Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Black Fender Stratocaster MIM

Hey, it's time to catch up on some new stories. I think I'll start off with the one that is least flattering to my skills as a trader...might as well get it off my chest. Every year, on the day before New Years, I walk into a pawn shop near my house and see what guitars they might be looking to clear off the books before the end of the year. The last couple of years I've found some great guitars to make a little extra cash on, including a Tom Delonge Strat I chronicled here previously. This time I walked in and asked if they had the big "half off" sale going on and they let me know they weren't doing that this year...they were just selling everything for great prices. They didn't have any of my beloved Telecasters this year, but they did have a few Strats and they were all marked down to $199. I figured I could make a few bucks on that and so I started checking out which was the best of the bunch.

I finally settled in on a pretty decent black Made in Mexico model Stratocaster that had a white pickguard and enough smudges and dirt and crap to make it not that appealing on first inspection. I even asked the guy working there why they don't at least wipe down the guitars before they put them up for sale. If you were a store and got in used merchandise, wouldn't you at the very least clean all the grimy hand prints off of it and make it look presentable? I'll never understand the lazy mentality sometimes. But I suppose that's beside the point. I figured it couldn't hurt to ask if they'd come down on the price a little more, but no such luck. I figured that it probably wouldn't have a case either.

For some reason guitars at pawn shops mysteriously never seem to have a case. I mention this to the guy and he says, "hey, you're in luck...this one has a nice Fender hard shell case!"

Shocking to say the least. I got ready to pay for the guitar and the guy asked if I'd ever been a customer there before. I told him it was the third year in a row I'd bought something on December 31st. He thought that was funny, so he didn't charge me tax. So to sum things up so far, I've now purchased a black, Made in Mexico Fender Stratocaster from 1991 with a nice Fender hard shell case for $199 out the door. Sweet. I figured there was money to be made.

I headed to Guitar Center and bought a brand new black pickguard and black pickup covers and back plate and knobs and switch tip for the guitar. The white pickguard just looked cheap-ass and was in crappy condition. This cost me right around $46 total. So now I've got $245 into the guitar. I figured I could sell it with the case for $350 and make an extra hundred. Not a huge profit by any means, but a fun little project. I changed out all the new parts while I watched the football games on New Years and when it was all done it looked sweet. I don't care for Strats all that much, but I thought maybe I should keep this one. A couple of days later I found out my son got picked to play on an expensive competitive league soccer team, so the idea of keeping the guitar went right out the window. I listed it on Craigslist and sat back to see how quickly someone would jump on it.

And I waited. And waited. And no one ever emailed. I lowered the price. Nothing. Lowered it again. Nothing. Relisted again with a different description just to switch things up. Finally got an email with an offer that was embarrassingly low. Then I figured maybe someone would want to trade for a Tele and I could then sell the Tele. Nothing. Relisted it for sale and got an email from a guy asking if I wanted to trade for a 1994 MIM Fender Telecaster. Huh? Uh, I mean, yes, that would be great.

If you've read any of my other rants about Craigslist idiots you know where I stand. Rude, forgetful, insulting...the list goes on. But it does serve it's purpose and I've had pretty good luck for the most part when it comes right down to it. I made an arrangement to meet the guy near my work at lunch time. He would bring his Tele, I would bring my Strat. I asked quite a few questions and discovered that they Tele had a Roland Synth pickup installed on it in addition to the regular Tele stuff. The synth pickup is a little sort of thin blade that fits under the strings behind the bridge pickup and then has a wire that comes out to an external unit that attaches to the guitar. I was unfamiliar with these things to be honest, so I asked how it attached and would it come off easily? I'm not going to want to leave it on there. They guy said it had one small pressure screw that didn't affect the guitar. Cool. Sounds easy.

I should mention at this point that I got lucky and found a brand new padded Gibson gig bag for $10 at Guitar Center and decided to include that with the Strat instead of the hard shell case, which I now am using with another guitar. Okay. So the guy shows up and the appointed time and we begin inspecting guitars. He complains about the pickguard on the Strat not being on quite right...something I had not noticed but was about a two second fix. He seemed to inspect the guitar very thoroughly, so I realized I should be doing the same. I start checking out the Tele and notice a scraped area on the headstock, down at the end. I ask if maybe that was a small Squier decal that had been removed. "Oh no, definitely not." Okay. I look at the synth pickup and I see more than one screw and they don't look harmless. He says, "No those come right off and don't leave any mark." He then says everything else works perfectly. It's got the right kind of serial number and stuff and I do know a little about that, so the rest looks fine. Kind of dirty and the strings looked to be about as old as the guitar, but that stuff is easy. So we make the trade.

