed numerous sharp fret ends. Unfortunately the first experiment with the fret press and 7.25” radius brass caul to put extra pressure on the high fret ends resulted in one fret, fret 6, ending up far too low under the high E string. By switching to a 9.5 inch caul I managed to get the rest of the frets levelled.
Ended up carefully pulling fret 6, re-lacquering the chip in the lacquer under the high E and re-inserting the fret. Adding a drop of glue in the fret slot for strength and pressing it carefully home with the fret press and the 9.5 inch caul.
Disassembled, cleaned and reassembled the vibrato bridge. Removed the thick layer of grey paint from the top of the bridge inertia block.
Re-assembled the guitar, fitted a set of strings and set the neck angle and truss rod for relief. Adjusted bridge springs for vibrato action and the bridge saddles for string height and for intonation. Set the pickup heights.
Although some people set the two point vibrato bridges parallel to the guitar body by raising the two pivot posts I decided to set up the bridge on this guitar as recommended by Fender, which is with an up tilt, like the vintage six screw bridges.
I wanted the saddle grub screws to be no more than level with the tops of the saddles to not dig in to the players palm, so I set the saddles fairly high while also following the 9.5 inch fretboard radius. The two bridge posts are screwed in to the brass inserts almost as far as they will go and the spring tension (with the three original springs) is set to float the bridge plate about the same as a six screw vintage bridge (actually 2.5mm from the body to the underside of the back of the bridge plate). There’s 14mm from the end of the vibrato cavity to the top of the spring claw.
As is usual with most after market necks, the frets on this one had never been levelled and careful work with the Stewmac Jaws fret press and a fret hammer allowed me to correct the poorly set frets without having to remove material from the top of the frets through fret levelling.
I filed down the string slots in the Hosco replacement bone nut by eye, depressing each string beyond the second fret and looking for minimum clearance over the first fret. I had meant to use my Stewmac nut slotting kit, but could not find it.
The Chinese neck has a bi-flex truss rod with access at the heel, which means you have to remove the neck from the body and adjust the truss rod by trial and error, without string tension. Without string tension and with the rod in the neutral / slack position this neck has a visible back or convex bow. Unfortunately, with string tension, the ideal of just a small amount of forward bow is in the grey area of having a completely slack truss rod, at least with 9 to 42 strings. With the rod just starting to tension up in the clockwise direction, the neck is dead straight under string tension. Eventually set the rod perhaps 1/3rd of a turn anti-clockwise, just on the point bending the neck forwards. I’m really trying to get just a little forward bow.
Ideally you want the truss rod to mostly affect the bow of the neck between the nut and the twelfth fret. In the case of this neck, at the more extreme settings the rod bends the entire neck, resulting in the higher frets sloping upwards.
The measured fret height is 0.033 (0.838mm re-measured 0.88mm) by 0.096 inches (2.438mm re-measured 2.42mm) wide and allowing 0.02 to 0.018 clearance bass to treble that puts the required nut slots and string height at the nut at 0.053 to 0.051.
With the bridge and truss rod set I can make small adjustments to the neck angle with the Micro-tilt to get the perfect low action. Eventually settled on 0.06 inch low E and high E at the twelfth fret open string.
Pickup heights – As mentioned these Fender Custom shop pickups are really strongly charged and very even across the pickups and I had trouble with the low E in particular warbling or pulsing because of damping from the pickups magnetic field (tuners go nuts). The Fender standard pickup heights are as follows (from bottom of strings to magnet poles, strings fretted at the last fret) –
Bass Side Treble Side
Texas Specials 8/64″ (3.2 mm) 6/64″ (2.4 mm)
Vintage style 6/64″ (2.4 mm) 5/64″ (2 mm)
Standard Single-Coil 5/64″ (2 mm) 4/64″ (1.6 mm)
This guitar 3.5mm 2.4mm
I think the neck is a cheap Chinese job – the installation of the skunk stripe truss rod filler is a bit crude. An extra piece of wood, plus some wood filer, has been used where the stripe runs in to the heel of the neck. As I later discovered this is part of a hump in the middle of the heel and the neck would not fit the neck pocket until this hump was scrapped away. It looks like some stain was wiped over the stripe to darken it, after it was glued in to the back of the neck, and this has also stained the maple around it. The bi-flex truss rod adjusts at the heel, 4mm hex key. The hex socket is set a little way into the neck with a short tube or collar in front of it. The truss rod is probably held in place by this collar. It didn’t seem as though the rod had ever been adjusted. Nut looks a bit mangled. Bogus Fender decals have been applied to the headstock, presumably by the previous owner. The Fender logo is orange with a black outline.
