The 20 year history of a Partscaster

August 5, 2020

The 90s

Back in the mid-90s, after finishing middle school, my parents agreed to get me a guitar. I’d been in band, but I was playing the flute and I didn’t enjoy it. They probably didn’t consider, at the time, that I would try to teach myself by playing “Iron Man” through an 8’’ Fender solid-state amplifier.

The guitar I ended up getting was a black Fender Stratocaster, Squire series. It’s an interesting product of globalization, there’s a detailed history here, the TL;DR version being: while Squier was known as the cheap version of Fender in the 80s (and it is again, today), the Fender Squire series was American made parts, assembled in Mexico, with Asian electronics.

The 2000s

It was a good guitar for my bad guitar playing, but after a few years I got a nicer Fender Lonestar Stratocaster and the Squire series sat in its case most of the time. I spent a lot of afternoons in Guitar Center back then, and I saw a Tom DeLonge Stratocaster, a one humbucker and a volume knob guitar, and thought the Squire would be a great base to recreate that with.

A Tom DeLonge Strat. I think I liked the colors and the CBS style headstock more than anything else

I picked a Seymour Duncan JB for the pickup, got a single humbucker pickguard and wired it up. It worked fine, but the JB is known for having a lot of high end tones, and at the time I didn’t have a great setup to make the sound pleasant, so I thought I should wire the volume knob to a push/pull volume/tone knob so I had the option to roll the tone back and have a little less high end. Some combination of either bad pots, or bad soldering skills left with with a JB humbucker with about 2’’ of wire coming out of it, and a guitar that didn’t work.

The 2010s

I put the project aside — for about 15 years. Time passes, and one day the guitar comes back with me after a trip to my parents. It sat, in pieces, for a few more years.

The 2020s

I’ve been trying to either fix or get rid of things in our house, and I decided to do something with it. Fortunately for me and my soldering iron, solderless solutions have become abundant since I last tried this. Mad Hatter Guitar Products sells a few, more oriented towards mix and match solutions or guitars without pick guards. I ended up getting one from Obsidian Wire, who sells all in one solutions wired up with a lot of common wiring mods, e.g. their humbucker, single, single model runs the humbucker through a 500k pot, where most Strats that were single / single / single before had 250k controls. Trust me, this means as much (or little) to you as it means to me.

In redoing the look of the guitar, I harnessed my inner 15 year old and drew inspiration from the car we recently bought. It’s a black Volkswagen GTI with the usual red GTI accents, so I thought, sure, black guitar, black pickups, red trim black pickguard. A quick search found the Fender Noir Stratocaster to prove that this wasn’t the worst looking thing I could make.

Fender Noir Strat. Granted, it has a matte black finish…

Warmoth sells the three-ply black/red/black pickguards. I got one with some black control knobs and wired it up with the existing neck and middle single coil. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 20+ year old bottom of the budget-bin pickups don’t sound great. They sound better than I expected, in as much as one can expect from wire around magnets, but I figured at this point I was all in on this project, so I picked up two DiMarzio Area 67 pickups for the neck and middle spots.

When you’re bad at soldering you end up in a lot of questionable situations

So now it’s all bolted together, and it looks like this:

It plays and sounds pretty good. At some point in the past I had screwed the bridge down and put five springs on it, so it’s nearly a hardtail. It could probably use some nicer tuners and a black input jack to match the Noir, but the pickguard and the parts bolted to it cost about three times what the guitar cost, so I think it can wait another 20 years or so.

But what does it sound like

Another thing I’m trying to get better at is recording my guitar. I finally have a decent input device and I know what at least three of the buttons in Garageband do. These are all prime examples of the internal tempo of someone who has played alone most of their lives.

Original neck pickup.

Area 67, the new neck pick up. Wee bit clearer.

Area 67, neck and mid.