Tag Archives: hardware

Rewiring a Fender Strat

I have a Fender Squier (the cheapest model they make) guitar that was once a nice sunburst colour until I dropped it a few too many times, named it ‘Chip’ and decided to sand it back completely and put my own finish on it.  That was about ten years ago.

It was difficult to sand.  The annoying parts between the horns(?) required far too much work, by hand, that I put the project off and left it like that.  I put it back together and did a mediocre job of rewiring it with new parts I didn’t understand.

However, one recent Sunday I was feeling bored and decided to pull out this old guitar, finish sanding it, oil it and make plans to rewire it better.  I’d then have one less unfinished job nagging me, a nice guitar to play, and an excuse to share something else on my blog!  I sat on the balcony listening to Escape Pod podcasts and after a few vigorous hours of sanding it was ready.  I finished the body and neck with linseed oil which turned out darker than expected, but I actually quite like the contrast between the colour and the pickguard.

The Squier is quite a nice guitar, but it uses a lot of cheap parts.  Ages ago the pickup selector switch stopped working so I replaced it with a proper one.  While I was at it I upgraded the 250K volume and tone potentiometers (pots) to 500K ones, swapped the standard bridge pickup with a cheap humbucker I got second-hand, and rounded it all off with a new pickguard showing the fancy, three layer (white-black-white) colour scheme.

This time around I wanted to replace the humbucker with a new one and I found a second-hand Seymour Duncan HS4 on ebay for cheap.  My only other purchase was for a capacitor and resistor which, surprisingly, are the only things I had to buy new for this project.

Finished guitar ready to start

Wiring plan

I spent ages looking online for guitar wiring plans for inspiration.  I wanted to see what others were doing and think about how I wanted mine to work.  I’d never really used anything but the bridge pickup with full tone and volume before, electing to simply use an amplifier to alter the sound.  Now I had the opportunity to customise my guitar I’d be more conscious of and experimental with the sound options available when I play.

The Seymour Duncan site was helpful.  It had a wiring diagram that was printable and only required a few changes.  First, I wanted to use a separate tone pot for the humbucker and run the single-coil pickups through the other.  Second, instead of the .022 capacitor in the tone circuit I swapped the old Fender .0473 one I didn’t trust with a .0333 that was in my other guitar.  (I am unsure about units of measurement here!)  And lastly, I elected to include a resistor (100k) and capacitor (1000pF) in the volume pot to reduce ‘treble bleed‘.

An issue I have is that my amplifier is too damn loud for an apartment.  I nudge the volume knob just over zero and there’s a very small area between not being able to hear my guitar in all its glory and the point where I’m inviting number ten to hit their ceiling with broom handles.  But if I make this search for an appropriate volume easier by turning down the pot on the actual guitar, I lose a noticeable amount of quality in the sound.  The treble bleed hack helps retain the quality for the times where you actually need to use the volume knob.  I wasn’t certain about which capacitor and resistor values would be best for me so I chose commonly recommended ones.  If I could be bothered buying more parts I could experiment, but I think these are more than sufficient.

One Issue I’ve always has with (stratocaster) guitars is that when you take off the pickguard you need to use a soldering iron to detach a few cables before you remove it.  Annoying!  To avoid this I wanted to implement some kind of system where I only needed to disconnect a single cable by hand.  I looked around the garage and found a three-wire, CPU fan cable.  Perfect!  (For those wanting to try this, a simple CPU fan extension cable has both male and female connectors – and they’re cheap!)  This would work for the output and ground cables that go to the jack, and have one cable left for the ground connection to the bridge.  (I wonder if anyone has tried this before?)

Putting it all together

After removing all the old wires the first thing I did was solder in the treble bleed hack.  The capacitor was a little big so I had to move the volume pot around a bit so the tone pot wasn’t in the way.  I’d cut the wires shorter later.

Treble bleed hack in a Fender Strat

I then slid the female half of the CPU fan cable through the inside of the pickup selector switch.  If you try this, be careful not to damage the wires in the process, and try the switch once the cable is in to make sure it isn’t actually in the way.  Mine wasn’t, but perhaps I got lucky.  Also, make sure it’s the right way around for ease of connection – I reversed it after taking this picture.

Next, I separated one of the wires from the male half of the CPU fan cable (mine was yellow) and slid it through the hole in the body.  I soldered it to the bridge area.  This will be for ground.

Grounding a Fender Strat

Back of the guitar

The other two wires on this cable were then attached to the output jack.  I used red as output and black as ground.  The picture below shows the finished preparation of the male CPU cable.  It’s also in the rough position it would be if it was connected to the pickguard.

