In my wild youth I used to fling my guitars about on stage with gay abandon – something that I’ve done less as I’ve gotten older. At this point I’m too attached to most of them, and not prepared to risk a terminal injury from another aerial flight into the drumkit at the end of a gig.
To try and remedy this, I picked up an Encore Strat (in a rather fetching hot pink colour) for a measly thirty quid – the plan being that I would upgrade a couple of bits and pieces to make it passable for live use, and deploy it for the higher energy situations where things may end up getting out of hand. Here is the Facebook marketplace picture that sold me on it:
As you can see, it looks pretty great – especially with the matching pink headstock. In person, there were a few things of note:
- The body itself was extremely light, and felt like it would literally just smash into smithereens if it took a hard whack in the right place.
- Perhaps because of this, it seemed like there was an unusual amount of sustain, with any vibrations or knocks resonating through the body pretty well. Maybe not the best for other guitars, but for a feedback noise monster this should be pretty great.
- The pickups and bridge were fine. As were the pots. Pretty bog standard stuff.
- The pickup selector switch was genuinely atrocious, and was so loose I couldn’t really tell which setting was which. I’m not sure if that was a problem from the factory, or something that had developed over time – but either way it wasn’t good.
- The machine heads were really crappy and plastic – and it seemed like they didn’t hold the strings in tune especially well.
- The fretboard was generally fine, and the action not too bad at all – though the neck lacked a bit of polish – and it felt fairly low quality overall as a result.
- The frets badly needed a polish.
- Since it was second hand, the pickguard was a bit grubby.
- One of the strap buttons were missing.
- There was no shielding of the cavity – just a portion of the pickguard.
Since the plan was to actually play this guitar live – rather than to just smash it up for the hell of it, I wanted it to be at least semi respectable, and took the opportunity to modify some of the poorer quality elements to bring it up to scratch.
I toyed with the idea of going the full hog: replacing the shoddy pickup selector switch, installing higher quality pots, etc, but in the end I stripped the upgrades down to the most ‘essential’ elements that I was going to be using.
- I removed both of the tone knobs, and shifted the volume knob down so it was out of the way. This mod is a slightly more exaggerated version of a mod that I do to all my Strats, as I always end up cutting my hand on the pots nearest the strings when thrashing about otherwise. At first I put the knob way down in the bottom position, but that kept confusing me as it didn’t match my other guitars, so I shifted it back up to the middle instead which was fine.
- Rather than replace the crappy pickup selector switch, I decided to just remove it completely. I wasn’t realistically ever going to use anything but the bridge pickup, so I could save some time and cash this way.
- In the same vein, I removed both the neck and middle pickups at first, but later decided to just disconnect them, but leave them in place so the guitar looked a bit more ‘guitar’ like, as opposed to a shell with gaping holes. Plus, it would help keep random detritus out of the body cavity..
- I installed cheap strap locks – as it seemed sensible to make sure that the guitar wouldn’t go flying off unexpectedly, should I be tempted to swing it around my head at some point.
- The frets got a polish, and the finderboard was conditioned with lemon oil.
- I put in a snazzy yellow tort pickguard to offset the pink, and spice things up a bit.
Unfortunately, the standard Strat sized pickguard didn’t fit properly – it was a little bit too big, and the screw holes didn’t match up at all. If I was precious about the guitar I would have been concerned about this, but since I’m not, I just wedged it into place and made new screw holes the old fashioned way – with brute force.
- I replaced the crappy machine heads with some black EZ Lock tuners. This was the most pricey upgrade, but one that was probably necessary, since keeping the thing in tune is fairly important if it’s going to be of use live. I can always salvage them later if I end up destroying the whole thing at some point.
- The single coil pickup in the bridge made way for a dirt cheap, no brand humbucker – to try and match the output level of my other guitars. After a bit of wiring problems, I got everything in place, and it sounded surprisingly good.
I didn’t bother shielding the cavity, as it seemed like a bit of a waste of money. The humbucker was naturally quieter than the single coils anyway, and the new pickguard had more extensive shielding on the back than the stock pearloid one, so I decided to leave it as is.
I was fairly surprised with how well the guitar played before the modifications (crappy components aside), and after I switched things out it sounded pretty decent, was much more comfortable to play, and looked a lot cooler. I loved how light the whole thing ended up being, as I could easily fling it about. The only problem now is that I’ve become quite attached to it, and not sure I’ll want to bash it up. But we’ll see how long that lasts.