Guitar Project #2: Fender ‘Billy Corgan’ tribute Stratocaster (part 1)

Now for a guitar player most people will have heard about hahaha. Billy Corgan is known as the (lead) guitarist and vocalist of the group the Smashing Pumpkins. Emerging from the late 80s dreampop/indie scene the Pumpkins mixed 70s arena rock with shoegaze, heavy metal and psychedelic elements. Billy Corgan’s guitar sound is very easily recognizable, particularly his intense lead tone (for example: ‘Cherub Rock’ or ‘Hummer’). Which reminds me I still need a good Big Muff pedal…

Credit where credit is due, all members of the Smashing Pumpkins were talented individuals in their own right (yes, even D’arcy!). James Iha is an incredibly talented guitar player, even while he was sometimes overshadowed by Corgan in the Pumpkins. Jimmy Chamberlin is still one of my favorite drummers. His jazzy style and fills helped make the sound of band so different and unique even to this day. D’arcy Wretzky’s bass lines were sometimes unexpectedly groovy for some songs (in a positive way), her bass playing was always solid and locked in with Chamberlin. Check out this live performance from the Pumpkins at Pinkpop ’94 and witness how tight and dynamic they were as a band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmSlGFuS7oQ

This Stratocaster is loosely based on the Strats Corgan used in the early and mid 90s with the Pumpkins. Corgan favored several 70s Strats with Lace Sensor pickups during this period. He also used a ’57 sunburst AVRI, again equipped with Lace Sensors. I will be using Lace Sensor pickups as well, but not quite what Corgan was using. Also the electronics will feature some extra bonuses to ‘upgrade’ the standard Stratocaster wiring, more on that later.

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Like the ‘Ronald Jones’ Jaguar it’s missing a few crucial parts, mainly the neck. Good thing Strat necks aren’t hard to come by, at least compared to finding the right Jag neck… more on that later. The body is perfect for this project, the psychedelics just ooze from that groovy etching. It’s not an original Fender body but a homemade ash one. According to the guy who sold it it is from the 70s which would explain the whole hummingbird/floral-themed etching. At least it’s from the same period as Corgan’s Strats. The wood grain is quite beautiful so I want a nice transparent lacquer, but I haven’t gotten around to finish it yet. Plus natural lacquer is something I strongly associate with the 70s. It is also a two-piece body, normally pretty pricey on most guitars. Originally my brother bought this body and he routed an extra cavity under the pickups, which was done very crudely with a drill. Since then I have tried to clean it up by properly routing the cavity. The body was/is quite heavy for a Strat (probably because it’s ash), so the back has been sanded down quite a bit. The cavity also relieves some of the weight though.

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The pickups are a ‘set’ of vintage Lace Sensors pickups from the late 80s, a ‘Dually Red-Red’ bridge, ‘Gold’ middle and ‘Blue’ neck pickup. The person who sold these pickups claimed they were from a Stratocaster Ultra, but I don’t believe this to be true. They are definitely from the late 80s but no way from the same guitar or an Ultra for that matter. Not that I care, I bought them for a fair price. Black covers were never used on Ultras, only white ones. On the front the neck and middle pickups are stamped ‘AGI’, the company who produced these for Lace, while the bridge humbucker is labelled ‘Fender Lace Sensor’. The pickups made for Fender where labelled like the latter example the AGI ones were sold directly from Lace in the late 80s. Likely the humbucker came from a Telecaster Plus and the other pickups were from a different guitar(s).

Corgan used a set of ‘Red’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Blue’ single coil Lace Sensors, so mine aren’t exactly what he used. The ‘Gold’ middle pickup is more akin to a 50s Stratocaster while a ‘Silver’ has a hotter output comparable to a 70s one. Other changes I’ll be adding is a three-way toggle for the humbucker to switch between both coils or combine them, just like on a Telecaster Plus. The second tone pots on Stratocasters have always seemed pretty useless to me. CTS makes a handy gizmo called a ‘Blender’ pot. This pot can be installed to replace the second tone pot. When it’s turned all the way up clockwise it is taken out of the circuit (no-load). If you turn it counter-clockwise it will blend in certain pickups depending on the five-way pickup selector. In position 1 and 5 it will add the neck (or bridge) pickup with the bridge (or neck) pickup like on a regular Telecaster, normally impossible on a Stratocaster. Likewise in position 2 and 4 it allows you to turn on all pickups! I have high hopes from this wiring and love to hear all the possible combinations, also with the added three-way bridge toggle.

In the coming few weeks I’ll try to finish the Stratocaster (get it?), so I’ll only be needing a neck. The electronics are a challenge but compared to the Jaguar it will likely be a breeze. Very glad all the electronics are working properly on the Ronald Jones Jag, it was a pain to wire. I am still looking for a neck for the Jaguar, haven’t given up just yet. If anyone has a (vintage) Jaguar, Mustang, Musicmaster, Bronco or even a Jag-Stang neck for sale contact me! Preferably in the Netherlands though.

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