Hey fellow guitarists, it’s time for another cool mod.
In this and next month’s column, we’ll explore parallel/series
pickup switching schemes for the
single-coil pickups in your Strat.
We’ll begin with some theory
and then look at several cool
applications for this wiring.
As you know, like most
guitars sporting more than a
single pickup, your Strat lets
you select any pickup by itself
or choose certain dual-pickup
combinations. The standard
way to connect multiple pickups is to wire them in parallel.
This generates the classic tone
our ears know from countless
records, when a guitarist uses
the bridge and middle or middle and neck pickups in tandem
(positions 2 and 4 on a normal
5-way Strat switch).
Only a few guitars use series
wiring for their pickups. The
most popular examples of
series setups are the Brian May
“Red Special” and almost all
There are several good
reasons why you might want
to wire your Strat pickups in
series. If you want more volume
and midrange out of your pickups, the parallel/series switching
may be the perfect option. As
I mentioned, parallel wiring
of two pickups is what you are
used to hearing from a Strat.
Parallel wiring adds transparency and clarity to the tone.
In contrast, wiring two pick-
ups in series produces a longer
path with increased resistance,
adding volume while preventing
the highest frequencies from get-
ting through. With series wiring,
the output of one pickup goes
into the input of another pick-
up, while with standard parallel
wiring, each pickup takes its
own path to the output. Besides
being noticeably louder, series
wiring emphasizes low and mid-
range tones, and this is a perfect
combination to drive any tube
amp into saturation without the
help of a booster.
to ground to ground
standard parallell wiring
LEFT: On a stock, modern Strat, the dual-pickup settings (positions 2 and
4) use a parallel wiring scheme. RIGHT: When two pickups are wired in
series, the output of one pickup goes into the input of the other, increasing volume and emphasizing low and midrange tones.
The formula works like this: The
longer the wire, the higher the
resistance, and the more treble is
lost. We all know this from guitar cables: When you use a very
long guitar cable, the sound isn’t
as detailed and transparent as it
is with a shorter cable. A long
cable acts as a resistor.
Higher frequencies are more
attenuated by a resistor than
lower frequencies, and this
explains why pickups wired in
series offer more prominent low
and midrange timbres. The signal has to travel through twice as
much pickup wire to reach the
output jack compared to parallel
wiring—and that’s a lot of wire!
We now know why series
wiring attenuates the highs, but
why is it louder? Why do you
end up with such a beefy, meaty
tone? Let’s assume each pickup
on your Strat puts out 100 x
of power. When wiring two
pickups in parallel, each pickup
loses 3/4 of its output when
combined with the other. This
drops each pickup’s output to
25 x, instead of 100 x. Together,
you get a total of 50 x ( 25 x +
25 x). This power drop is why
any dual-pickup combination
on your Strat doesn’t sound as
loud as a single pickup.
But with the same two
pickups wired in series, you’ll
receive 100 x + 100 x, result-
ing in a total of 200 x. Because
the two pickups are wired one
into another, the output from
the first pickup is added to the
output of the second one. This
generates a much louder tone.
DIRK WACKER lives in
Germany and is fascinated
by anything related to old
Fender guitars and amps.
He plays country, rocka-
billy, and surf music in two
bands, works regularly as a
session musician for a local studio, and writes
for several guitar mags. He’s also a hardcore
guitar and amp DIY-er who runs an extensive
website— singlecoil.com—on the subject.