As a drummer I’ve always been fascinated by guitars and basses.  Let’s face it; Being out there on the front of the stage waving around your cool axe is the coolest.  You don’t have to totally be the frontman but at times you just steal the show.  We drummers just sit back and watch (while hoping you can still stay in time while being so cool).  Thanks to my old bandmates I’ve been able to pick up some guitar and bass licks over the decades.  Subsequently I’ve also picked up some instruments.

Back in  ’95 when my son was interested in playing guitar I got him a Squire Stratocaster.  About a week later I picked up a Squire Jazz Bass.  The Strat is a “Squire by Fender – Bullet Series” from Korea and the Jazz is a “Fender Squire Series” made in Mexico.

Headstock with new Machine Heads
Headstock with new Machine Heads

The Strat had been exhibiting crackling issues with the 5 position pickup switch.  The problems were random, inconsistent and could hit any switch position.  It basically made the guitar completely unplayable save for noodling acoustically in front of the TV.  This was hit home during a Fizzbin rehearsal where all we wanted to do was have a second, de-tuned guitar handy.

I had this problem several months ago and took the guitar in for service.  At the same time I had a set of Fender Locking Machine Heads installed.  The stock Squire heads were the absolute worst.  The guitar would rarely stay in tune for more than a complete song.  The new heads made all the difference.  Highly worth the cost!  Aside from the Machine Head installation, I wasn’t thrilled about the rest of the job done on the guitar.

I decided to take matters into my own hands.  For better or worse I’ve been working on guitars since I was 13.  Some jobs went great and others…. not so much (sorry Jason).  But now I’m 37 years older and have a ton more experience in many fields.  Particularly electronics.  After all, I did build a replica F-16 cockpit.  I figured the problem was either dirty contacts or a bad connection somewhere.  The guitar has never been gigged and has lead a very cared-for life so I didn’t think something really bad had happened.

Before playing Guitar-Tech I wanted to be prepared.  There’s nothing worse than getting part way into a job then having to stop and run to the hardware store to by some tool or other.  I’m pretty well equipped but I did purchase a CruzTOOLS Guitar Tech  Kit.  This ensured I’d have any tools I may need without raiding my own toolboxes.  It also comes in a nice, easy-to-carry case which fits in your gig bag.  I also purchased a Fender Guitar Maintenance Station.  This is basically a rubber mat with a padded stand to rest the guitar’s neck on.  It’s very handy to keep your guitar from getting scratched up during maintenance.  You can make these stations yourself but if you want to part with some cash you can have the Registered Fender logo.

Another item you must be sure to have is a Soldering Station.  Notice how I didn’t say Soldering Iron.  The difference means succeeding in or destroying your work.  A good soldering station with adjustable temperature will allow you to easily work with your instruments while a Soldering Iron is more akin to a fine wood burning kit.  I learned this from my mentor back in ’84 when we made 50 pin SCSI cables and 25 ping Serial cables by hand (Thanks Dr. Lopes).  Do you self a favour and check out Weller’s line of stations.

I also added a close-up lamp with a magnifying glass to help these old eyes see what’s connected to what.  Finally a few extra tools; small side cutters, a de-soldering tool, scissors, wire strippers, a pencil eraser and an Exacto knife.

Basic Guitar Workstation
Basic Guitar Workstation

I watched a couple of YouTube videos on guitar work and decided that at the same time I was in the guts of the beast I would shield the cavities as well.  This guitar isn’t particularly noisy but every bit helps.  On one video I saw the fellow used a metallic based paint to shield the cavities.  On a second the fellow used sticky-backed copper paper.  Having neither of these readily on hand I opted for some metal furnace tape I had on-hand.  Any type of metal will shield noise and this stuff is easy to work with.

After de-stringing and opening the pick guard I immediately snapped a photo of the electronics.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.  You may have to shoot from different angles but make sure you get a good reference point of how things were when you started.  You will not remember how it was so take (or draw) a picture.

Freshly Opened & Photographed
Freshly Opened & Photographed

Examination of the wiring revealed no loose connections (yet… stay tuned) so I turned my magnifying glass on the contacts of the switch itself.  They appeared oxidized.  First I used the pencil eraser on the contacts to remove as much dirt as I could.  I then took some Isopropyl Alcohol on a Q-Tip and cleaned each contacts.  Remember to move the switch to clean the contact under it.

And like magic… All the pickups worked as they should without crackle, noise or cutting out.  Consistently.

Now to the body cavities.

The Original Unshielded Cavities
The Original Unshielded Cavities

I started by adding a bottom layer of tape and then cutting pieces to size for the sides of the cavities.  The trick is to not overlap as much as possible to keep things smooth and slim.  I used a pencil eraser to get into the corners of the tape.

Layer One of the Tape
Layer One of the Tape
All Shielding In Place
All Shielding In Place
I Shielded the back of the Pick Guard for good measure
I Shielded the back of the Pick Guard for good measure

Once I had completed shielding the entire cavity I tested my connections.  Ooops!  Somewhere along the line the white lead heading from one of the pots to the jack had come off.  Where did it go?!?!?  No problem – I have a picture.  I quickly re-soldered the connection and put the pick guard back in place to test.

This time everything worked but I was getting a nasty buzzy-hum on 3 of the pickup settings.  It then dawned on me to turn off my lamp and soldering station.  Both generate noise and are in close proximity of the pickups.  Since pickups are designed to pickup sounds, well, you get the picture.

Problem solved!  With Everything reassembled there was practically no noise present.

Restringing was a bit different with the locking Machine Heads.  Actually is was a snap and the guitar tuned up nicely.

Now the Strat is playable and doesn’t have to sit by itself while all the other guitars are jamming.

I don’t think I’m going to take this guitar much further though.  If you’ll note from the cavity pictures the body of this guitar is made up of layer upon layer of shit-board (click the image to enlarge it).  Look at the porosity in some of the layers.  Yuck!  This is another way the lower end models save money.  If you look inside any Fender body you’ll see a solid piece of wood.  That’s why they resonate so well!

I’ll continue to experiment with this Strat though.  It’s a great way to test out a skill without destroying something too high-end.

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