As talked about in my posts about my Squier Bullet Strat project, I wanted to find some decent budget locking tuners that functioned favourably when compared to the major players. After a bit of research I decided to try some Jinho Locking Tuners. Jinho are used as OEM suppliers for several guitar manufacturers, and the general consensus was that they were solid units. I found some for sale on eBay and got to installing them on the Bullet Strat.
On first inspection, the Jinho locking tuners look very similar to Gotoh or other similar modern design tuner. The turning ratio is 19:1, which is better than some of the established players. The Jinho locking tuner uses a standard locking thumb wheel design, which is also found on many other locking tuners. The tuning post diameter is 10mm, consistent with most other modern designs too.
The Bullet Strat has been upgraded with a Graphtech Black TUSQ XL nut, roller string trees, and a Wilkinson vintage style Strat bridge, loaded with Hantug Custom Guitars brass modern strat style saddles.
Stringing up the guitar, the locking thumb wheels were nice and smooth to operate, and the 19:1 turning ratio made fine tuning each string a breeze. Once the strings were stretched I started testing out how well the guitar stayed in tune. Non-locking strat style bridges aren’t always the greatest with regards to tuning stability, and with the stock tuners, the Bullet Strat didn’t always hold it’s tune too well. With the Jinho locking tuners the tuning held up well with some heavy string bending, and things were still pretty solid after some dive-bombs and heavy vibrato with the whammy bar. I also tested the guitar on stage with my band, and I barely had to adjust tuning throughout the half-hour set of combined rhythm and lead playing.
Compared to my number one Strat, which is loaded with Gotoh Magnum-lock tuners, and is similarly equipped with a Graphtech Black TUSQ XL nut, and Hantug Custom Guitars vintage style strat bridge, the Jinho locking tuners performed just as well in it’s duties, which is admirable for a set of tuners that cost around half the price of the established brand. The only real downside to the Jinho tuners is that the plating doesn’t appear to be quite as robust as the Gotoh’s, for example. The thumb wheels were bumped a couple of times during installation, and the finish was chipped. Not a major issue, and considering how well the actual performance of the tuners were, it’s definitely not a show-stopper.
Overall, the Jinho JN-07SP Locking Tuners proved to be an excellent upgrade for the budget conscious player. In fact, they were an excellent upgrade even without budget restrictions in place. The excellent turning ratio and solid locking mechanism make them the perfect choice for a guitar with a non-locking tremolo equipped guitar, whether you want to go nuts with the whammy bar or just apply some subtle vibrato. It understandable why a number of manufacturers are using these as OEM parts on their mid-range guitars. If you have a guitar that requires some help on the tuning front, and have a limited budget, then definitely have a look at these tuners.
The Squier Bullet Strat project is getting closer to how I wanted it to look like and play, but there’s a bit more work to be done. First up, the stock tuners had to and I wanted to try and get some decent locking tuners that didn’t break the bank. The whole point of this project was to take a cheap guitar, and increase its playability with a modest budget.
Scouring through eBay, there was a range of locking tuners at all different price points. I wanted to upgrade on a budget, but I didn’t want to risk going with a super-cheap no-name option and being let down. The established players were a bit too expensive for this build, so I wanted to find a good middle ground. Jinho was a brand that came up with options that were a nice middle ground for price, so I did a bit of reading up on them. Turns out that Jinho are an OEM option for a range of big-name guitar brands, and the feedback on their locking tuners was generally positive. I ordered a set of these, and some roller string-trees, since they were very cheap. They were less of a loss if they turned out to be rubbish.
To continue the black theme I ordered some black pickup covers to match the stock single coils to the IBZ/USA pickup, as well as some black pickguard screws. A lot of these things weren’t really necessary to the playability of the guitar, but I wanted to achieve a bit of a tuxedo look, and the overall cost wasn’t too much.
The Jinho locking tuners were the first item to arrive. Like most modern tuners, the shaft diameter is 10mm, and I’d need to enlarge the tuner holes in order to fit the new units. The safest way to open up the holes without chipping the wood is to use a hand-reamer, but I didn’t have one, so I decided to try and to it with a hand drill and a range of drill bits that would gradually bring the holes to the desired 10mm diameter.
