DIY Strat and Other Guitar Projects


Like any type of enthusiast, guitar players love to talk shop. I’m wracking my brain trying to remember if I ever met a guitarist who didn’t. Coming up blank. So there are a couple of different types of shop-talk. There’s “I have such-n-such, which I run through so-n-so.” There’s “That guy is freaking awesome – what chord is he playing there?” And then there is, “Christ, I’m having a hell of a time getting my Strat to play in tune above the seventh fret.” That last one is a jump-off to the purely technical side of the instrument, and not everybody is into that. But if you run into a guy who is into that, you’re probably going to be all ears. I know I am.

Guitar players run the gamut from zero skill to master of the craft. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Over the years I’ve lost count of the guitars I’ve owned or borrowed or found abandoned in someone’s closet. During my tenure as a dedicated indie rocker playing in bands four nights a week, it is impossible to estimate how many hours I’ve spent playing the instrument. It’s quite a bit easier to estimate how much time I’ve spent repairing those instruments, because quite frankly, it didn’t happen often. Not that the guitars didn’t need repairing; it’s just that I didn’t do the fixing.

Just about anything that gets used on a regular basis is going to need maintenance, duh. My level of competence rose to changing strings, adjusting the bridge, filing down a burr in one of the nut grooves, and replacing a couple of pickups—the latter having to be re-done by a professional because I fucked it up. Otherwise, if I had for instance, a bum tuning head on my P-bass, no way I’m going to replace it myself. No, sir. I dragged the big boy down to my guitar shop and had one of the techs do it. And nine times out of ten, it wasn’t cheap. Over the years, I have spent nearly roughly $5,000 on repairs and maintenance alone. Never mind the price of the guitars themselves.

To be honest, I knew all along that with a little bit of gumption, I probably could have done it myself. Guitar repair manuals are as old as the guitar itself. But that involves a certain amount of tools; tools that are particular to the job. Plus, in my day—yes, I know that makes me sound old, but I don’t care—we didn’t have the Internet. Period. There was no fucking world wide web in 1994. Sure, it existed, but we didn’t have it. And even if we did, I probably wouldn’t have thought to look around for guitar repair websites. It just wasn’t on my radar. Here’s me in 1994: “Look! I just completely ripped the input jack from its sleeve. Shit. Gotta take it down to Ian Schneller or Fred Mangan and have them fix it. Sorry, guys. Practice is over for tonight.”

Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve come around to the technical side of the guitar, although in a roundabout, I’m curious sort of way. Frankly, I haven’t had many guitar issues since I more or less hung it up in 2008. When I started playing again four years later, I came into the experience with a completely new perspective. For one thing, my time was limited so there was no fucking around. I got back on the horse and re-taught myself how to ride it. Meanwhile, I found myself interested in aspects of the art that I’d ignored in the past. For instance, the playing of Jerry Reed. I’m not a country boy; never was, never will be. But I started listening to Jerry Reed, mainly out of curiosity. I watched some cable show called “Eastbound and Down” and liked the theme song. It’s a real toe-tapper. So I looked up ol’ Jerry, and man, how could I have been ignoring that all this time!

[Major clarification: The theme song to the TV show is “Goin’ Down” by Freddie King, not the Jerry Reed song “Eastbound and Down”, which was featured in one of the greatest movies ever made, Smokey and the Bandit. When I did the initial Google search of “Eastbound and Down”, a bunch of Jerry Reed videos popped up, and I was like, “Oh yeah! I know that jam.” Nothing against Freddie King, I meant what I said – his song is a real toe-tapper, too.]

Thank you, Mr. Internet. Thank you, Mr. YouTube.

Meanwhile, I’ve been all over the place and I’ve met all sorts of folks. When first I came to Taiwan, I heard about a guy named Irish Stu, who was generally referred to as The Man in town when it came to guitar, particularly his knowledge of the technical and maintenance side. Well, like I said, for the first four years, I didn’t play guitar and I certainly wasn’t interested in windbagging about it. In fact, whenever someone started talking shop, I clammed up and removed myself from the convo. To me, it was like being in recovery. I tried not to put myself in situations where drugs could be found.

When I began talking to Rajah Cheech Beldone, King of the Gypsies, and one of the first things he asked was, “Do you know Irish Stu?” Can’t say that I do, boss. Well, you should.

I’ll talk about my interactions with Mr. Irish Stu in the next Aztec Hearts update (he lent me some wicked pedals—one of which he made), since this post is about his website, which absolutely blew me away. First of all, had I known this site existed, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have a different perspective on DIY guitar projects. Moreover, it would have saved me thousands of dollars and years of heartache and anxiety. But that’s water under the bridge.

What’s important today is that if you or anyone you know has even the slightest bit of interest in being able to resolve their own issues, here you go. This is THE spot. Even though “Stu” is somewhat Stratocaster-centric, there are dozens of great DIY projects to dig. [And, most guitar-based projects have a shadow link to the “Les Paul” version.] Stu builds his own pedals, two-channel mixers, and this, my favorite so far, Making a Simple DIY Mini Guitar AmplifierHighly recommended for any guitar player or anyone with an interest in electronics.

By Christian Adams

Writer and musician in South East Asia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s