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My two cents on setting up a Squier Vintage Modified Mustang

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 03, 2016 2:34 am    Post subject: My two cents on setting up a Squier Vintage Modified Mustang Reply with quote

To preface, I'm not a luthier so I encourage any corrections or suggestions. I would appreciate it if any luthiers out there confirmed or rejected what I have to say. I don't want to mislead anyone or give bad advice.

I've been setting up my own guitars for a few years now with good success. But to date they have been teles and other non-trem guitars. Here are some symptoms this vm mustang had when I bought it: buzzes, rattles, strings falling out of saddles, poor intonation, very noisy electronics. All these problems have been solved in my recent setup, without buying new parts or spending money. I'm still tweaking it, but overall it is a nice playable guitar.

I would bet there are a few of these VM Mustangs in closets gathering dust because of poor setup. Which is why I am writing this post. I can't say how well they are setup out of the factory because I bought mine second hand (serial number indicates 2012). But I can say whoever tried to set mine up before me, failed. If I had to guess why, it would be because they tried to get too low of an action out of a guitar that doesn't want to give it. They thought they could just lower the bridge, and lower the saddles, and be done with it. Nope. Not with this guitar. I do believe that very low action can be had out of this guitar if you want it, but my guess is that it would require a neck heel shim. (I'll touch on that later). However, my guitar is totally playable without resorting to a shim.

Most of what I have to say here are just random thoughts. I am not suggesting a particular order of how to set one up. Here goes:

1. The saddles, bridge, and tailpiece area

This area of the guitar will probably be your main area of focus. The bridge area is quirky. The challenge here is the angle of the strings between the saddles and the trem-tube thingy. This guitar MUST have enough "break" angle to provide proper downward pressure on the saddles. If there is not enough break angle you will get strings popping out of saddles and loose saddle-height screws, causing rattles, buzzes etc. You will also get poor "coupling", causing string buzzes and poor sustain.

The overall saddle height on the VM mustang is achieved by a combination of adjusting the individual saddles along with adjusting the height of the adjustable bridge. But wait, before you go raising your saddle height to get a nice break angle, know this: the height of the tube-trem thingy where the strings attach to is also adjustable. You don't need to remove the tailpiece to do it. Just loosen the strings a bit, and it will adjust with your allen wrench. My strong recommendation is to lower the tube as far as it will go, making sure to leave enough space for the strings to go through. It will make your trem stiff, but it gives you the most available break angle.

After you've lowered the trem-tube, then start adjusting your overall saddle height. There are some quirks you need to know about. The first is that you need to raise the individual saddles high enough so that the sloping string clears the back rim of the bridge housing. This is a MUST. You want as much downward pressure on the saddles as possible. If the string touches the bridge rim, then it will destroy your efforts to couple the tiny saddle-height screws with the bridge. (On that note: when you adjust the saddle height screws, make sure you feel with your allen wrench that there is equal pressure on both screws of each saddle. If one has too much pressure, that screw will "couple" great, but the other will not, and it may cause rattles.)

Another quirk is the bridge itself. The way the bridge couples to the guitar body is through the two adjusting screws (one on each end of bridge) whose respectful points rest on the bottom of a cylindrical cup that is inserted into the body. The bottom of the cylinder funnels to a point. The bridge screws rest firmly on this point. Because of this design, the bridge MUST be raised at least enough so that all the downward pressure on the bridge is transferred, via the bridge screws, to the bottom points of those cup inserts. So, DON'T just lower the bridge as far as it will go until the bottom of the bridge rests on the tops of those cup inserts. You should feel pressure on those screws with your allen wrench.

That brings me to the next bridge quirk, which is the way the bridge rocks on those points. It is designed to rock on those points when you use the trem. Before you set the intonation, you may want to push the bridge into the vertical, neutral position.

2. The nut. . . . I don't know that I want to get into this too much because it's not a VM mustang specific issue. If you are a beginner, know that a lot of people use heavier gauge strings on short scale guitars to tighten the feel and/or reduce buzzing. For me, nut height is mostly an issue of getting it as low as possible before it starts buzzing on open strings. Remember that string gauge is a factor here, as well as neck relief. Getting the slots low will better intonate your guitar around the first few frets, but you can only go as low as your neck relief, string gauge, and tolerance for open string buzz will allow you. Just remember that if you make it too low, you'll have your work cut out for you trying to raise it again. So lower the slots a little at a time.

