Cheap mods for better tone.

Discussion in 'Squier Strat Forum' started by Tonespinner 2, Aug 8, 2020.

  1. Tonespinner 2

    Tonespinner 2 Strat-Talk Member

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    My instrument is a 50th Anniversary Korean strat with a plywood body. While I don't hate it (the neck is the best part) it is not an instrument that is worth sinking a lot of money into. I would like to improve the tone a bit if possible. I believe that I am losing energy from poor string termination. ie: plastic nut, pot metal bridge saddles and pot metal trem block (i do not use the trem and have it locked). Was hoping that some of you with more experience than I in these matters could advise me.

    Sincerely, Tonespinner2
     
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  2. stevierayfan91

    stevierayfan91 DEEPLY SHY.

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    Hi, @Tonespinner 2
    Can you check whether the pots are 250 K ?

    A steel trem block and bone nut may help.
     
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  3. albala

    albala Most Honored Senior Member

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    practice
     
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  4. dirocyn

    dirocyn Most Honored Senior Member

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    Those laminate body squier can be fine players, and I agree that the neck is the best part.

    You're new here, so you may not be aware we've had running, recurring arguments about "tone," some of us have staked out well defined positions on the subject and very strong feelings. One of those positions is that tone is all in the hands and the only thing that improves tone is practice. Another is that tone is subjective and the only part that matters is how much you like it.

    So rather than talk about "tone," I'm going to talk about the timbre and playability of the instrument. If the nut is not properly cut, a properly cut nut will make a huge improvement in the playability and tuning stability. A nut does effect the timbre of open notes, some people can hear a difference between a plastic nut and a brass or bone one. The nut does not make any significant change in the timbre of fretted notes. If you have a plastic nut and don't like how the open notes sound vs. the fretted ones, consider a nut made of harder material.

    The saddles can make a big difference in timbre, but human memory of timbre isn't great. It's worth it to try a few different kinds. If you want a true test of how the saddle effects tone, replace one saddle with a different style, put two identical strings adjacent to each other, tune them the same and set the intonation the same. Then you'll be able to hear in real time what the real difference is. If your ears don't hear a difference, then it doesn't matter. If you do hear a difference and you have a preference, go with it. Your guitar, your ears, your rules. When I changed block individual saddles on my Tele for 3-barrel brass I heard a big timbre difference--with the brass saddles adding an "zang" that reminds me of bronze strings and honestly sounds a lot like an acoustic. That change was a big difference for me.

    Another major area for changing timbre is the pot & cap values. Bigger value pots will be brighter when turned all the way up, bigger value caps will be darker when the tone knob is turned all the way down. The sound is only effected by the resistance of the pots and the capacitance of the caps, don't worry about brand or style. A $.10 cap may sound better than a $30 cap, but if the values are the same they will sound the same.

    When I changed out the tiny zinc trem block in my SE for a full-sized Bronze block, I found the timbre difference about equivalent to changing strings. Which I also did at the same time. Completely underwhelming. I could not hear any difference in sustain, although I did not measure it with a stopwatch. I personally found those changes irrelevant.

    Then you get into pickups. Yours probably has inexpensive ceramic pickups. These are inherently less bright than vintage Alnico pickups, but also have higher output. Often asian Strats pair ceramic pickups with 500k pots, which more than makes up for the darker sound from the ceramic pickup--and results in a harsh but thin timbre. I prefer low output vintage style alnico pickups, but your preferences may be different. Pickup height effects the timbre, I like 'em low, but your taste may vary. If you go too high the magnet will pull on the string and may produce "wolf tones" and tuning issues, if you go too low the pickups will fall off the adjuster screws. In between those extremes, it's a matter of taste.

    If you are unhappy with the body, replacement Strat bodies are available from a number of sources. Don't be surprised if you don't hear much difference, though.
     
  5. Guitarmageddon

    Guitarmageddon Dr. Stratster

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    Fender's 50th anniversary was 1996, by 1996 all Squier bodies were supposed to be solid wood....are you sure?

    I think bridge upgrades especially when decking make zero to little effect on tone.....

    I'd only change pickups/electronics and give it a fret level/crown if it needed it, and a good setup.....that's it....if it were mine....possibly change tuners depending which ones it has.....
     
  6. Tonespinner 2

    Tonespinner 2 Strat-Talk Member

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    Thank you so much for your detailed response. This helps me a great deal.
     
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  7. Tonespinner 2

    Tonespinner 2 Strat-Talk Member

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    Worth working with, then? I'm beginning to think so. PS: Yes, positively it is a laminate body. I count about nineteen laminations. Being it is Korean, as I have learned, it is probably made in the Samick piano factory and I am guessing (by the number of laminations) that it was probably made from their pinblock material (used in piano construction) which would make it a much better laminate than your Home Depot variety. Thank you for the reply (no pun intended)
     
  8. lbpesq

    lbpesq Strat-O-Master

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    This is by far the biggest bang for your buck mod you can do to a bolt-on guitar. I know that’s a strong statement, until you realize this mod is completely free! All you need is a screwdriver. You loosen the two lower neck screws about 1/4 turn, then do the same to the two upper neck screws. You will likely hear a little creaking sound. Then just tighten up all four screws. This will often significantly increase sustain as you are using the string tension to more firmly seat the neck in the pocket. Free, easy, no experience necessary! It doesn’t get any better! Here’s an instruction video on this method:



    Bill, tgo
     
  9. Tonespinner 2

    Tonespinner 2 Strat-Talk Member

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    Pots are 500 K
     
  10. Tonespinner 2

    Tonespinner 2 Strat-Talk Member

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    Cool video. Thank you. I will try this.
     
