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Partscasters using [gulp] Chinese sourced parts

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While casually perusing the likes of Aliexpress I discovered someone was selling one piece HSH mahogany strat bodies for something like US$65.  So maybe it's time to dip my toe in the water and see how bad things really get.  The same seller had flamed maple necks available.  "Oh," I thought.  "There's a good chance of them fitting if they're made by the same company".  [Cue: foreshadowing]

So the parts arrived and first impressions were very good.  The grain on the flamed maple necks was stunning, one more so than the other.  The bodies were incredibly light, the average weight for a mahogany strat body is 2kg, the ones I received clocked in at 1.7kg (with slight figuring) and 1.5kg for a plainer body.

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However there were issues, as expected.  The first was they sent 21 fret necks with truss rod adjustment at the heel.  And the bodies didn't have a recess for the truss rod tool.  Normally, they wouldn't exchange a neck (despite guarantees on the listing they would) but because I'm in the same country postage was quite cheap, it was feasible.  I asked them to exchange one neck for a 22 fret version with the headstock adjustment and more intense flaming.  They'll send me a few photos of replacement necks to choose from later today. 

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In the meantime, I decided to check bodies and necks for accuracy by drawing centre lines and checking alignment:

1) Neck pocket wall and end of neck heel didn't fit and the pocket was 1mm too wide.  Reviews warned me of this so it wasn't a total surprise.  I bought a black three ply HSH pickguard and checked the pocket on that against the body.  It aligns surprisingly well although still too wide (58mm, rather than 56) but the fit issue must be the neck heel.  Sure enough, the curve is asymmetrical. 

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2) The floor of the neck pocket is uneven.  There's no excuse for this really, it's just sloppy paths in the milling software.

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3) I did a quick check of neck alignment as best I could using cotton thread. The alignment might be out by 2-3mm but it needs checking with straight edges to be sure.
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4) The trem cavity was unfinished along one long side and a trial fit of the bridge suggested it might need widening for full function.  I bought a router bit specifically designed for under cutting the top rout by about 3mm. 

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So with the bridge, neck, HSS pickguard for one of the bodies I did a trial fit just to give me a sense of what to expect. 

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Speaking of HSS, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what to do with these bits and pieces.  The mahogany will probably make the instruments too warm for tradition strat sounds (although given how light the mahogany is, that isn't totally certain).  But using humbuckers seemed to be a safe bet:

Partscaster #1:  A bit of a Scream Queen.
This will be a light guitar with HSS layout and extra routing out the back of the instrument for the sustainer circuitry like the Ed OBrien strat.  I have a sustainer installed in another guitar from NZ which I'm going to remove and reinstall in the lighter partscaster to turn it into a bit of a screamer.  Some say basswood is a great wood to use with a sustainer but the first guitar I had it installed in was mahogany and it sounded great and  1.5kg, it might get within spitting distance of alder.  

Back in the eighties, the resident bass expert in my preferred music store in NZ was a Londoner by the name of Steve Hyde.  He was heavily into goth/new romantic but died of a sudden heart attack about twenty years ago but he and I shared an interest in the UK music scene at the time.  His first bass was a Shergold Marathon which he'd repainted by bombing it with spray cans of flourescent green, purple, pink and blue paint.  I really loved that paint scheme and always wanted to do one of my own but mine will  be slightly different (no green) and have a clear 2k lacquer over the top.

Partscaster #2: Something heavier.
The second body weighs 200g more and features slight figuring over the body.  There is a strong temptation to leave it as natural, at least in the beginning until I see how much the body pops.  I had a guitar tutor at high school who had a late 70's/early 80's Schecter Partscaster with all brass hardware and a mahogany body.  So I was thinking about going down the gold route as it might look nice against the warmth of the body and neck.  Don't know though - the biggest hurdle will be finding a Chinese made gold anodised HSH pickguard.  But for the electronics I've pretty much decided to go with Dimarzio FRED in the bridge and Air Zone in the neck for jazzier sounds with something from my parts department for the middle single coil (a cheap Powered by Lace stacked humbucker which will need a black pickup cover I expect).  I'll probably get a prewired harness and modify it for a push pull vol for coil splitting both the humbuckers and maybe figure out a cost effective method for getting neck and bridge in the middle position.

