#1
Hi.

Although, I don't have much money right now, I'm planning to buy a new guitar. The shape of Stratocasters appeals to me, but the real deal costs big bucks. It made me think. What if I bought a cheap guitar that looks like a strat, but modified it to be better than it normally is. Like replacing pickups and stuff.

So, I already know that really crappy pickups are a trademark thing among cheap guitars, but what else? Fret buzzing? Input jack sucks?

Or maybe I could buy just the shape from a guitar store and build everything else myself!

Opinions?
The important thing is to never stop questioning. - Albert Einstein
Last edited by nyrhinen at May 26, 2010,
#2
uhh lets see, common faults with cheap/knockoff strats...

plywood/agathis/"tonewood" bodies
bad pups
shoddy electronics (wiring underneath the pickguard as well as the pots/switches and jack)
bent/bowed necks
sharp/uneven/worn frets
sharp/badly measured bridge saddles and nut
tuners that give in to the tension of the string and therefore detune
the tremolo bar kicks everything out of tune anytime you use it

other than that the paint and woodworking quality can be pretty lousy.

TBH it's usually not worth it to try and buy way cheap upgrade it all. either get a guitar just under budget and upgrade the pups or get a cheapo to knock around and just be happy with while you save for something better.
#3
Cheap pickups, badly adjusted neck or probably crappy setup to start with.
Bad finish and fretbuz are quite common on cheap guitars, the later mostly do to a poor set-up again and bad finishing on the nut etc.

Made the mistake of buying a 100,- euro one as my first guitar once..
I guess it's alright for beginners but I would urge you to safe up until you have like twice that at least then you can buy a somewhat more decent guitar that would actually be playable for a year.

I would advice you to go to a guitar store and try some.
Pick the one with the feel you really like as in a smooth neck or what ever your preferences are.
Hit a few notes on every string hard to listen for fretbuz and if your budget is tight don't worry about the pick-ups you can replace them later.

I hope this somewhat helps.
The input jacks are usually fine btw, yet have to find a faulty one and with cheap guitars DO NOT get a tremelo.
#5
wood quality

edit: i got a kramer body from 80's off craigslist for about $40, an old kahler bridge for about $100 and a mighty mite unfinished maple neck with locking tuners and a locking nut for $130 all off ebay. i bought two single pups and a humbucker all new, which i don't remember the price of. this guitar is AMAZING, nothing like my faded gibson V, but pretty ****in rocking. if you were to get a bridge other than a kahler (mine was exceptionally cheap because it needed some work that was no problem for me) and buy used pups (i've done this before, not any different than new pups) you could get a decent quality stratesque guitar for under $300 that sounds and plays pretty well. of course, you'd have to know what you're doing, but it's not that hard.
also, the guitar will be totally unique to you, which i find awesome, and people are generally impressed when you tell them you built a guitar from parts you bought on ebay. and i didn't need to save up my money to buy the whole thing; i bought the bridge on a whim when i saw the opportunity, the body a few months later and the neck soon afterwards. I only had the bridge humbucker in there for the first few months, and installed the two singles and the advanced wiring when i had the money/chose what i wanted. key thing here is to know what youre looking for and to keep your eye open for exceptionally good or cheap opportunities
this is something to take into consideration, as opposed to just buying a whole guitar.

best of luck
dont take any guff from these bastards man

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Last edited by spiderjerusalem at May 26, 2010,
#6
When it says 'Squier' on the headstock olol.
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#7
I think at the end of the day it all comes down to playabillity (personally). and most of the time you just don't get that with "cheap" guitars. and even if you do they aren't really built to last so they'll become unplayable.
Before i even worry about anything else (wiring, wood, bridge etc) i play it and if it doesn't feel right it's a no buy..
#8
...paint cracks at the heel (usually not a big deal), loose tuners (the weird thing is: some don't budge while others de-tune constantly), dents in the fingerboard, chunks come off the dot markers, fretwire that wears waaay too easily, hardware that rust waaay too easily (especially the pickup coils and bridge saddles), toggle switches that get stuck, 5-way switches that are badly soldered or get rusty real quick so, guitars that sport a zero fret (which is just another money-saving measure), crappy tone-woods with a crappy finish that scratches and/or dents instantly after some minor contact, buzzy springs, poorly finished paint job (especially on sunburst guitars), knobs that come off easily, input jacks that come loose, a shifting neck, some guitars are set up with ridiculously low-quality strings (c'mon people, how expensive are a pack of D'Addario's??), badly positioned nuts that cause your high e-string to fall off...

And of course: badly wired/grounded electronics

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Last edited by shwilly at May 26, 2010,
#9
My ~$200 Squier Affinity Stratocaster... I'd say that the worst parts of it are the controls, the fret job, the jack, the nut, the pickups, the tremolo block, and the finish.