Unfortunately, drilling the holes out gradually resulted in chipping, but thankfully most of the damage was covered up by the tuners themselves. Now that I think about it, masking off the areas may have reduced the chances of chipping, but it’s too late now. It’s not really the end of the world since it’s a cheap guitar.
The stock tuners use two screws to hold each tuner in place. These holes didn’t quite line up with the 45 degree angle mounting on the Jinho units, so I decided to fill the holes to tidy up the back of the headstock. I used maple toothpicks, trimmed to size, and a bit of superglue to stick them in. Trimmed to be flush with the headstock, the holes aren’t nearly as noticeable as they would be if left alone.
I put the Jinho tuners into the newly enlarged holes, and lined them up against a straight-edge so I could mark the spots to drill for the screws that hold the tuner in place. To drill the pilot holes the correct length I placed the screws to be used against the drill bit, and marked the correct depth with a piece of tape. By doing this you don’t risk drilling too far, through the headstock. Once the holes were drilled I installed the screws and tightened up the retaining nuts.
Once the guitar was strung up and strings stretched sufficiently I went about testing the guitar. I was pleased to find that the guitar stayed in tune pretty well, even with some whammy bar work. The string trees were causing some string binding issues, as was evident by the pinging noise on some strings when tuning. The roller trees were on their way, so it would be interesting to see if they improved the issue.
The next batch of parts to arrive were the black pickup covers and pickguard screws. I mistakenly figured that the Squier pickups would have had the same pole-piece spacing to save costs, so I only measured one pickup and ordered the covers in the same spacing. The cover fit the middle pickup, but the neck was off. I ended up widening the holes by scraping around them with a Stanley knife until I could fit the cover over the pickup. The modification wasn’t too noticeable since the pickup bobbin was black. The guitar was pretty much coming together visually now, with it’s black and white theme.
The string trees finally arrived, and unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with them. They were supposed to be black, and they were closer to the nickel colour of the stock string trees than black. The heads of the screws snapped off during installation, so I had to use the stock string tree screws. To top if off, the tolerances on the rollers were a bit sloppy, so it feels like there is still a little bit of string binding going on. My first pick for trees was the Graphtech Black TUSQ XL Sleek String Trees, so I think I may order some of these soon.
With the installation of these parts the guitar is not only starting to play better, but come together in a visual way too. I want to continue replacing any screws on the pickguard to black to finish the look there, and most likely switch out the string trees for part that not only look the part more so, but perform better too.
I took the Bullet out for it’s first gig during this time, and whilst it performed admirably, the IBZ/USA single coil in the bridge wasn’t quite pushing as hard as I would have preferred. I’m looking at a couple of pickups that may give me the bigger, fatter sound that would be comparable to my humbucker equipped guitars, but still retain a single coil vibe. The Bullet may be a cheap guitar, but it plays so well, so it’s worth considering throwing some nice pickups in. This project has definitely been a lot of fun, and has demonstrated that a cheap, budget guitar can be a great player with a little work and a small budget.
The Squier Bullet Strat project has been coming along nicely. With the aid of the Wilkinson bridge’s full size sustain block, Hantug Custom Guitars brass saddles and titanium spring claw, the guitar sounds great unplugged. The DiMarzio made IBZ/USA stacked single coil, in conjunction with the stock Squier pickups are sounding pretty sweet, and the upgrade to the Graphtech Black TUSQ XL nut means the guitar is staying in tune better than it previously did. The next step was to get the bridge mounted properly on all six screws, and shield the pickup and control cavity.
Filling and drilling holes to mount a vintage-style 6 screw Strat bridge is a bit of a daunting piece of DIY work, even when there’s only two of the six holes that need to be taken care of. The holes need to be lined up perfectly, and drilled perfectly level, a job best done with a bench drill. I don’t have one of these, but I decided to give it a go with my hand drill, using a clever trick to try and get the hole drilled as accurately as possible. But first off, the original outer holes needed to be filled.
To take care of the holes I picked up a dowel joining kit, as well as some wood glue from my local hardware store. I measured the existing hole depth using a bamboo skewer, marking the depth on the side of the skewer. I then lined up the guide on the dowel kit drill bit to ensure I didn’t drill too far. I then drilled out the holes, ready for the dowels to be inserted.
