My 2004 Fender Showmaster FAT SSS
I thought a long time about getting another one of these. I mainly play church music, and usually as lead guitar. I almost never use "drop D" tuning. So eventually, after getting sick with the sound of the JB in my ESP EC-1000QM, I bought another Showmaster, this time with SSS pickup configuration. I remember when these guitars came out, and they were then (as they are now) very beautiful as well as very useful. You can go check out my other Showmaster QMT HH if you want: all I needed to do was put decent pickups in the guitar. The same is now true of this one.
The Premier Version
This version not only has an absolutely stunning flame ash top, but it came with the premium locking tuners. You see, these locking tuners didn't use tension knobs. Basically, to get it to lock, you tighten the string. This type of locking tuner isn't necessarily superior to or inferior to the normal Sperzel style of locking tuner. It "just is." A different technique, but nonetheless very useful.
One of the few things I do not like about this version, however, is the "smoked chrome" hardware. Honestly, to me, it's rather ugly. I prefer either normal "nickel" or black hardware. I have ordered some Graphtech saddles for the tremolo and installed my favorite Schaller strap locks.
Pickups and Electronics
To be honest, Fender had quite a few
Korean-made guitars during 2000-2010 which came with 500K
potentiometers. This makes the guitar sound abnormally
punchy, but not in a way that sounds like something you could
use for heavy metal or nu metal. So it's just odd: a very
dynamic and punchy guitar but with a vintage tone that won't do
for heavier styles of music. I used to own a Fender Lite Ash
Stratocaster with the same type of problem. To my
ears, single coils sound better with 250K potentiometers, which
is usually the default for single coil pickup guitars made by
Fender. So I am in active discussions with Seymour
Duncan to replace the Five-Two
Strat pickups with something with more versatility.
You can listen here to a
half-hearted attempt with my Boss ME-90 to play some metal (I
didn't practice any of this before I attempted it). It's
punchy but it's just not what I think I'd want for harder styles
of music. I also did an A-B test by using my Showmaster HH
to dial in a good metal lead sound with my Full Shred and then
switching to my Showmaster SSS. The Five Two pickups
simply cannot handle high gain styles, which would limit my
versatility, like it or not.
As well, I hate to say it because this guitar came very well shielded, but single coils aren't as useful in church environments. It's not that single coils don't sound amazing: they do. The problem really isn't single coil pickups. I love single coil pickups but church electronic environments are often full of noisy lighting and electronics. Often, church buildings have lackluster (electronically speaking) building power wiring that is often also having grounding problems. And it's doubtful that most churches, who seem more interested in their live presence, care to change or fix their wiring problems until it becomes something major. So, while I hate to say it, true single coils can be a risk when playing at churches.
The solution is often hum-cancelling single
coils, such as rails and stack single coils from Seymour
Duncan. I will try the guitar out at some live church
venues to test this, because so far at home I find no hum
problems. But I've experienced enough hum problems at live
environments and churches that I am already corresponding with
The problem, in part, is the construction of this guitar. Seymour Duncan's website is amazing, and their custom shop extremely knowledgeable, but the basswood body of this guitar causes slight problems. Basswood tends to emphasize the mid range, so using pickups that are more scooped in the mid range is often recommended. Indeed, the Jazz neck and Full Shred bridge in my Showmaster QMT HH more than compensate, and the Full Shred sounds amazing for worship use, but the Jazz sounds an awful lot like a '59 in a mahogany guitar: the mid range is very present due to the basswood. This doesn't mean this guitar is difficult to work with, it just means one must think about what pickups to install in it. At the time of this writing, I'm thinking of going Classic Stack Plus for Strat neck, Custom Stack Plus Strat middle, and Hot Stack Strat for the bridge. But I'm currently trying to figure out if the Custom Stack Plus Strat can handle harder styles: if it can, I'll use one for the bridge.
