Tag Archives: music

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.

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Bits, Please – a chiptunes celebration compilation

(Please see my previous post for more information on the process of compiling this playlist.)

Interested in taking a crash course in chiptunes?  This isn’t a bad place to start.

I made a mixed CD compilation of chiptunes for my brothers but wanted to share it online, too, as a sort of ‘my friends are awesome’ present.  This is a style of music that makes me happy and I have chosen a few highlight tracks that I find more interesting, fun, or inventive than the average chiptune.  (Of course, by definition, all chiptunes are awesome.)

The tables below list basic song information and include links to the artist pages at (usually) the 8-Bit Collective, as well as a link to directly download the tracks.  (If any links are unavailable it is because, unfortunately, the pages or files they point to have been removed.  I discuss this in more detail in my previous post.  Sorry =/)

The first table, ‘Bits, Please’, contains tracks that run just under 80 minutes so it fits on a CD.  I have included eight ‘bonus’ tracks in the second table that just didn’t make the final cut – most of them were quite long.

Rather than manually downloading each track, I have also constructed an m3u playlist that enables you to stream the compilation in just about any audio player.  (Download the .m3u file here.)

If you’d like to burn your own CD, here is a link to a printable .pdf album cover I made.  (The awesome font I used is Press Start 2p, available for download at the Open Font Library.)

But enough with the words; on to the music!

 

Bits, Please

Artist Title Link
01 cTrix Booty Plus Plus (Atari 2600) <download>
02 kulor My First LSDJ (MGB Gameboy Pocket) <download>
03 Kubbi RYSKIM! <download>
04 come home_ LigHTr <download>
05 an0va Flow <download>
06 RushJet1 Dark Labyrinth (1-bit) <download>
07 Cuttlefish Long Path <download>
08 Disasterpeace Spirit Square (remix) <download>
09 Mr. Owl Funkturnal <download>
10 Byzanite Hello Seattle Remix (Owl City Remix) <download>
11 IAYD You Will Not Take Anything Else From Me <download>
12 Je Mappelle Moving On. (KAWAII DEMO) <download>
13 Danimal Cannon Polywrath ( LSDJ Math Metal ) <download>
14 Jredd Happy Pants! <download>
15 Bibin Vampire Killer <download>
16 Maxo 01 The Glorious Birth Of Gardenbot9 <download>
17 little-scale My Heart Is Forever Collapsing <download>
18 4mat Black Lipstick <download>
19 mikebleeds Listen To Me <download>
20 Mootz Make it or Break it <download>
21 Mr. Owl Turtle Island <download>
22 -12insomnia- gravity blast <download>
23 Rainbowdragoneyes (P)(U)(N)(C)(H)(Y)(O)(U) <download>
24 TREYFREY Demo <download>
25 RushJet1 Wasteland (1-bit) <download>
26 Zef Livewire <download>
27 Sanditio Anti-Gravity Research Facility <download>
28 swampyboy zero gravity romance <download>
29 Tettix Earth’s Assault on the Central AI <download>
30 Kola Kid spaceman <download>

 

Bonus Bits

Artist Title Link
01 .exe I Pressed Start <download>
02 Downstate Diode hill <download>
03 Dr0id1cus w/ L-tron Ch4sing Gh0sts <download>
04 ant1 Antstep <download>
05 Sycamore Drive Starlight <download>
06 SMILETRON Hypersonic Spazmatron <download>
07 PamTech Florence-Cosmic Love-PamTech Remix <download>
08 Jophish FORWARD (Guitar, Piano, Chip) <download>

Gis’ a chiptune!

One of my favourite communities to lurk in is the 8-bit Collective (http://8bc.org).  Users share songs that they have made through creative engagement with old technologies, and they are given helpful, mostly positive feedback for their efforts.  The comments are clear indicators of a supportive community and I just love reading the occasional, “Hey, I love this song!  Also, I just wanted to let you know I’ve been regularly listening to [x] that you posted last year and it’s one of my favourites of all time!  It makes me smile whenever it comes on =)”

People are quick to offer suggestions (“I can’t hear the bass so much.  I had a similar issue and I find that [complex process to change program settings] works for me.”), they remix each other’s tracks, and they simply offer an inclusive environment for creativity.

And, on top of that, the music is awesome!

The idea

Listening to chiptunes one day, I had the great idea that I should compile a mixed CD for my brothers and give it to them as a present.  I wanted to share some of the amazing songs I’ve been hearing and, growing up with similar media and technologies reminiscent of these sounds, I thought they may be able to appreciate it.  And if not, well, I’ve spent more time listening to chiptunes than I would have otherwise.  Win!

I soon decided I wanted to do more.  To further embrace new technology, I would share the playlist on my blog so my friends could download the tracks and follow links to past conversations about the songs within the community.  The experience of hearing great songs for the first time is, I feel, often more exciting when you’re doing it in the company of others – even if there exists a temporal distance that must be bridged by archival technology.  I quite enjoy reading the initial reactions from listeners, both in the form of ‘traditional’ comment systems (as used in 8bc) or using ‘timed comments’ like they do in soundcloud.

I also decided that it was nigh time to teach myself how to write m3u playlists.  One excellent way of sharing music is to simply provide others with a small text file of information that enables their music player to stream the files directly from various locations on the Internet.  This was going to be fun!

Problems!

I began planning things.  I spent hours upon hours compiling a playlist that would fit on an 80 minute CD and all was going fine, until . . . I noticed some of the tracks had been removed from 8bc.org by the artists.

This doesn’t present a problem for the mix CD I was compiling but a major part of my plan involved linking to the song pages and providing a direct download link for each track.  If some of the songs (and pages) were removed – and there was no reason to expect the remaining songs and pages would stay up forever – my playlist would include broken links, making it incomplete.

I was trying to do everything right by the artists.  I was trying to embrace the interconnected and decentralised nature of data.  What I didn’t prepare for is the likelihood of information removal or the changing of links – also known as ‘breaking the Internet’.

My own artistic remix is at the mercy of its sources.

A possible solution

On each song page on 8bc, it is stated, “Any reproductions of this work must be accompanied by a link to the artist’s page.”  This is a very simple license which I equate to, at least, a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.  So, in effect, because these tracks were posted on 8bc.org at some stage, I can host them on my server and link to any missing files from there, as I will be linking to the artists pages already.

But this makes me a little uncomfortable.  I have read a few conversations about removed files where the artists have said, “I took them down because I just didn’t like the direction I was taking last year,” or I have found other instances of the songs available elsewhere online for a small fee.  While, technically, I would be doing the correct thing legally by hosting these files, it’s taking advantage of the artists who agreed to something in the past, perhaps not through informed consent.  It’s one thing to share these files with my friends; it’s another to make them searchable and available to everyone and potentially removing a small but important income source for the artists.

For now, I’m going to simply share the m3u files and compilation playlist on my blog without fixing the holes.  But I’ll still share all of the files with my friends.

The future of sharing?

I had a lot of fun with this project.  Apart from the actual content (which, by the way, I haven’t mentioned is ‘awesome’ for a few paragraphs now – look at the restraint I am demonstrating!), I enjoyed exploring a variation on the established practice of making a ‘mixed tape’.  Technology is allowing us to include more information within the music (metadata) but it is also allowing us to share the connections and experiences of the wider audience – as well as enable direct communication with the artists, themselves.

I’d love to see more of this kind of sharing happen.

Stay tuned!  Coming up in my next post: the actual playlist with download links!