I get home and start to immediately remove the synth pickup and lo and behold, this now leaves three permanent holes in the guitar. Yep, even after asking point blank, the guy swore there would be no screw holes. There is one down on the body by the bottom and another up by the bridge and another that actually required screwing a hole through the metal of the bridge and down into the body! No...that won't leave a mark at all! God I'm an idiot sometimes. Whatever, the neck felt great and I figured maybe I could relic the guitar a bit or just take a little less for it when I sell it. Next I head in and list the Roland Synth pickup on eBay for $90 and it sells right away. Cool. Now I'm starting to get my money back at least a little bit. Of course now I'm stuck with the guitar too. Can't ask the guy for a trade-back without the synth pickup.

Next day I finally have a little more time and go plug the guitar into my sweet little Vox AC15 amp and holy crap the scratchiness of the knobs and pickup selector switch is so loud it sounded like nails on a chalkboard. The jack was fine at least. Then I realize the neck pickup is super microphonic and the bridge pickup is really weak. This just keeps getting better, doesn't it?

I got curious at this point about the headstock and why it was scraped up a little. I did a few Google searches and find a forum over at the Telecaster forum (which is fantastic by the way...not just for Teles...really knowledgeable guys) that basically informs me that my guitar used to have a little bitty decal on the end that said "Squier Series." What is interesting, but hard to explain when you are trying to sell something, is that this guitar is basically a regular Fender that was made in the Mexico factory back 1994...the first year of Tele production there. From what I understand, and feel free to correct me as you always do, Fender wasn't completely sure how the quality was going to turn out and they didn't want to go ahead and put just the Fender name on these guitars in case they sucked. So they added a little "Squier Series" decal on the end of the headstock. Once they figured out that the quality was great, they changed it for the following year and made them straight up Fenders. So my guitar is basically a Made in Mexico Fender guitar...but technically...and really only technically...it's a Squier. Ah crap. Try explaining that to a potential buyer...he's going to shake his head and say "oh sure, it's a Fender...wink, wink." [NOTE: I have since found this to be incorrect. These guitars are definitely Fenders, not Squiers. I apologize for the original error.]

Okay, so I should wrap this story up. The truth is that the guitar is a great guitar. Neck feels fantastic and it plays really well. It's set up perfectly. So I think I'm just going to keep it and upgrade the pickups and clean out the pots and switches and get everything working perfectly. And it's going to be a great guitar. Heck, maybe I'll put a Bigsby on it! I didn't mention that these mid-'90s Telecasters from Mexico have a toploader bridge on them...some people are not fans and others are big fans. I like them just fine, but since there are no string holes through the body, I think that makes this a great candidate for a Bigsby. Genius! I'll keep you posted on the progress of this guitar. I think all in all it's a keeper!


Alex said...

Hey, Jaimie. I used to own a black-logo '95 Fender Strat Squier Series. After getting a '95 Fender catalog and doing some detective work, I foundd out that the black-logo Squier Series and silver-logo Fender Mexicos were made at the same time. The big difference is the single-layer pickguards, stamped tuning gears, and generally cheaper electronics and hardware. The bodies and necks are pretty much the same quality, so they're fine as is or great platforms for modding or upgrading. My own Squier Series Mexican Fender went through new tuners, pickguard, and a number of pickups while I had it.

Spare Parts and Pics said...

Great story... guitar work like this is a fun hobby, but sure hard to make $$ at it.

Mike Long said...

I don't consider the Squier Series guitars to be Fender Squiers. It is as in the earlier comment, a Fender made in Mexico, also yours being a "Black Label" Telecaster. I have one and love the guitar. I have added John Baxter Pickups(see this on FB). I think you did just great on your trade.

Anonymous said...

The Fender 'Squier Series' has absolutely nothing to do with the 'Squier' by Fender budget guitars. They are FENDER guitars full stop. It was just a bit silly of Fender to call them 'Squier Series' when they had a budget range called 'Squier'. If you sand the 'Squier Series' off the headstock then you are actually decreasing the value of the instrument because these models are becoming quite collectible!