How To Not Repair a Fender Stratocaster

In 1998 I became the proud owner of a sky blue Fender Stratocaster manufactured in Ensenada, Mexico. And in 2000, I played it as we practiced in a house in Hesperia every week, sweating miserably as we worked to get a new band called “Igor Spectre” off the ground. Our first show was on Halloween at a friend’s house, but our first real public show was at a dive bar called Friar Tuck’s in Pomona, California.

We played our 12-song set in the glow of the sports on tv, and were drunk and happy by the end of it, having put on what we thought was an amazing show. (It wasn’t) But as the next band took the floor and we repaired to the side lounge area to recuperate, Keith Fitz (of The Legendary Invisible Men) shouted at me over the noise, pointing to my guitar and 40-watt Fender combo amp, “You need more beef, man!”

Igor Spectre's 2nd show
The Fender Strat in my hands at Friar Tuck’s

He meant distortion. Punch. Volume. Gain. Oomph, if you will. Whatever word you prefer, my Strat and amp combo didn’t have enough of it. Beef. I’d never heard it put that way, but he had to be right. Fitz was a musical ravioli with years more experience on the live music scene. And he was a DJ for local college radio station KSPC. So I believed him. I had to. I knew nothing about guitar tone back then. The only other band I’d been in was a high school band sometimes called Fallout and sometimes called An Hour With Bertha, where I played a semi-acoustic Gibson ES through a really bad little amplifier and thought it all sounded really great.

But the more I chewed on Fitz’s unsolicited assessment of my musical gear, the more I realized my 1997 Strat was really just too thin and twangy for the punk-adjacent songs we were playing in the nascent Igor Spectre. Them tunes required a lot more crunch/gain/punch, man! I needed a guitar sound that socked you in your scrawny chest and didn’t apologize! I needed rock and roll at high volume!

So within a few weeks, I hunkered down, pissed away my rent money, and switched to a $1200 Gibson Les Paul Classic reissue.

My Les Paul

I had, at last, acquired said “beef.” Even through that 40-watt Fender amp, it was an improvement. And a few years later, I threw down for a vintage 1983(?) JCM-800 Marshall half-stack. If ever there had been any question about the quantity and quality of the beef I was packing now, that Marshall head and cab put the question into a shallow grave.

Fast forward to 2023 and I’m looking at my 1997 Fender Stratocaster.

After that one initial year of use, it pretty much sat in its case. For 20 years. But last week, I opened the case and took it out. It was still spotted with dried Hesperia sweat on its pickguard, and its hardware, including the single-coil pickups, was mostly rusted over. Not to mention the tremolo bridge was riding way up high, and the output jack was a buzzy nightmare.

But alas, this old twangy guitar that I’d abandoned was now staring in me in the face, daring me to get it back into working condition.

So I took it apart and got busy. I was determined to restore this old thing back to its original glory.

But as I took its innards out piece by piece and laid them on my bench, and I examined the huge tangle of wires and metal and potentiometers and grounds and springs, I had a thought.

And that thought was: fuck this.

I chucked the guitar’s metal guts but stowed the wood neck and body in the closet for future possibilities, then I plugged in my Les Paul, cranked my amp to 10, and busted out some beefy power chords.