Shane’s (Badwater Fire Co.) Highly Modified Stratocaster

A while back, Remedios The Beauty (my band) had the opportunity to share a bill at the High Dive with an amazing band: Badwater Fire Company. This group of musicians sets itself apart from the pack by not only writing incredibly technical yet memorable music, but punctuates its songs with erratic time signatures, left-hook fiery metal passages, and explosive musicianship. All of this while singing immensely catchy vocal hooks! The three of them are amazing musicians for sure, with sweep-picking galore and a bass player that makes me wish I was better at my own instrument. That guy’s a beast.

And, they’re not a metal band, per se. It’s difficult to nail them down stylistically, as their set meandered so freely from jazz/rock to blastbeat battlehymns. Amazing.

BWC’s singer, Shane, was extremely fun to talk to backstage, and we ended up hashing out our gear wishlists and likes/dislikes, even touching on amp and pedal modifications and set up tricks. Last week, Shane was good enough to bring his highly-modified Stratocaster to me for a set up, which blew me away. I’m honored to work on the instruments of my contemporaries! It feels good, giving back to the Seattle scene which I so dearly love.

New string tree!

As I mentioned, Shane’s guitar is highly modified; there’s custom wiring under that pick guard, noiseless pickups, and his original Fender neck twisted, so he ordered this replacement Warmoth neck- with more than a nod to Geddy Lee and 70’s Fender basses- and received it just before a show back in May. He had no time to even give the guitar a proper set up, let alone a fret level and crown, and played it like this until now.

The amazing thing is that Shane can play so effortlessly on action as high as that. This guitar was in dire need of attention- of course, not for lack of care on Shane’s part- and I was more than happy to give it to ‘er.

She needed a serious deep cleaning, so that’s where I started. I spent maybe 45 minutes going over the guitar with a fine-tooth comb; I’ve never seen so much build-up on a guitar, and in my deep cleaning kit I had polish, a cloth, patience and a razor blade. (Razor blades are especially good for removing build-up on fretboards, FYI) As I worked, I started to think a lot of what I was cleaning was blood. His blood. Blood. BLOOD. Luckily, upon picking the guitar up and finding it spotless, Shane declared, “I can’t believe you got rid of all the fake blood!” Whew. That was a close one.

Level, crown and polish went without incident, and upon re-assembling the guitar I was struck by how comfortable the neck was even without it being set up to my liking. I usually have nothing for a flat-radiused board, being more of a vintage guy myself. Still, this neck has a maple fretboard (I can’t get on with finished maple) and a 16″ radius, and an almost U-shaped neck and I loved it. I also added a roller string tree to the guitar, as there just wasn’t enough downward pressure to hold the high E string in its nut slot. I had a sort of sixth sense about Shane using the behind-the-nut notes, not really sure if I’d seen him pick there or not, so I made sure to tune the string tree in order to dictate its placement. After some testing, I screwed it into the wood at the point where the high E string rings out at an exact, super high E note!  I was right to do so, as Shane informed me that he really does use those notes a lot! Score!

What’s more is the tonal variety of this guitar. Shane’s added a momentary kill switch, making for stuttery fun, and has wired the neck pickup to a separate push/push switch, allowing you to engage the neck/bridge combo or run all three pickups at the same time. I especially liked the latter, and was able to play some Buddy Guy inspired licks with that sqwawky goodness exhibited on the track, “You Damn Right I Got The Blues.”

Shane was extremely pleased upon playing his guitar for the first time since dropping it off here. “I can’t believe I can play so easily!” Shane was on vacation in Florida and hadn’t played in days, so that statement meant more to me with the appropriate context included. Shane performed some beautifully executed sweep picking and melodic tapping before heading off, and I’m looking forward to my next chance to catch them live. They’re worth it, friends!


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