Guitars - build a Recycled Stratocaster

How to build and setup a Stratocaster using new or used parts that you can find on eBay. guitarshows and the like. The resulting guitar is often called a frankenstein or frankie.

I suggest you first complete the neck with tuners/stringtrees, then the body with all the stuff, then mount the neck on the body, string'r up and spent a lot of time on setup.

I would be interested what you think of this new layout.

Select the step you're interested in below:

Lekker winkelen zonder zorgen - Gratis verzending en retour

Overview of the parts you need
stratocaster parts
Body, shielding
Placing the tremolo and initial setup

Pickguard and pups prepping

Now build a Strat

Here are the steps needed to put together a frankenstein Strat. You can pick them in random order - more or less. Its best though if you prepare the neck with hardware and then the body with hardware and pups and then combine the two.

strat parts

Overview of the parts

A typical package for a fairly standard Strat must have the components in the picture and more precisely in the list below. You can combine parts from genuine Fenders such as Squier, Mexican, USA without major problems. So a good Squier body with a nice USA made neck will make a very good instrument. Many clone stuff may fit as well, but be prepared to do some adjustment. Only pickguards and tuners normally require some holes to be drilled and filled.

Your shoppinglist would look something like this:

Neck and body: Check if your neck is straight (relief with a straight iron ruler about 0.1mm is ok) and if it matches the bodies neck pocket.

Pickguard with normally 11 screws (8 is vintage)

Pickups with mounting material: either springs or rubbers are ok.

Tuners with 6, 12 or zero screws depending on brand

Tremolo set with 6 screws, plus two for springclaw (if you have Floyd Rose or something, you need a different body)

Neckplate with 4 screws

Jackplate with jack receptacle with 2 screws

Strapholders with 2 screws

Stringtree (one or two) with 1 screw each, and two differently sized spacers.

Backplate with 6 screws (if you really want one)

Alu or copper shielding tape with 1 optional screw

mount neck

Prepare the neck and mount on the body

For starters mount the tuners on the headstock. Not difficult; but there are some variations.

Turn the screws into the body so that they just emerge above the face of the neck cavity.

Match the 4 screws carefully against the corresponding holes in the neck

Tighten the screws going diagonally as well as round the clock, take care all screws are tightened and with the same force.

This is not necessarily the first step. You can mount the neck at a later stage and do all the bodily actions first..


Body, shielding

Shielding will prevent extraneous signals such as from TL lamps and the like from creating a nasty rumble or sizzle.

Get your alu adhesive tape and apply shielding to the inside of the cavities. Make certain that the strips slightly overlap and also overlap a tiny bit on the face of the body. You can choose to not use shielding at this stage, but only do this when necesssary, i.e. when the guitar is very noisy. I always shield.

The overlaps will contact the shielding on the underside of the PG and create a nice closed Faraday cage. So shield the G underside as well!

I use self-adhesive alu tape as the central heating guys use, but of course you can get more expensive stuff including copperfoil from special luthiers.

Optionally you can add a screw (a spare PG screw) and a small soldering ring to the bottom of the cavity which will be an extra mass connection to the casing of one of the PU pots (in most cases you have to add this extra lead).

mount pups

Mount the pups on the pickguard

If you have a loaded' pickguard complete with pickups, pots, switch and fully wired you can skip this step.

If not now mount the pickups with springs or rubbers as shown in the picture (sic!) and get your soldering iron out. The spring/bolt combination will allow you to adjust the distance of the polepieces to the strings. Start with the pups raised some 4mm above the surface of the pickguard.

Solder all connections except the leads on the jack receptacle (connector). Dont solder the jack lugs yet, you need the wires to go through the body first.

Check if the holes in pickguard and body match.

I wouldn't put an 8 hole PG on an 11 hole body or vice versa. So get another PG if needed.

