From Motorhead’s classic 1976 -1982 lineup, guitarist ‘Fast” Eddie Clarke was an influential player on me around the time of Ace of Spades and Iron Fist albums, and my inspiration as a former guitarist in a Canadian classic Motorhead tribute band.
Earlier for this band I was using a slightly modified, black Highway One strat. Now we’re going for as accurate a recreation as possible, so I wanted to create a proper tribute Strat that was as close in appearance to his modified 70’s Strat as possible. So wanting to base it on the time period from memory seeing him play here in Toronto a couple times in 81-2, and gathering pics/info from the net I determined that his strat is a 70’s model that was stripped and refinished natural. Later a polished brass pickguard was installed, along with gold dome knobs. Neck pickup was changed to a Dimarzio SDS-1, middle stock, and bridge pickup had changed a few times, but usually between a Dimarzio Super Distortion or an X2N.
Shown here with a Super Distortion in the bridge….
…..and a bit later with an X2N.
So not wanting to shell out for an original, now vintage 70’s strat to maul, I went and scored this basic ’99 Classic 70 Strat in natural ash with the basically correct 70’s specs – right down to the old bullet truss rod. While not being made from alder as Eddie’s was, it superficially looked the same, particularly from a stage standpoint. Natural finish – check. Large 70’s headstock – check. Rosewood fingerboard – check. Perfect platform to turn into a fine (pay attention Fender) Fast Eddie Clarke Tribute/Signature Strat! 😉
Shown here as I got it, bone stock. There’s many parts to buy and much work to do, which winds up being more than you might think.
First, grab a Dimarzio SDS-1 and an X2N.
Finding a suitable polished brass pickguard took some searching, and couldn’t find any with the required H-S-S configuration. Closest I could find was an official one from Fender, which really wasn’t cheap either. It too, will have to be modified to accommodate the bridge humbucker.
Upon removal of the original pickguard we see that true to form – Fender has kept the vintage pickup cavity config the same as the 70’s. Same thick poly finish too I might add.
First job is to route the cavity for the bridge humbucker. Starting with a placement outline from a donor HSS pickguard, we use the lexan HB pickup template to mark where we’re going to route.
<INSERT 10 MINS OF ANNOYING & BORING ROUTING NOISE…> So after routing the basic outline for the pickup, I find that the depth of the cavity isn’t quite deep enough to accommodate the length of the pickup’s ‘legs’, leaving too much of the pickup protruding out of the pickguard with no room for any adjustment. This won’t do…
So wanting to leave as much wood intact as possible, I chose to route only enough to give the legs some adjustment room. Now this brings the overall pickup height down to a reasonable level.
Mulling this over and then glancing at the extra depth of the SDS-1 neck pickup due to the bar magnet under the baseplate, and sure enough, it too sat much too high, requiring routing as well.
<MORE HELLATIOUSLY LOUD ROUTING> And now it’s sitting where it should be.
Now we need to mod the pickguard. Using this HSS pickguard as a template for the humbucker hole.
Everything marked and masked out before cutting. This is a $100 pickguard, so there’s no room for error.
Using a hardened metal blade on my scroll saw, we do the rough cutout first. <MORE NOISE>
The pickup hole is then smoothed-out and edge finished using a fine Dremel drum sander.
Now we populate the guard with all the guts.
And presto! We have basic Eddie config Gold dome knobs will be added a bit later…
Now getting to be an old coot my vision is getting poorer by the day, lol. So sometimes seeing my side positions without my glasses is really tough, especially on a smoke-filled, dimly-lit stage. So one liberty I’ll take with this tribute strat that only I can see, is to install large 4mm Luminlay position markers that glow after being charged with bright and particularly UV light, which lasts about a set.
Here you can see the difference in size from the stock (left) markers and the Luminlays.
Difficult to photograph, but this gives you an idea what to expect.
Installed, levelled, polished out. Done. Ah…even without my specs I can quickly see where I’m at 😉
At this point I assembled the guitar, gave it a quick setup and test run. It sounded hot and bright, perfect for helping recreate Eddie’s tone in the trib band. But being primarily a Gibson player, it was slammed home about the main thing I HATED with old Fenders…the rounded 7.25″ fingerboard radius. I’m much more accustomed to the flatter 12″ radius of Gibson’s and even flatter 16″ of Ibanez’s for low action with choke-free bending. Since I was intending this guitar for the long-haul with this band and bothering to go through this much work for it, I decided to pull the neck off again, de-fret, re-radius, and refret to a more comfortable 12″ radius.
