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

1 comment:

  1. Not yet wound the strings or some kind of clamping tuning pegs?
    I'm only here for the Christmas tune, thanks