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Should You Build Your Own Strat (or Not)

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The purpose of this section is to provide you with information on building your own Strat.  The differences from one “identical” Strat to the next can be significant.  That in itself tells you that there is more to a guitar then the color and model name.  Although two guitars may look identical, the thickness of the paint, dryness and density of the wood, the tolerances in the neck pocket, the weight of the tremolo block, etc., are all factors in how the guitar “sounds” and “plays”.

Personal preference plays a very significant role in how a guitar sounds.  If you like a big round baseball bat neck, and that is what feels right to you, your playing will be best on a guitar that has that feel.  On the other hand, if you enjoy flying through the scales at light speed covering all 24 frets, you will play better with a thinner neck with a relatively flat fret board. 

Chances of getting a guitar with all the right parts and all of the features that appeal to you off of the shelf in a music store are slim.  That’s why there are so many after market guitar parts available. 

Let me give you an example.  At one time I had more than my fair share of Fender Stratocasters.  The last thing I needed was another Strat, right?  Well I am cruising through the local Guitar Center one day and pick up an American Deluxe Strat that some guy was beating to death for the last half hour.  I picked it up and noticed that it was lighter than most.  I also noticed the soft v shaped maple neck with smooth frets that felt like satin.  Strumming it a few times revealed a higher perceived volume (unplugged), and sustain that I could feel in my gut.  Wow, I liked this guitar.  The maple neck was a rich amber and the body was a 2-tone sunburst.  Boy, I really did not need another Strat, and especially another sunburst Strat.  I noticed some buckle rash on the back of the body—there you go, enough justification to put it down and walk away. 

A couple of weeks later I stopped the Guitar Center to see a friend of mine who works  there and, wow, the guitar was still there!  But now it was going on super sale for the upcoming Annual 3rd Weekend in March Sale.  It was a leftover from the 2nd Weekend in March Sale, so you know the price was really good.  I had a great time playing it and tried it in every amp in the store that still worked.  To me, this Strat played better than any Custom Shop Strat and rivaled the best for sustain.  But again, I just couldn’t justify another Strat.  I walked.

Following the weekend sale, my friend called me and told me that my favorite Strat did not sell.  It seems that some knucklehead beat it beyond it’s capacity and broke the S-1 switch.  If I wanted it I could have it at a salvage price.   How could I pass that up? 

I bought the Strat, replaced the switch and buffed some of the scratches out.  After a few months of playing it, I switched out the pickups, replaced the hardware with gold hardware, and changed the pick guard. 

The moral of this story:  As good as the guitar was off of the shelf, it wasn’t perfect.  Perfect is something that is unique to each player and it is very unlikely that you will find that in any store.  If you know what you want, if you have the ability to use a few tools, and if your attention to detail is good, you are probably capable of building a guitar from parts that is as good, or better (at least for you), than anything you will find at your local music store.