STRAT 7

 

 

2007 Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster Strat 7 was a 2007 Yngwie J. Malmsteen Signature Stratocaster, but it didn't stay that way for very long. Basically, I bought it for its scalloped neck; I didn't need another guitar, but the price difference between an overpriced neck and a good deal on the whole shebang lured me into getting Strat number 7. Although I like YJM's stuff, I really didn't want his  guitar; This was another opportunity to butcher yet another Strat to my oddball specifications (initial mods described in the "Scalloped Neck" article).

The DiMarzio pickups are very quiet but low-powered; although I didn't need much prodding, that convinced me that it needed onboard active electronics. That also reinforced my desire to get a different body; one that I would feel free to desecrate with power tools (in case I changed my mind and wanted to restore it to a YJM Strat).

The Malmsteen Strat's body is surprisingly light (which I like)... but I really didn't like the "Antique White" finish, which my wife called "yellow". I'd tried to like the color; after all, Hendrix & Blackmore had played a white Strat. But she was right... it was yellow, and I didn't want no steeenkin' yellow gitar! After an unsuccessful effort to get a black body, I bought an equally light (3 lbs 11 oz) Swamp Ash body from Warmoth. I wanted a simple no-nonsense woody-looking body, without that frilly flamed, quilted or book-matched stuff. Finding the plain stuff at Warmoth is harder than you'd expect. From the website picture, the transparent reddish brown finish looked fine-- a little dark, but showing grain.

A NEW BODY Upon arrival, the body appeared darker than it had in the pics-- not Warmoth's fault, since they'd just taken the picture under decent lighting. Although they'd done an excellent job, the glossy urethane finish combined with the dark tinting to make the guitar look like it was an off-the-rack, chocolatey-maroon painted guitar. It looked very nice and shiny, but it wasn't the woody look I wanted. At that point, I had become awfully obsessive about the way I thought the guitar should look. I bought a black scratchplate, knobs, and pickup covers to see if that helped; that color scheme reminded me of a Gibson SG. I considered ordering another body, looking at the fancy and expensive stuff, finished and unfinished. In the end, cheapness and sanity prevailed. I really didn't want a showcase Rosewood or Koa guitar with a beautiful finish that showed every fingerprint and smudge; I just wanted a guitar with character and personality. 30-odd years ago, I'd stripped my first Strat, carved a naked lady in the Alder and finished it with shoe polish. I never regretted doing that, and it had gobs of personality... I do regret that it was stolen though, and wanted to recapture some of that vibe. So after the morning trip to the hardware store for some stripper, tints, and Tung oil, I'd committed to that path.

There are plenty of times when I wish that life had an "Undo" button, and this was one of them. After stripping the finish, sanding it, and hastily applying a tint, I was having some major doubts. I have no illusions or pretensions about being a person who knows how to work with wood-- I do know that I don't have the temperment for it; my experience and knowledge are lacking, my standards are low, and I'm not patient. However, the quality of finish on a guitar's body isn't critical to the guitar's operation (in my opinion), and I figured that as long as I wasn't expecting a showcase quality finish, I should be able to make myself happy. At the time, I didn't realize that Swamp Ash was such a porous wood, and that my attempt to tint it would produce such an ugly, blotchy mess. Peeeee-yewwww! Fortunately, sandpaper came to the rescue... Lots of it. After experimenting with Tung oil varnish (and putting it in the oven at 170F instead of waiting 12 hours per the instructions), I could finally look at the body without wincing and feeling a deep sense of loss and hopelessness. Yeah, it looks funky, but it's the kind of funkiness where a naked lady carving would fit right in. It's a roller derby guitar, the kind of guitar that doesn't highlight dings and scratches. With that out of the way, I proceeded to route the body cavities for the onboard SD-1 circuit board and battery box.

