The JJG Modified Affinity Strat (long) Jul 6, 2011 7:15:49 GMT -5
Post by ozboomer on Jul 6, 2011 7:15:49 GMT -5
The JJG Modified Affinity Strat
I have a Squier Affinity Strat guitar that I bought in 2006 and after doing all my experimenting with SimpleMod, etc on my Squier Bullet Strat, I decided I would give the Affinity something of a significant facelift. Here are a couple of photos of the guitar; the first was taken not long after I bought it new in mid-2006; the second photo was taken sometime in 2007, after I had given it a "Tuxedo" pickguard:-
The changes that were to be made this time 'round included some cosmetic changes (including new pickguard, rear tremolo cover, control knobs, 5-way switch tip and pickup covers), as well as some internal changes (new Tonerider "Pure Vintage" pickups, "Neck ON" switch, new tone controls, treble bleed on volume control).
The wiring I decided to use was more-or-less the same as that used in SimpleMod-h, which has become my more-or-less standard wiring I have used/will use in most of my guitars for now. The only question was whether the "Neck On" switch would be very effective, as the "success" of this function seems to be very dependent on the characteristics of the pickups used. So, I went into the mod understanding that I may well end-up removing the "Neck On" switch.
So, I made my purchases. A lot of the guitar-specific parts came from some of the more reputable on-line guitar part suppliers and the electronics came from an on-line shop and a local electronic shop. I opted for "standard" size CTS pots, as they SHOULD have a good LOG taper for the tone/volume controls.
The parts from the on-line shops arrived pretty quickly and I could get the other bits from the local electronics shops Ok... but see later...
I started by grabbing the new pickguard and covered the rear of it with aluminium foil. It's only a half-baked shielding job, as I couldn't be bothered trying to deal with on-line shops anymore... so I didn't have any copper tape, nor did I have any shielding paint... but at least I have the pickguard done for WHEN I do the 'real' shielding job at some later time.
A photo of the foil on the underside of the new pickguard:-
I then had a go at the tremolo cavity cover. Not surprisingly, the holes in the new tremolo cover didn't match the holes in the body at all:-
Also, the 6 holes over each of the string positions didn't match-up. I contacted a number of on-line suppliers and they either couldn't be bothered to do any measurements for me OR they didn't stock the 6-hole "vintage" -style rear tremolo covers at all. Consequently, I compromised and opened-up the 6 string holes to form a single, wide opening, much like is done with 'modern' tremolo covers and it seems to have come out Ok.
To save wear'n'tear on the new pickguard, I then wired-up the electronic components on a spare pickguard, effectively forming a "wiring loom" that could easily be transferred to the new pickguard. It was a bit of overkill, I guess... but it meant I could work on the wiring whilst I was fiddling about with the new pickguard and working out how to get it fitted to the guitar.
I started by removing the strings, the pickguard and the rear tremolo cover and what d'you know? The mounting holes already made in the guitar didn't match the holes in the new pickguard, just as was the case with the rear tremolo cover. Funny how they almost all miss out by half a mounting hole diameter...!
So, I started working on the rear tremolo cover and placed it so the single opening I made took in the 6 string holes in the tremolo block. I then marked and drilled new holes in the body (the existing holes in the back of the guitar were all far enough out of the way that I didn't need to fill any of them) and installed the new cover plate and it seems to fit pretty well, viz:-
Onto the pickguard and this time, I had to fill every mounting hole (except for one), as nothing matched. One "new screw position" was in such an awkward place that it actually was half in the control cavity... so that particular screw is actually held in the pickguard with a tiny drop of glue and doesn't support the pickguard at all. The following photo will give you an idea of all the holes that had to be filled:-
Whilst the filler was going off, I transferred the "wiring loom" to the new pickguard. An observation: I never understood why it was such a big deal to use surgical tubing for the "spring"/compression action to keep the pickups in place. The one thing I *did* notice when I was moving the pickups across was that the tubing kept the mounting screws in place; when springs are used, the screws can often fall out and the springs go flying... but that was no problem at all with the tubing being used. Handy!
The following photo shows the critical electronics mounted in the new pickguard:-
To the cosmetic changes... where I started by trying to install the volume/tone control knobs onto the pot shafts.. but what d'you think? The holes in the knobs were too small. I asked the supplier for standard Strat knobs and I bought some CTS US-quarter-sized pots and I understood they should've all fitted Ok... but no joy. So, I had to ream-out the knobs and then, they were too loose. Grr... Then, I wrapped some masking tape around the shafts and we were right to go..
To top it off, when I tried to install the switch tip on the 5-way switch lever, the switch tip was too loose. So, again, with the masking tape around the lever.. and we're Ok... but what a rigmarole to go through.
