Strat upgrade part 1: Bare Knuckle pickups

I’ve had this early 80’s Tokai Strat for years now and I’ve been wondering what to do with it. The guitar itself felt great to play but the pickups were so-so. Some years back I put a Seymour Duncan Lil59 pickup in the bridge. It was ok, it gave much more punch but still didn’t leave me that inspired.

More recently I’ve been looking for a great Strat for recording the Worship Backing Band Multi Tracks. I really just wanted that definitive in between ‘Strat Quack’ sound and had been considering investing in a Fender Custom Shop model, or maybe a Suhr. Then the other day browsing on Gumtree I came across a second hand but unused set of Bare Knuckle Mother’s Milk pickups in a fully loaded pick guard together with a decent 5 way switch, pots and pre soldered wiring. I’d heard only good things about Bare Knuckle pickups so I thought, why not give the old girl a heart transplant… and if I didn’t like it, I could always resell the pickups and no one gets hurt…

So fast forward a couple of days and the loaded pick guard arrived on my desk. Actually I’m quite excited in a guitar geeky kinda way. So I’ll get soldering and give you updates/tales of woe/cries for help/shout outs for free advice as I go…

Bare Knuckle Pickups for Fender Strat

Bare Knuckle Pickups for Strat

Update 1

So – pickups, pots and switch transplanted last night. I couldn’t use the new pickguard as the screw holes didn’t quite line up so had to substitute the original (and better) one and drill out the volume/tone pot holes slightly. All in all it took longer than I expected (doesn’t everything?) but to be honest I’m just glad it actually works and I didn’t break anything!

First Impressions

The pickups themselves are properly impressive and I’m pleasantly surprised how much difference they make. Each pickup has a distinct voice, the neck is full, the in between position 2 and 4 sounds are light and very ‘quacky’, which is exactly as I wanted and as a bonus I’m especially pleased with the bridge pickup. Normally I’m not that much of a fan of strat bridge pickups, I find them too thin and much prefer a telecaster sound. But this one has had a metal base plate installed underneath. I’ve heard about this mod a lot but never tried it before and it seems to be the missing link that makes all the difference! I definitely need to play around with all the pickup heights to get some pickup to pickup balance but on first impressions so far so good.

That said I do have some noticable grounding hum issues that need resolving, probably to do with my schoolboy wiring. Oh and please ignore the slightly melted plastic on the pickguard next to the bridge pickup. We’ll call that deliberate relicing and in no way due to leaving it right next to the soldering iron.

Fender Strat Pickups Tokai Strat Pickups

So where now? 

Well Update 2 will hopefully see me resolving the ground hum, and that metal base plate has got me reading up on other popular strat upgrades. I love the idea of working as many of those mods into the guitar as I can and see how far I can optimise the tone… So stand by for more glorious DIY victories and other soldering incidents.

Bare Knuckle Pickups

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