As a long time Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf fan I couldn’t have been more excited when a Bat Out of Hell musical finally became a reality. Having Seen The Show and been introduced to its community of fans, I became inspired by the dedication of the bat fans and their contributions to the bat community, including the hundreds of pieces of bat-inspired artwork. I decided I wanted to build something of my own. I’m no artist, so a painting was out. I wanted something physical and symbolic, an inspiring object with Bat Out of Hell at its heart. I took inspiration from Strat – leader of the lost, and the classic Fender guitar that shares his name. I wanted to build a classic Stratocaster with a Bat-inspired design. A guitar that could faithfully reproduce the classic solos and thundering motorbikes of the original 1977 tracks, with visual imagery based on the musical and album art. Herein is the journey to create the Bat Strat, a piece of art inspired by one of the greatest works of art of all time.
The original design was based on a classic strat with a vintage tremolo bridge and a traditional single coil pickup and electronics setup. Significant modifications and challenges with part fitment changed the design significantly during production. Original concept designs were based around the album cover though incorporating characters from the stage musical. Positioning the design around the parts of the guitar was a challenge however, and such a radical re-design of a classic album cover didn’t feel or look right. It was eventually decided that two guitars would be produced; one a Strat inspired by the musical, and the other a classic Telecaster based on the album cover. Both guitars are a homage to the guitars referenced in Steinman’s spoken word monologue ‘Love and Death and an American Guitar’. I’ve still yet to build the Telecaster (as of 2020) but I do hope to in due course.
I started out with a basswood body, maple neck with maple fretboard and a full set of chrome hardware.
The basswood body has similar properties to alder – a wood that has featured in genuine Fender Strats for years. It often gets an undeserved reputation for being cheap and therefore associated with cheap beginner guitars. With decent hardware however a basswood body has a lovely warm, full and rich tone with a slight mid cut and oodles of sustain that is perfect for our needs.
Inspired by the PRS Bird Inlays, I decided that fretboard bat inlays were only fitting here. The fretboard was pre-finished to a 9.5” radius which made inlaying a challenging task. I’d planned to use a CNC router to route the pockets and cut the shapes, negating filling and minimising the required sanding to maintain a level fretboard. I couldn’t find a company in the UK willing to undertake such a task, and the detail of the bats ruled out careful use of a Dremel. The Maple fretboard was due to receive several coats of lacquer, so I opted for vinyl inlays instead which could be sprayed and sanded to a flat finish. A bit of a cheat perhaps, but they look like the real thing and playability shouldn’t be affected. During the polishing stages of the build the lacquer pealed easily from the vinyl in a couple of areas and was resprayed. Its durability seems to have improved now that it has had time to cure, but it isn’t perfect. This bolt on neck is easily replaceable, so I will revisit proper bat inlays with a fingerboard blank and custom neck for both this Strat and the Telecaster build.
In 2020 the Bat Strat got a revised neck with Neck Illusions bat decals. See them in the project gallery linked at the end of the post.
The unshaped headstock left plenty of room for intricate designs, though I favour simplicity here. My custom headstocks typically feature circles cut into their edges. I like the use of circles in designs, particularly where they’re used to break up straight lines and flow into one another. A similar design was chosen here with tyre tread lines cut into the outer edge using a tiny Dremel bit. A future neck may feature a tread pattern if cutting such a design on a CNC router is practical.
The bridge is a decent import style 52.5 mm Tremolo, mounted to the body in a way that raises the back end slightly to allow at least a small degree of bending in both directions. Pickups are fairly generic ceramic pickups with a health output suitable to get enough overdrive for realistic bike noises.
I was initially going for a vintage Cherry finish but settled on Dakota red, which was purchased from Steve Robinson’s Manchester Guitar Tech. A tin of sanding sealer, primer and colour, and 3 tins of clear were required to achieve a good finish. A Dartfords’ Polishing Kit was used to achieve the final finish, which is supplied with the required sandpaper and 3 grades of polishing compound. A thicker automotive lacquer was sprayed over the fretboard, as it produced a harder, more resilient coating.
First the body was prepared with several coats of sanding sealer with light sanding between coats to remove any imperfections. Tac cloths came in handy here, removing micro dust from the body during coats to prevent imperfections in the white primer finish.
