Fresher Protean Series Electronic Straighter Custom Project X-203:
A 1970s Japanese Lawsuit-Era Strat Copy with a Funky Twist

Here's something you just don't see every day: a Strat clone with a built-in drum machine. This one came to me in near basket-case condition but fortunately it was not too incomplete or irreversibly hacked. My customer bought it like this and had never played or heard it, nor knew if the drum machine still worked. I'd say it was worth buying just for the awesome model name.

Fresher Strat Before Restoration
(click on the pics to zoom)

I quickly added a few pickguard screws to keep everything from falling apart - the masking tape was trying (and failing) to hold everything together. I doubt that mis-cut neck pickup opening is factory-original, but who knows?

fresher headstock

What little info I can find dates this guitar to '78-'80. It's a fairly faithful copy with the big late '60s-style headstock (but fortunately, they didn't also copy the dreaded CBS three-bolt neck joint). The neck is 2-piece maple/maple and the body seems to be solid ash, but three joined pieces. The name was a somewhat brazen attempt to look like "Fender Stratocaster", perhaps even intentionally playing on the psychological effect where words beginning and ending with the correct letters can have the middle letters scrambled and still be read correctly in context.

The wiring was pretty hacked. The mind boggles as to why. The guitar part is straightforward to restore but...

I also had to figure out how the guitar was originally wired to the drum machine and outputs. Fortunately, there was just enough left intact to deduce what did what on the drum machine even though every wire seemed to be cut and crudely spliced, or just left hanging. Also very fortunate was that my initial testing confirmed that the drum machine still worked properly!

Of course, it was missing the back covers for the trem cavity and battery compartment. It was also missing the battery holder. I couldn't find any definitive image or mention of what it was, but the size and shape of the cavity was a great clue and seemed familiar.

During the resurrection, all aspects of the guitar were attended to. Like many older guitars, the fret ends were popping and the frets needed a bit of dressing and re-crowning. They were left very flat and low by a previous dressing but a re-fret was not in the budget, so the frets were secured using a press and cyanoacrylate and then leveled and dressed. The edges of the fretboard were touched-up with lacquer to seal the fret ends and bare spots, but not so much to take away the honestly achieved patina of age and use. The bridge has a mix of saddles from different makers but they were retained for added flavour. The damaged threads of the whammy-bar hole were repaired using hardened-steel Helicoil inserts; they won't ever strip again.

Pickups were completely re-wired, the missing tone pot was replaced, and the pots and switch cleaned and lubricated. Shielding tape was added over the torn spots on the original foil.

The guitar has two output jacks. Plugging into the lower one alone gives a pure guitar signal, exactly as if the drum machine didn't exist. Plugging into the upper one alone turns on the power for the drum machine and outputs a mix of the drum and guitar signals, the balance of which is controlled by the guitar and drum machine volume controls. The cool part is that if you plug into both jacks, the signals are then un-mixed so you can, for example, run the guitar to your guitar amp and the drum machine into the PA. Since one original jack was completely missing I can't know for sure that this was the original setup but it makes sense.

The drum machine sounds a lot like what you would get in an electronic organ of the day. Nobody would ever confuse it with the real thing but it has it's own cheesy brilliance and can be a lot of fun to use and makes a fine metronome. Each drum sound can be adjusted for level down to zero, which actually adds a lot of flexibility. The choice of replacements for the missing knobs was based on the few other pictures I was able to find on the 'net, but there is no proof that they were original, either. The Start/Stop button just under the bridge has a broken plunger and is missing its cap but works fine. The red LED comes on to show that it is powered on and the batteries are ok. It does not flash, but...

The twelfth-fret position marker dots are actually two red LEDs that flash in time with the downbeat; how cool is that?

This is the connector for the LEDs. It is a standard RCA jack and allows the neck to be removed without desoldering wires. Might be tough ever finding a replacement neck with LEDs, though.

The drum machine runs on 12V, provided by 8 AA batteries. It adds a bit of weight but is probably the most economical option considering the fairly high current draw of about 30mA. Fortunately, the suitable battery holder is a fairly standard type.

The replacement trem cover was off-the-shelf but the battery cover had to be fabricated. In my scrap pile I found an aluminum plate that also had a perfectly-aged warning sticker that was cosmically destined to be on this guitar.

The original plastic nut just crumbled, so a new unbleached bone nut was made and fitted.

What look to be the original tuning machines are actually very high-end for a '70s copy and were possibly made by Gotoh. I love this sticker and remember visiting this long-gone shop when I was still in high school back in the early '80s! There is a DeSerres art supplies store there now.

And finally, a look at the the freshly-finished Fresher Straighter, back from the ashes. Minor lacquer touch ups were done, but mainly only to prevent further staining and to stabilize some areas that were threatening to flake. Overall, the scars of a hard life are proudly worn and look good on it. Drum machine aside, this is a very well-made copy that nails the classic Strat tones and no wonder: the likely-original AlNiCo neck and middle pickups measured about 6K ohms, with the slightly hotter "original-owner upgrade" AlNiCo fat-polepiece bridge at about 7K. The low-ish frets make bending a little harder but the playing feel rivals even the better examples of the real thing. I was very impressed by the trueness, response to truss adjustment, and stability of the neck after such an obviously hard life, too.

This is one I wish I could have kept for myself.