3. String gauge. . . . Because most of the problems with this guitar relate to getting more pressure on those saddles, I think a heavier gauge string helps. Mine are set up with an "11" on the little E to a "49" on the big E. Just remember that you may need to adjust neck relief, as well as nut slot width for a heavier gauge. However, for some styles of music, you may want a looser feel in the strings, hence lighter gauge; I think you can accomplish that with this guitar, but it will be a little more difficult.

4. Intonation. . . . The intonation adjuster screws are tricky to use, especially after you lower the trem-tube because you can't fit a screw driver under it. I bent a small screw driver to make a right-angle screw driver.

5. Noisy electronics.

Besides the bridge/saddle situation, electronics were the other aspect of my guitar that needed the most attention. It was NOISY. Very noisy. I'm not talking about scratchy pots, those were fine. I'm talking about EMI or pickguard static, or both. Here is what I did to fix it. I can't tell you exactly what it was that fixed it, because I didn't make a single change at a time then test. I did it all at once, and when I put it back together, it was very quiet.

My cavities were painted with conductive paint, but the pickguard was totally unshielded. I shielded the back of the pickguard with aluminum foil stuck on with spray adhesive. When you screw the switches back on, the metal housing makes contact with the aluminum foil, grounding the pickguard.

As I said, the cavities were conductive painted, but only the control cavity paint was grounded. The way they did this at the factory was to over-paint a small section of the control cavity so that a little paint spilled onto the top of the guitar. When the metal control plate is screwed down, it makes contact with this spilled-over paint, grounding the control cavity shield. (I'm not sure they actually did this on purpose, but it works). However, this technique was not possible for the larger pickguard cavity because the factory pickguard was non-conductive. But if you shield the pickguard, you could easily apply the same technique. I couldn't do this because I didn't have conductive paint on hand. The next easiest thing would have been to use some copper tape, cutting and sticking a strip that connected the cavity to the top of the guitar. The part of the strip stuck to the top of the guitar would make conductive connection with the pickguard which is now grounded. But I didn't have copper tape and I was worried that if I glued aluminum, the glue would not conduct.

So, I used a small non-magnetic screw to clamp down a piece of wire connected to an aluminum "connector" against the surface of the cavity. I clamped it down right under the bridge pickup which is why I used non-magnetic materials. But it probably doesn't matter. I ran the wire through the hole to the control cavity and soldered the other end of the wire to the volume pot where all the other grounds are soldered.

Another thing I did was to twist the long run of two-wire going from the switches to the control cavity. I twisted from both ends. There was enough slack in the wires for me to do this. I also twisted the short section of two-wire from pots to jack.

That's it. The guitar is now very quiet. Almost as quiet as my VM tele that I recently bought, which is where I got the idea of using wire to ground the pickup cavity.

6. Final notes

Without shimming the neck you may have to make compromises on this guitar. I love the way mine is set up because I don't care if I have a tight trem and I don't care about very low action. If you want more leverage on the trem, you'll need to raise up that tube. That diminishes your break angle. And that in turn diminishes the pressure the strings put on those saddles. Also, if you like a lighter string gauge, just remember it is a short scale guitar and string buzzing may be a problem if your strings are too loose without enough neck relief or high enough action.

My action is setup as low as I think it will allow without using a shim in the neck. For me it is just a normal, comfortable action. I can measure it, if anyone is interested. I may experiment with a neck shim to allow for more flexibility in adjusting the bridge, saddles, and trem. But it plays great like it is.

Also. I love the phase switches. I didn't at first. But you can get some really interesting sounds. I haven't experimented with pickup height yet. I didn't like the sound of the pickups at first, but they have grown on me. It sounds totally different than all my other guitars and I like that.

I hope this has been helpful. As I said, I'm not a luthier, so please chime in with corrections or further advice. Thanks.
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Joined: 14 Jan 2008
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Location: Nr. Basinggrad, UK

PostPosted: Mon Jan 04, 2016 3:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Welcome to the forum. Thanks for sharing your experience. As I don't own a Mustang of any kind that's about all I can say!
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