Reader Guitar of the Month: The Magicaster

A Chicago bluesman and builder applies Gibson sensibilities, DiMarzio prototypes, and a shorter scale to make his dream Strat-style guitar.

Name: Frank Malitz

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Guitar: Short-Scale Magicaster

I’ve been a blues musician for 50 years in Chicago. At 71, I’m still playing and have no intention of stopping. I play better today than I did at any other time in my life. I played with most of the famous Chicago names and recorded at Chess records in the ’60s.

Initially as a business, I started building Telecaster-style guitars, but each had to be unique. So far, I’ve probably done close to 50. For my own use, I wanted to build a Stratocaster-style model because I love the tone but found them difficult to play blues on due to the nature of their necks. I decided to build one after measuring the neck on my early ’60s Gibsons, which I found very easy to play, and duplicated the radius, frets, and scale for this Strat-style build.

I started with a Japanese body from 1975 and upgraded the hardware, but kept the original brass saddles. Around 1976, I met Larry DiMarzio at a photo shoot of his handbuilt, then-new pickups. He gave me the pickup prototypes they were photographing. At that time, they were called “Fat Strats,” but I don’t think they were able to continue using that branding. The neck is from USA Custom Guitars using the same frets I have in my ES-335, with a 12-inch radius, and the short scale used on a Les Paul or ES-335.

I merely reversed the middle and bridge pickups, leaving the wiring intact. Using that switching architecture, position No. 2 gives me neck and bridge only for an incredibly hollow Fender sound. At every gig, someone comments on the tone. DiMarzio deserves much of the credit. The guitar is easier to play than a standard Strat; bends are easier as well, but I lost some bass definition from the shorter scale. By the way, short-scale “Strats” are almost unheard of. The guitar is truly unique. Overall, I couldn’t be happier with this instrument.

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