After cleaning out the holes I placed a bit of wood glue into holes, followed by the dowels. Once the glue started to set I realised that I stupidly forgot to trim the dowels to suit the hole depth, making my life a lot harder than I really needed to. Upon the glue setting, I had to cut the dowels close to body level, taking care not to accidentally mess the body up. I then taped of the body around the dowels and started sanding with a 220 grit sandpaper, until the dowels were level with the body. A Dremel would have been super handy to take care of cutting and sanding the dowels, but unfortunately I didn’t have one on hand.
I got onto shielding the pickup and control cavities while I had the pickguard off. I used aluminium foil tape to take care of the shielding duties since it’s easy to cut to size and apply, and you don’t have wait anything to dry, as you would if you applied shielding paint. I also put some tape on the pickguard so I could minimise any interference.
Once all of this was done I was ready to properly install the bridge. I put the bridge back in place, using the four inside screws to line it up. I then carefully marked where the new holes were to be drilled with a small tipped hole punch. I removed the bridge and got ready to drill the starter holes for the screws.
I wanted to see if I could find a way to accurately drill the holes with a hand drill since I didn’t have a drill press on hand. A quick google search found a good hack to getting a hole drilled as straight as possible, by using a CD or DVD. Basically You sit the disk on the surface to be drilled, data side down, and use the reflection to line the drill bit up. Since I was drilling into fairly soft timber, and the Strat bridge uses wood screws, I just drilled starter holes, and then used my electric screwdriver to drive the screws in. I brought the strings back to tune and stretched them again, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the guitar stayed in tune after a bit of work on the whammy bar. Even with the stock tuners, the guitar was capable of staying in relative tune.
It was great to see that I could install the bridge properly with only the most basic of hand tools, and a bit of clever life-hacking. The shielding will help with noise-related issues, and is a cheap upgrade that anyone can do at home. The next upgrades will be replacing the nasty stock tuners with some better quality units, string trees, and finishing off the white to black transformation.
The Squier Bullet Strat has been a rather surprising guitar. I had heard that the “COB” Chinese-made Bullets were quite the bargain find, but after cleaning it up, installing the Wilkinson bridge, the Hantug brass saddles and titanium spring claw, and stringing up the guitar, it has really surprised me. Not only does the neck feel great, but the guitar has a fantastic acoustic tone and resonance. The only real downfall was the tuning stability. The stock Bullet tuners are known to be a bit rubbish, and looking at the nut, it was obvious that the slots weren’t cut the cleanest.
Since I was on a roll I figured a trip to my local music store, Better Music, was in order. The plan was to pick up a new Graphtech Black TUSQ XL nut nut, and start collecting parts to transform the look of the guitar. In line with the black Wilkinson bridge, I wanted to change the rest of the hardware, controls and pickup covers to black. While getting the nut I grabbed a black jack plate, volume and tone knobs and pickup selector switch tip.
I also remembered that I had a DiMarzio made IBZ/USA hum-cancelling single coil pickup stashed away in my parts drawer. From what can be gathered on these old pickups, it’s based on the DiMarzio HS-2, which is a low-output single coil. I figured that while it was low output, the hum-cancelling part of the design would make it a good fit for the bridge for now, since most of my playing would be on the bridge pickup.
The new Graphtech nut had string slots that matched the existing nut, but the overall width was a little wider than the neck. I got started on filling the sides to bring it a little more in line with the neck width, but I was wishing I had pulled the stock nut before I got started on the filing. The Graphtech nut was a curved base, while the stock nut was a flat base. It was a bit late to take the nut back, so I figured I’d try and fit the nut, despite the nut shelf being flat. I filled in the shield with a bit of super glue and lined up the nut with the strings to get the placement right. Once the glue had set I was happy to find that the nut set nicely, and the action was all good. The edges sit a little over the edge of the nut, but not in a way that is a detriment to its playability.
One thing that s certain, if you have a guitar that has tuning stability issues you’d be hard pressed to go past upgrading the nut with a Graphtech TUSQ nut. When it comes to bang for buck this is one of the best things you could do to your guitar. This $12 upgrade got the guitar holding tune far better, even with the rubbish tuners and string trees still in play.
The problem with the stock tuners and trees is that the tuners have a lot of play in them, and when tuning the guitar you can hear pinging occasionally when the strings bind on the trees. However, even with these issues, the guitar stayed in tune pretty well. The downside of the sloppy tuners and binding trees, combined with the switch to black hardware will mean that I will upgrade the tuners with locking tuners and roller string trees.
