Stratocaster Tone Split Mod
Hello and welcome back to “Mod
Garage.” After last month’s Q&A,
we’re returning to more Stratocaster
mods. This time I’ll show you how to
split the tone controls into two different ranges by using two separate
tone-caps with your standard Strat wiring. This mod is easy to do, but very
helpful and effective—plus it doesn’t
alter the appearance of your guitar. It’s
also perfect for combining with some
other mods we’ve talked about in the
last months, e.g. the “Bridge Pickup
Tone Control” (BPTC) mod.
You can see on the standard Strat
wiring scheme that both tone pots
share a common tone capacitor,
and both pots are also of the same value.
This means that each of the tone controls has
the same frequency response curve. Because
there is only one tone capacitor, the two tone
controls are wired in series. This works, but it
doesn’t really work as well as it could.
You can split the tone controls like we’ll do
here, then put a smaller tonecap on the corresponding tone control pot for more treble
in the middle, bridge and middle/bridge
positions. This is highly recommended, by the
way, if you do perform the BPTC mod.
all marked in red. This is the wiring you all
know, with the bridge pickup without a tone
control, and an individual tone control for the
middle and the neck pickup.
I suspect that Fender used only one capacitor
when the Stratocaster was developed back in
the ‘50s in order to cut cost. If they had used
two capacitors, one for each tone control, it
would have cost a few more cents, but the
tone controls would have been more useful. It’s
never to late to change such things, though—
so pull out your soldering iron and heat it up!
The Tone Split
Our goal is to use two independent tone capacitors to shift the range of the tone controls, one
cap for each tone control. For this, we will have
to modify stage #2 (output stage) of our 5-way
pickup selector switch. This is also a good time
to think about changing the configuration of the
two tone controls. In the stock Stratocaster wiring, the bridge pickup has no tone control, while
the middle and neck pickups each have an individual tone control. We talked about this some
months ago; now it all comes together.
In one of my own Strats, I did that mod (bridge
and middle pickup sharing one tone pot) and
split the tone controls. For the bridge and
middle pickup tone control, I use an NOS “high
voltage” 0.02uF ceramic cap from the early
‘60s to achieve the classic vintage tone. For the
neck pickup tone control, I use a 4700pF NOS
paper-in-oil cap from military supply, because
I want a clear and transparent jazz tone out of
the neck pickup, with only some slightly dampened high end. I think you got the idea—you
can also review my earlier column, “Auditioning
Tone Capacitors” [March 2009 Web Exclusive]
for more details about tone caps and values.
Often, you can find the tone-split mod together
with the BPTC mod for even more flexibilty—
many Strat players favour this one. With this
wiring, you’ll also be able to control the tone of
the bridge pickup (Vintage Strat wiring doesn’t
give you this ability). One pot is a tone control
for both the neck and middle pickup, while the
other pot is a tone control for the bridge pickup only. If you use a 5-way switch, the middle
and bridge position will be affected by both
tone controls—a really cool option!
To start, I recommend you print out the
standard Stratocaster wiring and place it on
your workbench. That will make it easier to
see and understand the differences in the
modded schematics. You can download the
standard wiring scheme from the Seymour
Duncan webpage at: seymourduncan.com/
That’s it. I hope you’ll find this mod useful
for increasing the versatility of your Strat.
Next month, you’ll find a PG first right here:
I’ll show you how to use the famous Gibson
‘50s vintage wiring from the late-fifties Burst
Les Paul guitars in your Stratocaster! As far
as I know, such a circuit drawing was never
published anywhere before, so stay tuned.
Until then, keep on modding!
Using two different tonecaps will allow you
to use different types of capacitors, or even
different capacitor values, for certain pickups.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re happy with
the neck-only tone control, you did the BPTC
mod, and you’d like to get more treble out
of the middle/bridge-pickup combination.
Wiring diagrams courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups and used by permission.
Seymour Duncan and the stylized S are registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups, with which Premier Guitar magazine is not affiliated.
So here, in comparison to the standard wiring, is the Tone Split mod. Please notice
the modified wiring on stage #2 of the
5-way switch, and the additional tonecap,
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.