The Performer is a very unique model, made for one year only (1985-86), and was built in Japan. It was introduced in the transition period from the CBS owned Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company to the new privately owned Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. The unusual body and headstock shapes are rumored to have originated in the shape of the scrap wood leftover from making Japanese Strats. The design of the body horns is clearly based on the flat portion of the back of the Stratocaster body.
It is unusual for a Fender as it featured two humbuckers and a custom locking tremolo, more in keeping with an Ibanez guitar. The pickups are wired to a 3 way blade switch for Neck/Both/Bridge operation. They are also wired to a switch which coil taps both pickups, halving their output. This gives it a wide range of sounds from Strat type clean to Ibanez distortion.
This guitar is old, so it is in surprisingly good condition, especially as it seems to currently travel around not in a case. The neck has signs of wear as expected, but overall it has survived its time well.
The most obvious problem is the almost right angled Floyd rose bridge, and the extremely damaged/bent pivot posts. The Floyd nut shelf was shimmed underneath with wood, showing that it was either fitted wrong, or that it replaced a larger nut shelf.
Strip and measure
After de-stringing the guitar and removing the rear cavity plates i then completely removed the bridge unit, tremolo springs, and the very bent posts. It was on inspection of the posts and their size/head type that i realised something wasn’t right. These were equal in thread size and head diameter to a Gibson stoptail (8mm thread with a 10.5mm body insert). They had slot head tops and had obviously been under too much pressure from the bridge. I had never seen these on a Floyd so went back to my Performer research to look at the bridge.
Big problem! The performer originally came with a custom Fender locking bridge, very distinctive with roller saddles, string through block and a flat float design. This unit sadly has been lost/replaced at some point in time with a model 1 Floyd Rose unit, a totally different design that puts a large pressure on its pivot points.
Added in that it was probably never set correctly, it had put so much up tension on the original Fender posts that they had bent beyond use and would need replacing. However, they don’t, and never did make spares for these guitars as they were such a one off model. Although the previously mentioned Gibson tailpost screws would fit the inserts, they would be just as unsuitable at supporting a Floyds pressure as the originals, and are also too deep. As a spare Fender performer tremolo unit would be impossible to find, the best solution was to remove the original threaded body inserts and replace them with the correct Floyd posts. Due to the size difference this required a bit of modification first. Also the pickup coil-tap switch was broken off, so this would also need replacing during an overhaul of the wiring.
Frets were going to need a clean up with a crowning file and some polishing, but the neck wood was pretty good so just my usual set up when the other work is done.
The new Floyd posts and inserts are 8mm total diameter, while the Fender fitted inserts were 10.2mm. I decided, as an original bridge will never again be fitted, to make a permanent mod to the body for stable future usage.
Firstly after scoring the paint finish around the tops, I used my post puller to remove the original inserts.
The scored holes these left were no good for filling so I decided on 12mm solid wood dowel plugs, drilling out the body for a tight fit. These were glued in and when dry they were cut flush to the body. I then centre lined them and drilled out to exactly 8mm for the new posts (the post have splined sides which are an extra 1mm to dig into the hole).
The new Floyd body inserts were press fitted on my drillpress using a bushing tool.
The difference in size left a section of dowel visible. Although this would be out of sight underneath the scratchplate and bridge I decided to fill/paint collars onto them to make them look factory fit. As the unique and faded paint would have been beyond budget to get made up for such a small amount, I went with black to match with the black metal inserts. These collars were masked to be accurate circles, with 3 coats of black flexible acrylic, finished with a topcoat of clear polyurethane.
Something else which is sadly no longer original, the volume and tone pots have at some point been changed for standard 500k items, whereas the original pots in the performer were both double stacked type, similar to what fender now call a TBX pot, which has both a 250k and 1meg pot mounted together on top of each other. They have a centre point detent, so from 1-5 is the 250k, then from 6-10 brings in the 1meg to really open up the humbuckers. Also changed and forever lost are the unique tone and volume pot knobs which were larger than standard strat types and had a rubber grip imbedded in them.
The humbuckers are the originals thankfully. Epoxy potted and sealed units with flat plastic tops, also unique to this guitar. They both measure approx 12k on the ohms scale, about the same as an Air Norton or Gibson Burstbucker.
As budget was a concern (this was a ‘make it work’ job rather than a restoration), I did not change out the pots or 3 way selector, they all worked ok and the buckers are fine on the singular 500k. I changed out the broken dpdt toggle switch for the coil taps, then rewired the grounding as it was wrong. When you coil tap a 4 wire humbucker you are using the switch to break the line from one half of the pickup and sending it to ground. This obviously takes a 12k output down to 6k, which is about what a strat single coil is. I then checked the grounding to the trem springs, and gave the pots and switch a chemical clean.
Now the posts and wiring were done it was time to do the set up. Being a rosewood board, this starts with me cleaning the fretboard with alcohol to remove any built up dirt and grime. After some deep cleaning with some synthetic steel wool, which also brings the frets up nicely, I treated the wood with several different pastes and oils, one to get into the grain and fill any dry pores, the other to give the board a nice colour and smooth feel.
All the hardware (machineheads, lock nut, input jack etc) were tightened if needed and the headstock polished (hard to do once the strings are on).
Although shimmed as previously mentioned, the nut was measuring at the correct height to the first fret when checked with a straightedge, so it was not necessary to alter it just for cosmetic reasons.
I set the new post height and dropped in the Floyd bridge, making sure to block its contact with the body using some soft material.
I had already installed the strings into the lock saddles on the bridge as its easier to hold and do rather than fighting with it on the body. Once in against the pivot posts I strung the tuner post end in the normal way, stopping at low tension to install the 3 tremolo springs, then tuning the guitar up to pitch. Setting a Floyd to a level float is a mix of tuning, tremolo spring tension and pivot post height. No one of these 3 can be done first, they are adjusted at the same time until they reach a balance. It is a time consuming job but worth doing properly.
Once tuned, the pivot posts adjust the overall action height, which I set to a medium low 4/32nd bass side to 3/32nd treble. Due to the cheap floyds saddles being bent and damaged I could only adjust the intonation to a point, so I set it slightly flat right across, which is fine for most playing (infact you would need a strobe tuner to measure it). Nut height on a floyd is a pre set thing so no adjustment needed, though I did run some abrasive cord across the slots to smooth them.
One all tuned with the bridge adjusters set halfway, I locked down the top nut and retuned with the fine adjust screws. I then gave the whole guitar a good polish and a final play test to set the pickup heights too.
This guitar, even with its cheap bridge and incorrect parts, has a real vibe about it. I grew really fond of it while I had it. Good solid build, unique but not outlandish looks, and a very interesting spec for a Fender. It sounds fantastic, goes from shred to rock to clean country just using the tone and coil tap. I even looked up trying to get hold of one for myself, but the few that are available are Big money, at least £800 upwards, with a totally original spec sunburst worth about £1200
Even though non standard, if the pots were changed out and a good quality Floyd put in, this guitar would probably see £600-£700
An Interesting start to the new year !
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