1st build Strat. Hollow vs solid, Hardtail vs trem? Advice please.


New member
Hi all,
I'm in the planning stages of building the perfect guitar for me and need some advice.
What I want is a strat for all occasions. I want to be able to pull classic neck/ mid p/u strat sounds sounds as well as high gain metal tones and everything in between. (Big ask, I know)
The guitar tones I love include Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Ian Moss of Australian band "Cold Chisel" and David Gilmour (all strat players) through to heavier sounds like Van Halen, AC/DC and Killswitch Engage.
My favourite guitars that I own are a pre Samick Valley Arts Standard Pro and a Hamer Chapparal Elite w/ sustainiac. The reason they don't get used as much as I'd like is the fact they both have Floyd Rose trems, and I tend to write in a lot of alternate tunings and sometimes need to play at concert pitch, sometimes half step down, sometimes whole step.

I was thinking about a hardtail strat so I can tune to whatever I want at the drop of a hat, but I'm torn between the hardtail idea and setting the trem hard against the body so it only goes down. I tend to only tune strings down, not up when writing in alternate tunings so it shouldn't pull the other strings out.

How much does the trem contribute to that classic strat sound? Am I going to miss that by going hardtail?
I played a Tom Delonge strat at a music store with a hardtail and Duncan Invader in the bridge, great heavy sound and the immediate "bang" I got from it reminded me of my Epiphone Les Paul with tune o matic bridge.

The other issue is whether to go hollow. I like the idea of a lighter strat with great sustain but have never played a chambered strat and I don't like my chances of finding one to try in my area. Is a chambered strat going to be any good for chunky metal as well as classic neck and mid p/u strat sounds? The reports on the effect of the chambers vary drastically around here.

So far my specs are-

Mahogany or Alder strat body (solid or chambered) in either Matt Black or a figured maple top. (Hardtail or trem)
Maple Boatneck w/ stainless steel frets (possibly even Ebony fretboard) Unfinished with locking tuners
Duncan Invader bridge p/u, Kinman neck and middle p/u.

Any thoughts on how to achieve the sounds I'm after?

Thanks heaps,


Have you heard of a "tremel-no" (sp?)... it's a little device you put in your trem cavity, and it will let you switch your FR to down-only trem so you can drop-tune on stage.  Also it lets you lock the trem completely so you have a hardtail.  I don't bother with trems myself but it looks like it's made for you!
Yep, gonna get me a couple of tremol-nos for my Valley Arts and Hamer but a new allrounder strat is still calling me. Besides I recently played a Warmoth boatneck and LOVED it, and I want a totally passive guitar. My others all have batteries, too much to go wrong in the heat of the moment.
Cool, cool...

I have the hollow and I play heavy metal on it, sounds great, really thick.  It doesn't feed back like an ES335 or something.

I'd vote for hardtail, but that's just my preference... mahogany is heavy as hell, as you know if you have an LP...  That sounds like a cool pickup config, you'll obviously be able to get Mark Knopfler and balls-to-the-wall metal, but I'm concerned you might not be able to get anything in between!
The first question is, will you ever really use your trem? If yes (and it sounds like you do really use one), then I guess you need a trem.
I'm currently also figuring out the best plan to get a very tuning-stable strat with a trem and I'm leaning towards the Wilkinson VSVG trem set flush against the body, graphite nut, locking tuners and an angled strat neck (no string trees!).

To me, your pickup choices sound really unbalanced, which is the natural consequence of wanting both vintage tones and hardcore tones. What may help you get more sounds in between those two extremes is a dedicated bridge volume control, maybe with the treble bleed cap like a tele has. You might consider wiring it up: neck/mid volume, neck/mid tone, bridge volume. Add in a mini-switch to coil tap, maybe another to get 7-way switching, and you'd have a lot of versatility. Or get three concentric pots and get separate vol / tone for all three pups, plus a row of switches to get the 97-whatever possible combos in phase / out of, series / par., etc. Depends on how much you value simplicity and trad looks versus flexibility.

