Monday, July 30, 2007

I have the powerrrrrrr...

I have had a red mexican Fender Strat for the best part of the last twenty years, during which time it’s never really been used in anger. Certainly not at a gig or anything. Though it was second-hand when I got it, with all its dings and scrapes, it still is a real Fender Strat and I do rather enjoy playing it.

I would have been hopping from foot to foot as a teenage proto-musician if I’d have been able to lay my hands on one of them, simply for the fact that, if you put the pickup selector switch just there, you get a wonderful, bell-like, kind-of-hard-to-describe sound that no other guitar really gets anywhere near. That, plus I had no money.

Now, it’s had plenty of studio outings, where its lack of oomph can be worked around, but I’d always hankered after somehow ‘getting it sorted’ so I could use it more. It’s enjoyable to play, just frustratingly gutless compared to all my other guitars (of which there are currently thirteen, and a banjo).

For those unfamiliar with the world of electric guitars and their aftermarket bits ‘n’ bobs, the two closest approximations I can think of are either the world of custom computer building (of which I am also an avid inhabitee), or the far more ghastly world of strap-on bits for cars. Mainly, this latter area seems to be for people who hold to strange and arcane beliefs that a gutless, worthless, hideous pile of rusty compact-car tat can be made into a thing of gorgeous artistic loveliness by the simple application of some deafening speakers, horrifyingly expensive paint, stripes, plastic replacement lights that apparently make your tiny car look like a Lexus, and what are known as ‘body kits’. Which just make cars look like shit.

Returning to my main thrust (oo-err), there is a pretty large market of bits and pieces with which to, umm, make one’s guitar go faster. Or, in this case, “go more louderer”. There are boutique manufacturers of pickups, designed to elicit tones “you never knew your guitar could produce”. What, like the bellow of a defecating gorilla with hemmorhoids? There are literally hundreds of potential “drop-in” replacement parts before one even thinks of taking a router to the wood and accommodating something larger.

I’m no stranger to the smell of the soldering iron. Many of my other guitars are modified, tweaked, fiddled with in some way or otherwise non-standard. When younger, I always just thought that a guitar was a guitar and you pretty much got what you were given. Oh, how I can look back and laugh now... ;-)

The prime reason for taking so long with the Strat comes back to that particular sound it can produce. You wouldn’t want to up the power but in the process lose the tone, would you? Not that you couldn’t put it back to the way it was before, but it just seems a rather profligate way forward.

Then, light dawned. Or, more accurately the manufacturer EMG came up with a rather neat little solution. As you can see from the pic of the guitar, all the pickups and electronics (volume and tone controls) are actually mounted on a sheet of plastic, known as a pickguard. After removing the strings, about seven screws and desoldering the two wires to the jack socket, the whole assembly lifts out. What EMG have done is not only make completely wired-up drop-in pickguards (because a whole bunch of other manufacturers do that), they’ve been working with respected guitarists across the years to come up with signature series pickguards, like the one I’ve just replaced Fender’s feeble pickups with, the David Gilmour model.

Knowing that it would be highly unlikely that Mr. G would want to lose the tone of the Strat (not too hard to find documentary evidence, really...) and being an admirer of his anyway, I thought it would be a fairly safe bet. It was indeed. The output from the guitar is now certainly comparable with many of the high-output Les Pauls and Yamahas that I have, but still has a lovely sweetness of tone that is the signature of the Strat. I’ve only just realised that the EMG website describes his main Strat as red too. Ooh, now I seem like a total fanboy...

Now all I have to do is find a way to be playing the thing for days on end without letting my business fall to the ground and remembering to eat occasionally... ;-)

Oh, and doing the keyboard rehearsals for the TN gigs. Oops, did I say that out loud..? ;-)


At 4:52 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

"if you put the pickup selector switch just there, you get a wonderful, bell-like, kind-of-hard-to-describe sound that no other guitar really gets anywhere near."

Can you point me in the direction of someone or some band who plays this guitar 'sound' somewhere (like on a cd)?

Just cuz I'm curious...

At 12:34 am, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Umm, I tell you what. I’ll record a few things and upload them for you.

It’s terribly anorak-y really, but they do just have this wonderful sound all of their own.

I’ll have it in the next couple of posts, I promise.

Or at least have dug out some specific references for you, mate. ;-)

At 6:34 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

Thank you sir.

I only ask because as much as I played guitar, I didn't really ever spend a lot of time tinkering with 'sound'. The closest I got was when my way more of a tinkering brother figured out how Keef got his Stones sound with the open tuning on a Strat and showed me the way. Otherwise it was all wah wah pedals and fuzz boxes.


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