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I know some folks like these chipguards but to me it looks like fender has been doing something awful to accordions. Then I came across the Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard and realized that I could get better sound and better looks all at once.
Click image to enlarge

Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard

A simple, cost-effective hop-up for my used Fender Standard Stratocaster®

Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz

Posted – 11-9-2012

I used Stewart-MacDonald Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups when I built my Super Guitar and love them so when I wanted to hop up my Fender Standard Stratocaster® going back to Stewart-MacDonald was a no-brainer. Especially when I noticed that they offered the Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard, a ready-to-use assembly that replaces the factory chipguard and electronics.

The Basics

The Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard comes with their Golden Age single coil pickups that they wind in house to vintage specs using 42 AWG coil wire. These pickups feature staggered Alnico 5 polepieces to bring out that classic tone plus a hot bridge pickup that they claim adds punch to the sound the Fender Standard Stratocaster® makes. I would find out later that they were dead on right here.
The pickup specs are: Neck – South polarity, 6.0K, Middle = North polarity, 6.0K and Bridge = South polarity with 7.6K. Of course just packing aggressive pickups into a Fender Standard Stratocaster® could lead to other problems but Stewart-MacDonald thought of that.

The pickguard itself is .100" thick and has conductive shielding applied to the underside to help fight hum and other extra noises being picked up. They also hand wire the pickups and controls using high-end 22 AWG vintage-style push-back wire.

The controls and switch are also top shelf. They install 3 250K-ohm CTS control pots, a CRL 5-way lever switch, a special Capacitor, new factory-appearing knobs and a mono Switchcraft output jack. You do have to supply your own pickguard mounting screws.

The Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard comes loaded (left) with great pickups, pots and wiring all ready to go. They had a black chipguard (right) so I cold continue my black-out Strat project as well>
Click images to enlarge

Before installing the Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard I set my Peavey ValveKing® 112 Amp up with the tone controls neutral in both channels and then left everything including the volumes and gain as they are set. I recorded a little playing with the old pickups and will return after the new installation to play the Peavey ValveKing® 112 Amp again at the exact same settings to try and quantify the change.

Installation

When I saw the Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard cost just a little more than the individual components I decided that this made sense. It also made the installation way faster. I did have to replace the tremolo spring claw ground wire with the tail supplied and the included output jack needed to be soldered to the provided wires. Other than that screwing the new Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard in place was the major effort!

I did take the time to check my string setup and the height of the pickups. They came pretty close to right but I did tweak all three pickups to get the clearances to exactly what I had been using. I wanted to start at the old setting even though I was reasonably sure changing those dimensions might be needed after I started playing the new pickups. One of the points of this review was to compare the old pickups to the new ones in the Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard so we started with everything set up the same way.

Plugged In

I plugged the newly configured Fender Standard Stratocaster® into the Peavey ValveKing® 112 Amp, still adjusted like when I did the base line and the first thing I had to do was turn the amp down a little. Having more volume was not a surprise after my earlier experience with their Parsons Street Humbuckers. I also noticed that I had a much fuller tone, more bottom end, more middle and a brighter high end that sounded like real notes and with no hint of tin.

The Stewart-MacDonald 5-position switch has positive detents and is very quiet with no pops or static when operated. I ran through all 5 settings and while the Fender Standard Stratocaster® tone is still there it is cleaner and more full-bodied.
I cranked the gain up in the Lead channel on the Peavey ValveKing® 112 Amp and the Fender Standard Stratocaster® responded way better than before. I wound up having to back the gain off a little to clean up the distortion to my liking. I also noticed that hitting pinch harmonics was easier now with the pickups picking up so much better. I know that the new Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard won’t make me a real pro but I do sound better to me and that makes me want to play more which should let me get better eventually.

Video Tour

Conclusions

The Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard was the best dollar-for-dollar investment I have made in my Fender Standard Stratocaster®. The sound is markedly improved and response has stepped up to where pinch harmonics are no longer impossible! (For me) The bridge pickup has a much fuller tone than the standard one as well as more volume from all three of the Stewart-MacDonald pickups.

This Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard cost me just over $203.95 (11-8-2012) but remember that includes the pickguard, pickups, first-class switch and wire. Not bad at all for what I got and the work this outfit saved me. Most important though is I really like playing the Fender Standard Stratocaster® and the sound I can make with it.

Visit the Stewart-MacDonald Golden Age Hotwired Pickguard web page – Click Here

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