The Green Strat Is Back

My green Strat is back from the shop. It’s been in for some more mods. What have I had done to it this time, and am I happy with the results of the upgrades I asked for?

What Is The Green Strat?

Last year, I bought myself one the Mexican-made Fender Player Strats in sage metallic green … and I’ve simply fallen in love with it ever since. It’s become the spiritual successor to my old 80s Charvel that I played for many years; a guitar that I spent almost 15 years trying to replace.

I’m not going to pretend for a moment that it’s the best guitar – or even the best Strat – that I’ve ever played. Heck, I’m willing to bet that Andrew has objectively better Player Strats hanging on the wall round at AStrings today. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes, you come across a guitar that brings something out of you. For me, this is one of those guitars.

What Was It In The Shop For This Time?

Last time, it went into the shop to have a (mismatched) set of Bare Knuckle 63 Veneer single coils fitted. There’s a whole history behind that particular set of pickups which involves my beloved Charvel and an American Performer Strat. That’s a story for another day!

Previously, we also replaced the stock Fender Player pots with a set of CTS 250K pots. At the time, I was warned that Bare Knuckle single coils are voiced for their own 280K pots, and in hindsight, I have to agree with that. The guitar was just a little bit too dark, and that was really made clear when I dropped a set of Kinman pickups in my other Strat.

I tried living with it, but once heard, it couldn’t be unheard, so eventually I ordered a full set of 280K pots direct from Bare Knuckle. I also ordered more thing while I was at it.

Bare Knuckle also sell shielding plates for Strats. Seeing as I was putting in an order in anyway (and they were in stock), I thought what the heck: why not get one and give it a try? If it reduces single-coil hum even just a bit, it would be worth it.

I also got one of the pots as a push-pull pot. I figured that I might as well get the Player Strat wired up the same way as an American Performer or American Ultra Strat, with the push-pull pot bringing in the neck pickup to combine with the bridge pickup.

Now that it’s back – almost one year to the day since the original pickup swap – how does it sound? (Is this going to become a end-of-June tradition for this guitar …?)

Does The Shielding Place Help?

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. The shielding plate seems to have cut down a lot of single-coil hum. Tonight, even with a reasonable amount of gain, I’m not noticing any single-coil hum at all. So far, so good.

It’s too early to say whether or not it’s completely cured single-coil hum in this guitar. I live in the Welsh valleys, where our electricity supply isn’t the cleanest and where the house wiring is probably older than I am. I need to give it a few weeks, if not longer, before I can say with confidence that the shielding plate was definitely worth it.

What About The Pots?

Well, the guitar’s certainly not dark any more. If anything, my first impression is that the guitar’s a bit too bright. I’m dialling back both the volume and tone pots to tame it a little.

Let me explain why that’s not a bad thing at all.

I’m a fully signed-up member of the “use EQ to remove frequencies” club. I’m not a fan of trying to add missing frequencies back in by using EQ controls, which is probably what lies at the very heart of my love/hate relationship with my Kemper.

When the guitar was too dark, there wasn’t much I could do about it at the guitar itself. I had to try and compensate for it elsewhere in the signal chain, and that was quite the pain if I wanted to play a different guitar afterwards. That’s not a problem any more.

This upgrade has given me volume and tone pots that are practical and very usable. I don’t have to re-EQ the amp or my pedals any more when I pick up this particular Strat. I can just dial back the volume and tone controls to taste instead.

These pots also bring out more snap and attack to the guitar than before. The guitar’s kinda lost its softer edge. I’m going to need some time with this to see if I can get used to it or not. If not, I’m confident that switching over from Ernie Ball to D’Addario NYXLs will sort that.

How Has The Wiring Mod Worked Out?

Not great.

The American Performer Strats have this really great factory-modded wiring, where you can pull out the second tone knob and add in the neck pickup to the bridge pickup. It’s one of those tones that, when it works, it really works.

Remember I said earlier that this set of Bare Knuckle 63 Veneers are mismatched? That seems to have spoiled the party for this mod. Let me try and explain.

They weren’t made together as a single set. I had the neck and middle pickups made together, and then bought a bridge pickup the following year. And they’ve never played well together.

While the bridge pickup sounds great on its own, it just doesn’t like sharing the stage with the other two pickups. I’m pretty sure that it’s just a phase issue, but every time I have the guitar rewired, there’s always some setting where the pickups just don’t sound great together.

This time, it’s when I pull the push-pull pot out and engage the wiring mod. The neck and bridge pickups are clearly out of phase, and that’s not the sound that I’m going for at all with this mod.

I think that I’m going to take this as a hint that either I get a new, matched set of pickups made for the guitar, or it’s time to go HSS in this guitar.

Unfortunately, I can’t drop a humbucker into the bridge position on this particular guitar … thanks to something wonderful that I wasn’t expecting at all.

One Final Surprise

I’ve just checked this to be sure: stock Strat wiring on both the Fender Player and Performer series is for the neck and middle to share a tone pot, leaving the bridge pickup to have the second tone pot all to itself.

However, my guitar’s come back with something that I wasn’t expecting: the middle pickup’s wired to the same tone pot as the bridge pickup. And I’m already in love with it.

My thing with a Strat is what’s called position 4: the neck and middle pickup together. Thanks to this unexpected wiring, when I’m in position 4 (which is basically all the time), I now have separate tone controls for each of those pickups. That allows me to really dial in the guitar to suit whether I’m playing with a pick or whether I’m finger-picking.

If I drop a humbucker into the bridge position of this guitar, I’ll lose this sound. Humbuckers really need to be wired to a 500K tone pot. I’d have to:

  • have the middle pickup rewired to share the neck pickup’s tone control,
  • have the middle pickup share a 500K pot with the humbucker, or
  • the humbucker wouldn’t be wired to a tone pot at all

There’s no way I’m losing what I’ve now got in position 4 on this guitar, so I’ll pass for now. Maybe another option will turn up one day.

Right now, I’m off to enjoy this guitar before I have to turn the amp off for the night.

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