This Instructable involves setting up an inexpensive Squire Bullet Stratocaster to serve as a dedicated slide guitar and something I could use to play with alternative tunings. I love Strats and have several over the years ranging from American and Mexican Fenders to a number of Squires. Although the main point of this Instructable is to show a general rehab and upgrade of a cheap Strat-style guitar electric guitar, I also wanted to show how to wire the one volume/one tone knob mod.
By removing one of the tone pots, making the remaining tone pot a master tone for everything and moving the pots down one position each, you avoid accidentally hitting the volume knob, and can adjust the tone for all pickups with just one knob. The downside is that you can’t easily use your pinky for cool swells if you’re into that.
The guitar being use is a 2002 Squire Bullet Stratocaster. I bought that new from Guitar Center for about $70 as something for my kids to play with. It served its purpose well but really hasn’t been used for years. I have been looking to keeping one of my guitars setup for slide (with heavier strings). As this Bullet had a hard tail and not a tremolo bridge, it seemed like a reasonable candidate for this. The big problem on this guitar is that the pickups were extremely cheap, microphonic, and just bad sounding and are not suitable for any kind serious playing.
The entire project was done with parts I had laying around (except for the 5-way switch). So if you have to go out and buy a bunch of parts, this may not be worth doing.
For this Instructable I will be demonstrating:
- Fitting replacement pickguard/pickups
- Wiring the one volume/one tone pot modification
- Show that it's worth polishing and waxing an old, cheap guitar
Step 1: Dismantling
To get started I removed the pickguard to see what the guitar had in it. The original pots, jack and switch were about as cheap as I’ve ever seen – The plus side was that I noticed this was an Indonesian built guitar and seemed to have decent fit and finish on the wood parts.
Step 2: Replacement Pickguard and Pickups
I had a nice tortoise shell pickguard from a previous Strat project that I used… and It already had a Danelectro lipstick pickup fitted in the bridge position and my original Mexican Fender pickups in the other two spots. The watch out here is to make sure the neck and middle pickups are in the correct position. Luckily I found some pictures of the original Mexican wiring online so I knew the positions of my pickups based on wire color.
I also had some nice 250K pots that I used on a previous 1 vol/1 tone project. So I used these as replacements. For switching I bought a new import style 5-way switch for $4.00. I like working with the import style switch just because it's easier to identify the solder lugs. It was the only new item I had to buy for this project!
Step 3: Wiring
There must be a thousand ways to wire a Strat, but I’ve always stuck to the same diagram for this mod. Basically the change entails removing the one tone pot without the capacitor and having all the pickups go through the one pot that does have the capacitor. You can be a little more creative and put a resistor in the circuit if you are worried about treble bleed.
Step 4: Fitting the Pickguard
I actually did most of this before I started on the wiring. One problem with Fender vs Squire is that the pickguards are slightly different and are not direct swaps between the two. In this case, I dry fitted the replacement pickguard, and then used a Dremel tool with a sanding head to carefully remove a little pickguard material from the neck and bridge areas. My lipstick pickup is a little wider and took up more space than the originals, so I used the Dremel to create a small depression in the guitar body to make room. After I had completed all of my wiring, I ended up having to chisel out another small area of the guitar body to clear space for some wires. And, of course, the screw holes didn't match up.
Step 5: Cleaning, Polishing and Waxing
I don’t have step by step pictures of the polishing and waxing, but from the before and after pictures, I think it shows the value of doing this while you have a apart. It still has dents and dings from the kids, but it never looked this shiny before! The steps are pretty basic:
- Get the grime and dirt off - I use window cleaning solution on these polyurethane finishes.
- Polish with automotive polishing compound. This will remove and remaining dirt and polish out some of the extremely fine scuffs and scratches.
- Give it a good coat of automotive wax.
Step 6: String It Up and Enjoy!
I completed this project by putting on a set of Dunlop Nickle wound 11’s and doing a general setup. I’m a pretty light handed player so I didn’t need to raise the action for slide with the thicker strings. I know this would not work for some people, so you might plan on raising the action accordingly – plus you might need to raise the nut a little as well.
The Mexican and Dano pickups sound really good on this. I didn’t expect this $70 guitar to sound that good!
It's nice having a hard tail guitar dedicated to alternative tunings. Its fun to pickup and crank out some slide licks and then go back to another guitar without having to worry about tuning.
Disclaimer - Don't get me wrong. The $70 guitar used in this example is still a $70 guitar. It just has the advantage of having pickups and pots from a $350 guitar in it now. But now it looks and sounds killer for a $70 guitar that's been sitting around in the basement for the last 10 years.