It’s not often I get permission to take stuff apart. More precisely, I spend a lot of time doing creative stuff, so my purely destructive side rarely gets its time in the sun to frolic and cavort and otherwise express itself in all it’s entropic glory. Today, however, is different.

But first, a story

A tidy little instrument from the front.

A tidy little instrument from the front.

On a recent trip south to the desert to visit the family (something of a do-over for Christmas, since we were all sick as dogs over the holiday and didn’t see anyone other than ourselves), my brother-in-law gifted our family a used Squier Mini Player Strat with a built-in amplifier and speaker. This thing is a true piece of guitar oddity, and pretty freaking rare apparently. It’s a “mini,” which apparently means it has a 3/4 size neck, even though the body is the same size. Usually Stratocaster-style electrics have three pickups and a selector switch, along with a couple of tone knobs and a volume, but not this one. Because of the speaker, there’s really only room for a single humbucking pickup, one tone knob, and the volume. Of note is despite the somewhat toylike look of the body with the speaker grille, there’s really nothing toy about this; it’s a real instrument.

I’m left thinking that perhaps it sold so badly, Fender decided to pull the plug on the guitar after only a few years of production. Heck, there’s no sign on their website that the guitar ever existed. I’m not kidding. In fact, I spent a great deal of time scouring Internet Archive to find traces of it, and even those were meager at best. Most notable: whereas you can usually find a schematic or wiring diagram on Fender’s site for their guitars (and it’s a thorough list, believe me), there is nothing technical written anywhere about the Mini Player. So, I reached out to Fender for support on this instrument – in the form of maybe a schematic, you know – but I’ve heard nary a peep, and it’s been a week. So I’m still thinking this thing is from an alternate dimension.

On the other hand, the people who have this guitar seem to swear by it. All I know is my brother-in-law said something to the effect of “it needs some work.” Huh, okay, color me intrigued. My younger daughter is the musically-inclined child in the family at the moment, and already learning guitar on a cute little mini acoustic (which has great tone for something so tiny), and she squeeeeeeed at the sight that we were bringing home an electric guitar.

Well, I’m here to tell you, my bro wasn’t kidding. As sleek and sexy as the front may look, the back is nothing short of a hot mess.

Hot mess indeed

Amaze... so chaos... much fail...

Amaze… so chaos… much fail…

I just… well… I don’t know where to start. The back panel is missing. My brother-in-law swears he has it somewhere, as he took a crack at trying to fix it. But while he’s awesome at pulling telecom cable and fiber optic (love my bro, I really do) I’m guessing he saw this and just forgot. I mean, literally, just looking at this made him say, “now, what was it I was doing? Hmm, perhaps I’ll go have a smoke…”

Of course, I look at this and tell myself, “self, you need to tear this mother down to the bone, clean it all up, and see if there’s anything to be done to improve it.” The first order of business would be to separate the PCB from the tangly mess and have a closer look at it. The pickup wire and the battery clip wires are directly soldered to the board (but the knobs and speaker output were on pin headers? WTH?) so a little wire wiggling later, the board is free.

Not a ton to see here...

Not a ton to see here…

There’s not a lot to see on the front side of this. We have the stereo headphone jack, the ST Micro TDA7267A amplifier, which appears to drive the headphone jack, the header for the speaker output as well as the volume pot. There are some electrolytic caps supporting the amp chip, the 9VDC power jack, the 1/4″ instrument plug jack, a couple of LEDs and another header for the tone pot and solder pads for the pickup and battery clip. Pretty straightforward, so what’s the catch?

Oh yeah, flip it over.

Huh, people still glue SMT to boards...

Huh, people still glue SMT to boards…

Well, now we’re getting somewhere. From the bottom side you can see the headphone jack and TDA7267A pins, an empty SMT cap for C7 – although the glue for the wave soldering is there – and the pads for the pin header for speaker and volume control. Then there’s some more small SMT caps (including an unmarked SMT pad, probably for an alternate capacitor size to be used for that location, I guess), and moving to some bigger SMT caps and a diode by the 9VDC power jack. Then there’s the 1/4″ jack, some SMT diodes and caps and then there’s the amp for the pickup (this one being a TL026C SMT (in an SOIC-8 package) with its myriad support components, taking inputs from the tone control pin header as well as the pickup itself. All in all, a tidy little board, nothing is amiss. There’s no telltale Magic Smoke™ smell, which can linger long after the magic smoke has escaped the device. I’m betting this board is just fine the way it is. But since I’m not getting any love from Fender on the schematic front, guess what I’m planning on doing to this?

Oh come on, it’s not that hard to figure out.

The destruction to come

The real teardown is to come, this was but a taste. The plan is still to troubleshoot and refit the existing electronics, but putting a more modern (and smaller) amplifier together is not out of the question. I may see about stuffing a LiPo battery where the 9V  battery cavity is and make it a rechargeable guitar. Whatever happens, it needs to fit the existing cavity and hopefully not involve drilling holes in the face of the guitar body (if it does, I promise to be gentle-ish). I’ll need to fabricate a new back plate (assuming this will be laser cut acrylic), assuming my brother-in-law doesn’t cough up the one he took off, as well as the bottom plate that covers the circuit board where the jacks are (again, assuming I don’t replace it with something else, which would mean fabricating something new to go there – again laser cut from thin acrylic and then heated to mold to the outlines of the guitar body).

I’ll try my hardest not to try to destroy two of these things to make one good one. Also, I will check and recheck the shielding on the guitar body, assuming shielding is actually there (and this is where Fender better have done the job right). The non-electronic part of the build quality is fantastic, and it feels like a real instrument and not a toy, so I don’t want to hopelessly destroy it. This guitar originally sold full retail at $250, and if I can make it work better and be just as portable as it currently is, I  think it will be a fun little project.

Leave a comment on what you think is the appropriate fate for this instrument. I can’t promise I’ll abide by your wishes, but at least we can chat about it.