  11. BlurgyWurgyWibble

    BlurgyWurgyWibble Strat-O-Master

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    On a strat those things hardly matter imho. If anything they will be a bit less spanky, which isn't a bad thing. You might find that you start to get grooves forming in the cheaper saddles, which is actually not a bad thing tbh. A badly cut nut is a problem but unless its cut too low you can fix that with some stewmac files. Yes they are kinda expensive (relatively) but if you plan on owning guitars/playing guitars for the rest of your life, you need a set. Period.

    The #1 thing you can do on a strat to improve the tone is change the pickups. Subjective, but I'd recommend something scatter wound (lots of air gaps), low'ish output (5-7k) and go for something a little softer than A5. I like A3. That gives you a great woody/gnarly tone which you can then colour however you like with the amp/speaker combination, the EQ on the amp and/or pedals.

    The next biggest thing on a strat is the setup. Its astonishing just how much of a fine line there is between a badly set up strat, an OK'ish set up strat and a properly set up strat. Even a cheap strat will SING if its setup just-so.

    Start by getting your trem right, if you are going to deck it, get it decked but only screw down that claw as far as you need to go to get it decked and stop the pitch changing when you bend the unwound strings. I recommend 3 trem springs like this: I I I.

    Then get your saddles radiused appropriate to the board. Buy some of those $5 radius guages! Then get the relief as minimal as possible. Too loose and it will sound great but feel awful, too tight and it will feel great but sound awful. There's a very, very specific point on every stratocaster when its JUST right. You have to dial that in.

    Setting up a strat can be a PITA. It really can be very tedious, especially a 6 screw trem. But when its right, its RIGHT..

    Don't get wrapped up in/seduced by the whole 'everything needs to be better quality to make me better quality' lie. The stratocaster is a plank of wood that exhists solely to allow the pickups to generate a current. That's it. By all means, chase the names and the expensive bells and whistles as it suits you, but I promise you a $100 bullet squier strat hardtail can sound every bit as good as a $5000 custom shop with some decent aftermarket pickups and a proper setup.

    If you really want to improve your tone/get some fresh inspiration, think about getting a better amplifier. In fact I recommend to anyone starting out to get the best amplifier they can afford and the cheapest guitar and work from there.
     
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  12. Dreamdancer

    Dreamdancer Senior Stratmaster

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    If its about the sustain...first check out the neck pocket and neck connection...losen the screws and the the strings pull the neck tight into the neck pocket...and tighten them again...then the next step is to change the puny zinc block with a brass or steel one and the next is to change the nut.

    if its about the tone....first is...practice and second is a better amp.
     
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  13. jaxjaxon

    jaxjaxon Strat-O-Master

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    Change the Capacitor on the tone pots. the fast and cheap way to change up you guitars tone. But you need to be able to solder.
     
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  14. jvin248

    jvin248 Senior Stratmaster

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    .

    Scale the suggestions back ...

    -If the tone of your guitar is not what you want ... measure your pots and caps and find ones that measure higher/lower (specs are 10-20% on those parts, even the premium ones). I used to swap pickups like you'll see in every thread but you can push the tone around for $20 in parts.

    -Block the trem with a wood block. do a google image search and you'll get the idea. That's what Eric Clapton does on his Strats, so it's been gig validated by a pro. He does it so the guitar stays in tune when he bends strings.

    -Lower the neck and middle pickups to the pickguard, raise the bridge pickup until volume parity when switching neck to bridge pickup. Those are ceramic magnet pickups, ceramic is stronger than alnico, so if you set the pickup height off some book spec they will be too high and sound bad. Use your ears though. You can even tip pickups higher on the bass side and lower on the treble side to get what you want.

    -For buying parts: CTS or Bourns pots, CRL 5-way switch, Switchcraft jack, shielded cable from the volume pot to the jack. Now your guitar will feel and have the durability of the top end guitars. You might spend under $20 with good shopping.

    -Check frets 3-at-a-time for level with a credit card/etc next to each string, put a sharpie dot on the high points of the frets you find. If you have a lot then a fret level may help playability a lot. A fret level job is around $100, they will fix any nut setup problems in that, plus general guitar setup. It will play like a Custom Shop guitar when they are done, as long as it's a good tech. It won't play like a guitar shoved out of the factory as quick as they could. You say the neck is the best part of the guitar so they may have done great fretwork.

