Pimping up my Mexican Strat

I recently got into guitar playing again after shelving it for several years. I was asked to sit in for a gig, but had no electric. So, I grabbed some cash, went into the local Guitar Center and started looking. I had no idea what to get, so I j just went with a cheap, Mexican made Fender Strat just to get me through the gig. It only put me back $350 and it sounded and played pretty well.

I started getting into playing more and bought an amp and a couple of pedals. I later bought a nice Ibanez Joe Satriani model, followed by a Les Paul and a nice Telecaster. I loved all of the new ones, but still had a thing for my cheap Strat. It was the guitar that brought me back into playing electric, so it had a lot of sentimental value. But, compared to the nicer guitars, it didn’t sound as good, and the quality of some of the components was obviously sub-par.

So, I thought about getting a new American-made deluxe, but I wasn’t in the mood for spending a grand or more on a new strat. So, I decided to start upgrading my baby.

Upgrade #1 : new pickups.

My strat has a H-S-S configuration, and the humbucker was a little ear-piercing. So, I put in a Seymour Duncan JB. Woah!! All of a sudden, my strat sounded killer. It rocked. The other pickups were good enough for now, but I knew I would switch them out one day as well.

Upgrade #2 : new Tremolo Steel Block
So, I researched about other upgrades. One that kept coming up was upgrading the block under my bridge. So, I talked to my local guitar repair shop guy, and he said it will make a big difference. I also didn’t like the current bridge and tremolo bar, so asked that he put in a new one as well.

Upgrade #3 : locking Tuners

My strat went out of tune frequently just after a couple of aggresive bends or tremolo dives. Because of that, I refrained from doing such things. But, then when I’d watch videos of others playing Strats and totally abusing them, they stayed in tune.

When I got the guitar back from the shop and strummed my first chord….I nearly teared up. It sounded amazing and that was just acoustically without plugging it in. The new bar was adjusted nicely and they did an overall setup. I plugged it in and for the first time since I’ve had this guitar, it sounded like a real strat. It quacked, it rocked, it growled and just plain, knocked me over. Even the original middle and neck pickups sounded much better. And, I could finally use the tremolo bar like a madman (I don’t normally, but I now could).

So, with the parts and labor, i’ve already spent more than I paid for the guitar, but still less than if I bought a high end strat. Plus, it’s my guitar. The one that has so much sentimental value to me.

Other Upgrades I’m considering:

1. Coil Split the JB Humbucker – the guitar shop guy said that a popular upgrade for HSS strats is splitting the humbucker so that you can go from single coil to humbucker at the flip of a switch (or a push of a button). And, he said that the JB humbuckers are especially great for doing that, so I got lucky on my choice of pickups.

2. Upgrade the middle and Neck pickups – I still have the stock Mexican strat pickups in the other two positions. They’re not bad and actually sound better due to the other upgrades I made. But, they’re lower output than the JB so they’re not balanced well in terms of volume. Plus, they’re a bit noisy and crackly. But, they’re usable. I’ll eventually get new ones but haven’t yet done the research.

If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment. I don’t mind spending the money on a special guitar I know I’ll keep forever.

2 comments

  1. Late to the party here–but I’m in a similar situation. Picked up a 1950s surf green Strat (Mexican) off of Craigslist this January. Action is too low–fret outs reign supreme on the high e and b. Sustain is pretty poor–I know a Strat won’t sustain forever but these notes die off, possibly from touching other strings on bends. Sounds weak too.

    Thank you for the article on this, fellow strat-man.

    1. I would highly recommend getting your guitar properly set up by a professional, unless you know how to do it yourself. They can get the neck and string position just right and make that guitar shine. Cheers.

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