An Introduction to Partscasters, Frankensteins and Six-String Surrealism

Many partscasters, also known as Frankenstein guitars, begin innocently enough with a simple bridge humbucker replacement. But there are many reasons to build out from there, like being a broke musician, earning bragging rights for “rolling your own” and the easy availability of low-cost, high-quality parts.

Whatever your reason, “Frankensteining” a guitar is a legitimate activity for those of us who rate a guitar’s sound and playability over it being brand or era “correct.” Great projects can grow from a single spare pickup or home-built body, so why not give it a shot?

The Frankenstein Guitar Concept

Most guitarists have a basic guitar that they’ve retired in favor of a better model. Often worth more in sentimental value, its monetary value therefore can’t be diminished by the modifications. This old favorite would get more play if only … the neck was more Jackson-esque, or the single coil in the bridge position was a humbucker, or that trashy bridge was replaced with a hardtail or a decent floating tremolo … You get the idea.

Upgrading your guitar to a deluxe-o version is not what I’m proposing here, and 5150 or 1983 Van Halen Frankenstrats are another issue entirely. Build info for those is in ready supply elsewhere. What we’re after is a legit, garage-built DIY hybrid.

The consensus holds that the body and neck should be of different lineage to remain true to the Frankenstein concept. Strat-type guitars are the most common, as set-neck SG or LP style guitars do not take kindly to neck replacements. And, while there are many ways to achieve good results, a custom or home-built body with a factory neck is not unusual.

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From the Neck up

Cheaper guitars aren’t known for having the highest-quality necks, and on older guitars, the frets may be pitted out after years of loyal service. Either way, these monsters frequently need a straight, well-fretted bolt-on neck. Here are some basic considerations:

  • If you’re going to want a string lock (locking nut), the sensible option is to buy a locknut-ready neck. Alternatively, fitting a string lock above the nut isn’t difficult, assuming you have the time and the tools.
  • Check the scale length of your guitar body to ensure the neck is correct, or you’ll be shifting the neck mounting position or relocating the bridge to suit the scale. All you have to do is measure the distance from the front edge of the nut to the center of the 12th fret, which should equal the distance from the center of the 12th fret to the bridge. Generally, Fender-type guitars have a 25-½-inch scale; Gibson-type guitars generally have a 24-¾-inch scale, but there are exceptions.
  • Surgery on the body to make the neck fit should be minimal, and not cutting is the ideal.
  • To get the best fit between the neck and body, consider the placement of the mounting screws, the width and depth of the neck at its base, and the angle of neck/body joint before you buy.

Depending on your skill level, all of these issues can be resolved. But know in advance and plan accordingly in terms of your time, budget and tools. If you’re unsure about your choices, you might want to consult a guitar tech or luthier before the mating process, as a mismatch can result in bad harmonics, tuning and intonation.

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Swapping Out Bridges, Tremolos and Hardware

You’ll soon want a want a more-stable tremolo or bridge to match your neck upgrade. High-quality plug-and-play Tune-O-Matic and Strat type bridges are readily available.

Or, you can try to do it on the cheap with better springs, mounts and tremolo blocks. Better yet, you can get weird with something alternative. Check out the range of options from Vision Guitar, The Music Zoo, HDCustom Guitar Supply, or The STRATosphere all of which are on Reverb.

Though the need to dive bomb has faded since the heyday of hair metal, mounting a Floyd Rose-style tremolo is considered quintessential Frankensteining, and there are options to suit the budget minded to whom the benefits of micro tuning and string locks still make sense.

  • Floyd Rose makes excellent quality tremolo systems and may even add some resale value to your project. They’re readily available and include the spare-parts and service you’d expect if you bought new.
  • A recent release is the FRX tremolo, which is a straight replacement for a Gibson-type Tune-O-Matic Bridge, so that SG clone body with the bolt-on-neck may have potential after all.
  • For the budget minded, Gotoh produces a reputable product and some parts dealers have new-old-stock replacement bridges for reasonable prices.
  • Used Items include high-end licensed Floyds from companies like Jackson and (US) BC Rich, but you’ll need to use your own resources to find guitar dismantlers or locate cheap complete guitars, sold by the ignorant and untalented, and remove the bridge.
  • Hard-tail bridges are simple and easily installed on most bodies; try HDCustom.
  • On the subject of alternative bridges, a Bigsby trem might be an interesting option, though a Jaguar or Jazzmaster style is going to require a considerable amount of precision routing.

Selecting Pickups for your Partscaster

Many will argue that an Alnico humbucker is the only one to install in the bridge position, but there are too many brilliant pickups out there to ignore whilst Frankensteining – you might even have a few laying around from previous projects. When it comes to Frankensteining, it all comes down to buyer preference and budget, so don’t be afraid to take chances with these easily-undone modifications.

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DiMarzio, Seymour Duncan and all of the major guitar manufacturers have excellent products available, so try a few guitars and buy the pickup that best suits your sound. Buy good pots and wiring for your pickup, even if you’re replacing just a single dial. The inexperienced should look to getting the wiring finished professionally.

In Part two we’ll take a more in-depth look at prepping slightly-incompatible woodwork and some great effects from simple rattle-can paint, because a cheap spray job doesn't need to be a poor one!

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