hear the difference yourself. If you don’t
use the tremolo, block it with a piece of
wood. This will increase sustain and dynamic
Up the Neck
Give your neck cavity some love. Uninstall the
neck and take a look; the neck pocket should
be absolutely free of any paint, dirt or anything
else that doesn’t belong. If there is something
that doesn’t belong, take a piece of sandpaper
and rework your cavity until you see the bare
wood. If you feel that the neck does not fit the
guitar’s cavity because the opening is too wide
or too low, take your guitar to an experienced
tech who can shim it. Bad work at this critical
point can ruin your guitar’s tone.
Also check the part of the neck that is
attached to the neck cavity, often called the
neck heel. You’ll often find stickers there
– scrape them away. I also highly recommend
sanding away any paint until you feel bare
wood, imparting a strong and even wood-to-wood connection, enhancing tonal transfer
dramatically. Bolt on the neck screws tightly,
but don’t overdo it.
Allow your guitar to breath by removing paint
at any location that can’t be seen. A critical
location is the surface underneath the bridge
of a Strat – a trick Eric Johnson employs. You
can also remove the paint inside the pickup
cavities and under the pickguard.
Removing finish isn’t limited to wood
– Fender sands away the paint on top of
the inertia bar, or tremolo block of the Eric
Johnson Stratocaster for better tonal transfer.
At first I thought it was a marketing gimmick,
but some time later I had to take out the inertia bar on one of my Strats. While it was out,
I gave it a try – the results were stunning. The
tone was stronger; give it a try to see the difference it makes on your guitar.
Be More Materialistic
Different materials really can make a difference – I’m sure you’re all familiar with the
discussion about the Les Paul aluminium stop-piece. Here are some things that can make a
big difference to the tone:
Nut Material: This is wide open to experimentation, although for me, nothing beats
bone. Other options include brass, wood,
stainless steel and various plastics. You
have to try it on your own to determine
what you like best, but whatever the
choice, changing the nut material makes a
huge difference in tone.
Bridge & Saddles: If you’re looking for a
vintage tone, think about replacing the standard die-cast saddles with the sheet metal
examples, like those used during the fifties
and sixties. Brass or stainless steel saddles are
other good options. If you have a cheap die-cast bridge, think about replacing it with one
made of metal.
Tuners: Heavier tuners will give you more
sustain and a stronger and louder primary
tone. The old Kluson tuners will make your
Strat sound more open and transparent, with
a faster attack.
Tremolo Bar: The material of the inertia bar
is crucial for a Strat’s tone. Die-cast is the
standard, but steel is historically correct and
sounds great. This mod is highly recommended for all Strats. In general, die-cast tends to
dampen your guitar’s primary tone and should
be replaced with more vibrant and resonant
materials for a better tonal transfer.
Electronics: Check your guitar’s wiring – you
will often find a lot of less-than-optimal wire.
Pick up some high-quality wire and go to
town. Also consider replacing your pots and
jack with high quality examples.
Increasing the mass of your guitar will have
a noticeable influence on the tone and may
help to get rid of certain dead spots on the
fretboard. A classic trick is to clamp or screw
some metal to the headstock of the guitar. I recommend the Fatfinger clamp from
Groove Tubes. The difference is subtle but
audible – I can only recommend giving it a
try. For a quick test, use a metal capo from
your acoustic guitar; the Kyser Quick Change
Put on Pressure
The use (or not) of string trees and their
placement has a big effect on your instrument’s tone. Using string trees changes the
pressure that comes from the strings to the
nut – the higher the pressure, the stronger
the tone. I use metal butterfly string trees for
the D, G, B and high E strings. I place them
away from the nut due to facilitate behind-the-nut bends.
As you can see, very small changes can make
a huge difference. Most of the mods we have
discussed are easy to do and fairly inexpensive (if they cost anything). Next month, we
will talk about a common but cool Strat mod,
the Seven Sound Mod.
Until next month, stay tuned!