Stratocaster scalloped neck

 

ONBOARD ELECTRONICS WAFFLING

BOSS SD-1, TAKE 1 Arrrrgh. I'd tested the SD-1 circuit board many times: After changing components, after cutting it in half, and after replacing the pots. It worked. The only thing left to do was transplant it into the body; a relatively simple operation that involved splicing wires and shoehorning it into the space. By the time I'd finished, the circuit worked... sort of. At high gain settings, it was really noisy, with some high-pitched squealing. I rechecked all the wiring, making sure that the shielding was intact and grounded. I shielded the pickup wires. Nothing seemed to fix the problem. This went on for hours over a couple days, and finally, I gave up... Even though it was 80% there ("just don't turn it up all the way!")... even though some boo-teek fuzz pedals actually tout oscillation as an over-the-top "feature". I felt that I'd failed. I hate failure.

MXR Distortion+ circuitboardMXR DISTORTION+ I guess that I really hadn't given up, because it dawned on me that while rummaging through my boxes of spare parts for pots & whatnots, I'd seen the MXR Distortion+ circuitboard that had been installed in my first Strat. I'd even been smart enough to scrawl the function of the solder pads on the circuit board. Amazingly, it still worked-- 30+ years later. Surely, this was Fate nudging me away from the SD-1, or in the direction of that first Strat with its amateurish finish? I've got three guitars with onboard SD-1 circuits, so it's probably not a bad idea to try something different. Change is supposed to be good, right?

The Distortion+ circuit is much simpler than the SD-1's, but similar: both circuits achieve (overdrive) distortion with clipping diodes. The D+ doesn't have a tone control and according to schematics, the output level is a simple 10K pot right before the output. This simplicity makes for a small, sparsely-populated circuitboard that can be trimmed to fit in the Strat's controls cavity without additional routing.

The simplicity also makes it easy to adapt the circuit to work with the Strat's 3-knob design. Initially, I put a 1 meg Gain pot in the middle tone knob spot, and used a 250K Tone pot in the lower Tone knob spot, connected to the guitar's global output (to modify the output of the D+ circuit and the bypassed circuit). I used a push-pull pot there as a redundant "off" switch for the battery. Since the D+'s output level pot was at the output of the circuit, I left it out. The final output is controlled globally by the original 250K pot. I don't know whether this impedance difference affects the circuit operation, although my Internet research found a suggestion to increase the D+'s pot value to increase the signal output level. Indeed, the circuit does produce a very hot signal when everything's turned up.

After playing around with this for a while I decided that some changes needed to be made. The D+ circuit was super treble-ish at max gain and with the huge volume boost, the shrillness was painful, especially with the bridge pickup. The global tone pot worked fine in bypass mode, but didn't have much effect in D+ mode. I decided to change the controls so that they were like my usual SD-1 setup: the middle knob would control the D+'s gain (from 6-10) and the bypass circuit's tone (from 1-5) by using the ganged 250K/1M TBX pot with its peculiar custom resistance tapers; the bottom knob would be the D+ circuit's tone control. This would let me use two different sets of capacitors for the two modes. After some experimentation, I found a combination of capacitors that worked well with the D+ circuit. This worked much better when switching between the modes, since it helped reduce the gain inbalance. Unfortunately, the taper of the 1M portion of the TBX pot isn't ideal for this application: The D+'s gain control is wired opposite to the SD-1's gain control (with one end tied to ground), and the gain ramps dramatically at the far end of the pot's travel.

Overall, I was okay with the results... happier than I was with the 80% solution I got with the squealing SD-1 circuit. The D+ circuit is very clean at a low gain setting; reasonably close to the bypassed signal. At full gain, the results were very hairy, depending upon what it's being fed into. Some boxes and amps will compress the signal and make it sound very overdriven, but others will pass the gain as a much louder signal.

I've heard some D+ sound samples on the Internet, and noticed that some sound much fuzzier than anything I've ever heard from mine. As I said, what you plug into makes a world of difference, and I believe that's true on the input side: The low-powered YJM pickups probably limit the amount of distortion the circuit can produce.

