5 Quick Ways to Upgrade a Cheap Stratocaster (Without Soldering)

Even if it doesn’t play perfect, it is quite the looker!

Recently, we took a look at the uber affordable Glarry GST3, a $60 Stratocaster alternative available online through Glarrymusic.com. While a functional guitar at that price is a great deal, let’s take a look at a few ways we can make the guitar more playable and hopefully better sounding.

Without doing any soldering or drilling any new holes, there are still a few things you can do to upgrade the instrument. We’re going to stick to a couple of easy fixes, easily done by anyone regardless of experience. Lastly, all of these upgrades require just a Philips head screwdriver or two, a peg winder, a pencil, and new strings.

Remove the Strings and Lubricate the Nut

Cheap guitars often come stock with awful strings that either feel rough or are already rusted and degrading. One of the first things you need to do is rip those old ones off and while you’re at it, maybe give the neck a quick clean. Using warm water on a rag, gently rub each fret to get any dirt, grime, or wood shavings off.

The Glarry nut we are about to attack with a pencil

After all this, time to make a quick alteration to the (very likely) cheap nut on the guitar. In the case of the Glarry, it is a large, poorly cut plastic piece that seems to be catching the strings and contributing to the poor tuning. So the quick fix here is to take a number 2 pencil and use the graphite tip to lubricate the nut. Use the pencil to rub some graphite into each string slot on the nut, helping the strings move and slide through nut as you play and vibrate each string. Do this every time you change strings, especially if you’re not willing to get a new neck or nut for the instrument.

Swap Out the Bridge

While this may seem like major guitar modification, on Strat-style guitars, it really isn’t at all. A few screws and springs are all that keeps the bridge bound to the guitar, and can be easily removed and replaced. One thing that makes a Strat-style bridge cheap or low quality, is how thin and small the block is. This block is what helps keep tension on the strings, holding them in tune even when the whammy bar is used.

The bridge structure, without whammy bar, the saddles can be seen on either side of each string.

To keep things cheap, I recommend going online a purchasing a second-hand or used Fender Mexican Stratocaster bridge. These bridges can be found for around $20-30, even in brand new condition and can be screwed into place, easily upgrading tuning stability and playability. Once you screw it into the front of the guitar, simply re-attach the springs behind the backplate. You can tighten or un-tighten the springs via the two screws that usually attach them to the Strat’s body, tighter springs or additional springs will result in more of a hardtail-style Strat, where the tremolo arm will not be able to function.

Swap Out the Tuners

With this cheap, Glarry guitar, the tuners are simply held in place by the washer around the tuning hole and one small screw that anchors the whole mechanism to the headstock. This is a common tuning machine style, and many higher quality sets can be found new or used online. Replacing them with almost anything should be an upgrade, and will greatly improve tuning stability and your ability to bend notes, bash chords, or use the guitar onstage.

In depth discussion by Stew-Mac

Even something like these vintage Fender tuning machines from Reverb.com should get the job done. For about $40, you can probably find even more replacement options from Squier’s, Fender’s, or after-market distributors like Guitar Fetish. Just make sure you get tuners that don’t have any pegs, as some newer Fender models do, as they likely will not fit into cheap Strat copies that don’t have them. Tuners can simply be replaced by unscrewing the washer by hand, and removing the anchor screws with a small screwdriver. Then, install the new ones in a similar manner and you’re off to the races.

Put on Better Strings

Everyone has different preferences for what makes strings better, but I would highly recommend Stringjoy’s fantastic made in the USA products. I use their 10s on all my guitars and they provide great feel, tone, and lifespan whether they are on my Strat, Les Paul Jr, or Jetstar. Putting better playing and better sounding strings on any guitar is like a breath of fresh air, and so instantly inspire you to pick the guitar up and play.

Check out this helpful article from Stringjoy for help with changing strings!

Adjust the Action and Truss Rod

Considering you probably didn’t spend a ton of money on the Strat, you can’t expect it to be set up properly. If yours comes with the action too high or low for your liking, you can easily adjust it. Furthermore, if you hear a lot of fret buzz, the neck may be bowed, and can be easily adjusted via the truss rod.

The truss rod can be accessed via the panel on your headstock, usually right above the nut. This access port may be covered or open to the air, and all it needs is a slight twist via an Allen wrench, which usually comes with a new, store bought guitar.

Quick rundown from Fender to check out

Action is the term for high how or low your strings are off the neck and frets of the guitar. Most players prefer it fairly low, as it makes it easier to press the strings down with your fingers. To adjust the action, use a hex key, or the smaller Allen wrench, that comes with your guitar. You can adjust the individual strings by raising or lowering the screws on the bridge saddle. Turning counter clockwise will lower the string, while clockwise will raise it, on most Strats.

Published by

Matt Dunn

Guitar and music journalist for Ultimate-Guitar.com and Guitarsforidiots.com as well as a contributor for Guitarniche.com and Stringjoy.com. Reach out to talk about guitars or guitar music anytime.

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