17 March 2015

My custom Southern Belle Guitars' Strato is here!


One day many months ago, I was viewing some demo video about a new set of pickups that David Allen was releasing. Such pickups were mounted in a guitar that sounded really killer. It was a Southern Belle Guitars' Cabronita (Tele).

Just discussing about it with David, He said me that those guitars were fantastic and, that He wanted to buy a couple for his store and, asked me I was interested on having a guitar from them. Well, some days after, He introduced me to Morgan Mitcham, who runs Southern Belle Guitars. I justed wanted to know if She could make some kind of hot rodded Strato to my specifications and, since She had no issues, we had an agreement.

If it's difficult to see a woman playing electric guitars, it's even more difficult to know a woman that works building guitars !!!. That made the decision even more interesting to me.

4 or 5 months since I've ordered Her, 1 more month in Customs clearing and, half month for the final setup. Was a looooong waiting time and, when her finally came home I had a mix of feelings: exciting because her was here and, worried... would her sound that good?, worthed her the time and money?. I made some risky decision, would her be comfortable?.

My specifications

I wanted the following:

  • Mapple neck and fretboard
  • Compound radius (9.5" - 14")
  • Soft-V neck profile
  • Strato body with a beveled neck pocket, for easier access to lower frets
  • Cherry Burst color
  • Perloid pickguard
  • Black knobs and pickup covers
  • Staggered locking tuning keys, Schaller, preferently (as the Fender Deluxe Strato)
  • Fender Deluxe floating bridge or alike (Ultra Strat bridge).
  • My own wiring design, with an S-1 switch/pot
  • Bone nut
  • Absolutely not micro-tilt system
  • Preserve the purest strato sound, choosing the woods
Morgan guided me about the finishing (satinated nitro) and, presented several options, during our agreements.

What I wanted is to preserve the good things of a Fender Deluxe Strato and, to fix the things that I don't like so much.
By example, the soft-V neck provides just the right amount of extra wood, compared to a modern C-shaped neck, to add body and resonance to the instrument.
The beveling of the neck pocket of the Deluxe is of help but, not enough to my taste.
I don't like the LRS nut, because I find it as adding to much hi end, and giving a very metallic touch to the sound.
I don't like the micro-tilt system, because it creates a dumb area around frets 14-17 and, strings 2 to 5, that kill the sustain of the notes. The carved area and that metallic mechanism kills the overall sustain and, very specially affects to mentioned frets.
I find that a good bone nut makes the attack more snappy, something I like.
Maybe the color cannot be a key decision respect of sound, but I never liked any of the colors that Fender released for Deluxe Stratos and, I particularly love that Cherry Burst.

David Allen was going to provide a set of Furys (think on Robin Thrower) for this axe but, maybe we didn't clarified this point to Morgan so, the axe came with a set of Dovers (which are one of the best sets of DA Pickups).

Opening the box

The guitar came with neck and body separated. This is an overall look of the neck and fretboard. The fretwork was perfect (well leveled, sanded and crowned). The touch of the satinated nitro was really good, as suggested by Morgan.
A detail of the nut and peghead. Morgan decide to make the nut of Tusq, since She considers that Stratos sound better with such a material. I still want to check the sound with a bone nut. Maybe, I will come back to tusq, who knows it!.

And, this is an overall view of the body. That Cherry Burst looked killer, among the rest of components.

And, here a detail of the special shape of the neck pocket and area around, which allows a better access to low frets.

Testing sound and feeling

The guitar plays like a dream and, the sound is perfect. Her has a nice resonance, body and sustain and, bell-like sounds that are a pleasure. Compared with an Eric Johnson model I've tested in a Store, is maybe 3 steps over and, compared to the moded Deluxes I and my friend own, is a couple of steps over.

One of the things that firstly called my attention was her weight. She is surprisingly lighter than any other Strato I've ever tested. Maybe the wood has more open cells, I dunno.

Since I was experimenting D'Addario NYXL1046 strings for a couple of months in my Deluxe, and loved the results, that's the set of strings I've mounted in this axe, as well. I find this NY series as having more tuning stability and, third and second strings seem more consistently sounding.

I wanted that my fellow friend Robert Tirado make the demo of this axe, because this man has a magical touch that can get everything from an axe and, this axe owe it. I was just hearing the guitar, which is a more objective way of analyzing the sound.

My other fellow friend, Alex Tirado, brother of the former one, was the luthier doing the final setup, before the demo / test.  I wanted to make the test with my regular gig.

Robert went first demoing the typical five strato positions, from neck to bridge, in clean.
After we heard really excited all the bells, we wanted to see if the guitar was able to aggressively roar and, we tested it with a high gain configuration. Total craziness!. The sound was hitting hard our guts and, there was a really nice feedback effect; not uncontrolled whistles but, a really nice feedback effect.
Finally, Robert improvised over some backing tracks. The video has just two of the many that were played that day.

After I was fully satisfied with what I've heard, it was my time but, nothing was recorded then. This will be my #1 from now so, any new video will be made with this axe (if a Strato is involved).

This is the video...

And the Gear...

The amp is a Fender '59 Bassman LTD, with a retrofitting set from Watford Valves, that includes a couple of NOS JAN/Philips 6L6 (well, in fact, they are 5881) tubes. The two lower stock Jensen P10R speakers where swapped with a couple of Celestion Gold. Here you are the settings:

And, here an overall view of the pedalboard:

The gain section is absolutely new. The three Bogner's and the Lovepedal Kalamazoo make a killer combination. I will probably swap the position of the Kalamazoo with the Harlow but, alone or combined these pedals rock hard !.

And here, the settings for each individual pedal, so you don't need to ask.


  1. Looks and sounds fantastic!

  2. That's an awesome rig, mate. Sounds great. And the blog rocks. Thanks a lot for everything you show in it.


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