As for hollow, I can't really see why people argue the whole 'sustain' thing - it makes no sense. Sustain is primarily a function of rigidity, which is caused in part by mass -> Les Pauls have huge sustain because they're made of bricks. What it seems you're likely to get is more resonance with a hollow - the wood vibrates more freely, making your guitar sound more woody, open, and reverby, because the string energy transfers more quickly to the lighter body, meaning less sustain. BTW, I don't own a warmoth chambered strat, but do and have owned semi-hollow electrics. Same idea.
Seems like the way to get max 'sustain' is to take a super-heavy solid body, mount it securely to a super-heavy and thick neck, and lock some heavy, thick strings in place with a really heavy, secure non-tremolo bridge and tuners.
Hmmm... a solid bubinga LP with bubinga/bubinga neck, heavy jazz strings, and one of those fancy locking TOM bridges.... triple hernia and infinite sustain  :party07:

But yeah, if you switch from the Kinmans to the Invader your output level is going to change sooo much.  Why not use a milder humbucker... you can get as much gain as you need out of a pedal.  Like an SD Custom Custom or something like that.
tfarny said:
Seems like the way to get max 'sustain' is to take a super-heavy solid body, mount it securely to a super-heavy and thick neck, and lock some heavy, thick strings in place with a really heavy, secure non-tremolo bridge and tuners.

Theoretically, yes...but still in real life it doesn't always work like that.
I have light guitars with great sustain, and heavy guitars that sound dead!.. 
I think that the whole sustain (and tone) recipe is based on a whole bunch of factors, some based on the materials you choose and the construction, and others are just a mystery  (yes, I know that this only makes sense to myself:))
OK, seems the general consensus is that the Kinmans and Invader are a mismatch. I'm not sold on the Kinmans yet. I live about a half hour drive from the Kinman factory but to tell you the truth, I've never played them personally. I work as a producer and have done some recording for a local fellow with tone to die for that uses the Kinmans.
On the other hand, the Invader I played on a Tom Delonge strat sounded great. I even took my trusty Les Paul with EMG 81/85 to compare it to and it had just as good a tone with as much note clarity that cut through dist but seemed to have another octave frequency wise down below.
Wow, just writing this I think I just convinced myself I need to build the equivelant of a Tom Delonge strat with neck and mid p/u added and a boatneck.
My thoughts on this could change by the time I finish typing this, oh well, I guess that's what the planning stage is all about eh?
I'm starting to swing against the hollow idea. None of the players I dig use them and the comment about it adding a reverby quality to the sound is not what I want. I stuff natural fibre insulation into the spring cavity of my Hamer to get rid of the springs ringing out when playing choppier metal stuff.
I made a mahogany strat, made the body myself out of a 1 piece mahogany body. Mahogany looks better clear finished but if your looking to get a traditional strat sound out of it mahogany is not the right kind of wood it will make it sound warmer and more like a les paul and it also weighs a ton I play my mahogany strat then my dad's American strat standing up with the strap the mahogany one hurts to play after a few mins the alder is very comfortable all the time. I'd go with alder and at least h-s-s with a full sized humbucker if you want to play a lot of metal the full sized ones sound better I put a single coil sized one in the american strat and it makes it so you can get many more sounds out of it. I'd rather have a full sized one though but I didn't want to have to buy a new pickguard too and if you coil split it you can still get a bridge single coil.
Go with alder for a traditional strat sound. Versatile wood for clean and dirty sounds.

If you don't use the tremolo definitely go for a hardtail. Gotoh & Hipshot have great products.

You don't need a high output humbucker for dirty sounds. Let the pedal(s) and amp do the job. I have the SD Phat Cat (single coil) with Kinmans Blues in my strat. With a high gain pedal works very good for dirty sounds. Use a medium output humbucker, it will be usable for clean sounds also.

Kinmans rule, use them. Play with the Blues, Marvins and Woodstocks and decide for yourself.