How To Improve The Tone Of Your Strat

Discussion in 'Squier Stratocasters' started by SexyGibson, Dec 9, 2011.

  1. SexyGibson

    SexyGibson Squier-Nut

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    I am starting this thread mainly for Strat " newbies " like myself. These are excerpts from a thread written by a member on another forum that I frequent. Alot of this I am sure that many of the experienced Strat players here already know but, as I said, it is mainly for newbies.
    Please feel free to add anything you wish.


    A Stratocaster typically has a rear-routed tremolo cavity that is covered with a plastic cover and some screws. Take the cover away. It's amazing how the overall sound of a guitar can change by simply taking away this cover. I know it sounds like voodoo, but it's true -- give it a try and hear the difference yourself.

    Take care of your neck cavity. Uninstall the neck and check the cavity; it should be absolutely free of any paint, dirt and other things. Over the years I've found a lot of funny things there -- credit cards, paper, cardboard, etc.

    Also, The bottom and sides of the neck cavity should be absolutely plain and free of any paint. If they're not, take a piece of sandpaper and rework your cavity until you see the plain wood. If you feel that the neck does not fit the cavity because the cavity is too wide or too low, get your guitar to an experienced luthier who will "shim" it. Bad work at this critical point can ruin your guitar's tone!

    Check the corresponding part of the neck (the so-called "neck heel") that is attached to the neck cavity. Often you can find stickers there -- scrape them away. I also highly recommend sanding away all the paint until you can see and feel the plain wood. You don´t need any paint there, and a strong and even "wood to wood" connection will enhance the tone transfer dramatically. Bolt on the neck screws very tight, but don't overdo

    Let your guitar breath. For this, you should take away the paint at any location that can´t be seen. One critical location is the surface underneath the bridge of a Strat. Eric Johnson knows what he's doing when he does this to all of his guitars. You can also completely remove the paint of the inside of the pickup cavities and the entire surface underneath the pickguard
    Fender has an interesting little detail on the Eric Johnson Strat. They sand away the paint on top of the inertia bar (a.k.a "tremolo block") that is attached to the bottom of the tremolo bottom plate for a better tone transfer. At first I thought that it was voodoo and marketing, but later I had to take out the inertia bar on one of my own Strats, and since it was out anyway, I gave it a try and the result was stunning. The tone is stronger -- it was like "freeing" my guitar. So give it a try and listen to see if it makes a difference on your guitars.
     
  2. SexyGibson

    SexyGibson Squier-Nut

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    Different materials can really make a difference. I'm sure you all know the discussion about the Les Paul aluminum stop tailpiece, right? So here are different materials I've tried that made a big difference to the tone:

    - Nut Material: This is a wide field to experiment in, which I've discussed at length in a previous column, but for me nothing beats a good bone nut. Others prefer brass, wood, stainless steel, plastic, etc. You have to try it on your own what you like best, but changing the nut material really makes a big difference in tone

    - Bridge Saddles: You should think about replacing the standard diecast saddles with the original sheet metal ones that were used during the fifties and sixties when you want a vintage tone. Brass or stainless steel saddles are also a good choice for a Strat.

    - Tuners: Different tuners will make a difference in your tone; heavier tuners like most Grover products will give you more sustain and a stronger and louder primary tone. The old Kluson tuners will make your Strat more open and transparent sounding with a faster attack.

    - Bridges: If you have a cheap diescast bridge, you should think about replacing it with a metal one.

    - Tremolo Bar: The material of the inertia bar is crucical for a Stratocaster's tone. Even here diecast is the standard today; historically correct and awesome sounding is steel. This mod is highly recommendable for all Strats!

    In general you can say that particularly diecast tends to dampen your guitar's primary tone and should be replaced with more vibrant and resonant materials for a better and faster tone transfer

    Increasing the mass of your guitar will have a noticeable influence on the tone and can 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 checking out the "Fat Finger" clamp from Groove Tubes. The difference is subtle but audible and I can only recommend trying it. For a quick test, you can also use a metal capo from your acoustic guitar; the Kyser "quick change" model works great for this
     
  3. SexyGibson

    SexyGibson Squier-Nut

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    It makes a big difference to the tone of a Strat if you use string trees or not, and where you place them. Using string trees changes the pressure that comes from the strings to the nut, and the higher the pressure, the stronger the tone. I use "butterfly" metal string trees for the D,G,B and high E string and I place them not too close to the nut, because I do a lot of "behind the nut" bendings.

    To close, here are some more tips about your guitar's electronics and peripheral things:

    1. Check the wiring of your guitar, you will often find a lot of crappy cables in there. Get a high-quality cable and rewire the complete electronics. It´s nearly unbelievable what this can do to your tone.