I can’t stress how happy I am that this hack worked so perfectly.  It will save me some time later on, of course, but I’ll also be reminded of how awesome I am whenever I see it.  It can also be used for stereo output (using a four-wire cable, using a separate cable for the bridge grounding, or ignoring the bridge grounding altogether), but I didn’t want to play with multiple channels just yet.

Simple connection for Fender Strat pickguard

Next job was to neaten up the pickup wires and solder them on.  That’s fairly straightforward (just check the Seymour Duncan diagram) so I won’t go into detail.  The image below shows the completed wiring for the volume pot (the CPU cable and the pickup selector switch have been connected) and we would actually be done now if we didn’t want to use the tone pots.

Wiring of pickups and volume pot

A bit of fancy wiring for the tone pots . . .

Finalised wiring

. . . connecting the cable . . .

Connecting the CPU fan cable

. . . and we’re done!

I was sure to test the circuits were working correctly before screwing on the pickguard, putting on a set of 10-46 gauge strings, adjusting the height and intonation of the strings and then playing for a minute or two to stretch the strings a little.

Here are some photos of the finished product!  (As usual, click on any of the photos on this post to see the large version!)

Finished guitar lookin' all shiny

Obligatory macro Shot

Verdict

It’s amazing!  I know much of this is because I’m now very conscious of how it’s all working (and for that reason alone I’d recommend such a project to others), but I can hear many distinct sounds coming from each of the pickups.  For the first time I’ve found a good setting on the amplifier and then refined it by using the tone controls on the guitar.  I can use the humbucker and then switch to a predefined tone using the bridge and neck.

I’m also quite impressed with the treble bleed hack.  There is a slight loss of quality but it’s more than sufficient until I get down to 4.  Usually it would sound awfully muddy at 8.

I noticed that the only original hardware remaining are the single-coil pickups (I think they’re fine) and the output jack.  The latter may actually need replacing.  There’s a noise if the cable isn’t pushed in at the right angle, even though the circuit connects clean.  I tried two separate cables (four ends) so it’s likely that it’s simply a low quality output jack.  I probably have something in the garage that’s better, but this isn’t urgent.

Another lingering issue is that the Squire Strats, for some reason, use a slightly different set of rules for its placement of pickguard holes.  Out of the eleven holes on the board, only six match with corresponding holes in the wood.  I’ll have to drill five more one day, and get a hold of four additional screws.

Lastly, one thing I liked about this guitar is that it was made in 1996, Fender’s fiftieth anniversary.  To commemorate this, they put a gold, embossed sticker stating so on the back of the headstock.  I had to remove this for sanding, but I wanted to put it back somewhere.  I just don’t know where.  Again, not urgent – like my plan to draw a dinosaur design on the headstock with ink.

Apart from being a fun and educational project, I now have a guitar that sounds great and is easy to use.  (My other one has a locking nut and floating bridge, which makes it nigh impossible to alter tuning, and the pots and switch are all scratchy.)  I’ve been looking for an excuse to get back into playing guitar regularly for years.  I hope this helps get me there.

Creative Commons License
Images appearing in this post are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Advertisements

Computer setup – part one: Hardware and OS

[Updated: Added a new paragraph to the end describing my success in getting rid of gnome-panel.]

I thought it might be nice to write about my computer setup.  I haven’t made a post like this in years and I just recently upgraded my operating system so it felt like a good time.  I’ll begin here with part one which discusses my operating system installation and hardware setup.  Part two will talk about the software I use and part three will focus on Firefox 4 because, well, like many others, my browser is where I spend most of my computing time.

Hardware
I know how to build a computer.  I know how to choose high quality parts that operate great together and cost altogether much less than pre-built systems.  However, after spending far too much time fixing these by diagnosing the issue, finding replacement parts on eBay (if I get exactly the same part I don’t need to reformat) and then realising problems are still present and starting over, I chose another approach to computer hardware: buying very common, pre-built DELL systems.

The reasons for this are numerous.  First of all, they’re so easy to get hold of.  I went for the small form factor Optiplex 745 from a few years ago and if I ever want to get another one there are many, competitively priced, local options on eBay.  The small form factor version is a little less common than the standard desktop system, and I need to make sure I get one with the correct CPU, but I imagine it will be simple to get hold of one in an emergency for quite a few years to come.  Second, as a person who doesn’t feel comfortable buying ‘new stuff’, especially electronic equipment, this allows me to buy used computers and still have access to fairly decent technology.  I know I could build a computer with better specifications, but, really, I’m not going to notice the difference.  Third, speaking of specifications, packaged systems tend to be quieter, have lower power consumption, and take up less space than something I’d build myself.  Fourth, these can be incredibly cheap!

