A Case Study in an Assault Victim – A Fender Squire Strat – Part II

Last week I described the plight of a victim of an assault, SS, a 2010 Indonesian Fender Squier Stratocaster. This week and next week I will discuss the "surgeries" that will be necessary to "transplant" the replacement parts to SS's damaged anatomy, as well as some other "surgeries" that are more of a cosmetic nature, but will also serve the purpose of improving his ability to make music with his owner.

This case presentation is not meant to be a descriptive guide to performing these procedures, but rather serve to illustrate that these kinds of procedures are not difficult for one having a modest set of tools and basic aptitude where "mechanical" abilities are concerned.

I've been doing this kind of work off and on for 35 years. I was too poor to pay for the parts AND the necessary service expertise to care for my instruments when they fell ill (out of adjustment or broken) or could benefit from upgrades, whether cosmetic or functional. My tech-related mentor kindly instructed me in the finer points of modern stringed instrument medicine and surgery.

Fortunately SS has a very common lineage and the needed donor parts that are compatible with his anatomy and physiology are readily available. He is like a human with Type AB Negative blood...sort of the universal recipient. Locating and procuring the parts was a fairly easy venture in point, click, pay and wait for the boxes to start showing up at my door.

After receiving the needed parts for transplantation and assessing them for suitability, I divided up the "surgeries" into two main portions, the mechanical parts and then the electronics.

In this piece I will be describing the "transplant" for the mechanical portions of SS's anatomy. Below are some photos taken during the actual "surgeries" to assist the reader in understanding the described procedures. Caution should be exercised if the sight of exposed, unfinished wood and guitar viscera makes one queasy.

The first item to be addressed was the nut. I took a No. 11 X-Acto knife blade mounted in the appropriate handle; I tapped the blade underneath the nut and the wood at its base from both sides. This was to break loose the glue utilized to hold the nut in place on these Indonesian Squiers.

Then I utilized an old wooden ruler as a "tap bar" and gently tapped the ruler, whose other end was up against the nut, with a hammer. The old nut broke loose. I replaced it in the slot and inscribed a line on it, in order to see how much material protruded above the fretboard.

I then removed it again and utilized a narrow, flat X-Acto blade, scraping the remainder of the glue residue from the nut slot. I then took the new, pre-slotted Tusq nut and placed it in the slot. It's not uncommon to see these blanks as being too long. I centered the nut so that the outer strings would have an adequate distance from the edges of the fretboard and scored the area on both sides of the nut for the purpose of seeing how much material would need to be removed from either end.

I then took a piece of 320 grit sand paper and slowly sanded down the nut on both sides, left and right, until it fit flush with the edges of the nut. I then took the new nut and set it aside. It will require further fitting and string slot filing once SS is ready for a new set of strings.

I then took and removed the old tuning machines. This is one area that one does not scrimp on is the tuning machines. Poor quality tuning machines result in potential tuning stability issues and gear binding when the machine button is turned.

For the procedure, I replaced SS's stock tuners with a set of D'Addario/ Planet Waves, locking and auto trimming machines. A 10 mm combination wrench loosened up the old machines and a 10 mm socket in a nut driver removed the top loaded bushings. The bottom half of the stock tuner was then readily removable.

I then pretty much reversed the procedure to install the new tuners by taking a 12 mm socket to the new bushings. The only addition was the one screw on the back of the machine head to keep the machines from spinning. I lined up the tuners in their U&C positions with enough slack in the bushings to allow for slightly stiff rotation of the entire unit.

I then marked through the screw hole on the back of each tuner with a pencil. This told me where I'd need to drill the hole for each tuner's retention screw. I rotated the tuner to give me a clear shot at each mark with the drill. I used a simple scratch awl to make an indentation for the drill bit where the pencil mark was. This is to keep the bit from skipping when starting the hole.

Then I placed the underside of one screw's cap against the point of the bit and the screw parallel to the long axis of the bit. Where the point of the screw was is where I placed enough painters’ blue tape to indicate where to stop drilling; I did not want to drill clean through the machine head. I then proceeded to drill the holes, one for each machine, using a 1/16th" bit (approximately 1.5 mm). The tuners were left in-situ. I rotated each tuner so that the screw hole was lined up with the hole in the tuner and screwed the down each tuner to the headstock utilizing a #1 Phillips head bit.

I then removed the old string trees and replaced them with an improved set of roller trees. This was perhaps the simplest of the procedures. I removed the one screw that retained each of the two stock trees and screwed down the two new trees with each one's included retaining screw.

Next was the bridge assembly. I removed the spring cover on SS's back and carefully removed each of the three tensioning springs on SS's vibrato claw with a pair of lineman's pliers (a sturdy needle nose set will do), being careful to not let each spring snap loose as it was removed.

I then unscrewed the vibrato claw's two retention/adjustment screws with a #2 Phillips head bit. Last, I cut the ground wire from the claw. I then turned SS to a supine position and proceeded to unscrew each of the six screws that hold his damaged bridge plate in place on the front of the body.

After cleaning the detritus from the area underneath where SS's bridge plate lay, I lined up the holes in the new bridge after checking the uniformity of the "knife edge" for any irregularities. I then screwed down the plate firmly, using the six included new screws. I then flipped SS over to a prostrate position and proceeded to attach the new vibrato claw with the included screws and then attach the three new springs.

I use a slightly offset spring attachment technique as SS will be set up for baritone tuning, using baritone strings and the offset allows me to adjust the tensioning on the vibrato claw to accommodate the odd tension qualities that I've discovered while performing this procedure on other Stratocasters with the standard 25 & 1/2" scale. I'll solder the ground wire to the claw when I execute the electronics procedure to follow.

I then removed SS's old jack plate and jack by removing the two screws holding the plate in place. I cut the wires and installed the new plate/jack assembly, screwing it down with the included screws. As with the claw ground wire, I'll solder the wires to the output jack with the electronics procedure.

This concludes the mechanical portions of SS's surgery. Next time, we'll explore what was required to give him a new voice via a complete refitting of his electronics, including hid pickups, his potentiometers and his 5-way switch.

Until next time!!

-Kirk Bolas - MU Columnist
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