Wiring Upgrade for a Fender Reissue Starcaster

This is the second part of our ongoing “Holy Crap What a Busy Month and Also I’m Lazy” series, in which we’ll detail some of the more fun and noteworthy undertakings of a very hectic, backed-up month. So backed-up, in fact, one might even say Father time himself suffered from a sort of chronological constipation.

Today, I’d like to tell you about this fancy and fantastic Fender Starcaster Reissue. Part of the latest in the line of Modern Player instruments, today’s Starcaster reflects the design elements of a line that echoes the classic shapes we love while nodding to modern tastes – guitars with a vintage look and a tweaked, updated feel.

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While the Starcaster reissue is a fantastic guitar, I have a few personal, OCD-related gripes with the update: I dislike the slightly adjusted shape, the way the neck is inset on the body, the stoptail and the lack of a Master Volume control as found on the 1970s models. I’m also not a fan of Fender’s reissue Wide Range Humbuckers, but I’m so used to swapping out stock pickups for something a little more dependable and tuneful that I can hardly gripe about this.

All that said, this guitar is honestly a LOT of fun to play, and even more fun to behold; truly, as much as I love the old Starcasters, they are increasingly difficult to come by and nigh-unaffordable. Having the chance to play both, I can say that from the standpoint of playability, this reissue is a most enjoyable offering. And super cheap, thanks to Chinese manufacturing.

“Oh I Come from a Land, a Faraway Place”

Our good out-of-state buddy Blake IMG_1964-impcontacted us shortly after he picked up his new Starcaster, wondering about the best way to ‘open up’ his lovely guitar. Blake had already taken it to his tech, who swapped out the reissue pickups for a set of Lollar Regals – his answer to the classic WRHB, highly prized for its darker personality and huge-yet-decidedly-Fender sound. Lollar’s pickups retain the darkness of the originals, but pepper that trait with stunning midrange clarity and a low-mid shift that absolutely kills me. All of this is seasoned to taste with present, yet round highs and a slight kick in the salts to give the pickup a slight hint of tasty PAF goodness. If you can’t tell, I adore those pickups.

Thing is, Blake’s guitar didn’t sound anything like what I just described to you. When he sent the guitar to me, output was about 60% of what it should have been (the pickups are wound to 10.7Kohms but I wasn’t getting any kick out of them at all!) and had a muffled, wildly underwhelming sound that spoke of something amiss in the wiring department. Blake asked what I thought, and in my mind the best solution was to do a complete overhaul on the wiring harness.

Jason Lollar – a man that knows his stuff and makes some of my favorite pickups – recommends 500K pots with the Regals, and I’ve used them with those pickups before to stellar results. However, my preference is for the tried-and-true vintage Tele Deluxe complement of 1 meg pots all around (CTS or Bourns are my choice) which really seems to broaden the tonal spectrum of the Regal pickup. This also seemed to be the logical choice for the muddiness we were experiencing.

Upon getting inside the guitar, I discovered that the guitar came equipped with 500K Alpha pots, which are usually good parts for an offshore guitar. Sadly, the wiring left much to be desired and given the minimal body routing, it became apparent that installing full-size pots might require some extra routing. Still, given the quality of sound coming from this guitar and the rather ramshackle wiring, taking a bit more wood out of the bridge pickup cavity was totally worth the extra work, in my opinion.IMG_1970-imp-imp

I began by building a new wiring harness using CTS 1Meg pots and a ’50s Les Paul wiring diagram – my favorite scheme for getting the most out of any humbucker-equipped guitar. The difference lies mainly in the way the tone cap interacts with the hot pickup signal. With modern wiring, the signal from the pickup hits the first lug of the volume pot and is routed through the tone cap before it gets to the pot, effecting the signal no matter the position of the pot. 1950’s wiring fixes this by feeding the tone pot via the switch instead, allowing more clarity, top end presence and a touch more volume overall.

After installing the new harness with 1M pots and 223 orange drops, this guitar came instantly alive. I hadn’t even really tuned the thing when I struck the first chord, and the guitar, amp and Crowther Hot Cake I was running all greeted me like an excitable puppy. There was that zing, that tightness, that clarity boost I’d been missing. And oh! The glorious, full-figured volume!

That little upgrade took the guitar from decent to stellar, and it really wasn’t much work at all. If you’re feeling like there’s something missing from your tone, try upgrading the wiring harness before you go crazy with all manner of pickup swaps and cable tryouts. Full-size pots, quality caps and the right scheme can very well make all the difference.

Again I say CHECK IT:

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24 thoughts on “Wiring Upgrade for a Fender Reissue Starcaster

  1. TDL says:

    long shaft or short shaft pots?

