Fender Stratocaster ’77 (eng)
The first experience of creating guitar that looks like Ritchie Blackmore’s signature White Strats was rather successful, especially when knowing that it is first attempt in building guitars. It sounds great, plays smooth; guitar is a reliable and awesome Strat.
This guitar and its sounding was compared with a real Fender Stratocaster Plus series of mid-90s, with a Fender Stratocaster American Standart — my Strat plays well in comparison, and it was noted particularly that Strat has sort of ’lots of brightness’ (to be honest, that was my target because Ritchie’s guitar sound brightly, creamy)!
This ’brightness’ is due to Lace Sensor Hot Gold pickups set with a ’Hot bridge’ & the ’Treble bleed’ mod, soldered to a volume pot.
But I have to say, this result hasn’t satisfied my enthusiasm and creativity fully, and in some time I started to think about something new to create/build.
Since a few years after built, my competence in the Ritchie Blackmore’s equipment has grown widely, and a possible search for a new guitar promised to be improved.
Thus, the classic objective: re-creating the White Blackmorecaster.
Option ’Out Of the Box’
- MIM Ritchie Blackmore Stratocaster ®, being currently in production:
- MIJ signature models Fender Stratocaster ST72-145RB or ST-175RB:
- MIA Fender American Vintage Series ’70s Stratocaster Reissue;
- MIM Fender Classic Series ’70s Stratocaster;
- MIJ 70-s reissue;
- Luthier-made custom Strat-type guitar.
Opinions & thoughts
- No MIMs there, categorically!;
- MIJ ST72-145RB is not quite enough for me, it is too serial (but it is a great instrument, better than MIM!);
- ST-175RB — I adore it so much! But it is rare to find and expensive to buy. When it is found;
- AVRI ’70 is a most suitable way, but nowadays it is not easy to find one Olympic White’ painted and with a rosewood neck (AVRI ’70 is currently out of production);
- Luthier-way — is perfect way with precise characteristics, but not authentic!
Looking back I understand that the ’box’ option is too primitive for me. The one and only option for me is to build it! I cannot go against myself whom am I trying to deceive?
Fender Stratocaster ST-175RB
Once again: ST-175RB is the best production Blackmore Stratocaster ever made! Yep, it’s my personal opinion, but Richie has this Strat in his guitar collection:
It is an unique guitar in certain way: due to its neck-thru construction. As we remember, Ritchie always glued necks to body of his workhorse Strats.
A lightweight ash body, locking tuners, Lace Sensor Gold pickups, scalloped fretboard — these are trademark features of all Ritchie’s Strats, and Japanese meticulous approach to build guitars makes this exact Strat, I resemble, the one of the best replicas of his Signature models (even amongst Custom Shops)!
Moreover, I like its nontrivial pickguard — with only two pickup holes except three, stock for Strats.
I was not successful in finding a ST-175RB in Japanese shops, thus I had to put aside an idea to build a second replica of Blackmorecaster.
…but right after acquiring Lace Sensor pickups set (more — later) I suddenly have found an alternate and the most genuine method to recreate The White Strat: why can not I find a Fender Stratocaster of a proper CBS-era and bring it to standard? No problema! Three years ago I had thought is was not possible, but now is today, and I can really afford it!
Some precursive analysis revealed the next steps:
- to find and buy abroad Fender Stratocaster of mid-70s in mint condition, with a rosewood neck and (preferably) an Olympic White body — brandmark of his Strats;
- to ship securely to Russia;
- to add some modifications (TUSQ XL nut, locking Sperzel tuners, leather strap and strap locks);
- to install Lace Sensor Gold of 80’s-era (similar ones are installed to Ritchie’s #S778960 Strat).
Ironically, the very last item in this ’to-do’ list became the first one, so my today’s story starts with Lace.
Lace Sensor Gold pickups
As you might know, in European ’Come Hell or High Water’ tour ’93 Ritchie Blackmore used a ’77 Fender Stratocaster as a main guitar. Guitar had a brand new pickups system installed, with a unique construction and plain covers, without magnets and holes.
I must now mention that Richie still uses these pickups, even nowadays and his eternal anti-hum-war is ended with the Lace Sensors.
About 1…1.5 years ago I started to think, did Ritchie use custom pickups? Were they wound specially for him? Are there any distinguished ingredients of his pickups?
I messed with doubts also knowing that ex-tech (Dawk) used to sell ’very unique’ Lace pickups being installed onto his smashed Strats ($100 for piece — not bad at all!).
When searching in WWW, I found a completely posh topic at The Gear Page forum. Author describes there his own experience of master-building The White Strat replica. When reading it — and I strictly recommend to read it! — you see that the author carefully recreates Blackmorecaster and pays attention to all tiny things: neck-thru, anchor ’bullet’ emulation, body color, water-slide stickers.