The Fender all-maple necks are fretted, levelled and re-crowned before the lacquer is applied. Then (if you are lucky) the lacquer is scrapped and polished off the crown of the frets. This does at least secure the frets in place, with the lacquer acting as a glue. On this Chinese neck the frets have been installed after the neck was lacquered. In fact it is difficult to work out how they finished and fretted the neck. It almost looks as though the fretting was the very last process after the fret slots had been cut, the ends of the slots plugged with filler and the neck sprayed and polished. All the frets have the tang cut back about 2mm or so from the ends. The fretting isn’t brilliant, with sharp ends and almost all of the frets are high, not fully seated in the fret slots at either end.
The neck looks identical to this EBAY listing – £88
The measured fret height above the fretboard is 0.033 inches.
The previous owner drilled the locating holes in the back of the headstock for the two peg tuners and made a very poor job of it. All the tuners are skewed to a greater or lesser degree. I eventually plugged all the tuner holes and re-drilled them to correct the odd angles on the tuners.
The very high action on this guitar as delivered, is largely due to a very poor neck fit with a large visible gap between the back of the neck and the neck pocket, the neck tilting forwards as a result. Neck fit is not helped by the fact that the back of the neck, where it is supposed to fit the body pocket, is not flat, but has a central hump over the skunk stripe. Apart from the poor fit, the neck screw under the biggest gap is completely loose. The hole in the neck for this screw has been drilled oversize and the neck screw just drops into it.
As part of rebuilding this guitar, and since the neck plate has the required access hole, I decided to fit a micro-tilt system. The micro-tilt kit I purchased is supplied without a pressure plate for the neck, a 5p coin is suggested. I fitted the T Nut and grub screw (3mm hex key) in the body, drilled a shallow 19mm hole in the neck and superglued in a 5p coin.
The nut, an after market white Graph Tech, is a mess, only half seated in the nut slot and oddly shaped on top where it has been filed because it was sticking up because of the poor fit in the slot.
With the nut removed the nut slot is clogged with chunks of glue. I cleaned out and enlarged the slot and then fitted a new Hosco bone nut. From the EBAY listing these necks do come with a fitted nut so it seems the original owner removed the nut the neck shipped with in order to fit a white Tusq Graph Tech nut (and then made a horrible mess of it).
It is difficult to correct all the neck problems without marring the high gloss finish.
The body is from MJT Aged Finishes, run by brothers Mark and Matt Jenny, are based in Carthage, Missouri, USA. MJT specialises in reliced finish bodies and necks. MJT does sell via EBAY with bids currently running from $45 up to $300. Their direct order price for this type of body and finish is $385 (plus shipping, taxes and handling to the UK). This body is (probably) a two piece Alder body finished in a very heavily reliced Daphne blue, white undercoat. Fitted with standard reliced strap buttons – the button on the upper horn is upside down. There is no tremolo cavity cover and no screw holes to fit one. Although fitted with a modern Fender two point vibrato bridge, the body was original drilled with six holes for the screws of a traditional vibrato bridge and four of those holes remain between the two point posts. Now routed for single/single/humbucker, the original bridge pickup single coil route has been expanded to a humbucker route after the body was painted. None of the body cavities are screened.
The vibrato bridge had a layer of dirt under the saddles and had been assembled with the various intonation springs in the wrong order.
