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    This week I had the pleasure to work an a Schecter Dream Machine. It is a really lovely hard-tail Strat with gold hardware. I am not sure about the wood (none of the codes that normally identify these) but the neck might be Pau Ferro (“Bolivian rosewood”). I am rather lost with the body, maybe ash that is stained, or Shedua, walnut,… ?? Any help is welcome so use the comment function to let me know what you think.

    The main “problem” with the guitar is that the pickups have been replaced with some kind of  Seymour Duncan Hotrail humbuckers – surely good pickups but at leat not my cup of tea for a Dream Machine. The Hotrails required a completely different wiring of the mini switches and also the addition of two push-pull switches. To be honest, I did not fully understand the way the up and down positions of the mini switches were combined with the two push-pull potis.

    As I had a set of original F500T pickups waiting for a guitar like this, it was no question that these two had to come together.

    In the following you will find a photo tour that  demonstrates the work –  hoping some folks will find it interesting or useful.

    Schecter Dream Machine with Seymour Duncan Hotrails

    Schecter Dream Machine …

    ...with Seymour Duncan Hotrails

    …with Seymour Duncan Hotrails

     

     

    This is how the electronics look

    This is how the electronics look

    The whole circuit  design has been modified

    The whole circuit design has been modified

     

    After removing what was not original

    After removing what was not original

    I have these square conductive plastic Bourns potis from my own pickguards

    I have these square conductive plastic Bourns potis from my own pickguards …

    ... and also this protective foil to not scratch the pickguard.

    … and also this protective foil to not scratch the pickguard.

     

     

    All connected, ready to install the pickups.

    All connected, ready to install the pickups.

    After assembling the pickups – it was a complete set with all wires still being taped together – I found it impossible to follow which wire end belongs to which of the three pickups. I connected a volts meter and touched the pickups with a screwdriver until the meter reacted to identify the corresponding pickup.

    Which wire for which pickup??

    Which wire for which pickup??

     

    Not like new (still corroded) but like it was original again :)

    Not like new (still corroded) but almost original again :)

     

    Unfortunately some wood was removed to allow the heavy wires of the Seymour Duncans. Nothing I can do here :(

    Unfortunately some wood was removed to allow the heavy wires of the Seymour Duncans. Nothing I can do here :(

    The knobs were green and dirty ...

    The knobs were green and dirty …

    ... but - one hour later after all kind of  treatment I could think of - came out like this.

    … but – one hour later after all kind of treatment I could think of – they came out like this.

     

     

    Finally, Dream Machine look again

    Finally, Dream Machine look again

    schecter-dream-machine-16Watch out for more details and pictures of this wonderful guitar in a future blog post.

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    In these videos I am a/b comparing two different guitars side by side: Mark Knopfler’s famous sunburst Schecter Dream Machine Strat and my pink part-o-caster, built from a Japanese Squier body in metallic pink with a nice bird’s eye maple neck I bought on ebay some time ago (actually a noname product), equipped with the loaded Schecter-style pickguard with the F500T pickup replicas, and with a prototype of the coming brass Dream Machine tremolo bridges (to be released as it seems at the end of this month, note that this prototype is not finished yet, the release version will be available in chrome or gold plated, like Schecter).

    Of course these guitars do not have too much in common, the body wood and the kind of laquer alone (poly on mine :( )  are reason enough so that they can never sound 100% identical – besides one has a value probably 50 times as much as the other –  but of course I was curious how my guitar compares to the Telegraph Road Schecter, especially to see how close I can come with the F500T-style pickups in my pickguard. (After measuring various  specs on the Mark Knopfler guitar pickups, I meanwhile even updated my pickups to have not only electrical values of a Schecter guitar but of this particular Schecter.)

    Both guitars re-amped with identical settings

    As I recorded the Schecter directly into a portable recording device (via a buffer that avoids the normal treble loss you will encounter when recording a guitar directly into such a device), I could do the same later with my guitar, which means both were recorded not at the same time and in different countries, but with the same cable into the same buffer and into the same recorder. I then re-amped both guitar samples with the same software amp, of course with 100% all identical settings, not even a volume match. This way I got two absolutely comparable files, with the same signal chain except the guitar itself.

    Both guitars were recorded directly into this Olympus PCM recorder, the box is a buffer as the Olympus does not have a guitar input

    re-amping

    These are the effects and the amp settings for the videos. By the way, I “built'” the amp myself years ago while I was working for the Creamware company who developed the recording software

    When I had the chance to play the Mark Knopfler Schecter, I filmed about 20 minutes. I tried to play the same licks on my guitar so that I can edit both videos to put the same licks side by side for ideal comparing. This video might also be of great help to see in how far it is the guitar that matters (“Do you need the same  guitar to get that sound?”), or do only all the other sound factors matter, or just the player  (“It’s all in the fingers”). All in all I am pleased with my 1,000 Euros guitar against such a famous piece of rock history, however, there are moments when that Schecter sounds so beautiful, just listen to the tone on the Tunnel of Love licks (2nd video towards the end, well, it IS the Tunnel of Love guitar  (live version) :) ).