After I've fixed the neck and body as far as possible and finish sanded to about 400 grit,  I'm going to experiment sealing the grain with CA.  

The one great thing about all of this is that locally sourced parts are between 50% to 90% the cost of what I might pay in the UK. So there's room to play around and change things later if I don't like them.  

Right now, I've sourced an eighteen quid router, the router bits and clamps for mere pence and now need to get some MDF plus epoxy putty from which to make neck heel and pocket templates.  Then I'll be in a position to plan the remedial routing.

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Update time:
The company I bought the neck and body from exchanged the 21 fret flame maple neck for a roasted flamed maple neck with 22 fret rosewood fingerboard.

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I don't yet own a guitar with a rosewood board so figured this might be a new experiment with the mahogany body.  Tonally I don't expect too much of a difference to normal maple, perhaps the rosewood will mean slightly less obtrusive fret noise.  Still haven't decided on finish for the HSH body but saw an interesting video on decorating a guitar with gold leaf...could get messy though.  I also pulled the trigger on a second Kahler trem, this time an older 4300 X trem (US made version, not Chinese) in chrome.  It has a locking function a bit like the Wilkinson.

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No screws or routing template so they're currently on order from Whammyparts.com and will be sent over with the bridge.  This gives me an option of going with either a Wilkinson or Kahler depending on how much whammying I might feel like doing and how much faff there might be in getting the wilkinson to fit the routing provided.  The sanding discs, MDF sheet and body filler have arrived so need to collect and maybe start work this afternoon on sanding and the neck pocket template.  Speaking of the neck pocket, I've also found some 2mm thick sapele veneer which might work as a shim if glued in place.  It's slightly harder than mahogany which is ideal and looks nearly the same.  The tricky part will be trying to clamp it securely in place after gluing as the pocket is fairly confined.

I also still have a laminated mahogany and maple neck left too. Although originally intended for an MSG shaped build with set in neck joint, it could be adapted for a bolt on build as well.

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Interesting project. From experience, I's suggest you may notice playing this one unplugged it will have a darker sound than maple and the usual.... right up until you plug it in, and then any difference will rapidly diminish, especially once you start using overdrive and f/x. 

This looks cool. I have in the past toyed with the idea of doing something similar, except using second hand parts from ebay. Let chance dictate what crops up (especially being lefty). For now though I need to thin the herd or I'll be in trouble with a Higher Power who - quite reasonably - thinks I should play the ones I've got more before I buy more guitars! 

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I discovered the roasted neck was twisted and had to send it back for a refund.  There was no way I could have achieved low action on it.  At that point the store rep told me they thought my expectations were too high...!  And refused to sell me any more necks - even a replacement.  I did get a refund though.

 

I've purchased a neck template from perspex to check against neck heel and pocket.  The neck pocket seems to fit the template perfectly.  

However I'm also toying with the idea of a glued joint if I can get the neck pocket tight enough because I have a back up mahogany laminated neck that needs some mods but might do the job.  However it's not a strat neck even though its 25.5" scale length.

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On 09/08/2021 at 14:49, Kiwi said:

I discovered the roasted neck was twisted and had to send it back for a refund.  There was no way I could have achieved low action on it.  At that point the store rep told me they thought my expectations were too high...!  And refused to sell me any more necks - even a replacement.  I did get a refund though.

 

I've purchased a neck template from perspex to check against neck heel and pocket.  The neck pocket seems to fit the template perfectly.  

However I'm also toying with the idea of a glued joint if I can get the neck pocket tight enough because I have a back up mahogany laminated neck that needs some mods but might do the job.  However it's not a strat neck even though its 25.5" scale length.

