• Hugh Hardy

The Strat Whisperer?

I’m a bit of a “punter” when it comes to guitar repair. Don’t let me touch your frets with a file… But I do have a good “feel”, as a player, for assessing a Stratocaster (I’m back into Strats in a big way!) very quickly, and with a bit of intuitive information becoming available to me. So today I got this 50s style Strat… rings really well with it’s Alder body and overall weight of just under 7-1/2 lbs. – a perfect weight for an Alder Strat. But more than that, this is a NICE piece of wood! With the right pickups (I haven’t plugged ‘er in yet) this will be a killer Strat!

So the next question is (here’s the voodoo): “how does the Tremolo WANT to be set up?”. I play the guitar – never plugged in at this stage – and try the Trem. It can feel stiff or loose, stay in tune or go out of tune… all relating to the type of bridge, action height, setup of 6 bridge screws, # of springs, lubrication, position of the Trem claw… this is all after I have lubed the nut and stretched the strings – the #1 cause of tuning issues for a Stratocaster. I play with these variables. Some guitars seem to play, sound and feel best with a floating bridge – and some are best with the bridge flat on the body. Sometimes I use 3 springs, often 4, and rarely, 5. There are different ways to set the springs on the claw. There are some different and unusual ways to set the depth of the 2 claw screws… it goes on and on! Of course these “best” ways for a particular instrument are just my opinions, and it’s really a subjective thing. But for sure, once I have set up a Strat the way that it feels right to me, I never seem to have to fight the guitar or the tuning when I play it live.

There are a few other things I do with a Strat – even a vintage guitar. One trick is that I always flip one wire on the switch so that the 2 Tone controls function on the neck pickup and the bridge pickup. The middle pickup is straight through, with no Tone control. I used to hook it up with the second Tone control functioning on both the middle and bridge pickups, but now I like the middle pickup to be straight through – it works really well when you use the notch position between the middle/bridge pickups. PF and I did a Strat shootout recently and we found that the Tone control on the bridge pickup in some configuration is really a “must” when you get used to having one and hearing the strident tone of even the best Strat bridge pickups when played straight through.

Since I am a bit of a “hack”, if I detect some binding in the nut after I have properly lubed it, I take it to a luthier. Same with fret issues…

Here’s some eye candy for you… David W.’s ’65 Strat that I owned for many years…

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