Lastly, and perhaps the most important point here, because I have two of these computers in the house, if my main computer has a problem, I can simply remove the hard drive and put it in the not-as-important media computer located in the lounge room.  Let me put that another way: if my computer dies, I can be back up and running within a few minutes!  I could fix the problem in my own time, and have the luxury of looking for and waiting for a replacement when I get around to it.  The biggest problem I have with computers is immediately, heavily dissipated.  As long as I keep good backups of my files, my productivity should never receive a major hit.

The only changes I need to make to these computers is to: put in a simple, low-profile, passively cooled (read: quiet) NVIDIA video card that has a DVI video output (I can’t stand the quality of D-SUB); find a good, second-hand monitor on eBay; change the hard drive if I have a spare one of larger capacity; remove the ‘Made for Windows’ sticker on the front and replace it with a ‘GNU/Linux INSIDE’ sticker (I got some after a Richard Stallman talk and they’re awesome), and; reformat the computer so it uses my currently preferred flavour of GNU/Linux.

Operating System
I’ve been running GNU/Linux as my primary (and often only) operating system since about 2004, back when having non-standard hardware meant you received a crash course in unix commands and software compiling.  After various tinkering with GNU/Linux as a dual-boot playground, I began using Slackware as a primary OS because I liked how configurable it was and its tendency to force me to learn how the operating system functioned.  I soon moved to using Kubuntu due to its larger support community and ease of use – I realised I spent a large portion of my time fixing things and wanted to be a bit more productive, and I preferred the configurability and look of the KDE environment over that of Gnome.

Last year, feeling a bit bored with the KDE interface and wanting to try out an alternative, I came across the Linux Mint project.  The aim of this OS, an offshoot of Ubuntu with interface improvements and media codecs as standard, can be summed up by its motto, ‘From Freedom Came Elegance’.  It looks great, is incredibly intuitive to use, and releases updates when they are ready rather than keeping to a proposed release date at the potential cost of stability.

Another important difference in this latest release is that Mint has chosen to retain the Gnome environment rather than switching to Unity, which many long-standing Linux users vocally dislike.  (I haven’t used Unity, but from the videos I’ve seen I don’t believe I’m the right audience for it.)

Mint 11 was released last week and I’ve experienced the simplest – and quickest! – OS installation ever.  For the first time in years, I decided to make it a dual-boot system so I could use Windows without having to open the case and change the hard drive.  (I have a few ancient games I like to be able to play, even if it’s rare, and I’m not yet able to submit my tax return using GNU/Linux.)  I first used the DELL recovery CD to install Vista, allowing it to use 80Gb of my hard drive, and run updates, which took almost two hours.  In contrast, Linux Mint 11 along with its updates took perhaps twenty minutes from USB boot to me being logged in, transferring my documents.  (I know this is an unfair comparison to an OS that has numerous years’ worth of updates, but even without them Mint was quicker by a long shot.)  It’s strange using Vista again, even briefly; it’s far less intuitive than Mint (and GNU/Linux systems in general?) and is really starting to show its age, visually.

Also making the Mint install process quick was not having to install much additional software.  Almost everything I need is right there, as standard, and is updated automatically.  Apart from games, the only additions I installed were icecat, avant-window-manager, wine and emusicj (more on them later), only the latter of which was not done through the software manager.  And in terms of hardware, my printer ‘just works’, my digital camera is detected and uploads photos after a simple declaration of file preferences, and my video card runs superb after prompting me to install proprietary drivers for it.  I encountered absolutely no issues with sound or network, as was common with GNU/Linux distributions and my hardware many years ago.

Here’s what my desktop looks like after configuration:

Linux Mint 11 with awn(Click to see larger version on flickr)

One day in and I only have one issue with my current setup: getting rid of the default Gnome panel.  I like to use the OSX-dock-like Avant Window Navigator for everything.  It has a menu, lists the few programs I access regularly and is set to ‘intellihide’ so it disappears when a window goes near it – simple, yet powerful.  However, it’s not easy to get rid of the Gnome panel completely (I’m still looking into a simple method, but the one everyone mentions does not work in Mint 11 – more research needed).  For now I remove all the items I can from the panel, put it in the top-left of my screen and set it to auto-hide.

gnome-panel hidden

gnome-panel hover

Its presence is a little irritating, but at least it doesn’t get in my way.

Update: Thanks to david4dev, I found a way to get rid of gnome-panel.  The details are outlined in my Linux Mint Forums comment here.  Now, the only remaining annoyance I have is that I can’t configure the Cairo Main Menu as well as I could the default one.  The result is a slightly more bloated menu list than I’d prefer – I never use ‘Session’ or ‘Recent Documents’ links – but it’s still a major improvement.

Update 2: After installing this same version of Mint 11 on my server in late October, installing awn, setting it to run on startup, running system updates and then restarting the computer, it appears that the fix no longer needs to be applied – the gnome panel disappears automatically.