November 19, 2023: Pickups Ordered
So after spending a very long time
obsessing about replacement pickups, I finally
decided on Seymour Duncan. Like, I spent hours on it, even
to the point of a Pro and Con spreadsheet for every factor I do
and do not like. There were several difficulties I
encountered while looking into pickups. One was that
certain single coil noiseless pickups on the Seymour Duncan
website do not have sound recordings or videos, but usually not
both. For example, pickup A may have good sound recordings
for clean, crunch and dirty (the stylized amp on their website
for some pickups), they don't have any YouTube videos of anyone
playing more metal songs with them. Or in the case of,
say, the Hot
Stack Strat, did not have the sound recordings but had an
excellent video of someone playing metal on that pickup.
To me, what I wanted was some of the videos like on the Seymour
Duncan Full Shred, such as Marta Witiw
playing Inconstant. This video of Marta was, and is,
a HUGE selling point for the Full Shred
because you can hear its beautiful clean sound, then its
beautiful lead sound. On top of that, the many YouTube
videos of the "metal bridge pickup" competitions that show the
FS, JB, and many others would always be interesting to me
because every time the Full Shred was being demonstrated for
heavy Nu Metal stuff, it still stayed incredibly articulate
while also sounding very brutal.
One of the Seymour Duncan technicians I
corresponded with recommended the George Lynch Lil' Screamin'
Demon bridge over a custom shop single-coil-size Full
Shred. At first I was repulsed by the name of it,
wondering how that would go over in church explaining what
pickups I have in my guitar. But as I listened to the
multiple recordings of George Lynch playing in bands, I realized
that it would likely be what I need due to its medium output and
good cleans. It's hard to get the image of hair metal
bands from the 80s and the bumble bee / tiger patterns on
everything. I really wasn't into this style of music so I
had to begin listening to Dokken and Lynch Mob to listen for how
the pickup (or at least the humbucker big brother, the Screamin'
Demon) sounds under load and with cleans. I developed a
new respect for George Lynch.
The custom shop problem I ran into was that I was new and didn't know what I wanted. Don't get me wrong, $450 spent on custom shop pickups from Seymour Duncan is probably never going to be a bad investment. My concern was the lack of a return policy. And then of course I also had to remember that I'm some amateur musician (despite being paid for church gigs), not a solo artist with millions of albums sold. I am not complaining or insulting the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop, because if you look at all the artists they've worked for, they are incredible. The lack of a return policy makes sense due to the time and labor involved in creating something completely new. It was more that I was new and I should probably go the usual route of trying stock pickups first.
So I settled, for now, on two Classic Stack Plus pickups and then a Lil' Screamin' Demon bridge. I will blog my progress on this page so please click "refresh" in your browser from time to time. The Lil' Screamin' Demon bridge was the highest scoring pickup on my Pro and Con list, the only one that met all my criteria. I went through something similar with the Full Shred years ago and was satisfied with my choice, so I guess I'll see how this works out.
November 23, 2023: Thanksgiving Exploration.
So today I installed the Graphtech String Saver Saddles I had purchased as an upgrade. I strongly recommend them. I use them exclusively on all my guitars.
Also, I had already swapped out the roadie
knobs for the number-type Les Paul-style knobs. I prefer
to dial in my sound when I'm playing live.
Then I decided to CAREFULLY
take the cover off the neck pickup to look underneath. I
saw that there was about a 1/4" block of foam underneath the
neck pickup. This gives me hope that when all 3 Seymour
Duncan pickups arrive, I won't need to have someone remove wood
from inside the pickup cavities in order for them to fit.
Always remember to be careful when you remove a pickup cover!
Thanks After Giving: November 24, 2023
Ok, so today I tried the neck pickup after I had a shop install it. Just trying the neck, the Classic Stack Plus works well in the neck! The 500k potentiometers don't cause a problem. Also, the stacked neck pickup has enough clearance in the neck, per the technician at the shop. So everything is going well! I should have sound clips and pictures tomorrow.