The controls are horrid. Pots have barely any effect on the sound until below 2. Volume pot is a little better. The jack is constantly loose, and the 5-way switch is noisy and sometimes won't work in positions 4 and 5. The fret edges are jagged and sharp and I have some bad scarring on my index finger as a result. Also, jumbo frets would be much nocer, but that's just an opinion.

The nut is very lopsided and has some obvious wear from the strings. The pickups are thin and dead-sounding, the bridge pickup is ridiculously shrill. The tremolo block is a lightweight, contributing to the insane trebleness and harming resonance and sustain. It has also started to rust. And finally, the finish is thin and flaky.

All things that can be replaced.

Now, things I like about my cheapo Squier--tuners, neck, body, wood, bridge.

The tuners are surprisingly stable. I rarely have to tune up in short time frames. The neck is comfy and holds well. A quick refret and it'll probably be my favorite neck of all the guitars I own/have access to. The body actually demonstrates quite a bit of quality in workmanship. Not a borked edge or grain crack in or out of the guitar. Two or three piece solid alder body. The bridge intonates well and is free of any sharp edges near the strings and has remained rust-free for ten years.

All in all, if the negative parts of a cheap guitar can be replaced, it has the potential to be a very high quality instrument. But there are some things that you just can't fix, like plywood bodies and poor routing. Steer clear of the cheapest guitars and you'll have a very good modding platform.
Last edited by Seref at May 26, 2010,
#10
The main flaw with cheap guitars that you cannot change is the quality of the wood used in the body. Everything else is ultimately replaceable. Upgrading everything else will make it sound better to a certain point, but you need a good base to start with, so to speak.
#11
a cheap bolt on is actually more up-gradable then a cheap set neck.
You can't ever change the body wood of the guitar and on cheap guitars it's not going to be as good as the body wood on a high quality guitar. It's been debated to death, yes there are exceptions but 99 percent of the time you're not getting high quality wood.
I would say sound wise....upgrading the electronics, tuners, bridge and all that will get you maybe 60-70% of the way to a similar guitar that is higher priced. But, you're never going to get the feeling of picking up and playing a higher quality even from an upgraded lower quality guitar.

Now with a bolt on what you can do is replace the neck with an awesome neck. At that point though you might as well have just gotten a more expensive guitar to begin with.
Prs se Holcomb is the answer
#12
http://profile.ultimate-guitar.com/Mad-Mike_J83/blog/

I posted a blog post on this because my post was way too long to put here. I've been messing with cheap guitars for 15 years.

The Cheap N' Short version of it....
- Bad fret dressing/leveling
- Bad Tuning Machines
- Nut slots too deep or shallow or too thin/wide
- Bad Tuning Machines
- Body Too Shallow
- Pickguard not up to spec for the guitar being copied
- Pickup output too low
- Pickup output too high and therefore sounds muddy
- Bad switches (won't stay in position, or cuts out intermittantly)
- Horrible Bridge Design (First Act and Harmony are the worst offenders on this)
- Parts alignment incorrect, it's surprising how this one simple thing can mess a guitar up BADLY
My Current Mains
- 1996 Fender Jag-Stang with EMG Pickups
- 1998 Fender Jaguar with Cool Rails
- 1982 Hondo Paul Dean II (DiMarzio Super II X2)
- 2010 "Fender" Jazzmaster (Home built)
- 2013 Squier VM Bass VI (stock)
#13
I got an ibanez grg170dx for like... 170£ (250USD, 300 AUD) and the only problem ive had with it after over a year is that the input is a tad loose (can be tightened up easily though) and the volume pot (only in the past week tho) comes off.
Pain is weakness leaving your body.
#14
Strat types can be had for reasonable money without major flaws. Yamaha Pacifica are well liked and Cort G series are, if anything, even better with better pickups. Either can be had here for under €200 so probably about $200 allowing for our VAT.
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#15
It's not exactly the quality of wood that concerns me with cheap instruments, it's that "overseas" manufacturing plants don't dry their wood as well.

What this means is that during the first 2 years "Cheap" guitars will move out of alignment quite a bit. They will constantly need their truss rods re-adjusted, the action will move around quite a bit and they frequently can move out of tune in the middle of a song.

If you're really courageous and get a "Cheap" guitar with a floating trem then you're asking for even more problems.

Most people don't take as good care of their instruments to constantly be making minimal adjustments to keep them within "specifications". However, ANY instrument that is brand new will move around quite a bit in it's first few years and require a bit more adjustment. This is why it's important to keep the instrument adjusted correctly, because eventually that movement within the guitar will "settle" and come to rest in it's final place.

Ideally, when you own a guitar for a few years, you want it to "settle" and come to rest in a position that is ideal for the instrument. If you're smart about it, and get the guitar to settle down within perfect specs, then from that point forward you can practically beat the crap out of it and it'll never go out of tune, or need the action adjusted (etc etc).

Because cheaper guitars require more frequent adjustments, it's much more difficult to get them to settle into what can be referred to as positive or favorable positions. This is also why you see many more expensive guitars being sold when they are 10 years old (try to play a 10 year old Squire guitar, most of them are so out of whack they are unplayable).