Exactly this Strat also fitted with Lace Sensor pickups, bought from Dawk.
Blackmore’ pickups are also installed onto my best friend’s Strat, Yaroslav Kislov!
I contacted the author and he confirmed deal with Dawk and dropped me a photo of soldered pickguard:
An article also contains a front cover photo:
After making deep investigation of these two pictures, I consolidated all facts about Lace Sensor. There is an article at Xhefri’s Guitars web-site that helped me much. This article is dedicated to Fender Stratocaster Plus — these guitars were initially fitted with Lace Sensors.
Here are some details:
- year of production must be under ’92-’93 because later revision changed much in construction and sounding;
- top cover has ’Fender-Lace Sensor’ letterings in gold;
- top cover is absolutely flat (due to some complaints in early 90s Lace changed top surface and added oval dipple to percent letter obliteration);
- two wires: orange (signal) and white (ground);
- aluminum plane in basement;
- two round pickup elements with soldered conductor between;
- serial no #027666 (’The Pickup of Devil’!).
So, Dawk may be saying all around (’Blackmore’s special pickups!’), but my own opinion is: ’any Lace Sensor Gold’ in mint condition of pre-90s production year — is a sought-for pickup!’
It is possible to track down needed pickups at the Ebay.
But in my case, I faced an endless luck: at Strat-Talk forum, in equipment emporium I met an unique advertisement — somebody wanted to sell NOS Fender-Lace Sensor Gold pickups set of ’89 production year! They were brand new and never installed at guitar!
Pickups were bought as fast as you blink, comrades!
Seller told me that exactly this set was a property of Don Lace (yep, the founder of Lace)!
I blessed my personal star and decided to start a new Blackmorecaster!
For a new Strat project I decided to make a custom pickguard with two (instead of three) pickup holes, inspired with a mate from The Gear Page and The Japanese fetish called ST-175RB.
Order was made at Warmoth that made a guitar body for a first Strat:
In addition I bought a copper shielding tape. As you know, shielding with a copper foil became my personal favour (the first Strat had the copper works inside).
When all pickguard parts finally reached me, I started assembling it.
First thing first, I removed the Warmoth-stock aluminum foil and replaced it with a proper copper:
Two CTS 250L pots were applied for tone controls. For a volume control I chose a Seymour Duncan YJM High-Speed Volume Potentiometer. I love to rotate volume, so why not using this pot? I ruined first YJM-pot when trying to make a ground for third pot leg
I also notice that I have 3-position CRL pickup switch (with removed spring — lifehack of Ritchie!) and installed jumper to prevent a dead spot in middle position — bridge pickup sound here:
Also I decided to diversify tone options and installed a personal capacitor for each tone pot: the neck one received a Orange Drop cap:
And a vintage USSR capacitor K40-U9 for bridge tone (kind of exotic, you know):
All electronic elements were conducted with a waxed cotton cloth wire — in dedication to Fender’s annals!
And traditionally, volume pot received a ’Treble bleed’ mod — cap and resistor in parallel, soldered to legs of the volume pot:
Thus, electronics for a new guitar were ready to deployment at that moment of time.
So, we need to find a CBS Strat, but how and there?
I guessed at that moment that I would buy it in USA. But it could be a bit tricky, because:
- you need to play and listen guitar yourself;
- guitar must be packed carefully;
- guitar should be shipped securely.
Alas, I didn’t find specific any CBS Strat (’77, Oly White, rosewood neck) in all US-web music stores! There were many ’79s, even with OWH color, but I could not decide myself to buy it.
Why not ’79? As you know, the whole CBS-era (1965—1982) ruined Fender’s reputation to some extent. Increasing manufacture rates, Fender lost in much in quality control: i.e. all ’79s have pretty flat body contours.
In my research work I found these offers:
- ’79 Strat ($1699)
I was ready to buy this one, but a seller could not provide feedback for my personal requests, so I skipped it.
- ’79 Strat ($2000)
This Strat has a very mint condition, but it is expensive and has non-original pickups.
- ’79 Strat ($1799)
Not bad too, but flat body contours… for right elbow especially — these are the side effects of ’79 production year.
Guitar Center offers
- ’79 Strat ($1599)
Guitar Center guys sent me pictures and even shot some video of this Strat:
Cons: ’79 and body dings and scratches, headstock crack.
- ’77 Strat ($1399)
This one could become a real choice for me because:
- It is ’77!
- Serial number is older than Blackmore’s one.
- Natural finishes spray over the good looking and better wood pieces.
