Custom Guitar Workshop ST-2: A Great Strat Copy For Dirt Cheap!

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Here’s a couple of pics of my Custom Guitar Workshop (CGW) ST-2 HSS (Humbucker, Single Coil, Single Coil) Strat copy. I picked up this little ripper about 8 months ago for $129 AU + $39 AU postage from eBay at http://stores.ebay.com.au/AUSTRALASIA-MUSIC-WORKSHOP

It was advertised as a fully-loaded body with a free neck. It was definitely not from the top of the pile as, this guitar did have some cosmetic blemishes – a pretty sloppy job was done on the internal routing – in fact it looked quite ugly inside. There was also a heap of polishing compound left in the interior – which has subsequently been cleaned out. The headstock had no CGW decal and the neck finish had not been polished. There was also a few frets right up the top of the fretboard that were not filed down enough and created some dead spots while playing past the 15th fret. I can’t really complain though, as I didn’t pay much for it and everything could be fixed with a bit of work.

The basic sound of the instrument was also very impressive when I first plugged it in – I use to own a 1995 Fender Standard Strat and I could tell right away that this ST-2 had potential to really sound great. Here are the specs for the ST-2 from Custom Guitar Workshop’s website. Note: that the body is described as being pine but I suspect it could actually be basswood, just based on the listing info I had from Australasia Music Workshop on eBay when I bought it:

Guitar Specs

Body: White Pine
Neck: Hard Maple
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Inlays: MM Pearl Dot
Bridge: Vintage Tremolo
Finish: Black
Machines: Wilkinson Factory
Bridge Pickup: GFS Alnico 5
Neck Pickup: GFS ’64 Staggers
Overwound
Controls: Single Volume
Two Tone,
5 way selector switch.
Scale: 25 1/2″

see this for more info:http://www.customguitarworkshop.com/

Anyway, the pickups in this guitar from the Guitar Fetish Site (GFS) are freakin’ awesome. Check out:
http://store.guitarfetish.com/pickups.html

The humbucker is hotter than a PAF-type but nothing like a super-distortion humbucker (i.e., SD Invader, Dimarzio etc). It really barks at higher gain settings but has excellent clarity with a nicely defined top end. It’s probably the most balanced humbucker I’ve played through – hot but not too hot. It is also very well matched with the two single coils, as there is no great volume inbalance when you switch between the three pickups. The other two single coils are very Fender sounding and are truly worthy of boutique status. The sounds are, in my opinion, 100% Stratocaster.

The tremolo does not have a full sized steel block, but it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen/heard on an Asian Strat copy – sustain is actually pretty good. I may replace the block with a drop in unit from the Guitar Fetish Site at some point in the future. But I’m in no real hurry because the on board tremolo is very nice indeed for a Korean unit.

I did a reasonable amount of work on the ST-2 to bring it up my standards. I first polished the back of the neck with Micro-mesh sanding pads, just because it was a little rough and my hand was gripping on it when playing horizontally across the neck. After the polishing job it’s now nice and shiny and my left hand slides across it easily. I also filed down and then reshaped some frets – from the around the 16th to the 21st. The 19th to the 21st needed the most work. While I was at it I also dressed and polished all the frets with a multi-grit nail file and some fine Micro-mesh pads.

Furthermore, I took the time to shield and rewire the guitar – this all but eliminated the nasty single-coil hum. You can often hear this on Strat-style guitars when you take your hands off the strings – the guitar will emit a dirty type of sound which suddenly disappears when you put your hands back on the strings. There is a great website where you can learn about how to shield a Strat right here:
http://www.guitarnuts.com/wiring/shielding/shield3.php Even USA Fender Strats usually don’t have proper shielding and this is a great way to quieten down some of the background hum which can actually mask some of your guitar’s faint harmonics while playing. If you can use a soldering iron, have some heavy duty aluminum foil and some contact adhesive (or even PVA [white] glue) hanging around you can do this job – it’s even easier on a Telecaster-type guitar. Guitars with with humbuckers only don’t really require shielding as badly as single coil equipped axes – just because humbuckers are quite by design. Anyway, the net result, after I had completed the shielding, was a much quieter guitar with less background noise.

Although the ST-2 came to me with 3 springs I tried it for a while with just two springs in the tremolo block, ala K.K Downing or Jimi Hendrix, but it was just a tad loose (I set my trems to float), so I put the extra spring back in there. This actually dramatically improved the tone – it seems to be helping transfer more sound to the body. I also set up the springs so they run horizontal rather than in the stock triangle formation which often leads to tuning problems in my opinion.

After a bit of work this guitar has really turned into a great sounding workhorse that really does sound very Fenderish. Played on the clean channel of my amps with middle and/or neck pickups I can get all those sweet Hendrixy clean sounds. Played dirty with the Humbuckers I can dial in Eddie Van Halen-type high gain tones. Oh yeah, I play this guitar quite a lot. It also feels pretty good across the neck now – thanks to a bit of fret filing. I still can’t believe the price I paid for it – less than 10% of the Fender Standard I bought for $1795 in 1996. Sure the Fender was better but it wasn’t 90% better than the ST-2.

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