    some chords on the different pickups, various licks and tunes, Where do you think you’re going:

    Sultans of Swing and Tunnel of Love stuff:

    More info on the loaded Schecter-style pickguard

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    A guitar pickup does not contain any moving parts, and for this reason it is generally free of mechanical wear and might work for many decades (maybe even for centuries?). Nevertheless, certain pickup models seem to be prone to die earlier than others. One example are Fender pickups from the 50ies or early 60ies. For this reason you will often see vintage Stratocasters with rewound pickups. The same is true for the Schecter F500T – a tapped pickup which consists of two individual coils.

    It is mostly corrosion of the magnets that kills the pickup

    The reason is simple. A pickup consists of some magnets and a coil – in case of a standard Fender-type singlecoil pickup we have individual magnetic pole pieces for each string, but some pickups also have non-magnetic metal pieces (or screws) that are connected to one bar magnet that often sits below the bobbin. The coil consist of hair-thin wire that is wound around the magnets. The wire is an extremely thin copper wire that is insulated with some film (e.g. laquer, formvar or enamel). For this reason – the wire itself is insulated – it is not necessary to insulate the magnets from the wire.

    Now the problem: the magnets are made of metal – normally alnico which is an alloy of ALuminium, NIckle, and Cobalt – , and metal can corrode when exposed to humidity or other environmental factors like sweat, beer, or whatever. It is this corrosion of the magnets in the interior of the pick-up that can destroy the wire of the coil.
    There are two different things that can happen: (a) the wire breaks and the pick-up will not produce any output at all anymore, or (b) only the insulation is destroyed and the coil is shortened. The pick-up will still produce some output but not as much as it normally does. It depends on the number of turns that are shortened how much output the pick-up will produce – any value from 0 – 100% is possible.

    Those old Stratocaster pickups often look like this

    Fender reacted to the problem which killed so many pickups from the 50ies and applied a thin coat of laquer on the pole pieces before winding the coil. Alternatively some manufacturers  put some tape around the pole pieces.

    Measurung the resistance of the pickup

    The exact diagnosis of a defective pickup is simple. All you need is to measure the resistance of the coil with a multi meter (or to be concrete an ohm meter). Make sure that the pick-up is NOT switched on at the 5-way (or whatever) pick-up switch, but switched OFF. Then measure between the two poles where the cables are soldered to the pick-up. If you don’t want to open the guitar, you can also turn up the volume and tone controls, switch on the pick-up and measure at the output jack (plug in a guitar cable and measure between the two poles of the other plug). However, this measurment is not as exact as the other method since the potis will be in parallel to the pickup and reduce the resistance you will measure)

    Measuring the resistance of a pickup

    If the wire is broken, the multimeter will read an extremely high value (indefinite), if it is shortened it will read lower than the normal resistance of the pick-up (which is about 6 kohms in case of a vintage-style Stratocaster pick-up)

    If the pickup is defective, there is nothing you can do to repair it except exchange it or let it be rewound by a specialist. If the correct type of wire is used, there should be no audible sound difference after the job.

    If you are looking for a replacement for the Schecter F500T pickup, you should check out our tapped pick-ups by the German pick-up specialist Harry Haeussel. Click on the image below for more info.

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    The Schecter-F400 loaded pickguards normally came with Schecter’s F500T pick-ups. The ‘T’ stands for tapped. So, what is meant with this, what is a tapped pick-up?
    A normal Strat pick-up consists of six individual magnet pole pieces wrapped by a coil of thin wire. The original Fender design had about 8,000 turns (varying to some extent, the vintage ’54 pick-up was specified to 8,350, while a 1978 Strat pick-up had about 7,600 turns). This will result in a coil of about 6 kOhms. Compared to a humbucker like Gibson’s PAF the Strat sound is rather thin and weak with lots of treble, which is not ideal to get a heavy distortion from most vintage amps. Adding more turns will result in a louder and at the same time fuller sound (more midrange, less harsh treble). This was the reason why pick-ups like the DiMarzio FS-1 or SDS-1 were invented in the early 70ies. They had a coil with almost twice as many turns, which means about 12 – 13 kOhms. Great for distortion, and a great fat and warm sound for clean stuff. However, you cannot recreate the crisp original Strat sound with these.

    The solution that combines the best of both worlds is the tapped pick-up. David Schecter was probably not the person who invented these, or used them for the first time, but probably the one who made them popular in the late 70ies. The idea of a tapped pick-up is to make a coil with the standard number of turns first. Next a second coil is added around the first one, wired in series with the first. Consequently a tapped pick-up has three cables: ground, normal coil output, and the output of both coils in series (which is equal to one coil with the double number of turns). Of course you need some switching system to select the normal or double coil, ideally individually for each pick-up. Here the three mini toggle switches of the Schecter Dream Machines came in. Each of them has three positions: up is the first coil for a standard Strat sound, in the middle position the pick-up is off, and in the down position you have the full coil. As you can combine the three pick-ups in any coil position, you will get 27 individual sounds this way.