Finally, I installed the newly wired pickguard into the guitar and only had to connect 3 wires (output jack tip, output jack ground and bridge claw ground) and we were ready to go. Yes, I know I should've done something with connecting the shield on the pickguard to ground somewhere... but that'll happen later. Here's a detailed picture of the front at this stage (NOTE: the pickups are cream and not white - under natural light, it's a bit easier to see the colours are very similar):-
Anyway, I plugged-in the guitar and everything worked Ok, wiring-wise. I did the standard adjustments (tuning, intonation, etc)... and I'm currently experimenting with the pickup heights to balance-up the pickup output some...
I've only been playing the guitar a little over the last few days, since I performed the "conversion"... but I've found a couple of interesting things in that time...
In short, from all the hype I read in books and all over the 'net, I thought that pickups with AlNiCo magnets were going to be fan-blinkin'-tastic... but I'm still sort-of undecided. They certainly have less output than the standard Affinity ceramic pickups, as I have to roll-up the outout level on the booster I have between the guitar and my amp/computer...
...but what I *do* notice is that the sounds of each 5-way position are more distinct and different with the AlNiCo pickups than they were with the standard ceramic pickups... and are much closer to the "classic" sounds I expect to hear from a Strat. This is particularly noticable with the 5-way
set to the "in-between" positions (positions 2 and 4).
Whilst I quite like the sounds I get from the guitar now and these pickups are quite an improvement over the original Affinity ceramics, whether the level of improvement is worth the A$100 I paid for the Tonerider pickups (no shipping included), I still haven't decided. I'll probably need to do something with, say, some GuitarFetish "Vintage Alnico Stagger" pickups (at US$46, when they eventually get some stock) or some Dragonfire "Pure Vintage" pickups (at US$50) to make a reasonable comparison. *meh*
Otherwise, the tone control system works as-expected.. although, the taper on the "bass cut" pot is still not right. The CTS pot is supposed to be a LOG taper but it still appears to work like a LINEAR taper. That is, with the bass cut on 10, I get a clear signal through the output. There are significant changes in tone as the bass cut pot is rolled through 10 down to 8... but as the pot is rolled from 8 down to 1, there is no discernable change in tone (to my ear or to a VST spectrum analyzer). Pffft. You might also like to read a bit more about this and other issues a recent GNUTZ2 discussion on this behaviour.
I'm not 100% sure about the "Neck on" switch here, though. As has been discussed elsewhere in the NutzHouse, it's more-or-less a gamble to see if this sort of switch does anything useful, as it's totally dependent on the pickups and how they sound in a particular guitar; pickup resistance/inductance values are notoriously poor at indicating that a pickup will "blend" usefully with another and you often just have to try some arrangements and see if they are useful.
In this case, all the "Neck on" switch seems to do is add a bit of a brightness edge to the Neck pickup running by itself. From the other point of view,
the Neck pickup seems to "overpower" the Bridge when they're combined, so I don't think the combination is partcularly useful in this guitar with these pickups.
I intend to leave the guitar alone for now and just use it, getting used to the AlNiCo pickups, etc and try and get a handle on the "new personality" of this guitar. Then, in a few months' time, I'll do some more work on the guitar:-
- I'll try some replacement control knobs and switch tip (to see if they fit any better); I may actually do this sooner rather than later, depending on when I place my next parts order.
- I'll install an extra nut on each of the control pots under the pickguard, so the knobs are brought a bit closer to the pickguard; they're currently "up in the air" a mite, viz:-
- I'll have a go at using some shielding paint inside the main cavity. I intend to apply 2-3 coats, leaving a day between each coat, to allow the paint to dry well... and then I'll do something with screwing a wire into the painted cavity and into the shielded pickguard, so we get the real "Faraday cage" happening.
- Maybe I'll remove the "Neck on" switch, as it doesn't really seem to add a lot to the "sound vocabularly" of the guitar.
Here are some examples of some of the sounds available from this guitar. Please excuse my less-than-inspiring playing... but hopefully, these files will give you some sort of idea of the differences in the sounds:-
- Original_Sounds.mp3 - Playing a chord pattern on the Neck, Neck + Middle, Middle, Middle + Bridge and Bridge pickups with the original Squier Affinity ceramic pickups.
- New_Sounds.mp3 - As above but with the new Tonerider "Pure Vintage" pickups installed.
- New_Sounds_Bass-Cut.mp3 - As above but with the "bass cut" tone control turned back a bit, thinning-out the sound significantly.
- New_Extra_Sounds.mp3 - An example to illustrate the differences in sound when using the (Neck + Bridge) combination. It starts with the Bridge pickup alone, is followed by the (Neck + Bridge) combination and then finishes with the (Neck + Bridge) combination with the "bass cut" tone control wound back a bit.
NOTE: As many people will agree, the sound of the 3 pickups together (Neck + Middle + Bridge) tends to just be muddy, so I've not bothered to demonstrate that combination.
Overall, it was certainly a worthwhile exrecise to go through and I *do* like the final result... so maybe it's something you'd also like to try.
Looking forward to any comments, folks