Now, once a guitar "settles" into position it can always still be adjusted into a favorable position if needed. However, the instrument will slowly creep it's way back into the position it settled into.

What's the moral of all this? Learning how to properly adjust your guitars is as important as playing the instrument itself. A 15 year old guitar that has been taken care of can definitely be more playable then a brand new $3,000 instrument. First you just have to ask yourself if you're HONESTLY capable of making adjustments to 100% perfection. If not, then the cost of owning a cheaper guitar may be offset by both the costs of having an expert work on the guitar for you, or having to replace the guitar in a few years as it very slowly starts to feel less playable to you.
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#16
Thanks Raven, very interesting points.
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#17
I've gotten my Pasadena Dragon (link in sig) for 130€ + shipping and it has (had) some flaws, though nothing too serious:
- Thin finish on the neck... sanded it off and refinished it last week + filed down so that it fits the AA-neck joint of the body.
- Well made but stupid wiring (strat-style wiring of HSH = bullshit). ...fixed it with rewiring it from scratch and modding the pups (splitting neck and bridge and swapping polarity of middle)
- Middle PU is crap (tinny sound)
- 5-way switch didn't really reach through the body... fixed it with recessing it in the cavity... Dremel ftw!
- Bad Floyd... it's brass or copper (some copper colored metal), so it's too soft... strings slip out of it and the lock screws break... going to fix it with installing an OFR, once it's here
- Bad fretting (uneven and not really hammered into the wood at places)
- Low quality control cavity cover

What's good about it:
- Good quality wood (neck and body, even slightly flamed)
- Good quality finish on body
- Good quality pots/caps/switch/jack (the jack is so awesome it's infinitely better than the one in my Virgo)
- The bridge and neck PUs are awesome, especially the bridge
- Awesome inlay, really well made
- Awesome binding
- Awesome routing
- Solid frets... after sanding them to optimum height they're good to go

In the end it's got much to do with luck, if a cheap guitar has a good base quality (woods, routing, truss rod (that's really important!), fret positioning) on which one can expand with fixing stuff (refinishing stuff, rewiring stuff) and replacing some of it (electronics, PUs, bridge, tuners, nut).

I made a big mistake with my first guitar: El-Cheapo not-even-branded Strat-copy with sunburst. Buzzing electronics, bad tuners, bad neck wood, bad truss rod, completely off fret-positioning, soft body wood, etc. Funny thing is, that that morbidity (200Fr.) cost me more than fixing up the Dragon.
That is excluding the horrendous "taxation service fees" that the postal service charged me for afterwards: tax=20Fr., service fees: 52Fr.., guitar: 185Fr., shipping: 45Fr.... as if that shouldn't be part of the shipping itself. o.O
And excluding the cost for an OFR: 375Fr.
Last edited by 3-R4Z0R at May 26, 2010,
#18
Buying a cheap guitar for a good price is not the same as buying a good guitar for a cheap price.

Here in the US, I see "beginner" guitar kits for sale all the time. That is the guitar, cable, amp, and other accessories all together in a nice little bundle. Maybe even a cheap distortion pedal thrown in. Now that is the definition of cheap. But is it quality? Is it even playable for a beginner? Hence why they are often sell ons. Plays like crap, sound like crap, well...

I got my first electric- an 80's strat copy with a plywood body and maple neck for cheap. But I bought it from a guitar player. I still talk to the guy. And that is my point.

Consider the source of said guitar. Are you buying from a store (read profit) or an anonymous private seller?

I would recommend getting to know a few other guitar players and maybe the counter guy/owner at a small local music shop and get the word out that you are in the market for a quality used guitar on a budget.

That is how I found my second guitar. I still have both of those guitars fifteen years on.

Or you could buy a really cheap guitar and learn about how it works without risk of ruining it in the sense of being out a substantial sum of hard earned cash. Have some fun with it. Paint it, change some parts, beat on it. After all, a certain Dutch guy made a guitar he cobbled together infamous...
Last edited by irnmadn88 at May 26, 2010,
#19
My Squier Affinity Tele... Freak'n great guitar. Frets are level, doesn't fret out on bends or buzz, stock tuners hold tune, and it plays great. I upgraded it with GFS Lil Puncher pupsand coil splitting push-pull pots, drilled the body and converted to string through for better sustain, and replaced the bridge with a Wilkinson 3 saddle.

The drawback? It's an Affinity and you can't get your money out of the upgrades (about $100 of them) when you sell it. But it's a guitar that I play to keep around so I will get my money's worth by playing it.

I saw if you are short on cash going in then buy a cheap guitar that plays good and upgrade as you wish. But for resale I would wait and watch for a used Std Strat MIM ($200-$250) on CL. The total cost ends up the same and you can sell the MIM Strat for what you paid for it.
#20
Squires and epiphones are your best bet for semi-cheap guitars. Everything else is just a waste of money IMO