Overall, this setup gives less of a feeling of control than with the onboard SD-1 circuits I've installed, mainly because of its wide dynamic range; the output level needs to be managed more than the the SD-1, which dirties up without raising the overall volume quite as dramatically.

BOSS SD-1, TAKE 2 With that issue seemingly settled, I tested the SD-1 circuit that had given me such aggravation. Once out of the body, it seemed to work fine! There was only a hint of oscillation, and I squashed that by swapping the input lead so that the shielding was grounded at the circuit board. Screw Fate: Since the 21-fret neck makes it easy to remove the scratchplate, I was willing to give this another try, and so I did.

Arrrrgh. The same fucking squealing! I speculate that it's an incompatibility between the circuit board input and the field that the DiMarzio pickups generate, since the only difference between the circuit being in the guitar body and out is proximity. This time though, I wasn't going to let it go. I began digging through my bag of mystery capacitors and started testing them from the circuit board's switch input to ground. I finally found one that killed the squeal without lopping off too much high frequency hiss from the circuit board. After putting it back together and retuning, the thing finally worked-- full range distortion, with no squealing. If it's lopping off some treble in the output, it's not in a range that can hear, or want to hear. With the tone turned up on the bridge pickup, it's awfully screechy. With the gain turned down, the signal isn't muffled, and is reasonably close (but not identical) to the bypassed signal. Good 'nuff for me.

Experimentation is good, especially if it prompts you to try new things. The other change I made from my previous SD-1 installs was to use a 25K push-pull pot for the circuit's tone, instead of an Alpha 10K pot with a rotary switch. (The purpose of the switch is to cut power to the circuit without having to unplug the guitar, thus saving the battery, some time and hassle.) The value is closer to the original circuit's 20K pot, although it doesn't make much difference that I can tell. Pulling the switch out cuts the power; that actually works better than the rotary switch since you're less likely to accidently cut the power while playing. In addition, push-pull switch pots are much more common nowadays than rotary switch pots, and it's always a good idea to use parts that you can find replacements for.

SD-1 MODS Although the stock SD-1 circuit sounds fine by itself, I'm drawn to doing mods like a moth to a flame. The differences are fairly subtle (a non-guitargeek would be hard pressed to notice), and usually outside the range of my auditory memory: I'm convinced that the brain isn't a particularly reliable sensory comparator over time. I've done partial original freebie-style "Keeley" mods to some of my SD-1 circuits, but this time I wanted to try a mod suggested by Brian Wampler (a.k.a. IndyGuitarist). This involves swapping R6 with a 2.2k resistor (to increase gain), C3 with a .1uF metal film cap (to restore bass) and swapping the clipping diodes D4/D5/D6 with a mix of silicon rectifier & germanium diodes (IN4001+IN34A/IN4001/IN4001+IN34A). The germanium diodes are believed to be more tube-like in their clipping characteristics, and hence, "warmer". After running tests through a VG-99 patch, a Fender Twin Reverb amp and a Roland Cube 60 amp, I believe it's an improvement and think that it makes the full treble bridge pickup tone less "screechy", and the clipping a little softer-edged, or "feathered" or "fuzzier". (Gawd, I hate guitar-geek speak.)

--07/10/08

 

04/2012- Back in 2010, I finally carved the scandalous graphic and showed it in the Strat 1 article, protected by a javascript modesty panel (move the mouse over the pic slowly to show the engraved version of the graphic, sans bikini.)

I'm a practical guy though, and started thinking of concepts that someone else will probably turn into a huge money-maker: We've already got decoupage guitars, so howzabout guitar decor like those paper cut-out dolls that were later rendered as kitchen magnets. Well, making a magnetic bikini was a little out of my league, so I settled for Duct tape, which I think works better since it's a one-shot deal that sez, "peel me". It's like Andy Warhol's peel-able banana artwork for the cover of The Velvet Underground's album. See? It's the perfect mod for a worship band guitarist!

As you can see, the black plastic scratchplate was replaced with rosewood, which is a subtle nod to the "Got wood?" theme. (I'm soooo fuckin' funny, huh?)

 

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