3 Easy Mods to Make Your Fender Squier Stratocaster Play Great!

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Issue 325 February 21, 2019

Dan Erlewine shares 3 simple mods that'll make your Fender Squire Stratocaster play great. Upgrade your tuners, improve the string angle at the nut, and save your picking hand from a lot of pain at the bridge!

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • Solve string-winding problems
  • New locking tuners
  • The new Triple-Tree string retainer
  • The better idea built into Highwood bridge saddles

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: StewMac tools + ideas for guitarmaking. Three Easy Mods to Make your Strat Play Great]

Dan Erlewine: Today, in the guitar shop, we have a fire engine red, Fender Stratocaster Squire. What I'm going to do is show you three modifications, or you could call them upgrades that you could do to a Strat or any guitar like this, that'll make it play better really easily, and you can do it at home.

1. Tuners that stay tuned!

So the first mod or improvement I'm going to make on this Squire Strat is to replace the tuners with locking tuners. With regular tuners, you wind the string around the post a few times. As the strings are tuned and then detuned, the winding sort of compress into each other and then they loosen up. If you do a lot of string bending and a lot of tremolo use, it stretches the string or it loosens the string. So it's pulling against that string post. You dump that tremolo and all these windings unslack. When you let go of it, the string won't always come back to tune and you got to tune again. So locking tuners are going to help that. These are also staggered height tuners. That means that three of them have a taller string post than the other three. It's not a huge difference, but it keeps a better string angle here at the nut. So I'm going to take these strings off, get the tuners off and start to install these [on-screen text reads: Gotoh Magnum Lock-Trad 6-In-Line Tuners - stewmac.com].

Lay anything straight against the tuners to line them up so they don't look crooked. I'm using our Shop Rule. You notice that those other tuners were located with two little posts that they drill holes in the back of the peghead. These Gotohs that I picked out are perfect. They hide the old holes, you don't have to fill them. And you just drill seven new holes. I started with a small bit, I'm following with one that's about the right size for the threaded portion of that screw. That piece of tape marks how deep I plan to drill, keeps me from going through the peghead. Then I see how that fits. You'll notice I'm using the small Phillips for this [on-screen text reads: Guitar Tech Screwdriver Set]. It's a double zero. One last snug up. That's a new set of tuners. Let's string it up. The first mod is done. Locking tuners. See? The tuners don't have all those wraps anymore. With these locking posts, there's not even one full wrap.

2. Less drag on the D string

Strat mod, number two. This is a real easy one. When I look at the angle of the D-string going to this second string tree, I think that's too steep on the D. There's too much down pressure, and you need down pressure behind the nut, but not that much. And it's going to cause a lot of friction right there on the tree. It's going down and up. It causes some trouble when you're using the tremolo, because it can hang up in there and won't return to pitch. You do want some on the G-string, and that's probably about right. StewMax sells this very clever string tree [on-screen text reads: Triple Tree String Retainer] and it came from Joe Glaser, in his shop down in Nashville, Tennessee. It's a three string tree that takes the place of that one, and it lets me get rid of this one entirely. It's just too close to the nut for what I like to see in a guitar set up.

I'm going to go with the same spacer that was on it already, using the same mounting hole. Now I've decreased the angle on the G-string. See that? I've kept the same angle on the D and the E-string that I had, and it really freed up that D-string. How can you beat that?

3. Better bridge saddles

Easy Strat mod, number three. I'm going to take these pot metal, poor sounding saddles that have adjusting screws that stick out the top and cut your hand. And it's really annoying. And I'm going to replace them with the new type of saddle that's more like the vintage fender saddle stamped out of steel, not pot metal. They have a beautifully molded shaped groove through the center of each saddle that string can ride over it. It'll stay aligned where you want it. And this is manufactured with a geometry that allows it to be raised up and down with screws that are deeper into the piece. And they'll never stick out and bug your hand. The Highwood saddle is threaded at the bottom. So the adjustment happens down there. Their screws don't need to stick out the top.

Before you change saddles on your guitar, make sure that your intonation is relatively close and make sure the neck's going to give you some good action. You want to get it straighter with a little bit of relief. This neck's pretty darn straight. I'm going to put a little piece of tape right at the front of these saddles. They'll tell me where to put the new saddles as I mount them. I'm going to do them one at a time, so I can put them back in approximately the same place I took them off.

Okay. Now, before I string back up, I'm going to check the radius of the spread board [on-screen text reads: Understring Radius Gauge]. It's the side to side arc, so turn at both ends. When you're done, you want that radius to be the top radius of your saddles.

I'm going to put on only two strings to two E-strings. Once I get their two saddles to the right action at the 12-fret, I'm going to set all the rest of the saddles with the radius gauge going all the way across. I want this radius gauge to come up and touch the two E-strings, but it can't because these strings are too low. So I start moving the D-string and the G-string saddles up, and a little bit of the A. I want to pull that radius gauge up till it touches all the strings. I'm just pressing each string to make sure it's contacting the radius gauge. It's hard to see if every string's touching, but you press it and you know.

You're really done at this point, but you need to set the intonation a little flat. I'm going to bring it forward. That's a little sharp. It's good. I love these saddles, I hear the difference in tone. And man, there's no pain. Can't wait to plug it in. These trade secrets videos come out twice a month, so if you don't want to miss these tips, click the subscribe button below.



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

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