Stratocaster Modding Q & A
Hello and welcome back to “Mod Garage.” and different materials—maybe it will help to
After our excursion into the anatomy of the shed some light. I will keep you updated.
Stratocaster 5-way pickup selector switch, I
wanted to take some time to answer some
questions I received from you during the
last months. Since I started this column, I
have received a lot of emails with questions
about Stratocaster mods. Here are some of
the most frequently asked:
Q: I want to do the “out of phase” mod
to my Strat, but which pickup is the best
for this mod?
Q: I did the 7-Sound mod, and the new
combination of the bridge and neck pickup
together sounds really cool. But with all three
pickups together, I can’t hear any improvement in tone. Did I do something wrong?
without using special, shielded cables, you
can perform this old-school trick from the
early tube-radio era: instead of using a shielded cable run to connect the output jack, you
can use two standard wires and twist them
together (like a twisted pair). This will provide
extra shielding and will work as well as any
standard shielded cable. You can also use this
little neat trick inside amps, and of course for
any cable run inside a guitar. As a little extra
bonus, you can do this to the connection
cables of any Strat or Telecaster pickup, to
fine tune the tone and to provide some extra
shielding to single coil pickups. It works best
with the cloth covered wires.
A: No, you did everything right! Most people
(including myself) find the combination of
the bridge and neck pickup together a real
improvement in tone, but not so for all three
pickups together. The reason is that we know
the bridge and neck pickup combination from
our Teles, so we have easier access to that
tone. With all three pickups together in parallel, it’s hard to find a useful tone. The parallel
combination is the guilty party. But wait until
we talk about serial combinations—that will
open new doors for you!
A: The middle pickup! The reason is simple:
you can only hear the out-of-phase effect with
two pickups together—playing a Strat’s bridge
pickup alone out of phase will sound the same
as playing it in phase. On a stock Strat you only
have two combinations of two pickups, and the
middle pickup is always involved. If you did the
7-Sound mod, you will have the combination
of the bridge and neck pickup as well, so if you
want to use the out-of-phase sound here, you
will have to put the neck or bridge pickup out
of phase to make the effect audible.
Q: I rotated my pickups 180 degrees like
Jimi Hendrix did, but it sounds still in phase.
Q: I did the bridge pickup tone control mod,
but I now lose some high-end when playing
the bridge pickup alone, even with the tone
control fully opened. What can I do?
A: Physically rotating a pickup 180 degrees will
definitely not put a pickup out of phase, but
you will achieve a different tone—especially
with a pickup with staggered pole pieces.
Hendrix was left-handed, but at the time no
special lefty guitars existed, so he simply took
a normal right-handed guitar and played it left-handed. And I’m pretty sure Jimi never rotated
any pickups 180 degrees in his axes!
Q: I removed the tremolo cover and the
improvement in tone when playing my Strat
unplugged was huge. It sounded more acoustic, more open with a better response to my
playing. After plugging my Strat into the
amp, I couldn’t hear any difference, so
what’s going on there?
A: This is easy to solve. Simply use a .0047uF
(4700pF) capacitor to bridge the two lugs
of the output stage (stage 2) of the 5-way
pickup selector switch, instead of a piece of
wire, and you’re done. This way, the added
capacitor is in series with the normal tone
cap, decreasing total capacitance. This should
save you from the high-end loss.
Q: I was told from my buddy musicians
that every Strat has built-in out of phase
sounds, so why you are showing this mod?
A: Yes, this was a hot-topic a few months ago!
To cut a long story short, it seems that removing the tremolo cover has a huge influence
on the primary (unplugged) tone of every
Stratocaster, but is not always audible when
playing electrically. You simply have to try it;
it’s done in less than a minute. I have removed
the tremolo cover on all of my Strats, and
found the same result. For three of my Strats,
the improvement in tone was stunning when
playing them electrically, but on another I
can’t hear any difference at all. Basically, the
primary improvement happens because of
the tremolo springs; they are adding a kind of
acoustic dimension to your tone, similar to a
little reverb. Without the cover, this effect is not
reflected or dampened, so it’s very easy to hear
and feel the difference. I will do some more
research on this soon, trying different springs
A: Oh yes, this is one of my favorite rant´n´rave
topics—and one of the most common misunderstandings. When we talk about out-of-phase
sounds on a Strat, we are NOT talking about
position 2 and 4 of the 5-way pickup selector
switch! This is a misperception we see a lot. In
position 2 and 4 both pickups are still in phase.
Some people like to call them out of phase
positions, but I like the term in-between positions much better, and it helps to avoid misunderstandings. So, rant over… for now…
There are other common misunderstandings
about the out-of-phase mod. Don’t use two
phase switches, because reversing the leads
of both pickups would put them back in phase
again, and you’ll receive the stock sound. And
putting a single pickup out of phase will also
have no audible result; playing a Strat’s single
pickup out of phase will sound the same as
playing it in phase. You can only get an out-of-phase sound when you use two pickups
together, one of them out of phase.
We will return to more Strat mods over the
next few months, starting with a very cool mod
to shift the range of your tone controls. Until
then keep on modding!
Q: I want to shield my wires to the output
jack, but I don’t have any shielded cables.
What can I do?
A: Normally this is not necessary on a Strat,
but if you want to add a little extra shielding
Dirk Wacker lives in Germany and has been addicted to
all kinds of guitars since the age of five. He is fascinated
by anything that has something to do with old Fender
guitars and amps. He hates short scales and Telecaster
neck pickups, but loves twang. In his spare time he plays
country, rockabilly, surf and Nashville styles in two bands,
works as a studio musician for a local studio and writes
for several guitar mags. He is also a hardcore DIY guy
for guitars, amps and stompboxes and runs an extensive
webpage www.singlecoil.com about these things.