Nov 092018

Billy Nvlay’s sonic capabilities should match Brian Mays “Red Special” relatively closely. But the Red Special has 24 frets and a 24″ scale length, whereas the Stratocaster kit has 21 frets and a 25.5″ scale length. Maybe I’m overcomplicating things, but I think that the pickups should be in similar positions below the strings to produce a similar result. So how might that work?


I’ve got the “Brian May’s Red Special” book which came out in 2014; unfortunately, while being a cherished book for the wealth of details around the build and restoration, it doesn’t contain arcane details like a construction plan with measurements. So I fetched my BMG Special and took measurements on that one; it should be the closest to the real “Old Lady” that I’ll ever get. And it’s also the one I’m going to compare the result to, so presumably it’s the best source anyway. I measured from the zero fret; here’s the results I got:

Center Neck Pickup 487.5 mm
Center Middle Pickup 534 mm
Center Bridge Pickup 581 mm

To match that to the Stratocaster kit, and to its body, some conversions are needed. Since the scale length is different, the positions have to be multiplied by (25.5 / 24), giving the following table, measured from the nut, since the Stratocaster has no zero fret:

Center Neck Pickup 518 mm
Center Middle Pickup 567.5 mm
Center Bridge Pickup 617 mm

Now let’s transfer that to the body; the end of the neck pocket starts at 468 mm from the nut, so subtract 468 mm from the above values:

Center Neck Pickup 50 mm
Center Middle Pickup 99.5 mm
Center Bridge Pickup 149 mm

Now let’s look whether that matches the existing cavities in the body … of course not. Oh well, the Tri-Sonic pickups are larger than the normal single coils, so I’d have to go the router route anyway. But – there’s a space constraint here that I’d rather not change, since it might reduce the stability otherwise. The Stratocaster Kit has holes for a Vintage Tremolo bridge, i.e., 6 screw holes; these start at 172 mm from the end of the neck pocket. Routing the neck pickup cavity according to the above measurements would require a hole going up to 162 mm, leaving only 10 mm of wood before the tremolo screws start. Maybe that’s enough, but I don’t want to risk it, so I’ll move the bridge and middle pickups a bit so that the bridge pickup better fits the existing cavity:

Center Neck Pickup 50 mm
Center Middle Pickup 97 mm
Center Bridge Pickup 144 mm

That should still be close enough to the original positions, since the Tri-Sonics pick up a larger area of the string anyway.

Assuming that the pickguard starts flush with the neck pocket, I can transfer these measurements to it as well. So here‘s the layout Billy Nvlay’s pickuard is presumably going to have. Quite a deviation from the normal Stratocaster layout, of course … but it should come close to the Red Special.

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 Posted by at 11:56 am

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