Now check the holes in the PG against the position of the corresponding holes in the body. With almost 100% certainty one or more holes will not match. Get your trusted satay sticks out, look for the best position of the PG with a corresponding hole and fix temporarily in place with a satay stick. Repeat with as many holes as possible.

Now mark the remaining positions on the body and drill with a 2mm drillbit. Fill up the unused holes with pieces of satay stick.

Lead the necessary wires to jack cavity and tremspring cavity and solder the optional wire to shielding.

Fix the PG in place with 4 or 5 screws - rest will follow at the end. Don't fix all screws in case you have to step back and unscrew for some reason.

Wire up jack and mount jackplate. You will have two wires coming from the PU s, one black and one white.

The black goes to the outside of the jack connector, the white goes to the core. If in doubt check with your multimeter.

Alternatively you may have a shielded cable here. The mesh is mass or ground and the core carries the signal (also called hot).

At this stage do an amp test. Plug in the electronics, switch on the amp and softly tick on the pups. The selected pups should give an audibl click.



Mounting the tremolo & initial trem setup

Place your 6 point bridge on the face of the body, inertia block downwards. Fix in place with the two outer screws; in practice these two are all you really need. Add the remaining four when the guitar is ready and if you want. Turn the body face down and fix the springclaw in place such that there is about 2 cm space between wood and claw - do not tighten the screws completely.

Now do some setup of the trem. As soon as you have a string mounted you can set up the trem in your favourite position using the two screws in the springclaw.

You can fix the trem with the backplate flush with the body - allowing only dives - or with more space, allowing whammy up as well as down.

You have the springclaw already at 2.5 cm. String up completely, not yet to pitch Now add three springs as in picture (5 springs if you are into heavy gauge strings) Tune to pitch

Now haul in the springclaw using the two screws which increases the spring tension, see pic

The strings will pull the trem forward, adjust the springs so the trem is in your favourite position.

Readjust springclaw when you change to different string gauge, or when you want to change the home position of the bridge!



The setup

Now we have built a guitar there is a fair chance that it is not very playable, or rather its fairly certain to be unplayable. The setup is by far the most important step in the process. I have split setup in in two parts, first here all the little adjustments that are needed and secondly intonation.

You can take a very simple, cheapo guitar and with a good setup make it a great instrument. A 10K dollar 1956 Strat with a lousy setup will just yield a lousy old guitar.

Neck relief

Place a Capo on position one, just before the fret. Now depress each string (one string is enough basically) at fret 17 and measure open space between top of fret 8 and underside of string. This should be very small in the order of 0,25 mm. or less (my prefence is 0.1). If the neck is too hollow you have to adjust the trusrod. Detune your strings a bit to take away tension. Very carefully tighten the trussrod - a quarter turn at the time to the right (clockwise) will straighten the neck. Take this very slowly.

Retune to pitch. Preferably leave it to set and check again. If the neck is too concave release the trussrod (turn anticlockwise), the strings will pull the neck into position. Some guitars have a trusrrod that can work bothways. Standard is however a trussrod that only pulls the neck straight.


Action is very much determined by your own preference - more so than the other measurements.

It is measured with the capo still at fret 1 and you look at the string height between fret 17 and underside of string. A good start is 1.5 mm for E6 and slightly less for E1.

Thicker strings need more space. Take it from there.

Adjust by raising or lowering the saddles using the small Allen (typically 1 or 1.5mm) hex screws.

Here you may hit a serious problem if the neck tilt w.r.t. the body is wrong - see below.

Neck tilt or shim

If you find that you cannot reduce action because your saddles are at their lowest posible point its time for a SHIM.

Shimming means that you take a small piece of plastic (or whatever material) about 0.25 or 0.45 mm thick and about 5cm by 1 cm, and place it in the neck pocket before the screws on the closed side (away from the headstock). This will change the action, normally enough to be allow adjusting the saddles again. In general one 0.45mm shim will do the job.

If you find that the saddles are in their highest position with strings to low or even touching the neck, place a shim at the other side of the neckpocket.

