The Bridge Pickup on My Stratocaster is Too Bright, WTF?Posted: March 4, 2012
I used to have a love/hate relationship with my Stratocaster. Actually, to be more precise, a four parts love to one part hate relationship. If I put the five-way pickup selector in positions two through five I was in Strat heaven, you know the common adjectives; glassy, bell-like, and Hendrixic (I made that one up). But what’s the deal with position one, the bridge pickup all by itself, in its naked glory, producing its unadulterated, ear splitting tone. When I bought my first Strat I thought it was defective, but after a quick call to customer service I was informed that this was in fact not a defect. One tone control for the middle pickup, one for the neck, and none for the bridge. Great, now what?
I guess I could just avoid using the the first pickup selector position, but that would be like buying a five pound bag of apples, using four pounds to bake a pie and then throwing the other pound away. What a waste, that other pound would have made some killer fritters. There must be a way I can cook up something useful with this pickup, let’s get the tools out and take look under the hood.
First let’s nail down what’s going on with the pickup selector.
- It’s a five-way switch with two discrete poles. I will call one pole the PINK POLE and the other the GREEN POLE.
- Each pole has three inputs. I will refer to these as Bridge (B), Middle (M), Neck (N).
- Each pole has one common which is also referred to as an Output (O).
Here is what input will be sent to its respective output in the five different positions:
- Position 1 – B to O, B to O
- Position 2 – B & M to O, B & M to O
- Position 3 – M to O, M to O
- Position 4 - M & N to O, M & N to O
- Position 5 - N to O, N to O
Here is the switch as it would appear with the rest of the guts.
- The pickup hot wires all go to the Green Pole and the tone controls go to the Pink Pole.
- The Green Output connects to the Pink Output and then goes to the volume. This will make the output on the Green Pole interact with the output on the Pink Pole before it goes to the volume and ultimately to the output jack.
So, if we choose position 5 we get N interacting with N or the neck pickup interacting with the neck tone. Position 4 gives us N and M interacting with N and M, the neck and middle pickups interacting with the neck and middle tone. My issue is that when I switch to position 1, I get B interacting B which is the bridge pickup interacting with squat.
At the time, I had never modified a guitar before and wanted to keep it as simple as possible as well as easily reversible. The first thing I did was take a picture before I started moving wires around so I would have an “oh, crap” reference. Next, I simply moved the wire from M to B and then added a wire from N to M. This gave me a bridge tone control and now the other tone controlled both the middle and neck pickups.
There are many other ways around this problem, a quick Google search will soon overwhelm you with options. Let me explain why I chose this option:
- It required no new parts.
- It was easily reversible if I didn’t like it.
- If you have basic soldering skills you don’t need to get a guitar shop involved. If you don’t have basic soldering skills get them, there are lots of tutorial videos online on how to solder. Once you learn how there are many simple mods you can do.
- Changing the pickup to something darker in tone might alter the bridge and middle combo (position 2) that I liked.
Turning the bridge tone down to about seven takes just enough top end off to no longer foul the ears yet it keeps the Strat tone. I now have a versatile guitar with five very usable pickup selections. There are situations such as playing in a large band with multiple guitars and horns where you really need a solo to cut through the mix. You can still do that by tuning the tone up to ten. (Why do you think so many funk and country guitarist use Strats and Teles?)
I hope this post will help anybody else looking for a way to tame their Strat bridge pickup. If you try this modification leave a comment and tell me what you think. If you did a different modification leave a comment too, I’m always looking for new ideas.