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Friday, February 7, 2014

Stratocaster Building (3) MIJ BLACKTOP

Well the last two posts on Stratocasters weren't too thrilling I must admit.

And those guitars got sold off to pay credit card interest.

But the next two builds are a bit more substantial and interesting:

First a little background:

There has always been a bit of controversy about what are the best stratocasters.   When Fender got sold off to CBS in the early 70s, things went downhill rapidly, and by 1981 they had to bring in people to re-organize and start rebuilding high quality guitars again.  At the same time, the Japanese started building strats for Fender in Japan (c. 1981-fwd).

As a result, some of the best strats ever made came out of Japan while Fender USA got themselves together to start making good instruments again.
Three series of Japanese strats (MIJ = Made In Japan) are of special interest, being the earliest and highest quality, due to diligent and careful manufacturing.

The JV series, the A-series, and the E-series.

By the late 80s, a Korean factory was also started up, which we think in the first year were making bodies but buying necks from Japan briefly (inspecting the Korean necks from this era show both good Japanese technique, and also cheaper Korean necks).

To make a long story short, MIJ Strats from the early/mid 80s are highly coveted as well-made and easily as good as Mexican and American strats, especially the necks. (later, Alder bodies were replaced with basswood bodies, with mixed results and opinions on that).

With that in mind, we secured two very high quality necks made in Japan, one from the A-series (so-called 'Blacktops' that often had Humbucking pickups instead of standard single coils), and one from the E-series, both in excellent or near-mint condition, and hardly played.

Next, we secured a complimentary MIJ body for the A-series, and installed a highly prized Seymour Duncan Invader pickup on it, and upgraded both the tremolo bridge and other hardware, to improve this 'partscaster' to a new level:

Strat 3:  MIJ BlackTop  'Piano Finish' Invader (A-Series)

A few notes are in order:  The early tremolo bridges turned out to be a disaster, and after several attempts were discontinued and replaced by Floyd-Rose bridges.  We chose the following superb Wilkinson bridge as a substitute for the original Fender, so as not to have to re-route the body and destroy the piano finish.  As a result of this choice, we removed the (no longer relevant) nut-lock, and replaced it with standard but improved roller-retainers.  This along with nut lubrication is actually better for tuning than the original design. 

New Bridge is Traditional Fender style but with Steel Block for great sustain.

Original Nut lock was removed

The very best Metal-Rock pickup for this application

One necessary body modification was to replace this end-plug (notoriously unreliable and failure-prone) with a standard Fender shoe-jack on body top.

These string retainers replace nut-lock for superior performance with standard tremolo.

Noiseless springs are also handy for whammybar enthusiasts

Gold Machine Heads (Genuine Fender) make a nice upgrade

Both Neck and body have Microtilt feature so a new backplate has to match.

Gold Metal Pickup Ring adds luster and beats plastic hands down.

finished restoration

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