I got onto installing the IBZ/USA pickup and swapping over the black hardware. I hadn’t really played the guitar plugged in yet. I was curious to see how the remaining stock Squier pickups would sound too. First up, the IBZ/USA single coil gave a fairly typical vintage Strat tone. The highs are slightly rolled off on the older hum-cancelling DiMarzio designs, but that traditional Strat “sound” is mostly there. The vintage output required me to push the dirt a bit harder to get the sounds I typically like, but that’s not too difficult to take care of. What was really surprising was the stock Squier pickups. The neck pickup with some dirt provides a really sweet lead tone that works well for heavy blues up to metal shredding. The split and middle pickup combos are pretty standard Strat fare, nothing brilliant, but plenty serviceable for those on a budget. Of course there is the hum expected from single coils, maybe a little more than what you’d get from better quality units, but again, if you’re on a budget they’ll do.
I want to get the bridge set up for whammy bar usage, so I’ll need to get the bridge mounting holes sorted next. This is a new level of work for me, so hopefully it’ll all come together nicely. This, alongside some decent locking tuners and better string trees should allow for the Bullet to handle a bit of whammy bar abuse,while still staying in tune for the most part. Cheap guitars aren’t generally shielded very well either, so I may get onto sorting out this with some aluminium shielding tape while I’m at it.
It’s been a while since I had a project on the go, budgets have been a bit tighter, and life a bit more hectic. One thing I’ve wanted for a while is an actual “stratty” Strat, and whilst I have built a couple of Statocaster type guitars (see my Charvel San Dimas style build project and my Strat build project), they are far more hot-rodded than traditional. I’ve been wanting something far closer to the Stratocaster blueprint, with the three single coil pickup setup.
A couple of weeks ago I was browsing in Cash Converters during my lunch break, and on the wall was a filthy looking black Squier Bullet Strat. I had read that some years were sought after for their great necks and general build quality that was above their price point, and with a few modifications they could be transformed into killer guitars.
I quickly looked up the serial number, and sure enough, this was a 2008 “COB” Chinese made Bullet, which are known to be pretty good. The neck looked straight, and the fretwork was pretty reasonable so I went ahead and bought it. Knowing that I already had a few parts at home that would be perfect for this guitar, I could get started straight away with the transformation.
The Squier Bullet Strat come with a basswood body, maple neck with rosewood fretboard, and vintage six screw tremolo bridge with more modern design saddles. The neck width at the nut is 42mm, and fretboard radius is 9.5 inches. The frets are a fairly common medium jumbo fretwire, the nut is plastic, and tuners are very basic and average performing sealed die-cast, vintage style units. The bodies on Bullet Strats are a quarter inch thinner than a traditional Stratocaster body.
First up for the transformation was removing the rusty strings and giving the guitar a good scrub down. I made up a bowl of warm soapy water, using dishwashing liquid, and began scrubbing the plastic and painted parts with a microfibre cloth. I hit the fretboard with Dunlop Fingerboard Deep Conditioner and removed all the grime, and got the rosewood looking bright and vibrant again. Once the guitar was cleaned up it was apparent that this guitar was almost like new. There were barely and scuffs or dings to be found, and this made me very happy.
One of the parts I had left over from my white Stratocaster build was a black Wilkinson six screw vintage-style tremolo bridge. The stock Squier unit has a small and thin sustain block, and the screw-in whammy bar is a bit average too. I figured the Wilkinson bridge would be perfect for this guitar, since it has a full-size sustain block, a far nicer push-in whammy bar, and slightly wider 2-1/8″ spaced saddles. The only tricky part to installing the Wilkison is it’s 2-1/8″ screw spacing – the standard bridge is a 2-1/16″ screw spacing. When I built the white Stratocaster I discovered that the middle four holes of the Wilkinson would line up with the holes on a body with 2-1/16″ spaced holes, so at least only the outer two holes would need to be filled and re-drilled.
Another thing I had left over from the white Stratocaster build was some Hantug Custom Guitars black brass 2-1/8″ solid saddles. These would be the perfect tonal upgrade to the vintage-style saddles on the Wilkinson bridge. To top off the bridge related upgrades was a Hantug solid milled titanium spring claw, and some Raw Vintage tremolo springs. The stock springs are extremely tight, and the looser feeling Raw Vintage springs would provide a slinkier feel when bending strings and using the whammy bar.