The Final Two Pickups: November 25, 2023
Today the shop finished all three pickups because the other two came in the mail and I drove them out to the shop. I am thankful for how this guitar sounds now! The Lil' Screamin' Demon can definitely do metal and art metal / guitar solos. I am impressed with its ability to stay clear under load. I think I picked the right combination!
However, I also noticed that the shop screwed the pickups flat against the body of the guitar. This makes balancing the bridge pickup difficult versus the other two. I looked at the removed Five-Two pickups and sure enough, the compressible foam pads under them were still stuck to them: they had not been installed by the shop, so I could not adjust pickup height. I will need to return it to the shop. Almost no guitar uses this pickup installation method these days, so I can't be too upset, so long as the shop fixed their accidental mistake.
November 28, 2023: Guitar Center Sucks
So Guitar Center tried to put new screws in, and it did not work very well. But in light of this, I discovered what happened.
You see, my guitar had three P90-like mounting screw pairs for the pickups. When the shop put the Seymour Duncan pickups in, they used the screws that came with the Seymour Duncans, not realizing they were meant for a Stratocaster pickguard. They put the original Showmaster screws into the clear plastic boxes the pickups came in, with the Five Two pickups. I sold the Five Two pickups not realizing I needed these P90-like black screws. So the shop caused this whole problem. They never asked me if I wanted the new screws or the original ones. They didn't put the foam underneath that the Five Two pickups had, so I had to remove the foam (it stays with the Showmaster) and provide that to the shop. They put MORE foam underneath the three pickups which only made matters worse.
So I am in a situation now where I have ordered some P90 mounting screws from StewMac and I am waiting for them to come in. Guitar Center caused the whole problem. And I don't understand why. Surely they would have noticed that the original pickups adjusted height but the new ones did not? I mean, sure, it's not common to see direct-mounted pickups in a neck-through body guitar. But seriously, why?
Needless to say, I don't think I'll be using
Guitar Center for guitar repairs any more. This is why the
industry NEEDS some sort of common
certification showing that people know how to replace pickups,
even if it's only a week-long class. I believe Seymour
Duncan offers a class.
February 18, 2024: Fixed
I took my guitar to another shop in December
of 2023 and they fixed the pickup problems. Now all 3
pickups can be adjusted! I was very impressed with their
work. (I can't mention their name because they are a big
name but not a national chain, so I would be harming my
So then around January 2024 I tried the guitar with stock 500K potentiometers in church. Again, the tone was more like a punch in the face of vintage sound. I didn't like it, as it made it difficult to control. Now, to be fair, if I was a guitar soloist like Steve Vai or Joe Satriani, 500K with single coils would be absolutely amazing! But for church, I need to be able to control the output. So I had this same shop put in 250K potentiometers. This made the tone of the guitar way more manageable, and the Classic Stack Plus pickups sounded identical to any other Fender Stratocaster. Good job, Seymour Duncan!
During this time, the 5-way switch had to be
replaced because it was the old original switch. Also,
Guitar Center (see previous section) cold solder jointed the
thing. They didn't use a hot enough soldering iron, is
what the better shop's tech said.
On February 18, I tried it again. This time it was way more useful in church. And switching to the Lil' Screamin' Demon bridge for solos worked very well. Still, I found that I had to keep the volume and tone at 10 in order to have the level of sustain I wanted. So I modified all four of my usual church patches in the first bank on my ME-90 so that the CTL pedal was a clean boost, which seems to work very well! Also, the Lil' Screamin' Demon has enough of a glassy high range to sound close enough to a single coil without sounding out of place for a humbucker (i.e. for instance a Distortion bridge would be way different).
A note about my playing style: unless
I need the very high output of the bridge pickup, I play through
my neck and middle on an SSS guitar like this. This means
I can produce beautiful bell-like cleans from the middle pickup,
which is often something needed in Christian Music.
Graphtech, Schaller, Stratocaster, Showmaster, Boss, Guitar Center and Fender are registered trademarks of their respective companies. Seymour Duncan and the stylized "S" logo are all registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups, with which I am not affiliated.