    2. Check the pots, pickup selector switch and output jack. If you find some poor quality, made-in-the-far-east parts, get them replaced with quality parts.

    3. Restring your guitar with pure-nickel strings and hear details you've never heard before from your guitar.

    4. Replace your cables with a very high quality cable (eg. George L's) and hear some more details you've never heard before while playing.

    5. Try different plec materials and hear what you like best. From my experience I can say that the shell-colored celluloid plecs have the best Fender tone with a percussive attack and a lot of twang

    Take care of all the screws on your guitar. They should be fastened very tight for a better sound, but don't break them! Critical locations are the screws for the neck, the bridge and the tuners. Check them regularly. Loose screws can also be the reason for penetrating, rattling noises on electric guitars.
     
  4. SexyGibson

    SexyGibson Squier-Nut

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    Something I may add here, in fact it might be from this site that I first learned it, couldnt find it in a search though.

    Basically its a simple luthiers trick that works on pretty much all bolt on's to improve tone and sustain, results will vary I'll go into that later.

    The simple process is simply setting the guitar up to your liking, and tune to pitch, then loosen the neck plate screws 1/4 to 1/2 max! turn each, you should hear some creaking and popping, then tune the now slightly flattend guitar back up to pitch, and retighten the neck screws, check tuning and your done!

    Theory behind this is simple, the string tension forces the neck even tighter into the pocket, tighter the pocket, more contact between guitar and neck+ more tone transfer.

    On some guitars the diff for me was night and day, some it did very little, necks with rounded or beveled pocket edges wont get as much from it as theres less wood to contact, but its still worth doing. Brand new guitars usually dont take very strong to it either, as they still have some natural settling annd whatnot, its still worth doing, but as it ages and goes through multiple climate changes, thats when this trick really shines. My practice and my go to luthier fully agrees with me is whenever you do a full setup on your bolt on, do the trick if you feel like it, (cant hurt anything), but after a month or so of good play and everything is settled down, do the bolt the trick and it will usually make a big impact.
     
  5. sfcmark

    sfcmark Squier-Nut

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  6. SexyGibson

    SexyGibson Squier-Nut

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    I stated that these were not my words but taken from a thread on another forum. Just thought it may be helpful to some. Sorry if you've heard it all before.
     
  7. Kiwiclapton

    Kiwiclapton Squier-Meister

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    Thanks for the post man, very helpful.
     
  8. hunter rose IV

    hunter rose IV Squier-Nut

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    something else as well...if i can chime in...

    a lot of strats will have rather cheap tremsprings on the back...over time these will wear out,and you tone will start to suffer...i replace mine with heavy duty steel ones...and the set on my oldest strat is nearly 10 years old,with no sign of stretching out/slacking.

    and NEVER EVER adjust your saddle height with the string at full tension,you will strip out the allen screws in a heartbeat,and you will be up da creek.

    thom
     
  9. sfcmark

    sfcmark Squier-Nut

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    It's all good. I'm sure not everybody has seen the tips, but it's generally good form to link to the source when you're substantially quoting copyrighted, published material. In fact, it's a rule on most forums.
     
  10. LuxB

    LuxB Squier-Meister

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    Scraping off the paint?
    Taking off your backplate?


    Really? People still believe this stuff?
     
  11. SexyGibson

    SexyGibson Squier-Nut

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    Yeah, I know; a few of these things do seem kinda " nit picky " and while I don't really believe that some of them in theirselves would make a huge difference when coupled with others they may.
    As far as the back cover, I'm sure alot of guys are like myself and just leave it off for covienence.
     
  12. sfcmark

    sfcmark Squier-Nut

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    Some of the techniques in the article make a lot of sense. Others, not so much. I can see how the plastic backplate could interfere with the body's resonance, but I also believe it would be all but undetectable, even with laboratory instrumentation.

    Removing the paint is another story entirely. Under perfect environmental conditions, an unpainted body is surely more resonant than a painted one, but the paint (or varnish, or oil finish) performs the important function of stabilizing the wood, keeping it from warping or cracking with changes in humidity.

    The nice thing about the article is it's a nice menu of simple mods. Take what you want and scoff at the rest. Many of these will probably fuel forum debates as long as there are guitar forums
     
  13. LuxB

    LuxB Squier-Meister

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    That's what I do. I often adjust the springs so I leave it off for convienence.
     
  14. MSStrat

    MSStrat Squier Talker

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    Electrical isolation

    This can, but not always, contribute to an ultimate change in sound, but it definitely can reduce hum.