I got on to installing the Hantug saddles on the Wilkinson bridge, and then removing the stock unit. I figured I’d install the bridge using the middle four screws for now and get around to filling and re-drilling the outer holes later. This would be required to get the best tuning stability when using the whammy bar.
Next up was removing the stock spring claw and installing the Hantug claw and Raw Vintage springs. When I pulled the claw out I discovered that the previous owner had stripped one of the holes in the body, and rather than filling the hole, they just drilled a new hole. The angle was a bit off, but I figured I’d leave it as is and see how things worked. I also put some foam under the springs to reduce the sympathetic reverberations that can occur with Strat and Floyd Rose type bridges that use tremolo springs.
I strung up the guitar and set the saddles up to match the radius of the fretboard, and did a basic setup. The guitar’s acoustic tone was surprisingly quite good, the body resonated nicely, and the guitar sounded bigger than one would expect from a cheap, thinner than standard strat body made from basswood. As expected, there was one downside to how the guitar played, and that was the tuning stability. The combination of the cheap, badly cut plastic nut, average string trees, and slipping tuners made it a bit hard for the strings to hold their tune after a few string bends.
So at the end of stage one of the Squier Bullet Strat project, the basic bones of the guitar appear to be sound, and the first upgrades have resulted in a great tone. Next up will be trying to get the guitar holding tune, and altering the look of the guitar. Hopefully this project will prove that it is possible to create a fantastic playing and sounding guitar on a very small budget.
I’ve documented a range of sustain block upgrades over the years, and they really are a great way to improve the tone of a non-hardtail bridge equipped guitar. Brass is the common upgrade for double locking bridges, and titanium is another popular option. I’ve reviewed a range of brass options from several manufacturers, and a few titanium options previously, made by Hantug Custom Guitars. Hantug have been kind enough to provide me with a couple more sustain block upgrades to review, this time a brass and titanium sustain block for the Ibanez Edge Pro bridge.
The test guitar for this review is my 2003 Ibanez RG 450 LTD, which features a basswood body, and maple neck with rosewood fretboard. As with most Ibanez bridges, the stock sustain block is made out of some sort of pot metal alloy. I compared this against the brass and titanium options from Hantug.
As with all other parts created by Hantug, the brass and titanium sustain blocks are high quality units. Hantug have done a fantastic job of machining these blocks to match the dimensions of the stock unit. The Edge Pro has cutaways in the sustain block to allow for the string ball-end holders, and Hantug have designed their blocks with two options: deep grooves for those who prefer to use the ball-end holders; and a non-deep groove option for those who prefer to lock their strings in the traditional way
The blocks are nicely machined, particularly the titanium unit with it’s etched logo, and it’s almost a shame that the block is hidden away in the guitar’s body. The only downside in the design is that the spring retainer bar is the same configuration as the stock one, and that it can hold a maximum of three springs while still having two bolts holding the bar. The Hantug Edge/Lo Pro Edge blocks allow up to five springs while still allowing both bolts to hold the retainer bar.
First cab off the rank is the brass unit, and as expected from this metal, it provides a warmer and louder tone that sustains more than the stock unit. There’s a thicker low end, and the mids are pushed more into the mix. I find that the clarity is enhanced over the stock block, and there’s a greater ability to coax harmonics out of the guitar. Comparing recorded waveforms, it’s clear that the brass block compresses the sound,which gives the perception of greater volume, and enhances the sustain.
Next up is the titanium block. Titanium provides a brighter tone that has a higher level of clarity over the stock and brass units. String seperation is amazing on chords, and the harmonic quality is pushed even higher. Titanium is bright without being too shrill, and the volume pretty much matches the brass unit. Sustain is similar to the brass, so it’s a boost over the stock unit.
Overall the Hantug Edge Pro sustain block upgrades are a fantastic option for guitars loaded with this bridge. Both brass and titanium blocks offer an excellent upgrade over the stock Edge Pro sustain block. When it comes to picking one it’s more down to tonal preference and available budget, since titanium parts are generally more expensive. The Hantug blocks are beautifully machined, and also priced well against the competition. If you are looking to push your Edge Pro equipped Ibanez guitar’s tone into new territory then definitely check out the Hantug upgrade options.