The Squier Bullet Strat project – part 2

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.

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