    A tapped pick-up has two coils, an inner (blue) and an outer coil (green). The inner coil gives you the standard Strat sound, adding the outer coil will result in a higher output.

    A tapped pick-up has three connectors

    For my loaded Schecter-style pickguards, I use handwound pick-ups by Germany’s pick-up specialist Harry Häussel that are based on the F500T design. Check them out in this site’s shop.

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    I am proud to announce a brand new product which will be available exclusively on this site in the very near future.

    For a long time those vintage Schecter pickguards, loaded with the sought-after F500T tapped Schecter pick-ups, have been the ultimate tool to convert your guitar into something similar to the legendary Schecter Dream Machines, or as a start point to build a high-end custom Strat. With those three mini switches and the tapped pick-ups you can select from not less than 27 pick-up combinations, ranging from the classic Strat sounds to fat p90-like blues sounds.

    The loaded Schecter F400 pickguards came with the Dream Machines, or were available separately to upgrade your Strat in the 70ies and early 80ies. Anyway, they are extremely rare and for this reason almost impossible to get. No wonder that used items have sold for up to 1,500 USD on ebay since then.

    Here they are again – exclusively on MK-Guitar.com

    I had the idea to build one of these for myself but I soon found out that the price will be astronomical for two reasons: most of those fancy parts like for example the American flat-lever mini switches or the conductive plastic potis are hard to get, and if so only in certain quantities. Also, some jobs like constructing the pickguard in AutoCAD to get a vector file that controls certain high-tech machinery imply an enormous amount of work and time, and would not pay for just one single board. So the idea of a small production run was born.


    Highest quality only

    The core idea of Schecter was to offer upgrade parts for your guitar, and as an upgrade these need to be of superior quality. Mind that a complete Schecter Dream Machine was never considered as as Strat copy because even back then it cost a multiple of the price for a US Fender Strat. Everything was made with finest parts. The potis for example were not simply some potis, they were US made conductive plastic potis for extended life, fully dust capsuled. When you turn them, they do not feel like a crappy Chinese poti found in many guitars these days. Instead, they have that creamy tight feel you associate with the volume knob of an expensive  HIFI amplifier. We have them again!
    Or those mini switches: they are still available today but normally they have a round lever instead of the flat one. I indeed found Asian switches with flat levers that look alright but if you compare them with the real stuff, they simply feel different, they rattle, and – call me a snob – when you switch them, the “click” sound is different than with the US switches. Finally I managed to get hold of US made switches, they cost me three times as much as the Asia stuff but it is worth the price. I even got those  fancy round dress nuts for the switches, essential for the authentic look.

    Flat-lever switches with dress nuts

    Hand-wound finest custom pick-ups by Harry Häussel

    Another problem were the pick-ups. The original Schecter F500T was a tapped pick-up for both the classic Strat sound and a fat, warmer lead sound. The ones you see on ebay are extremely expensive, or often defective. It seems many of them have problems after some decades, something which is also true for 50ies Fender pick-ups. A few companies, e.g. Seymour Duncan, still make pick-ups that are somewhat similar to the F500T. However, similar was not enough for me, so I teamed up with one of Europe’s hottest pick-up winding gurus – Harry Häussel – to come up with something superior. Those of you who know Harry’s outstanding vintage Fender replicas will not be surprised to hear that our pick-ups are made with real love and attention to even smallest details. They have the same kind of magnets, the same winding wire, the same winding method. I even got American gauge cables of the same colours – black, yellow, and purple –  simply because the European cable gauges looked too skinny, or were too fat.

    Tapped pick-ups with those big Alnico magnets

    What you get

    Our loaded pickguards should fit on all Strat-sized guitars (8 holes like vintage Schecter).

    * Made of solid brass (alternatively white aluminium), professionally high-tech cut to our specifications in Germany, professionally polished for that magic, shiny look.

    * Hand-wound pick-ups for that F500T sound. Magnets, wires, winding etc.,  like vintage Schecter. These are definitely not the cheapest but the best!

    * Two US high-quality square potis, conductive plastic, extended life, just like vintage Schecter (in fact by one of the two suppliers that Schecter had, the other one  is out of business)

    * Three US-made flat-lever mini toggle switches, with dress nuts, just like vintage Schecter

    * Tone capacitor and treble bleeding capacitor with resistor, like vintage Schecter.

    Price:  to be announced soon (Update: 419,- €)

    Availabilty: coming soon (Update: first pickguards shipping)

    See product in our shop:

    And here the original, a real vintage Schecter

     

    ... and another vintage Schecter. Compare to the previous picture and note that Schecter used switches and potis from different manuafacturers.

    The backside of the Pensa MK-80 pickguard looks quite different

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