Once smooth, white primer was sprayed to achieve a solid and consistent white finish, with a surface smooth to the touch. The primer was lightly sanded between the first few coats, with the last few sprayed one after the other with no sanding in between. A 1500 grit sand smoothed out the primer before a final coat prepared the surface for lacquer.
A tin of Dakota Red was sprayed over the body, totalling approximately 8 thick coats. A further 16 coats, approximately two tins of clear gloss lacquer were then added to achieve the final finish, before the body was left to cure in a warm room for 3 weeks. Credit to my father and master carpenter Tim Cox for his assistance in design and finishing, as it is safe to say that any job involving wood or paint is not my forte.
Several coats of sanding sealer were sprayed over the neck and fretboard before it too was sanded lightly to a smooth finish and any dust removed with a tac cloth. The frets and nut were taped for the sealing process with the fret tape removed for lacquering. The bats were then laid to cover the existing 6 mm dots. The neck was coated in clear lacquer; approximately 8 coats on the neck itself, and 19 thin, even coats on the fretboard, the final 8 of which were of the thicker automotive lacquer. The lacquer didn’t have a damaging effect on the vinyl, though it did have a tendency to build up on the edges of the bats. Any excess was carefully sanded to 3000 grit to maintain a flat surface, though only on the vinyl itself and not the board. The neck too was then left to cure before the sanding and polishing stages began.
Meanwhile the body design was taking place. I happened across Tim Allen’s Gig.ink and its SCRATCH-IT subsidiary, producing custom scratch plates for guitars based on any desired image. The plates are cleverly produced by printing images onto exterior grade vinyl and heat bonding it to the rear of a 2mm shatterproof acrylic sheet. The image is therefore permanent, moisture resistant and virtually scratch-proof and the plates are laser cut for a precise fit. The plates are produced to fit your hardware, your guitar and your image, with super fast turnaround time, detailed proofs to check everything is spot on and even a design service for those of us who don’t know our way around a graphics package.
This is not a sponsored advertisement. I purchased my plates at the quoted price and didn’t make Tim aware of this blog until the plates were due to be delivered. Tim has a real passion for his product and rarely do I experience such friendly, upbeat and helpful customer service from anyone. Working with gig.ink was a genuine pleasure from start to finish, and this guitar wouldn’t have been possible without his efforts in design and his product.
Producing the plate was for my part at least a simple process. I removed the electronics from the original pickguard and shipped the plate to Tim along with the rear Trem cover plate. A trace of the body was also requested including the location of the bridge and elbow contour, and an outline of the jack plate. As there was no stock image available for my design I sent over a concept and a few details, from which Tim produced two proofs; one based on the musical imagery, and one based on the album cover. Templates were also provided which were printed to scale and laid across the body to check the fit of the plate and hardware, which was spot on.
Back to the finishing, and having cured it was time to polish the lacquer to a shine. The Dartfords polishing kit is supplied with three strips each of 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500 and 2000 grit wet/dry abrasive paper, three microfibre cloths and three grades of cutting compound in 100 ML containers. The finish is flat sanded to 2000 grit before the compounds are applied in order, with each stage removing any marks produced by the stage before. Dartfords stress that it is imperative that no stage of the polishing process is skipped. They also stress that wet sanding and polishing should be done in straight lines and not a circular motion. For those interested the full application guide can be found Here but it really is quite simple, and just requires time and patience.
This Sanding Block came in handy, as did a pack of popsicle sticks which are flexible enough to bend over the fretboard radius. Strips of paper in each grade were glued to the back of a stick, and the sanding stick used to flat sand the fretboard while maintaining the radius that the lacquer had naturally followed, and smoothing the lacquer over the vinyl surface to the point where it is indistinguishable by touch.
The guitar was then assembled. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of pages online covering the assembly of a Strat in just about every configuration possible, so I won’t cover old ground here. Bridge alignment is the most important consideration here, though the position of the scratch plate makes this particularly easy. Careful setup of the trem claw and tension springs is also essential, as is correctly aligning the string holes in the rear cover plate with the 6 holes in the underside of the bridge.
Finally, after months of designing, planning, painting and polishing, the Bat Strat is born. For more images and eventual audio samples once I have completed a setup, see the Bat Strat Project Page. Until next time…