New to the series? Start from the beginning!
After the finishing work was done on the body and the neck was polished up and bolted in, I got to work on the pickups and hardware.
Speaking strictly of the guitar itself, I’m a firm believer that the pickups and electronics have the most profound impact on tone out of any element of the instrument. For this overhaul, I wanted to build something that would allow me to cover the maximum amount of sonic territory possible, from sparkly single-coil tones to heavier rock and metal sounds. In short, I wanted a guitar that I could use in any musical situation.
The Predator’s previous owner had made extensive modifications to the stock electronics. In place of the Strat-sized single-coil in the neck, there was a mystery pickup reminiscent of vintage Teisco offerings in appearance, design, and tone. Likewise, the bridge pickup was replaced my a Gretsch Filtertron humbucker. Additionally, the regular Strat wiring was replaced with a (non-functional) master volume and two-three way switches.
Overall, it was an extremely fun setup; the two three-ways allowed for every possible pickup combination (the neck and bridge pickups together sounded FANTASTIC). However, while it excelled with low-to-mid gain tones, the pickups didn’t handle high-gain settings particularly well. Additionally, the non-standard sizes of the pickups would make finding a (affordable) replacement pickguard a daunting task. I ultimately decided to scrap it all and start fresh.
Looking around online for replacement parts, it was hard to beat Dragonfire Guitars for value; I was able to get a pre-loaded tortoise-shell pickguard (complete with cream knobs and a 3-way switch) for a little under $80 CAD including shipping. The pickups themselves are manufactured by Artec, a Chinese manufacturer who (in addition to their own branded pickups) also produces for Dragonfire and GFS Pickups for GuitarFetish. The general consensus online is that these three brands all offer exceptional value for the money, and being able to purchase everything I needed, pre-wired and ready-to-go, was a huge selling point for me.
Although the pickguard came wired as a direct-drop replacement for my existing electronics, I wanted to make a couple modifications to the wiring in order to maximize the Predator’s versatility. In place of the standard 3-way switch commonly found on most dual-humbucker setups, I wanted to use a 5-way switch found on Strats. The two additional switch positions would be used for coil-splitting settings, allowing me to coax single-coils tones out of a dual-humbucker setup and get the best of both worlds.
Wiring up the switch required a little more research and experimentation than I was expecting. Using the Seymour Duncan website, I was able to easily track down a wiring diagram for what I wanted. However, Artec uses different wiring colour codes than SD, meaning that I had to translate and determine the correct location for each wire. This was exceptionally confusing since Artec uses the same four colours as SD, only in a different combination.
Additionally, all of Seymour Duncan’s wiring diagrams are shown with traditonal Fender-style 5-way blade switches. While I could have (and probably should have) picked one up, I opted to try to use an inexpensive box-style switch that I had laying around. Commonly found on import guitars, the contacts on these box switches don’t correspond to the blade switches in the way you would expect. I struggled for HOURS wondering what I had done wrong until I stumbled across this sanity-saving explanation.
Having FINALLY been set straight, the switch functioned exactly how I wanted it to. Position 5 was the bridge humbucker, with the coils running in series, 4 was both humbuckers running in series, and 3 was the neck humbucker running in series. These three on their own constitute the “standard” array of pickup options found in most dual-humbucker guitars. Positions 1 and 2, then, were my “bonus” sounds. Position 1 was the bridge pickup, only with the coils running in parallel instead of series, yielded a bright, sparkly single-coil tone similar to the bridge pickup of a Telecaster. Similarly, Position 2 takes one coil from each pickup and runs them together in parallel, yielding a sound similar (but not quite identical) to one of the “in-between” sounds the Strat has become famous for.
With this modification, I was confident that the Predator would be capable of covering a vast amount of sonic territory. The only thing left to do was string it up, set it up, and start playing with my new (old) toy!
Stay tuned! Next week, I’ll wrap up this series with some thoughts on potential future upgrades!