    -Replace tuners only if they are broken. However, use good tuning practices to only 'tune up' to pitch and if you overshoot then drop back a half step below so you can 'tune up'. If you catch tuning on the way down you'll build slack in the guitar that releases at the first strum. Use the roadie trick to re-string the guitar: bring the string to the post and wrap 3-4 times below the post hole up to and thread the hole, now just a few turns (just like locking tuners) to get it up to pitch -- rather than the infinite winding you'll see most videos.

    -Use graphite dry lube on the nut slots and saddles. Greases will attract grit and increase friction over time.

    .
     
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  15. Biddlin

    Biddlin Senior Stratmaster

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    For a couple of bucks I added a noticeable amount of sustain to my MiM. Believe it or don't, adding heavier knobs (pewter/abalone) made it much more resonant in the mid and bass range. No explanation, just observable fact.
    P1010117.JPG P1010118.JPG
     
  16. Jmart1212

    Jmart1212 Strat-Talker

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    Jvin248 has some good points....if the pickups are raised too high it kills your sustain. Block the trem and possibly get some new pickups if anything. I had an old charvette with plywood body and that thing sounded pretty good regardless.
     
  17. ProSonicLive

    ProSonicLive Senior Stratmaster

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    The basic upgrade path is just about always the best. The following is what *I* do and it works for me.

    1) Pickup change.- THIS is the largest improvement you can make to any solid body electric. Nobody can tell you what to get because to this point, nobody knows what you play. Even if we did know what you play, only you know what your guitar lacks in voice (tone) and where it excels.

    2) Locking tuners. (or at very least, better tuners) - I like locking tuners and think that a quality set is always a good idea. They almost always have a higher turning ratio. My new set of hipshots have an 18:1 ratio. This makes tuning more accurate. However, without the locking feature, strings changes become a lot more tiring. Many are staggered, this means you will likely be able to do away with one or both of your string trees.

    3) Nut- just about anything but plastic will be an upgrade. OPEN strings will sound much better. A zero fret has been know to REALLY help with better intonation. However, if not cut right, the nut can cause even a multi thousand dollar guitar play like trash. I mean, a PRS can be reduced to "first act" or "austin" level trash.

    4) saddles- This most objective benefit these can offer is a more smooth break-over for stings. Some can offer better string longevity such as graph-techs. A popular belief is that saddles can improve tone. I am not going to try to convince you or dissuade you from this as I have heard vast improvement in some guitars and almost nothing in others. It is a risk. a good kit come from callaham. They make upgrade kits for MIA and MIM strats. This includes the string block, also sometimes called the "tone block"

    5) Wiring kit- There is sometimes a myth that goes around that the name of the pot changes tone or that mini-pots are trash. This is untrue in the way that it is often used. Mini-pots are mostly trash because they VERY OFTEN have VERY wide tolerances. This means your 250K pot may be nowhere near that. The same is often true of the trash caps that come in these guitars. The 5-way has really no influence other than mostly it feels like crap and when they fail (far more frequent than better made 5-ways) they fail spectacularly. I had one that straight up broke at the shaft. It was a CLEAN break. That usually means "defective", not "you hit it too hard".

    I like CTS pots, CRL switches (also grigsby) and Switchcraft output jacks. there is nothing wrong with the cheaper output jacks on cheap guitars. They just have a far shorter lifespan. You are well served to replace the output jack with a switchcraft, but the world wont end if you dont.

    I also like to use shielded/insulated wire when wiring guitars. I like it because You can get like 7 different colored 75ft rolls. This makes wiring a guitar MUCH easier as you can easily use the different colors to illustrate signal paths visually.
    Being insulated, You can likely get away with not fully shielding the rest of the guitar...but it is still a good idea to fully shield the guitar. This wire is also a bit thicker than most wires used in guitar wiring. *My* ear thinks it hears a slight improvement in overall bass or clarity...but it is likely just a placebo effect given my experience with pro-audio where a too-small-a cable CAN suck out a lot of bass as opposed to a proper sized wire.

    6) frets- properly shaped and finished frets have only a secondary effect on "tone" they "feel" better thus you likely "play" better. Obviously, different fret materials will alter tone...however, I have not personally ever seen a fret change on a really cheap guitar as it often costs more than the guitar itself. But nobody is stopping you from doing it and I doubt anyone would judge you for it if the guitar is sentimental.


    7) SETUP- this is the holy grail of tone and you don't have to fight an old dude in chain mail to get it. This is literally the "one weird trick for better guitar tone!" It is fortunately free if you learn to do it on your own As I just don't think such work is worthy of the at least $60 that many places hold as the baseline for their prices on setups.
     
  18. stevierayfan91

    stevierayfan91 DEEPLY SHY.

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    Hi, @Tonespinner 2

    I think if the pickups are single coils , 250 K pots, and a .047 pf cap would make them sound more classic Fendery ?
     
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  19. Tonespinner 2

    Tonespinner 2 Strat-Talk Member

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    Thank you so much for the detailed advice. So much that I am learning here that will help me.
     
  20. Tonespinner 2

    Tonespinner 2 Strat-Talk Member

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    Thank you for your detailed response. I will heed your advice. Tonespinner