Pictures of my first (2011) Astrocaster:
The Astrocaster is by no means a ‘Teye’ guitar!
The MODEL is a well-known, no, WORLD-FAMOUS electric guitar that in the hands of a well-known player (yes JIMI)(whom we all love!) sounded extraordinarygood, and somehow I was never able to coax those same GLORIOUS sounds out of a ‘regular’ version of that world-famous guitar. OF COURSE the TONE of this perhaps GREATEST of all guitarists was IN HIS HANDS, his ENORMOUS TALENT and his COUNTLESS HOURS ON THE INSTRUMENT. But I always felt that SOMEHOW it also had to do with my HERO playing on a flipped-over guitar! Then there was/is another player (Doyle Bramhall II of Austin, Texas) who achieved (and keeps achieving) extraordinary great SOUNDS from that same model guitar, and again I simply never could. Both these magical players share the same trait (they both play/played extremely well, AND they both are/were Left-handed players, our hero of the 1960’s simply turned a regular production guitar over, playing it left-handed, and the other, our hero from Austin Texas played a left-handed guitar left-handed, but he strung it upside-down, so for the specific observation, he plays the world-famous guitar model as if it were upside down too! Doyle’s guitar if you will is double-flipped!
What do I mean by all this? The Stratosphere-caster is by no stretch of the imagination a symmetrical guitar:
- The bridge pickup is mounted at a serious slant, making the treble strings extra-trebly by picking them up closer to the bridge where they sound extra-snarly, and the bass strings slightly more bassy by virtue of that same slant angle. Now this design DOES make for a wider sound range, but it also means that both Jimi and Doyle’s incredible Bridge Pickup Tone cannot be obtained by the regular model.
- The headstock of the production guitar is such that the treble strings face a long stretch between nut and tuner, making them more ‘loose’ in sound, while the bass strings hit the tuner buttons almost immediately behind the guitar’s bone nut. If you look at other musical instruments, the piano, or a jazz guitar, the bass strings and treble strings are proporioned exactly the other way around. Now when you flip that specific guitar around (like Jimi did) or string it upside-down (like Doyle) you reverse this ‘production-proportioning, as well as that bridge pickup slant angle. Now this has been known for a long time, but in my younger (pre-internet) years, I had to figure this out for myself. And later, just to satisfy a burning curiosity, I made a Left-Handed ‘Jimi’guitar for myself, played it upside-down, and voila! The sound (to my ears) simply was much better! Smoother trebles, tighter basses, but also an overall different response, a different resonance! I loved that guitar and called her the Astrocaster, obviously because that title sounded mirrored, but also as hommage to the song ‘Astro Man by Jimi Hendrix, with incredibly humorous lyrics (check ’em out sometimes. Hey, these now are the internet days and those lyrics are but a click away…!)
I loved my first Astrocaster but then… a potential buyer presented himself with a very generous offer, and sheer economics dictated that I sell her, which I did.
Blood being much thicker than water, I’ve built myself another Astrocaster! And this time, when enthusiastic potential buyers presented themselves, I’ve just made them new ones.
Now mind you, this guitar has all my (secret) tricks inside, all Stratopheric tricks that I have been putting inside this type of guitar since I modified a bunch for myself and for my friends back in those heady days of the 1980’s and 90’s. Now in no way am I involved with the original Stratocaster design! The guitar design is older than I am! That DESIGN is pure Leo Fender genius, and we all tip our hat to that man! But I have made several small but significant modifications, that were all inspired by either certain well-known shortcomings (like 60-cycle hum, a certain lack of output voltage of those skinny pickups, and the advantages of the flipping-over as demonstrated above)
Now, when you install a new sound-system in your car (or have someone install it for you) you significantly improve the car and the pleasure you can derive from it!, without actually claiming you designed or re-designed the car!
The pickups I have given my full ‘Teye’-treatment, giving them more clarily, more punch, more body AND more twang for the bridge pickup, and considerably less hum. I’ve mounted my own style volume control (which leaves the sound intact and buffers from whatever comes next) and made the Tone control a master Tone, active on all three pickups. In any case I needed the 3rd knob for that passive boost!
I’ve also added two micro-switches which (when thrown) add a passive boost button to coax more output signal without losing any of that Strat charm! Not unlike what I did on the Teye Gypsy Queen, which made our most critical dealer (Oz from the Austin Guitar House) exclaim: “It sounds like a Strat but so much BIGGER!” Mind you this is NOT by introducing pre-amps or boosters into the guitar, it is a purely passive boost, which trick I learned from my Father when I was 15 years old and looking for better Tones from my supercheap electric beginners guitar!
Attention to detail: shielding of thick and good quality, ALL of it connected to ground, but NONE of it creating a parralel short-circuit-coil to the (single coil!) pickups.
So what makes this so special and unusual?
Once, back in 1987, I visited the music store of my good friend and drummer Meindert: Rebel Music, who just received a box full of very cheap Stratocaster copies, of which one headstock was visible from where I was enjoying a cup of ‘Rebel’-coffee. Something told me to buy that specific guitar, which on a hunch I did. That evening (until late into the early hours of the morning) I took that pretty mediocre guitar apart and modified it extensively, modified the pickups with all my ‘Teye-tricks’, I modified the circuitry, made the neck more playable, re-assembled and re-greased the tuning machines, in short, ended up with a much better guitar which I subsequently used pretty heavily on stage and in the recording studio. Many friends liked the result so much that they also bought a similar guitar from Rebel Music, which I then modified.
In the end, I traded the pickups with a guitar student who agreed they sounded better than his ‘real’ Strat pickups which I then also modded to the ‘Teye’ way’, and even later I sold the guitar for an unheard of profit.
Therein lies the secret of my modifications, and this knowledge, combined with the in my conviction proven improvement of playing a Lefty upside-down, make for an incredible guitar.
One local fellow-musician commented as follows: “I play with many different guitarists, and to me this specific model of guitar sounds a bit ‘estridente’ (like a trident attacking your ears) while your Astrocaster sounds ‘cremoso’ (creamy)
This ‘creamy’ Tone, coupled with the strongly reduced hum, plus the possibility to add a passive boost, makes for a very usable version of this great classic design. The character of the ‘classic’ Tone has been preserved, but has been augmented with several benefits, and stripped of some well-known and universally recognized shortcomings.