In this build we're going to take a cheaper Fender HSS Standard Stratocaster electric guitar and give it a major face life, replacing all three pickups, the bridge and the strings. Since we're using the HSS model, we've got to switch out a humbucker at the bridge position and two single coil pickups at the middle and neck positions.
The body of the standard HSS Stratocaster is made of Alder tonewood, which has been a common ingredient of Fender guitars dating back to the '50s.
It produces strong mids and really thick lows in the EQ, which makes it ideal for a heavier pickup upgrade.
Once we're done, we'll have a Strat that can hang with heavier power chord riffs as much as the Eric Clapton-style melodic soloing.
Here's what we'll use:
Approximate Total Investment: $1050
We'll swap out the stock "vintage" bridge with a '62 reissue job from Fender, along with the three-part pickup replacement.
Here's a look at the guitar as it comes out of the box:
Once it's all done, we'll have a much more versatile Stratocaster that can handle modern rock as well as the subtleties of more classic blues playing styles.
We'll start with the pickups.
The Bridge, Middle and Neck Seymour Duncan Pickup Replacements
To install all three of our new pickups, we'll need to remove the strings, the volume knobs and the pickguard. While we're at it, go ahead and remove the bridge as well since we'll be replacing that along with the new strings.
Once all those pieces are off, you'll need to remove the stock pickups installed on the HSS Strat.
After those have been removed, use a soldering iron to add the Seymour Duncan P-Rails Trembucker at the bridge position.
Repeat the process for the middle and neck pickups as well, using the Quarter Pound rail pickups for each position.
This combination of pickups, on their own, will cause the most notable visual and audible changes in the guitar. The P-Rails Trembucker combines the tones of a humbucker, P90 and Stratocaster rail all into one unit, which will give your Strat a lot of versatility in that pickup alone.
The two Quarter pound rails will help balance out the highs of the bridge humbucker with a thicker, heavier tone.
All told, it's a massive improvement over the stock pickups that come with the guitar.
The Bridge Install
Before you put the volume knobs and pickguard back on, you'll want to take out the bridge and install the '62 reissue replacement version.
This video gives a simple and clear illustration of how to install the new bridge:
Once the new bridge is installed, you can put the pickguard and volume knobs back on, along with the new set of Elixir strings.
Changing out the bridge isn't entirely crucial, though the stock hardware that comes on Standard Fender guitars isn't something we're crazy about keeping. It's not bad, but it's uninspiring and mass-produced, meaning we don't want it to be a permanent part of our guitar.
In the case of the new bridge, it has an indirect impact on the guitar's tone, and a significant say in how well the tremolo functions and how well the guitar stays in tune.
If you don't add the bridge as part of your initial upgrade, and you want to keep the guitar as a long-term investment, we'd recommend replacing the stock bridge eventually.
Adding a Hardshell Case
Since the guitar doesn't ship with a gig bag, or any kind of case, we recommend adding a hardshell case to protect your investment.
The simplest option is the Fender Pro Series case, designed for Telecasters and Stratocasters. It adds a significant amount of cost to your total, but it's worth the extra buy since we're approaching the $1000 total price tag for this guitar without any case.
This particular case is perfectly shaped to protect any Fender guitar.
Your Questions and Ideas
Have a mod or part that you know would work particularly well with the Fender HSS Standard Stratocaster?
Maybe you disagree with the choices we've listed?
Let us know in the comments section below. If you have an idea that holds water, we'll add it to the list so others can benefit as well.
Likewise, if you have an idea for a guitar (electric or acoustic) build, you can drop it there as well and we'll take a look.
Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Keith Ellwood