Fender Squier Upgrades:
Fender Squier upgrades are a very popular guitar forum topic, yet Squier's receive quite mixed reviews from both the industry and guitarists alike. Clearly their pricing compared to a 'real' Strat (I'm leaving aside Squier Teles in this blog) implies a more budget instrument. Yet its probably the instrument that starts off many a players career / hobby. When the original Japanese built Squier's began to be imported into America (fall of 1983), they became an instant success, the fact they were almost half the price of a regular Strat ($369 compared to $699)no doubt a big factor. A quote of the time (taken from 'The Fender Stratocaster' by A.R. Duchossoir) states that; "It (Squier) didn't have any features likely to interfere with the sale of American models", yet the humble Squier probably saved Fender financially in 1985. Since their inception Squier Strat's have gone through many model variants and new countries of origin. But the basic no nonsense formula has remained, perfect for Fender Squier upgrades.
So I'll start off by saying that I am not trying to say the materials and finish of a Squier matches an American standard. But they are potentially 'mechanically' excellent budget instruments. In fact, as the prices they are now fetching shows, original Japanese and Korean manufactured Squier's are quite highly prized. Ironstone Pickups actually began in business building Gilmour Black Strat 'tributes' based on mid-90's MIK Squiers. Some of the nicest maple on maple necks I have ever seen.
Fender Squier upgrades: Pickups So lets begin with the pickups, the heart of any guitar's tone. As a primary product differentiation for Fender, Squier's are typically supplied as stock with ceramic magnet pickups, typically of quite low windings. I have come across examples down in the 4kOhm range, which coupled to the ceramics is a recipe for thin, brittle tone. So I would argue that an upgrade to an Alnico magnet based pickup is a major upgrade step towards getting vintage tone out of a Squier. And that's exactly what the Ironstone Strat pickup range (all Alnico V) are designed to do. For more technical detail of pickup construction, check out the Ironstone page; Electric Guitar Pickups Explained
Whichever Ironstone (or other brand!) Alnicos you go for, you are after a fatter, warmer less shrill tone than the stock pickups. The full Ironstone Stratocaster pickup range includes the; Silvers Golds Platinums Hybrids And check out the sound clips pages too; Sound Clips
Fender Squier Upgrades; Electrics It is not always necessary to change / upgrade the basic guitar electronics when replacing pickups. But in the case of Squiers, particularly older ones it is advisable. My personal recommendation value wise for Stratocaster configurations is 250kOhm Log / Audio style potentiometers for all 3 volume and tone controls, along with a 22nF (0.022uF) capacitor. This combination gives a very smooth tone sweep rather than the somewhat 'on / off' that is the result of other values & styles. I am deliberately focusing on the values rather than the brand; there is already plenty on the web claiming brand A capacitors sound so much better than brand B etc etc. Wire quality is another hot forum topic (Ironstone use shielded audio wire for the pickup connection for example), but in truth the quality of the soldering is just as important. Practise first if you are new to soldering! For detailed information check out the Ironstone page; Guitar Potentiometers and Capacitors
Whilst not strictly part of the 'electrics', no single coil pickup upgrade (especially Fender Squier upgrades) advice would be complete without a mention of guitar shielding. There are 2 main strategies for removing noise from a single coil pickup, shielding and cancelling. Shielding is normally an effective way of minimising Buzz, but it cannot effectively remove Hum. For information on wiring and shielding see; Electric Guitar shielding Guitar Pickup Wiring