Total makeover of a 1980s superstrat

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Who’s looking better now?

We go way back, me and the little superstrat. It has been more than 25 years that we met each other… we both look different now. Although it would be tempting to tell you that we both look better, the judging of ones looks is best left to others, in my opinion. And since I am the one writing this and not the guitar, I will restrict myself to telling you that at least the guitar looks better than 25 years ago 🙂
“Well how’s that?”, you may ask. Did it acquire such a beautiful patina then? Nope, it is simply because it used to be black and now has a transparent finish. See, I don’t really like black guitars… or black cars or black clothes or black coffee mugs (I do like my coffee black however). Right, so why did I buy a black guitar? Good question.



Electric Church

Me and my dad went to buy my first electric in 1989 or 1990 in my beloved native city of Leeuwarden. There was no internet yet and I didn’t have a clue how different guitars and amps would sound or play… also because I couldn’t play guitar yet! This would have to be the guitar that I would learn to play on. “But why learn guitar on an electric?”, some people had asked me, “any music teacher you ask will find an acoustic much more advisable”. Now, that was exactly what I didn’t have in mind. Learning to play classical tunes or campfire songs on an acoustic guitar from some boring teacher at the municipal music school. People, although of good intentions generally, really didn’t understand what this was all about. I totally didn’t care about acoustic guitars, let alone about classical music or learning campfire songs. This was about the ELECTRIC CHURCH! About leaving town, and try and be a magic boy, if you know what I mean. About being a Voodoo Chile, a Highway Chile!
… but first I would have to learn to play guitar…
Good thing I had, and still have, a firm belief in the human will. If I’d need to chop a mountain down with the edge of my hand, no problem! …but let’s first go back to me and my dad standing in this little music store called ‘The Music Store’.



Limited options

As my budget was pretty limited, the options quickly turned out pretty limited too. The salesman showed us two guitars I could afford while still leaving some money for an amp… both were black. One however had a cool Steve Vai-style grip routed through its body and a nice Floyd Rose type of bridge. Easy decision. As for the amp, we went for a package deal, combining the Cyclone superstrat (yes, it was a Cyclone) with a tiny Jackson Charvel solid state combo amp… probably I had no clue about the kind of amps that, for instance, Jimi Hendrix used.



Best Friends Forever?

Quickly, the Cyclone became my most loyal companion. When I left my parents’ home and started studying at Delft Technical University, I always brought it with me, travelling by bus and train and, despite its unpractically heavy case, walking quite long distances with it to and from the bus stop. The guitar’s portability was a real advantage over my drum kit; at  least I could always bring it with me! Later, when I switched studies and found better housing, the Cyclone went with me to Wageningen, together with the little amp and, this time, my drum kit too.
Over the years, I got to know the instrument and little amp better and better. Although I kept practicing, it turned out I wouldn’t be a front man or lead player as soon as I had expected. I was simply more in demand as a drummer and perhaps also too shy. Nevertheless, my house mates sometimes couldn’t hear whether the blues solos sounding from my room were from records or played by yours truly. Sure enough I could bend those strings and transfer my emotions through the instrument. The thing that lacked however, was knowledge of chord-scale relationships… what note to play over what chord? As I was satisfied playing drums in bands and didn’t really have the guts to play guitar on stage or in jam sessions, it would last more than 10 years before I would finally start getting it. Only then I started playing guitar in a big band and a rock band, and soon after bought my second guitar, an Epiphone Les Paul.



The makeover

Sadly, the Cyclone then ended up collecting dust in a corner… I felt that it had become a pretty unfashionable guitar, and by then its black finish had become covered with dents and scratches. At a certain point I thought about just getting rid of it… until, during my PhD research, I was looking for a DIY project. It suddenly occurred to me that I could refinish my faithful Cyclone! In the midst of winter, I spent quite some hours outside, because of the dust, sanding the guitar down to the bare wood. There were thick, thick layers of paint to be removed but I simply found it a good distraction from the PhD work. Much to my surprise, in the end, a nicely grained basswood surfaced. Japanese guitars from the 1980’s must have been of good quality, even budget models like my Cyclone!
Then, exciting, it was time to refinish the guitar. Ignoring any specialized products on the market, I simply bought a lacquer for wooden floors at the home depot, because of its alleged hardiness, and applied it with a brush. After having applied three layers, letting the lacquer dry after each application, the color seemed just right to me. After some more drying, I remounted the bridge and electronics and admired the Cyclone after its total makeover. But wait, one more thing… that pointed headstock… was not my thing. I decided to cut  a section off, and in hindsight I think that was the right decision. Also, I replaced the black humbucker with a chrome-plated one from my Epiphone Les Paul (I had replaced that one with a Seymour Duncan SH-55 Seth Lover pickup).



Back in business

After the total makeover, I love that Cyclone more than I ever did. It finally  has the looks that it deserves and sounds as great as always, with its excellent stock single-coil pickups that are, unlike strat-style guitars, directly mounted to the wood. It is my only guitar that boasts a fast 24-fret neck and a tremolo bar and I have always liked the simple but effective switching system, with one toggle switch for each pickup. I’m looking forward to many more years together!