- Guitar shipped with its tolex case.
- GC manager informed me about non-original pickups (to be honest, I did not need them — I was going to drop already pre-assemblied pickguard with Lace Sensors!). But those unoriginal pickups were Fender Custom Shop pickup, which sound so well!
- I asked manager to play this Strat and liked it sounding and sustain.
The only one thing that could stop me for some time is a natural finish.
But there were no other reasonable offers and I decided to buy exactly this ’77 and besides GC guy offered me an $100 discount!
Thus, I got a ’77 in pretty condition and excellent sound for only $1299!
I asked GC managers to make a secure package and guitar was ready to be shipped to Russia.
After ~1 month of nervous waiting, the Strat had finally reached me! Package was excellent, with cornflake and packets. Guitar was detuned and its anchor was released properly — thanks for Guitar Center guys!
First unboxing impression — smell of grandma’s box!
Right after arriving I sent my new old Strat to my fellow guitar tech, which performed a proper setup and installed a new TUSQ XL nut. He compared ’77 sound with a grand piano in his first remark:
Tech set up strings tension and action, polished frets and got aesthetic pleasure when working over thirty-seven-years-old guitar.
But he even could imagine himself about future of guitar…
Firstly I dropped Sperzel Trim-Lok chrome locking tuners:
Hand on heart, I liked Schaller’s german quality more than Sperzels. Schallers were installed at my first Strat, but this Strat had to have Sperzel because Blackmore had!
Next steps are pickguard swapping and guitar shielding.
Note: Lace Sensor Gold itself are hum-free pickups, so there are no need to make shielding in cavities beneath them. Moreover, excessive shielding can affect the sound properties of pickups. That’s why I glued my copper tape under pots & electronics and output jack cavity:
No external radio ways and hence — no hum were allowed inside this isolated copper contour!
’77 Strat started to look so well with a new PG with its two pickup holes:
Guitar could possibly remain this revision, but some changes were planned for its ash body…
Yep! Strat’s natural lacquer finish was destined to be trashed! This guitar has to be a proper Blackmorecaster, so its natural-ness is to be refinished with an Olympic White color! Soon I started to search for a competent luthier to refinish Strat.
I even posted poll at Strat-Talk forum to discuss pros and cons of refinishing. There were many diverse opinions, but one thing cleared up — 1) refinishing will not ruin sounding; 2) decreased guitar value (due to losing an original coat) is not problem for me; 3) my ’77 is not an unique guitar to keep its original poly lacquer coat.
Scientific approach also confirmed my positive decision:
- in the end of 60s Fender switched to poly lacquers instead of nitro. Yes, it may be more stable and glossy than nitro, but it can affect guitar sounding;
- the old lacquer ply was too thick and unstable (these are the consequences of CBS-era);
- the old lacquer became too soft, plastic-like and could influence to sound in negative way.
Meanwhile I had successfully found a luthier Andrei Shelgov, who could possibly make a refin. I contacted him and got assured that he would make this job and I could trust him my guitar body.
Andrei sent me some color samples:
Color samples thesis:
- I skip an original Olympic White paint because it is too white-ish;
- Vintage White color suits better — it has more yellow (more Blackmore-ish) than Oly White;
- some relic works.
Why nitro? Although nitro was not used in late CBS-era and Blackmore’s Strat has a poly lacquer coat, it is better in sounding and aging and is strongly recommended by luthier.
He also promised to ’emulate’ paint-and-lacquer aging with some craquelure, dents and patina.
Said and done, I disassembled my Strat, carefully packed body and shipped to luthier:
Body had reached to tech and refin started:
- the old lacquer was taken off, it was dusty and nasty:
- after body was polished and filled with a transparent coating:
- two coats of white base with polishing:
- Vintage White painting, two layers:
- nitro lacquer with final polishing:
Some decorate works: paint under and outside pickguard has different color tone to emulate paint and lacquer aging:
And finally it is ready:
Now, the guitar body successfully returned to me and mounted onto Strat. Result color slightly differs from calibrated Olympic White color samples above to some green-ness, but my fellow colleague John told me one important fact about poly aging:
Looks great! The greenish color is correct — actual aged poly Olympic white finishes age to a yellow-green color, not the color Fender uses for their reproduction of aged bodies. The color of your strat looks more like the real thing.
So, the green-ness is legal:
Two Strats, two Blackmorecaster nearby:
No bad at all, ain’t it?
I guess, there are no vital difficulties to build a proper Blackmorecaster — funding and fantasy can make any idea come true!
You can have a box-version (MIM, MIJ), you can make your own Strat from scratch (like me) — but the final result is one and only:
Blackmorecasters are meant to be perfect!