I disassembled and cleaned all the parts, soaking the saddles, grub screws, screws and springs in WD40. Unscrewed the steel inertia block from the bridge plate and sanded off the thick layer of grey paint from the top of the block to allow metal to metal contact from block to plate. Reassembled the block and plate with a thin coating of wax on top of the block to inhibit rust.
As received the saddles had;
Grub screwsSpringIntonation screw – all lengths in mm.
E 6 7 15
A 8 8 15
D 8 8 15
G 8 8 15
B 8 6 15
E 6 9 15
The low E should have the 6mm short spring and the next shortest, the 7mm should be on the G, longest spring, the 9mm, on the high E. The 6mm grub screws should be fitted to the the two E saddles, as they were.
About Fender Gold Anodised aluminium pick guards
The Fender after market gold anodised aluminium guards are around 1.2mm thick and electrically the aluminium is a very good conductor, although the anodised layer is a mechanically tough electrical insulator. The hard anodised layer stiffens the aluminium so I suppose there might be an audible difference compared to raw aluminium because of the acoustic effect of a stiffer guard, but the main effect on tone is due to eddy currents circulating in the aluminium, creating an opposing magnetic field that damps the high end from the pickups. This damping effect is both audible and quite easily measured.
You should not rely on the anodised aluminium as a ground connection between the pots because the anodised layer is such a good insulator.
In the past Fender briefly used, and then dropped, gold anodised aluminium pick guards, as well as fitting much thinner aluminium sheets under plastic pick guards. I believe that Leo Fender chose to do this for the purposes of electrical screening. It is often said that Fender stopped using the gold guards because players would eventually wear through the anodised layer and the exposed aluminium would then leave black marks on their fingers. However, I suspect these pick guards were dropped because they robbed too much of the high end and made the guitars sound lifeless. The thinner aluminium shields used under the plastic guards provided good electrical shielding and, although they produced some eddy current damping, because they were thinner than the full aluminium pick guard, the damping effect was only just enough to make the guitars sound just that bit ‘sweeter’ without killing the treble altogether.
I transferred all the electronics from the gold aluminium pick guard across to the ‘Big Cat’ plastic guard. On initial installation of the guard, following copper screening all the body cavities, I had no signal out of the guitar. As it turns out the live contact of the output jack was shorting to the screening and a link of bare wire on the back of the pickup selector switch – switches the second tone control to the mid or bridge pickup – was shorting to the bottom of the control cavity.
Parts – 09/05/19 Big Cat orange pick guard £13.99 via EBAY from Supermusic57 paid PayPal transaction number 55L13968FC525004F.
Fender may use, or have used, a couple of sizes for the micro-tilt. Here is one
Accepts standard 3/32″ hex wrench for adjustment. Material: 18-8 Stainless Steel, Size: 10-32 x ½” dome point. The spiked nut inserts are called T-nuts
13/05/19 Ordered two micro-tilt ‘kits’ from EBAY bloodstoneguitar Item number: 162838470735 delivery 16th 17th . Total: £7.98 (note – these are metric and without a push plate for the back of the neck)
Pick guard – £13.99
Micro-tilt – £3.99
Strings – £6.00
Hosco bone nut – £7 plus 80p post
Copper screening tape – £4.00
13 x stainless steel pick guard screws. – £2.00
Parts total – £37.78
Labour – £150.00
Total – £187.78
Estimate of the parts value of the guitar
Tuners – £71.99
Neck – £88
Graph Tech Tusq nut – £9.99
Bogus Fender decals (Voodoo Decals) – £5.15
Body – $485 = £373
Pickups – £122
Neck plate and screws – £11.90
Strap buttons – £1.97
Pick guard gold aluminium – £59.04
13 pick guard screws – £2.80
3 x 250K pots – £15.30
Tone cap – £2.50
3 Fender UFO knobs – £8.00
5 way switch – £10.48
Output jack – £3.60
Jack plate – £3.50
Fender vibrato bridge – £99.99
Total – £889.21