Jerks! Were they selling them as decorations? If not, then they’re not fit for purpose and the company are doing nothing but furthering the oft spouted attitude about Chinese quality. 😤

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On 14/08/2021 at 17:08, ezbass said:

Jerks! Were they selling them as decorations? If not, then they’re not fit for purpose and the company are doing nothing but furthering the oft spouted attitude about Chinese quality. 😤

I completely agree and nearly made that point to them.  But the same attitude is evident with every supplier I've approached so far and group think is strong over here.  One I found did five string jazz bass necks (for a future project). They were offering me the moon on a stick to place an order, all the reassurances of return process and quality control and...I'd seen it all before.  The photo showed the bloody truss rod was off centre! So far my experience hasn't been 'will they make a mistake' so much as 'how are they going to make a mistake' and there's a limit to how far I can anticipate.

 

And the place that sent me the neck template didn't package it properly, it broke during shipping.  Then I asked why the template was 22 frets.  They replied that all the necks are 22 frets...!  They're supposed to be shipping a replacement but haven't responded to my requests for a tracking number.  

(EDIT:  The replacement arrived AND they gave me a refund...I sense some disorganisation.)


For a few days, I was seriously thinking about setting up my own small outfit to manufacture matching sets of bodies and necks.

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3 hours ago, Stub Mandrel said:

Some of these companies source their stock from other company's reject bins.

Yes,  I've noticed at least one seller offering what could be diplomatically described as complete crap for sale.  Stuff that looks like it had been used by chimpanzees for training purposes. 

 

Still, the suppliers never seem to provide warnings. 

 

I ordered a perspex strat neck template recently, (22 fret fingerboard version!) and it fits the neck pocket perfectly.  So it's the neck which is the issue.  Hopefully a few passes with the router will tighten things up. 

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8 hours ago, Kiwi said:

Yes,  I've noticed at least one seller offering what could be diplomatically described as complete crap for sale.  Stuff that looks like it had been used by chimpanzees for training purposes. 

 

Still, the suppliers never seem to provide warnings. 

 

I ordered a perspex strat neck template recently, (22 fret fingerboard version!) and it fits the neck pocket perfectly.  So it's the neck which is the issue.  Hopefully a few passes with the router will tighten things up. 

I read that as you’d bought a Perspex Strat neck, which sounds really cool, albeit heavy. 

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On 14/08/2021 at 13:05, Kiwi said:

(EDIT:  The replacement arrived AND they gave me a refund...I sense some disorganisation.)


For a few days, I was seriously thinking about setting up my own small outfit to manufacture matching sets of bodies and necks.


Doesn't surprise me you got both your money and a replacement. I've been playing with Aliexpress a bit over the last eighteen months. Mostly only to buy low value novelty pens and such. (My wife loves stationery, and in a normal year I'll be sure when in Beijing to pick her up a few bits and pieces of novelty pens and such. The best I ever found were one year pens that had a "comedy vintage moustache" printed on them, along with the legend "My moustache is cool and vintage"; another year was "Loves Crazy Shit" printed on a pen the top of which was a little man with a curled up turd (like a 3d version of the poo emoji) for a head. With the pandemic and not being able to go out there, Aliexpress was great for stocking novelties). I did try to buy a more expensive item recently, a cap. Alas the seller (I should have read their feedback, it's mostly awful) sent me the wrong size, unwearably small. The dispute resolution system gave me my money back *and* ruled that I didn't need to send it back either, which saved a lot of hassle. I gather that's not entirely unheard of. Most of these sellers rely on high volume sales, and will often in my experience offer all sorts of discounts, full and partial refunds to preserve it. (I suspect a lot is connected to saving face...). Course, if they weren't so keen on a 'caveat emptor' approach to begin with... 

I live in hope an organisation will eventually set up with the production ethics of a Shijie type operation and sell necks. I can't promise I'd be a regular enough customer to make your venture worthwhile, but if you do set up over the next year or two and start offering an awesome, 68 Strat spec maple board neck for sub £200, let me know!! 

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Yeah as you say, the key to making an operation like that work is volume.  Doing things right upfront requires an investment time and attention to detail to get things right.  All those can be offset with sales volume regardless of what the asking price actually is.  So sub 200 quid is definitely feasible but would probably need to be selling 100 bodies a month.

 

 

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