Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stratocaster Wilkinson Nut Replacement

About a year or so ago I came to the realization that my 1988 Strat Plus sounded like crap. Of course my playing sounds like crap, but so did the guitar. A friend who plays the bass and keyboards had been thinking about buying a guitar and I convinced him to buy a Fender Standard Stratocaster (made in Mexico). He picked one up for around $450 which seemed like a good deal, especially since he wasn't sure how much he was going to play it. I visited him later that summer and tried out the guitar and was shocked at how good it sounded, even unamplified. I told him that it sounded amazing, better than my American-made Strat. He didn't believe me. Over the next few months I tried to think about why his Strat sounded better than mine. One thing is that I firmly believe that manufacturing everywhere has gotten much, much better in recent years. Certainly his Mexican-made Stratocaster is high quality. I also tried to think about what seemed to sound the worst about my Strat and I realized that the low E and A strings had very little sustain. I began to wonder if this was the pickups, the refret I had done a few years ago, the neck, or the body. The Strat Plus also had a "swimming pool" rout which purist argue degrades "tone." I realized that the low strings had very little sustain amplified or not, so then I began to think it could be the nut or the trem. I never use the trem and have it setup with all five springs tightened down so this seemed not to be the problem. I then started to think that it was the Wilkinson roller nut that came standard on the Strat plus in the late 80s and into the 90s. It was part of the super-Strat approach that Fender was taking with the Plus to try to appeal to players who were buying Jacksons or an Ibanezes with a Floyd Rose and a locking nut. The Strat Plus had a rolling nut, a dual-pivot trem system and the noiseless Fender-Lace pickups.

After doing a little internet research, it seems that the Wilkinson roller nuts tended to corrode and stop working well, as any mechanical part would after more than 20 years, creating problems with friction, sustain and tuning. This seemed like the answer. Unfortunately these nuts are not made anymore so you cannot just buy a new OEM replacement as with just about every other part for Stratocasters from any era. The solution is to replace the Wilkinson nut with a Fender LSR nut, a more recent and efficient design that uses ball bearings rather than needle bearings. The LSR nut has the added advantage of allowing you to use a wider range of string gauges, which you could not do with the Wilkinson nut (.010-.046 gauge strings were about the limit). The LSR accepts strings from .008-.056.

There's one problem, however, which is that installing the LSR nut requires plugging the old screw holes for the Wilkinson nut and drilling new holes for the LSR nut. If you are like me, I don't really relish the thought of drilling holes in my beloved guitar. The LSR nuts that Fender sells through various retailers comes with instructions for installing the nut as a replacement for the Wilkinson nut. This site steps you through the process and has good pictures as well. Note that the LSR nuts that are sold now include the plastic adapter. The essential tool that you will need to drill the new holes is a #51 .067" drill bit, which most hardware stores and even Home Depot do not carry. I ordered one from Amazon. In the end the installation was really easy, once I got over drilling into the neck. After I installed the nut and adapter and restrung the guitar, it sounded amazing again, especially the low E and A strings. The tuning has improved as well. This is a pretty easy fix for those who want to improve their old Stratocasters equipped with Wilkinson nuts. Bear in mind that some drilling is necessary and that you aren't going to have a pristine guitar after you are done.

The Problem

The Solution

DIY Envelope Filter Pedal

More kit love. This one is a General Guitar Gadgets DOD 440 Envelope Filter replica kit. I can't say enough about these kits. Super easy to put together. This pedal is subtle, and I still haven't worked out the best sounds for it. It is an autowah and you have to fine tune the knobs to come up with something useful. There isn't much on the web about the DOD original, although I found a pdf of an original manual here. The manual really doesn't give much information. The left knob is level, the right range. If the range knob is turned up too high there is a fair bit of distortion. A lower setting, up to maybe 2:00 or so seems to work better. I actually prefer using the pedal with a bass rather than with a guitar. Think Bootsy Collins. I had the notion of replacing one of the resistors with a pot to get more variation, something along the lines of the Q control on an Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron, following some vague instructions I found on the web. I desoldered the resistor, resoldered it to the bottom of the board and soldered the pot in parallel on the topside. This didn't seem to do much so I removed it. You can see the space where the 430K resistor would be in the close up (it still soldered to the bottom of the board). If anyone has any ideas about modding this circuit send me an email and I'll try it. I also had half a notion to try to install the guts of one of these kits directly in my Jaguar. Jaguars have plenty of extra space in the various control cavities to do this, including space for a 9v battery in the trem cavity. This would involve rewiring the entire guitar and using the rhythm circuit controls on the upper bout to control the effect. In theory you could do this with any effect that had only two controls and a small enough board. I went so far as to order some pots and switches to try this, but once I started tweaking the kit itself, I never got around to it. I really didn't want to get to the point where I started chiseling out wood to get everything to fit. I may try this in the future.