Because this neck was fortunately arrow-straight and solid, I decided to do the main refret the old, benchtop way, and save the neck jig for the final levelling. Remove tuners, nut and adjust truss rod to get neck as perfectly straight as possible using a precision notched straightedge.
For removing frets properly to minimize pull-out and chipping, you should use heat with a good iron. And HOT to help speed up the process. But be careful, you can also scorch the board if you hold it on too long, so some practice is required or take longer using a lower wattage.
We can take care of previous boo-boos while we’re at it.
Frets all pulled and ready to prep.
Pulling the frets will decompress the fingerboard and cause the neck to bow slightly, which will require a truss rod re-adjustment and straightening with the notched straightedge again. This procedure should be rechecked at every stage. The tools laid out and then the board is marked off with white pencil to monitor your progress. To flatten the radius down to 12″, we will be shaving down the apex or center of the fingerboard gradually using a scraper, levelling beam and radius block. The neck is supported in the middle with a neck caul, and the headstock is clamped down to hold it steady.
Starting off with an aggressive scraper in the center, which removes a lot of stock quickly, I’ll soon switch to a levelling beam with 100gt gold paper for much of the way before finally switching to a 12″ radius block. The white pencil shows the progress.
After some time, we arrive at our goal. This will also be the time to take care of any chips using CA glues and/or dust. Fortunately there was none in this case.
Bingo! The board now has a 12″ radius for lower action without choke. Now to start prepping the board for new frets.
Bend up three 24″ lengths of Stewmac #152 fret wire (.092 x .048″ crown), which is good for this. I overbend slightly to about 9-10″ radius to help keep the ends seated better.
Your fret job will only be good as the foundation (fingerboard) it’s built on. Now we need to touch up the slot depth with a fret saw. Again, pay attention to avoid chipping the slot edges and at the ends by the side of the neck.
To ease insertion of the fret tangs and help with full seating of the crowns, we put a slight bevel (but not too much!) on the entrance of the slot using a triangle needle file.
Cut all the frets in advance, leave about an extra 1/8″ overhang on each side for trimming and flushing.
After using the fret hammer only to tap the ends in, the frets are then pressed in place.
Ok, all the frets basically seated in place.
Again re-adjust the truss rod keeping it straight.
Despite the effectiveness of pressing the frets in, we’ll check with a fret rocker for any remaining high spots that inevitably still occur – but far fewer than if using the old-school hammer method.
The remaining high crowns are marked and gently seated with the fret hammer on a bag of buckshot.
I always glue my frets in which minimizes future lifting, and the solid contact with the fingerboard wood aids in proper vibrational transfer through the neck which = better tone! At this point I’ll trim the overhang and bevel the fret ends roughly before putting it back on the body and placing the guitar into the neck jig for final leveling.
After being strung up to pitch the guitar is placed into the neck jig and given a final levelling. Because of the extra fingerboard levelling and proper fret seating, the amount skimmed off the tops of the crowns is minimal. Good 😉
The ends are dressed and the crowns are now polished with Micromesh up to a superfine 12000 gt.
At the end they come out shining like mirrors! Now to take care of that dry, unoiled rosewood.
Now that’s a lot healthier and rich looking. For deeper penetration, instead of lemon oil I use D’Addario Hydrate which is a fantastic product.
All strung up with D’Addario NYXL 10-46 and given a good final setup in Eb tuning and bends are now totally choke-free! Some final touches include the gold dome knobs and leaf sticker like his 😉
This one’s for you Mr. Clarke! Turn it up, I wanna hurt these people! haha. (No the bullet belt isn’t a strap, I just draped it there for looks 😉 )
UPDATE! I’m thrilled to report that Mr. Clarke himself has messaged me about this build, and unexpectedly shared it on his official Facebook page! What an honor
SOLD! The Eddie Clarke tribute strat has been sold to the leader of a Motorhead tribute band far overseas. Congrats to the lucky buyer – you got a fine strat there, the first EC trib ever made! Thanks!