The MIM Fender Strat is a good starting point for a beginning guitar player who doesn’t want to invest much money in an instrument. It is also useful for the do-it-yourself type to practice guitar repair techniques, modifications, & customizations. If you mess something up, at least you haven’t damaged a very expensive guitar.
We recently disassembled a newer MIM Strat, checking all the components, measuring, evaluating, fitting hardware upgrades and forming opinions about the quality and playability of the instrument.
The first thing we noticed was that the tremolo bridge was lifted up off the body. We turned the guitar over, placed it on a clean towel to protect the finish, removed the 6 pickguard screws holding the tremolo back cover and checked the claw and springs. There were only 3 trem springs, not enough to do a good job of holding the bridge in place. We took them off and compared them to the springs that come with the Fender vintage style USA Strat bridge and a Gotoh tremolo bridge. It was easy to see that they were smaller in diameter, and when tested by pulling on them, felt weaker.
For normal playing, unless you are Jeff Beck: The bridge plate needs to be flat to the body when under string tension. If it isn’t, every time you put pressure on it, like resting the palm of your hand there, the tuning will go sharp. (Jeff Beck doesn’t do this.)
Quick fix-For a few dollars, buy a set of 5 tremolo tension springs, part # SBP19-5, and toss the three that came with the guitar. These springs may need to be replaced on any guitar that uses them if you start to notice changes in the bridge action or unusual tonal variations, because they will wear out over time.
After replacing the springs, the next step is to tighten the two string claw mounting screws to increase tension on the springs, just until the bridge rests flat to the top of the guitar. Do not over tighten.
On his old Strats, Eric Clapton moved the string claw up into the body, placed a small maple block of wood between the guitar body and the trem block. He did this because he didn’t use the trem arm and wanted the bridge to stay put, he preferred the tremolo bridge instead of the hard tail or non-trem bridge because the springs increase tonal quality, at least for him. Personally, I agree with him, I like to have a trem unit on my Strat type guitars, but do not use the trem arm (whammy bar) when playing.
Here are a few more cheap and quick upgrades:
Replace jack if you hear snapping and cracking or the instrument cord feels loose. The stock jack was ok, but we prefer Switchcraft ¼ jacks.
The stock plastic nut can be replaced with a pre-slotted bone or Tusq nut, part #BS206S is the most popular. This guitar had a curved bottom nut, an older guitar might have a flat bottom nut. The nut should be replaced if the slots have worn down or the nut is broken. Carefully remove the nut before buying a replacement to check the shape of the bottom edge.
The pickguard could be replaced on 2002 or newer MIM Strats with any standard 11 hole, 3 ply model. There are many inexpensive generic USA manufactured pickguards in a large variety of colors, as well as the more expensive Fender brand standard Strat pickguards, some made in USA, most made in Mexico. The stock back tremolo cover is the slightly oversized 1 slot version. A trem cover with individual string slots will work, because the pickguard screw holes line up, but most are a little smaller overall, so if the finish is discolored under the original cover, it may show. A good cleaning & polishing of the guitar finish might fix that problem, try it and see. The pickup covers & control knobs are standard size. All of the pickguards, pickup covers, knobs and trem covers listed at GRGuitars.com on the Strat Parts page should fit without a problem.
Strap locks are a small and worthwhile investment, I use them on all my personal guitars. It is very easy to unscrew the strap buttons with a screw driver and install strap locks. The chrome neck plate and screws are also standard. Fender offers an “F” logo neck plate and a “Fender Corona” logo neck plate. We carry those as well as a serial numbered neck plate.
Change strings often. Strings should be fresh, not dirty or rusty, old strings sound “dead.” Lastly, all guitars need to be properly set up. Strings must be in tune and intonation set correctly. Accurate adjustment of nut, string height & bridge saddles for ease of playing and good tone. Most repair shops offer this service for a reasonable fee. It’s worth it.
Watch for the next post, MIM Strat Upgrade Part II, where we will discuss tuners, electronics, pickups and the bridge—and if they are worth the time and cost for replacement in an inexpensive guitar. Helpful comments and suggestions on MIM guitars are welcome. Sign up for an email subscription if you’d like notification when new posts are available.