Not only is the Fender Stratocaster my favorite guitar, but it was also my first electric guitar. Crazy how that works…However, in recent years I’ve found a new love of Strats, be it Fender or knock offs, because of how easy they are to modify and customize.
The beauty of Leo Fender’s design and construction of Strats and Teles is that they can be easily fixed, modified, or stripped with just a soldering iron and screwdriver. The flood of cheap Squier (or other knock off) Strats that are constantly available also makes it super affordable to mess around with one. You can find a ton to use as a project guitar for live usage or to practice technical skills on without risking your cherished instruments.
To that point, I picked up this cheap, beat up Squier Affinity Strat from my local music store. It was made sometime in the early 2000’s and was well worn in by now. Surprisingly, the neck feels great. It’s far thinner than most Strat necks I’ve played before and for whatever reason, it just felt comfortable and fun for me to play.
That left just two quick upgrades for me to do to turn this old guitar into a really fun, garage rock guitar.
When I think of garage rock, I think of old Gretsch guitar with filtertron pickups or outlandish pawn shop guitars with some combo of P90’s or huge single coils. Trying to be cost effective, I decided to use Guitar Fetish’s “Retrotron” pickups to get that classic chime, jangle, and fuzzed out madness that old Gretsch guitars make in the hands of Jack White and Dan Auerbach. Plus, for a few extra bucks, GFS will include a pre-wired harness that connects to the pickup without any soldering.
Further inspired by my love of Gibson Les Paul Juniors (shoutout Mick Jones of The Clash), I thought it would be cool to make a one pickup Strat. Like a Stratocaster Junior.
Next, I knew I had to change out the cheap, low-mass bridge block in this Squier Strat for a better, but not necessarily expensive option. Changing the bridge or trem-block to a heavier and larger option not only improves tuning stability, but can also lead to increased sustain and allows for lower tension on the strings, making bending easier. For more on how that’s noticeable, check out this awesome demo of two blocks from Brent Hutchinson!
I ended up finding a used Fender Hi-Mass Big Block, from a Mexican Strat, for $23.56 in total on Reverb. You can find them for anywhere from $20-40 with ease and noticeably upgrade your Strat. Lastly, I ordered a single humbucker cutout pickguard from Guitar Fetish for a whopping $6.00, and it took about 20 minutes to get everything put together. All I had to wire was the ground wire from the guitar to the new volume pot, screw in the pickguard and new bridge, and off I was.
This is an incredibly easy way to mod a cheap Strat that you either learned on and need to upgrade, or found at a yard sale or music store for a hundred bucks. I spent under $200 total on the guitar and parts. Now, I have a fun, unique looking Stratocaster. Want to see me try some more of these builds with different body shapes or parts? Let me know in the comments, I’m also thinking about building a bunch of these cheap partscasters to sell cheap online via our Reverb page, let me know if you would buy one!