The OSC Toy-Box - Guitar & Bass Update: Strat Improvements & (Very Nice) P-Bass Copy
The "OSC Toy-box" articles look at some of the instruments and equipment I use when making my music. My ethos regards equipment is always to avoid getting the latest product, or whatever is fashionable at any given time. Instead, aim to get something that's more of a long term investment and/or a little bit quirky and unusual. Learn this equipment like the back of your hand and really exploit its every potential.
Whatever you do, don't break the bank or get in to debt. You can make very cool music that's distinctive and uniquely your own sound without spending a fortune on the latest hardware or software. As you read these article, please remember, this collection of instruments and equipment has been amassed over the course of 15+ years, and wherever possible, I've avoided paying full retail prices, instead opting for second hand, ex-demo, or in some cases even rescuing from the trash!
Back in 2019 I wrote a blog detailing the guitars and other guitar-related things that I use in my productions. There have been a couple of updates on the guitar front since then that I thought might be of interest.
Squier Strat Update
Previously, I wrote about how I'd found this guitar in a skip, with a broken neck; that I'd salvaged it, replaced the neck with one I found on eBay and generally tidied it up to be serviceable. The pickups and electronics (presumably stock/entry-level Squier) were a bit rusty, tonally gutless and prone to interference. The dials and switches were also scratchy and crackly despite liberal amounts of switch cleaner.
Since then, I've upgrade all the electronics and saddle. Not wanting to break the bank, I spent a while researching pickups and decided upon a set of Tone Rider Surfari pickups. With a little googling, I was able to source them for just under £70.
I replaced the rest of the electronics with original Fender parts and replaced the saddle with a Wilkinson saddle I found online for a reasonable price.
Lastly I lined the pickup cavity and rear of the pick-guard with copper tape for additional insulation from electro-harmonic/static interference.
One Small Oversight
The saddle is designed for a Fender Strat (not a Squier, which is about 5-10mm shallower than a Fender - it's a production cost-saving thing). Therefore the saddle protrudes from the rear of the body by a few millimetres. This was an oversight on my part, but honestly, it's no problem. It just means I can't have the rear cover-plate attached. It doesn't impact on the playability or comfort. I don't notice it when I'm playing.
Despite the above-mentioned saddle-depth oversight, the saddle definitely improves the solidity of the intonation, tuning and generally gives the guitar a more solid feel when playing.
The shielding and official Fender electrical components are a huge improvement. Single-coil pickups are very prone to interference, especially when near computers, transformers, computer monitors, etc... All the sorts of things I have in abundance in my tiny, little, studio space. Therefore this is a massive benefit and I'd recommend anyone with a single coil guitar do this modification (especially if they work in close proximity to computers).
The pickups! Wow! Considering what they cost, they perform fantastically. They really pack a punch and if you have an entry-level guitar and are looking to upgrade the pickups without breaking the bank, definitely check out Tone Rider pickups. These sound so authentically Strat-like, and have a great body and depth of tone.
Since completing this upgrade, I've used this guitar numerous times (significantly more than my Telecaster) on various releases including my latest album Yume No Machi.
All About That Bass
I've long thought of myself as a frustrated bass player trapped in a pianist's body (which might be apparent when you consider my synth bass-lines). I have dabbled in playing bass from time to time, but never seriously committed to studying it (more just relied on the few transferable skills from guitar and piano). I'm under no illusion about my technical limitation and lack of ability to play the bass guitar to a good standard. I nevertheless wanted something that I could use for study and for simple bass guitar work, maybe recording from time to time.
I've a lot of experience of working with bass guitarists (and selling bass guitars many years ago when I worked in a guitar shop) and I had a very specific deep, rich tone in mind. I knew I wanted a Fender Precision Bass (or rather, a more cost effective Fender copy).
I owned a Fender Jazz Bass many years ago and I loved it, however these days I find myself preferring a thicker neck and wanting a deeper, rounder tone (hence the P-Bass). I considered a Marcus Miller Music Man copy of some sort, but with those utilising an active pick-up, I thought I'd keep things simple and stick with the passive setup of the P-Bass.
After many hours spent researching the best value for money P-Bass copies, I landed on the Vintage V4. After a little shopping around I was able to purchase one new for a little under £300.
From the factory, these come loaded with Wilkinson hardware and pickups (including brass saddles - which is nice!). The spec-sheet on these is very impressive for the price. Naturally with good quality hardware at this price, there's a trade-off, and the cosmetic finish has a couple of slight blemishes and paint-runs on the back, but that doesn't bother me.
Out of the box it played extremely well (it's rare for cheaper string-instruments to be set up so well, out of the box, and so this was a pleasant surprise). Nevertheless I did some modifications, lining the pickup cavity with copper tape for insulation and restringing it with flat-wound strings. I tweaked the setup and intonation to be spot on for what I needed. The combination of good quality hardware and pickups, and the flat-wound strings delivers an extremely deep, rich and warm tone (further helped by pre-amping through my old TL-Audio 5050 Valve Pre-Amp Compressor, which is suitably warm for these sorts of applications).
It's super enjoyable to play. The neck is very well finished with very smooth, even fret edges (there's not a single rough fret edge, which is more than can be said for my considerably more expensive Fender Telecaster!).
As well as simply being a pleasure to play (even with my limited abilities), it's also serving as inspiration for new song ideas and at the time of writing this, it's been used extensively as the sole source of bass on a 30-minute mini-album project that's yet to be released. I expect it will also find its way onto numerous OSC releases long into the future.
That's all for now, regarding guitar-related equipment updates. As with much of my equipment, you'll see a common theme of researching for cost effectiveness and modifications to suit my specific needs. Remember, this music production game isn't all about having a must-have piece of equipment that others appear to have. If we all used the same kit, we'd sound more similar and that would be no fun.
Research things that you feel are more you and don't be afraid to tinker and modify/adapt where necessary, as that makes the instruments (and your overall sound) even more uniquely you. Alternatively, you might find that for comparatively little expense, you've ended up with something that sounds just like an expensive Fender Stratocaster or P-Bass for a fraction of the cost of an "authentic original" ;-) .