    Instead of copper tape I use copper gasket seal, available at Autozone or Napa. It's copper paint, real copper. I had a Mexican with no shielding whatsoever and painted the caivty with this, and the back of the pickguard, and it did make the instrument a bit quieter. The advantage of copper paint are several. It's cheaper than copper tape, it's easier to paint into crevices and corners much easier than applying tape, so it's a more thorough coverage, just have to watch it not make a mess or get it on other things. Consider using a smaller brush for tight spots. Plus, you can apply multiple coats to get thicker coating.

    I remove the necks from almost all my strats and sand away all stickers and finish, it always, always, improves the tone and sustain, in an immediately noticeable way.
     
  15. softwarejanitor

    softwarejanitor Squier-holic

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    A number of years ago I built a Strat with a solid one piece walnut body and only a hand rubbed oil finish. Did it sound good? Yes. Do I believe it would have lost tone if I'd had finished it with a thick poly finish? Nope. FWIW, the other Strat I had at the time had a thick poly finish on a 2 piece ash body and it actually had a thicker, fuller tone with more resonance and sustain. Not completely a fair comparison because there were hardware, pickup and electronics differences between the two... But still....

    I don't believe any of the hoo-hah about guitars "breathing" or about finishes robbing tone or resonance...
     
  16. MSStrat

    MSStrat Squier Talker

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    "Hoo-hah?" Well, just because you can't hear it, or don't believe it.....is quite beside the point.

    If you took a guitar and did the mod yourself, playing the guitar before removing the finish from the neck join and then removing the finish.....there is a difference. I'm not even that experienced of a guitarist, but a very experienced musician, and I could definitely hear a difference, on three different guitars, three strats at that. The way you describe your build stories does not appear that you've done the prescribed sequence, but only compared unfinished vs. unfinished guitars, with completely different configurations, no less. It's not a suitable analogy from which to conclude that a mod you haven't done is therefore, "hoo-hah," no sequitur.

    Further, it is widely accepted within the strat-mod community that 1) This is a relatively standard low-cost mod, and 2)it's on a hundred "improve your strat sound" lists out there......the weight of evidence is against you.
     
  17. richieryan

    richieryan Squier-holic

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    That pesky trem-bar must be a tone sucker as well. Every Strat I've bought has lost it's bar...:D
     
  18. softwarejanitor

    softwarejanitor Squier-holic

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    FWIW, have you read what Ron Kirn says about it? There are just about as many people who say it won't change sound appreciably, let alone improve it. Hear-say evidence about something that is subjective doesn't have much weight if you ask me...

    Anyway, I've had to remove finish from neck and/or neck pockets in the past to fit a different neck, and I can't say it changed the tone that much compared to the previously mounted neck. At least not like changing pickups, electronics or something major like a trem block does.

    Anyway, it would be interesting if someone who believes in this voodoo enough to try it would post some before and after sound samples so us nonbelievers can hear for ourselves. I'm not willing to experiment on my carefully constructed guitars to do it myself... Maybe I could try it on the next beater Squier I buy off Craigslist to flip or something.
     
  19. MSStrat

    MSStrat Squier Talker

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    Sure

    Well...I am not going on hearsay, by any means. I did the change on two difference guitars and could hear the difference, clearly. I think if you tried it on a Squier you'd notice the difference. Particularly if the instrument was a little weak in sustain before-hand.

    It seems like you are just assuming that we that who have done it must be hearing things, or lying. I have sensitive ears from 4o years of being a musician, and being classically trained. And...having a private professional quality studio for the last 8 years has really tuned my ears to hear things. Of course, owning a bunch of equipment doesn't count for much unless you use it.

    The easiest way for you to verify this is to buy a $70 squier off of CL and do the mod yourself. I promise you that you would hear a difference. And...if I get a new guitar soon that would be appropro for this mod, I'll video it to demonstrate.

    It's not a 'slap you in the face' difference, but subtle, but nevertheless noticeable. I've performed this mod on one Mexican strat and one American strat. The difference was most noticeable on the American. Here's exactly how I noticed. The vibration that translated through the neck to the body was more noticeable for an otherwise equal strumming effort. I was not expecting that to be the way that I most noticed the difference, but it was. That, to me, was confirmation, in addition to the increased sustain.
     
  20. softwarejanitor

    softwarejanitor Squier-holic

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    I think if you were hearing an improvement in sustain it would be because you have improved the fit of your neck to neck pocket more so than because of any voodoo about wood breathing or finish or lack thereof. I can see how increasing the surface contact could possibly help... But on the other hand, virtually every Strat Fender (and the contractors who make Squiers) builds has a shim in the neck pocket. So it seems like removing finish or stickers from the heel of the neck or the neck pocket would have a fairly negligible affect on improving the transference of vibration between the neck and body. Having the right neck angle and getting the action height adjusted where it needs to be is more important to me than a possible tiny improvement in sustain...
     

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