The aftermarket electronics business is pretty sizeable. Custom pickups in almost any imaginable permutation of power and magnet material… vintage-approved parts like NOS paper-in-oil capacitors… there are any number of ways of spending considerable bucks on making your guitar sound different. For instance, the Seymour Duncan dimebucker
is a great guitar modification, but may not give the desired tone straight out of the box.
With all this promise of tonal nirvana, it’s easy to lose sight of the effect you can have on your sound with little more than a soldering iron and some cunning know-how. Over the next three pages, we’ll outline our Top 10 all-time favourite wiring mods. Here’s how to cure a shrill bridge pickup, get three great sounds out of a Tele, transform a Les Paul, check your P90s are working the way they should, Tele-fy your Strat, fix a Gretsch’s woofy problem – and a whole lot more.
Balancing a bridge pickup on a strat
Almost everybody seems to have a problem with Strat bridge pickups: they always sound so much brighter and edgier than the middle and neck. Lowell George put a Tele pickup in his; Ry Cooder has used a P90 or lap steel pickups; many of us over a certain age probably tried turning our Strats into Superstrats with aftermarket humbuckers and chisels.
So why, when all three pickups are pretty much identical, is the bridge pickup such a problem? Well, there’s always a degree of treble roll-off when a tone control is connected, even when the control is supposedly fully up. With regular Strat wiring the middle and neck pickups have that treble roll-off, but the bridge doesn’t.
There are various fixes available. One is to swap the tone control from the middle pickup to the bridge pickup, while another involves replacing the stock bridge pickup with a hotter-wound, darker-sounding unit. But there’s another option that creates a better tonal balance between the pickups and – arguably –makes Strats easier to use: simply disconnecting the middle or neck tone control and reverting to a master tone control arrangement.
Referring to the diagram above left, remove the (yellow) connector wire running from the selector switch to the middle pickup tone control, and also remove the jumper connecting the two tone pots.
Next disconnect the (green) connector wire from the switch and reconnect it to the jumper (red) wire on the switch – or the output (middle) lug of the volume control (see the diagram on the right). The latter may be preferable if your guitar isn’t fitted with a treble bleed capacitor across the input and output lugs of the volume control. Now you’ve got a spare control, it’s freed up for other cool mods too.
1. Wiring Secrets Pt.1