The Partscaster


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Are all Fender-style guitars Partscasters?


When Fender emerged in the late ‘40s/early ‘50s, Gibson didn’t view them as valid competition; they laughed at them.

Gibson’s design was, in comparison, complex—producing beautiful guitars known as Electric Spanish, or ES, which were hollow or semi-hollow-bodied with pickups.

Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker revolutionized the guitar, shifting it from a rhythm instrument to one for playing solos as well.

Fender was the affordable, simple alternative—a plank with a bolt-on neck, painted in colours akin to cars of the time. It gained popularity among the American teenagers post-World War 2.

In retrospect, established acts in the early ‘50s mostly played expensive Gibson guitars. Elvis‘s guitarist Scotty Moore, Chet Atkins, Chuck Berry, B.B. King—the list goes on, and it was all Gibson.

Many of these guys played Fender amps, but not their guitars.

However, at a grassroots level, Fender grew rapidly because they produced affordable yet great-sounding instruments.

Ironically, trying to purchase one of those cheap ‘50s Strats today might require remortgaging the house! Recently, I saw a 1954 model in Paris sold for $88,000.

Today, buying a new Fender Strat or Tele is pricier than in the past, and there’s an endless array of variations available.

Looking at new Fender guitars, different shops offer unique ones based on their orders. This customization makes most Fenders unique. One starts to wonder, are they all Partscasters?

These new Fenders span from relatively cheap models to outrageously expensive ones, with various woods, pickups, and colors. And this excludes the custom shop builds!

In contrast to Gibson, Fenders are ideal for upgrading, modifying, and changing.

Consider David Gilmour’s black Strat; it evolved until he stopped modifying it. Clapton, too, constantly swapped bodies and necks, eventually creating his signature model by adding a preamp. There’s also Nile Rodgers who found a hardtail Fender with a ‘60s body and a ‘59 neck. Now they make it as his signature guitar – The Hitmaker.

Perhaps the path is to buy a Fender or Fender-style guitar and then start customizing it.

Having owned many Fender-style guitars, that’s where I landed. The good news? It was easier than I expected!

Reflecting on this success, here are tips for each part that I learned along the way.



Tremolo System

After trying various tremolo systems for Strats, I reached two conclusions:

  1. Vintage-style saddles sound better than deluxe versions.
  2. A small UK company called Wudtone produces the best tremolo system in my experience. They use a metal plate against which the tremolo slides, resonating and staying in tune better.

Tuners

There are three basic systems here:

  1. Standard vintage tuners.
  2. Hipshot—requires cutting the string to an appropriate length, a bit complex.
  3. Locking tuners—might cause tuning issues initially but can be managed like vintage tuners with added locking mechanism.

Necks

Since the Strat and Tele have a standard pocket size, experimenting with different necks is an option. Warmoth is a popular replacement, and Fender offers options too. Try various shapes and materials to find what suits you.



Bodies

The standard wood for a Strat body is Alder, but options like Ash, Basswood, Maple, or Mahogany exist. Roasting bodies, especially Swamp Ash, is trendy. Chambered bodies offer a lighter feel and a slightly different sound.


Pickups

Experimenting with pickups is the most evident customization for a Fender-style guitar. Consider humbuckers in the bridge or blending pickups as Gilmour does. The trend of using P90 pickups in Strats has also emerged recently.

The advantage of a Fender-style guitar is the ability to replace any part until you find your favourite combination. This flexibility led to the term “Partscaster”—perhaps describing all Fenders.

I ended up with a USACG all-mahogany and rosewood Strat using ‘69 custom shop pickups in the neck and middle, with a Jeff Beck Jr in the bridge, along with Wudtone tremolo and Schaller lockable tuners. I might swap the Jeff Beck Jr for a TV Jones Powertron, aiming for Angus in the bridge, Clapton in the middle, and Nile/Gilmour in the neck.

But the real question is, what will your Partscaster be?



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About me | Dan Lundholm

Dan Lundholm wrote this article about monetising your site with Monumetric.

This article on pedalboards was written by Dan Lundholm. Discover more about him and learn guitar with Spytunes.

Most importantly, find out why you should learn guitar through playing tunes, not practising scales, and studying theory in isolation.


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