online and peer-to-peer research and settled
on some Night Flyers from Don Mare Pickups
in Long Beach, CA. Known for his vintage tone,
Mare’s pickups feature classic specs and what
he calls a “Josie” wrap, which is a specific ‘ 50’s
winding pattern reverse engineered from Josie
the pickup winder in Leo Fender’s old shop.
Digging in a little further, I found that the
pickups feature enamel wire with 6.3k values
in the neck, 6.5k in the middle and 6.9k in
the bridge. According to Mare, these values
basically represent Ohms—the actual length
of wire wrapped around the pickup. For
example, on his wrapping chassis, 6.3k represents 8500 turns, and 6.9k represents a few
more turns, equaling out to approximately
130 turns for every . 1 jump. This increased
value and hotter output allows the high end
to come down while the bass response, mids
and volume go up. These pickups actually
model those usually found in a 1964 Strat.
Once the pickups were in, the guitar began to
take shape as a whole new instrument. It now
had a classic well-balanced sound with crisp
highs (but not harsh), balanced mids and a
tight, punchy bottom. And to think I didn’t like
Strats! But I didn’t stop at just the pickups. I also
installed a treble bypass mod on the volume
pot, which helped to prevent the guitar from
“mudding out” with the volume turned down.
Often called a “treble bleed,” this treble bypass
mod is basically a small value capacitor placed
between the I/O terminals of the volume pot.
For recording, I’ve found it to be invaluable.
Unfortunately, this guitar needed a full tune-up to become what I envisioned. The frets
needed to be polished and deburred off the
side of the neck, something that should be
done carefully to avoid scratching it up. The
nut slot got a little deburring as well, and the
tremolo was tightened and floated to help
keep the guitar in tune when using it.
The Bottom Line
For an even swap of guitars and a relatively small
investment in terms of pickups and overall work,
I got a Strat that’s easy to play, sounds killer
and records incredibly well. Plugging it into my
Music Man 112RD and my Magnatone M10A is
simply a joy—the clean vintage tone is a winner.
The Mare pickups and other adjustments really
changed this instrument from a below-average
closet dweller to a true player. Sure, it took some
effort and a few dollars, but I’ve now got a work-
ing guitar that’s actually quite nice. Of course, I
could have gone farther with the mods by swap-
ping out pots and such, but I wanted to keep
this as a hobby-level guitar project.
Hopefully, some of you Premier Guitar readers also have guitars that would be happier in
a new home, being played by someone who
appreciates them. So go research some new
pickups and mods to suit your own playing
style, and go ahead and post your own trade
ad online and see if you can find some new
soul. It’s not that hard to do, and the rewards
can be amazing!