09/21/12- Back in the day, I'd seen pictures of a guitar with a clear Lucite body-- I thought it was a Mosrite, but it may have been an Ampeg. At any rate, I thought it looked neat, but wasn't something that I really craved. That memory was filed away in my brain, waiting to be reignited decades later.
The great thing about the Internet age is that it's so easy to satisfy idle curiosity about stuff like that when you're bored and thoughts just pop into your brain. I was browsing eBay and typed in "lucite guitar" for grins, and was surprised to see that there were all sorts of guitars and basses made of this stuff. Lo and behold, even Strat-alikes!
So this was an impulse eBay buy, motivated by the novelty of the Lucite body and the ridiculously low price-- I'd spent more on stompboxes than this guitar! The majority of the offerings were Galveston-branded that looked almost identical but were priced higher; this one was used, unbranded and appeared to have a tremolo, which the others didn't have. According to the seller's blurb, this one came from the Cort factory-- it may be the same or an earlier version of the Galveston Lucite Strat, but the brandless one appealed to me. For the price, I certainly wasn't expecting much. It fit with the visual novelty of my aluminum Strat, so if it were unplayable and purely for display, I wouldn't have been too disappointed. I read some reviews of the Galveston and most seemed to mention the horrible, but correctable factory setup and how heavy it was. Otherwise, the reviews seemed to be relatively positive. While waiting for it to arrive, I started looking at clear pickguards, thinking that I could make it look even cooler.
When it arrived, I was surprised at how well it played! I'd bought it used, and whoever owned it before me had made it into a very playable guitar. Some tweaks and leveling were necessary, but it had a surprisingly good play feel with its flat radius and straight fretboard. The fretboard is slightly wider than a Strat's, but narrower than an Ibanez, so it wasn't hard to get used to.
It is however, a very heavy boat anchor of a guitar at 10.8 lbs. This wasn't unexpected since Lucite is considerably more dense than wood; it's not as brutally heavy as it would have been if the body weren't 1-1/4" thick (compared to the standard Strat's 1-3/4" thickness).
This off-standard construction had some implications in other areas though. Earlier, I mentioned wanting to replace the pickguard with a clear one... well, despite how much this looks like a Strat, I'm convinced that very few parts of this guitar could be replaced with a stock Fender part. The pickguard's screw holes are located in different places. The neck pocket appears to be shallower so a replacement neck would be too thick to fit properly, despite the mounting holes appearing to be in the same place.
The main thing that I wanted to fix was the bridge: A tremolo arm wasn't included and a sampling of stock arms didn't fit: Later examination showed that the soft zinc tremolo block had split at the screw threads. I thought that I might be able to replace the block, but the thin body meant that a standard block would stick out the back, if it even fit. The top plate, which appeared to have mounting holes drilled in the same spots, were slightly different-- just enough so that nothing was easily replaceable. Even the saddle screws required a different-sized allen wrench. Basically, this left me with no way to use the tremolo, so I decked it by adding 5 springs and screwing the claws tight. Not really heartbreaking since I have lots of guitars with tremolos, and this gave me the excuse to turn it into a dedicated Eb-tuned Strat. Still, I would have preferred that it have a working tremolo.
By virtue of the see-through body, I was able to see that the claw mounting screw holes weren't drilled parallel to the back, which looked a little sloppy. Also, the cavity interiors aren't smooth and polished and show milling marks. That doesn't look bad or out-of-place, but it would have looked cooler if they'd been polished like glass instead of having a frosted appearance. Of course, that would have taken a lot of extra work and have added greatly to the cost. There's no denying that production focused on cost-cutting, with pennies saved for things like the zinc block, the pickups, the small pots, the switch and the tuners. This is probably very similar to the philosophy behind production of Fender's budget-priced Squier line of Stratocasters.
Most of these cost-cutting measures don't have any calamitous effect on the out-of-box functionality. The off-angle drilled screw holes don't affect how the spring claw works, and would never be noticed on an opaque guitar. Expensive guitars with wood bodies don't have finely finished controls cavities. Although conventional wisdom claims that zinc blocks are sonically inferior (which they may be to sensitive test equipment), most people probably couldn't tell the difference-- especially since there are other things that have a much more obvious effect on tone and sustain. Same with the pots and switches. In my opinion, the main downside of those cheap components is durability: A zinc block is soft and a tremolo arm is likely to break or wear threads in a zinc block. Cheap pots and switches work fine at first but become scratchy and intermittent more quickly than higher quality components. Cheap tuners may have more slop due to looser tolerances, but still do their job... but the slop may become an irritation in time.
The point is, a cheap guitar doesn't necessarily mean a bad-sounding or bad-playing guitar, especially these days. In the old days, a cheap guitar had horrible high action that couldn't be fixed. These days, even a cheap neck can play well after a good setup and fretwork (and expensive guitars with poor setups are routinely found at Guitar Cener). That applies to pickups as well. Guitarists spend lots of money on replacement pickups in search of their ideal grail tone, something which is inherently subjective: There is no objectively good/better/best tone. There are pickups with different tonal and noise-rejection qualities, and pickups that squeal in certain applications, but it's really all about usage, personal preference, and what we want to believe. There's another factor that enters into the equation, which is largely psychosomatic-- the belief that stock pickups and cheap pickups must sound bad and should be replaced. Logically, pumping lots of man hours and materials into making a single coil pickup doesn't necessarily improve its tone: The expensive and sought-after vintage pickups were produced as quickly and cheaply as possible.
I say this because the biggest surprise for me is how good this Strat sounds. I don't know if it's that my ears aren't accustomed to the sound of cheap high-output ceramic pickups, but this guitar is louder and crisper than any of my other Strats, and I like it. The quack positions on the pickup selector are very good. I've spent a lot of money on pickups (including some boo-teeky ones) and must confess that they don't really sound any better than these-- just different. Of course, it's hard to accept that $20 pickups could sound as good as $200 ones, or that a $150 dollar guitar could sound and play as well as a $1500 one!