24. Reverse headstock Bitsa Strat
FOR ages, I’ve had a bit of a passion for tinkering with, upgrading and modifying guitars. In fact, you may already have noticed very few of mine ever remain completely original for long. I’ve put the odd one together from bits, too.
Apart from the Strat I built for Owen in 1990 (see Number 8), this is one of my better creations and I ought to play it more often, as it’s a pretty cool instrument. Trouble is I have so many other nice Strats that seem to get in the way… (Current Strat count: Four)
The body started life on a white Japanese Fender 62 reissue which belonged to our friend Jamie. It had a modded tortoishell pickguard specially routed to take three Danelectro Lipstick Tube pickups, SRV-style. At some stage, it became Owen’s guitar. (That kept happening!) This was the time when Owen was mad for a Lake Placid Blue 62 Strat (I’ve already laid the blame for that one at the door of Mr Eddie Tatton, who played a real beauty in Out of the Blue, but it doesn’t hurt to point the finger again!) Jamie also had a rather nice Japanese Squier Silver Series Hank Marvin Strat, but decided he hated the colour. He ended up refinishing it in brushed-on maroon emulsion paint (!!!). Waste of a really good guitar, that, not least because those particular Strats are reputedly among the best non-JV Squiers ever made.
Anyway, that badly-painted body also found its way to Burnham. Stripped and refinished in Yorkshire at considerab le expense by the amazing Clive Brown, it was married to the neck from the white Japanese 62 reissue, with the addition of genuine “clay dot” position markers to form the basis of a longtime Owen standby, the Lake Placid Blue Strat. And a very fine thing it was, too. (Coincidentally, that one ended up with Jamie.)
In the process, I inherited the white Strat body and set out on a mission, inspired, chiefly, by a stripped early 60s Strat I’d recently admired in the hands of one of the guitar players in Marcus Malone’s band. I stripped the body (if you look hard, you can still see a bit of white in the trem cavity!), stained it dark brown and oiled it so it looked like an old body which had been stripped and then sweated into for about 40 years!
Then I needed a neck (rosewood board of course – at that stage, I held to the devout conviction that rosewood boards worked best on Strats, while maple best suited Teles!) This was the late 90s, when the Italian guitar importer Brandoni ran had a proverbial Aladdin’s cave of a warehouse near Wembley Stadium, packed with all manner of exotic necks, bodies and other guitar parts – including a huge stock of new-old-stock Italian-made Eko and Vox guitar parts. One of their most popular lines, however, included some really good, really cheap Strat and Tele necks and bodies. Our pal Freddie Overton, who used to front the old Chelmsford blues jam in the Bassment had a nice sideline in building and selling really nice bitsas from their parts. I think he was the one who put me on to Brandoni and I made a few trips to Wembley after that.
About the same time, I’d become intrigued by one particular Strat I’d seen Stevie Ray playing in pictures. It was fitted with a left-handed, reverse headstock neck.
The theory is that because the head is reversed, the bottom string length is five inches shorter than it would be on a right-handed head, while the top E is five inches longer. It’s subtle, but it definitely makes a difference to the way a guitar plays – giving the top strings a bit more “give”, which makes string bending easier, while the bottom strings have a bit more “snap”. Jimi Hendrix spent his glory days playing Strats effectively strung that way – yes, he turned the whole guitar upside-down, not just the neck, but it’s often said to be one of the reasons he played and sounded the way he did.
You could get a really good quality neck for £70 at Brandonis, so, tantalised by the left-handed thing, I felt perfectly justified in buying one left-handed neck, and one right. That way, if the leftie neck hadn’t worked out, I could have put the other one on the guitar and sold it. You only need to look at the pictures to get the answer to that one, though I wish I’d kept the other neck as well – it would have found a home on something, somewhere down the line
Add a black pickguard like the one of Marcus’s guitarist’s Strat, a secondhand set of Fender American Standard pickups and some Gotoh hardware and I had me a very playable, very distinctive and totally cool guitar! It was my spare Strat – second to the Surf Green one – for many years, making a comeback when I got my Firebird (more of which later), which has a similar stringing arrangement. (I reasoned it would be easier in mid-gig to get my head around tuning two guitars with the same tuner order.) These days though, neither guitar tends to get out much. The Gibson is arguably the coolest guitar I own, but it’s too big to fit in the car when I’m fully loaded, while the poor old Strat has been superseded, not once but twice, by other Strats.
All the same, it’s a damned fine guitar – and yes, I still have it!
25. Fecker “Partsocaster”
THIS next example of vague Strattiness is further fruit of my love of putting bits together, though it came together a good ten years after No 24. The body was originally part of weird thing called a Fretlight – a Strat-shaped instrument which had LED lights all along the neck to tell the player where all the notes were. It was one of many bits of kit which found their way to my pal Pete Crisp’s studio in the days when he used to review gear for various music magazines. The neck on this one was badly damaged in transit to the studio (can’t help feeling the extra wood removed to fit all those LEDs and wiring may have weakened it). Anyway, the company didn’t want it back, so the body sat around unwanted until I claimed it.
The neck came from a (Korean, I think) Squier large-headstock Strat via eBay and the pickups and hardware was all from the excellent – and in those days, very cheap – American GFS website. Sadly, exchange rates and ramping USPS postage charges mean GFS is no longer the bargain site it once was.
The resulting guitar wasn’t actually half bad, though the headstock decal is arguably the best thing about it. A friend of mine has a rather whizzy printer that can use metallic inks. For the price of a couple of pints, he’ll make you a really convincing-looking and period-correct Fender decal, but his crowning glories are the “Fecker” decals he makes. This one is a “Fecker Partsocaster, with Bastardised Tremolo” but he also does a nice line in bass decals, too. (I know of at least two examples of the Fecker “Jizz Bass”!)
The Fecker didn’t stay all that long, the victim of one of my periodic culls. I was delighted to sell it to my pal and erstwhile Echo workmate Steve “Statins” Crancher. He tells me he sold it on recently to a chap in Southend who is thrilled to bits with it.
Before that, though, the Fecker saw service with me in Scotland during what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable weekends of my playing career. A free BA flight to Aberdeen, courtesy of Airmiles, hooked me up with guitarist Son Henry, who I’d met on a blues forum on the web. After micking me up from the airport, we had an hour in a rehearsal room with his band, then headed down to Dundee. Over the next two days, we played no fewer than five shows at the Dundee Blues Bonanza. Me and the Fecker then boarded another BA flight back to Gatwick – just in time to start work i Basildon at noon on the Monday morning.