Obviously you will have to unscrew the neck for this operation. Its not necessary to unstring, just take the tension off.

Pickup to string distance

With the bolts either side of the pickup adjust the distance between polepiece and string to around 2.3 mm whilst depressing the string at the last fret.

For the higher strings take a bit less more like 2.1 mm. Experiment, but as you take a smaller measure check sound and sustain as the magnets can mute strings if too close. Too far will of course yield a lower output signal..



The problem: if your intonation is not good, you will find that you can tune the guitar reasonably well for example for open chords but then playing in higher positions will sound awful. Familiar?

The illustration above shows in schematic form what its all about. The drawing represents the E1 string, which basically represents the Strat scale of 648mm, and thats what you set for starters. The principle for other guitars is the same, but the scale will be different for a bass, or a Les Paul.

Even if you accurately adjust your high E string to 648mm than still the properties of the string especially when depressed can cause that the wave form of the string doesnt match the fret positions, with best reference to fret 12 ( octave). This is caused by the material of the string, the age of the string, the gauge (.009 will be different from .013!), accumulated dirt etc.

As in the pic above it can therefore occur that when depressed on fret 12 the note is slightly higher than the open string or the flageolet harmonic. You can see that in this case when the note is sharp, this is caused by the string being a bit too short between fret 12 and the bridge. You have to make that part a bit longer, by moving the saddle to the back. You then move the acoustic midpoint of the string to its right position above the 12th fret.

Intonation is by far the most important step in the setup, you have to do this. Worse, you have to do this each time you change any of the above settings!

This is best done with a good electronic tuner, possibly a stroboscopic one if you have USD 300 or so to spare.

Start by ensuring E1 scale is 648mm, and from there the other strings a tiny bit more (about the width of string itself). This will be almost right, but not good enough.

Now for each string starting with E1 do the following:

Correctly tune the string.

Check at fret 12 with the note depressing the string at fret 12.

They must be the same the open string (or flageolet) and the depressed note must be the same.

If not adjust by moving the saddles for- or backward.

If the depressed note is sharp, increase the stringlength (see the schematic above!); move the saddel to the back.


A bit more on electronics

I add one extra ground (mass) wire from the volume pot housing to the shielding of the PU cavity, this is not in the drawing but is easily added, similar to the one called  'ground to bridge', you could call it 'ground to shield'. It improves to total shielding effect.

If you don't have a loaded pickguard, mount all the components on your pickguard, turn it upside down and get your soldering iron out. Cut all wires to the desired length, strip all wires and apply solder to the stripped part. Apply a thin layer of solder to all other contact points like lugs of the pots.  This pre-soldering ensures a quick connection.

This set of pots and a capacitor is referred to as 'the guitar electronics' . Actually these circuits are passive (there are no active elements such as transistors or integrated circuits), so electronics is a bit of an overstatement.

Things get more electronic when preamps and the like are added. Currently thats outside the scope of this edition, but I'm in the process of writing a another book on electronics and mods (also some content of that book will on this site).

This drawing is a basic schematic, most Strat-alikes conform more or less to this layout.

The Strat 5-way switch

Most people only have a vague idea how that PU switch on the Strat works, let alone how it must be connected if you must replace or modify something.

Basically on the Strat we have a double rotary switch with three contacts in and one out. - The two switches sit on one axle and thus operate in perfect unison. The modern switches dont look this way, but behave the same.

The runner is broad enough to touch two contacts when placed in the middle (this was how the early players tricked the two additional positions with a 3-way switch.)

So we have 3-way switches with 2 additional stops in between, yielding 5 possibilities

In the Strat the pups are connected to one switch, the tone pots to the other and the two outputs are bridged and go to the volume pot.

On i have published all 5 pictures as a video clip, which shows the working quite nicely.

Here I show the first 3 positions, which should suffice to clarify the operation.

The red lines are the active connections in that position. Have a look:

position 1

responsive design image

position 3

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position 2

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