  2. iyork28 says:

    Possibly dumb question: Did you have to remove the top or back to do the extra routing? I really like the new Starcasters but it sounds like they’re difficult to upgrade

    • Not a dumb question at all. I’ve done this twice now, and it doesn’t require going that far with woodworking. I used a Dremel router bit to remove the extra wood in the bridge pickup cavity. No big deal, really! That’s really the only difficulty, and they’re fundamentally good instruments. Go for it!

  3. Matthew says:

    Why exactly does one need to remove extra wood? The parts are all small enough to fit through that hole surely? Is it to do with the harness?

    I’ve not really done much wiring before, apart from installing new pickups on a strat. I expect that is an easier prospect than this. Unfortunately, the switch on my starcaster is not working properly in the middle position so I need to certainly get inside there. Can I rewire the switch from the front, d’you think? If not, in considering doing this whole upgrade you have described.

    Thanks.

    • To remove the wood necessary in the bridge pickup cavity, I used a Dremel tool with a router bit installed, which made quick work of it. When you’re upgrading to full-size CTS pots, you’ll have to do this as the body is only routed for the smaller Japanese parts.

      If the switch in your Starcaster isn’t working properly, you may be able to fish it out of one of the pickup cavities, which is what I’d do if we weren’t doing the upgrade. Don’t try to use the f-holes, which aren’t appropriately sized for the installed parts.

  4. James says:

    If one wanted to replace the neck, do you know if the neck pocket will accept a standard strat or tele neck?

    • I’ve done a little research because I haven’t had to answer that question myself. I *think* a standard Strat or Tele neck will work, but I’m slightly concerned about the fret positions. If you look at that gif I made of the vintage vs. reissue flip-flopping on top of one another, you’ll see the physical dimensions of the neck are altered even though it’s still a 25.5″ scale length.

      I can’t find any confirmed neck-swapping going on via forums and the like, but theoretically you should be alright. Best thing is to borrow a neck from another guitar and test it out. Sorry I can’t be more help!

  5. John Pitz says:

    Were did you get the 70s Starcaster looking Volume and Tone Knobs. Also I want to add the Master Volume Pot back into the guitar. Any data on that? 70s wireing diagram ?

    Johnny email is gotarok.usa@gmail.com

  6. John, for my money the volume pot is the most critical to the overall tone and character of the guitar, so having 1megs in that position really is the best case scenario. If you’re going with a 500k volume, I would just as soon stick with a 500k tone, but a 1meg could be cool. Some experimentation to that end might do well for you.

  7. eheiser says:

    Might I ask which Bigsby unit you put on there? Does it affect the tone of the guitar in any way?

    • That particular Bigsby is the B5 unit, mounted to the guitar with one of the fantastic Vibramate systems which bolts to the stoptail inserts instead of requiring drilling into the top. Every time I install a Bigsby, I note the guitar getting both louder and a little deeper; because of the increased mass, there’s a little more of everything as far as bass/middle/treble frequencies are concerned. It’s not a bad thing at all!

  8. David Outten says:

    On starcasters I’ve played, the strings don’t line up with the stock pickups at all, though it sonds good acoustically. Do the new Lollars get the poles closer to the strings or is it an inherent flaw of the guitar?

    • I’ve noticed that too with the reissues, and it seems to be a manufacturing defect. I don’t know if you have the same experience, but the pickups or the bridge seem to be drilled in favor of the treble side, as it’s always the low E and A strings that seem the most off of their mark.

      Now, a little shift either way won’t really affect the tonality of functionality of your pickups since they use a magnetic field that’s much larger than the poles themselves, but in this case I doubt a replacement pickup will line up better simply because the holes for the mounts are all slightly off.

      That aside, the Lollar is my favorite WRHB out there.

  9. John says:

    Which Vibramate model did you use to mount the Bigsby B5 on? Recently I’ve discovered the stock bridge and saddles have caused my strings to break too frequently near the bridge and I’ve been thinking of upgrading to the Bigsby for performance and aesthetic reasons. Any info you could provide on the topic would be extremely helpful. I love my starcaster and can’t wait to give it some new flair.

  10. im trying to rebuild a tender starcaster 15 amp it new to me so i got it already assembled can get it to power up but still cant get a sound out of her so at first i blew a fuse .now i have changed the fuse now wen i purchased it it was just the head so im still trying to get it to work but ive ran into a cloud of smoke and i jus cant figure it out can you give me any advice i was looking for a diagram but was un successful btw my name is christopherdove so if your ever board and you wanna help me out i would appriciate it so give me a bub at killjoy2538@ gmail .com

    • Hey Christopher, you’re honestly going to be better off in a financial sense if you just buy a new amp. Those tiny, solid-state practice amps will end up costing almost as much to fix as they would to simply replace. Plus, with the parts and the way the boards are populated, it’s just going to be a headache. Sorry!

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