The quest for the ultimate tone
As guitarists, we are always searching for not only the ultimate tone, but just the right look for our axe. As a result, there are literally thousands of modifications that can be made to standard-issue Stratocaster guitars. Visit any web forum or blog and you’ll read advice from thousands of fellow gearhead musicians. Here are a few examples that Fender has cooked up:
- The Texas Blues Mexican Strat
- The Blackout Mexican Strat
- The Clapton Kit
- The Grease Bucket Tone Circuit
Example #1 The Texas Blues Mexican Strat
This modification will turn any standard Stratocaster into a blues beast! It starts with replacing the stock pickups with a set of Texas Special pickups. The overwound Texas Specials will give you that authentic Texas blues tone with plenty of midrange chirp, crystal highs, and tight bass. The output on these pickups is considerably higher than the stock Standard Stratocaster, so you will notice an immediate difference in tone.
Once you have done an “electrical overhaul” with the new pickups, it’s time to start adding the finishing touches to make the Strat look as good as it sounds.
It’s easy to make your guitar look like it has spent years rolling in and out of smoky clubs and on the road as your primary axe, even if you just bought it! Fender offers an “aged white” accessory kit that contains aged white knobs, a backplate, tremolo tip, and switch tip. The only additional item you will need to purchase is a pickguard. To complete the “vintage” look for your Strat, Fender offers an 11-hole pickguard with a mint green tint to simulate the aging of the original white color.
For the truly “aged” look you can leave the knobs and tips in coffee over night and it will “yellow” them just as if you had been in a smoky blues club for 20 years playing your axe.
|Fender Replacement Pickguard ’62 Strat||Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Strat Pickups (3)||Fender Stratocaster Accessory Kit|
For around $300, you can create a smoking blues monster of a guitar!
For an HSS-array Stratocaster, you can get the Texas blues sound with the Seymour Duncan SHR-1 Hot Rail Stacked Single Coil Pickup. Combine that with a set of Tex Mex pickups in the neck and bridge position and you have a killer combination. Get the traditional Strat look with the white pickguard and accessories.
|Seymour Duncan SHR-1 Hot Rail Stacked Single Coil Pickup||Fender White Accessory Kit||Fender Tex-Mex Pickups (set of 3)|
|Fender White Pickguard|
Upgrade for around $250! #
Example #2 The Blackout Mexican Strat
This modification starts with the use of the Samarium Cobalt Noiseless (SCN) pickups. These babies deliver a souped-up Strat tone that will blow your daddy’s guitar out of the water. SCN pickups combine traditional magnetic technology with Samarium Cobalt magnetic material to deliver high output in a noiseless design. These pickups come as standard issue these days in an American Deluxe Strat that would normally cost over $1500, so you’re getting platinum-level tone at an affordable price.
Once we have done an “electrical overhaul” with the new pickups, it’s time to start adding on the finishing touches to make the Strat look as good as it sounds.
The pickups are available with white, aged white, parchment, and black covers. For our example, we are going to use black covers, black pickguard, and the Black Accessory kit with tone and volume knobs, trem bar tip, switch tip, and backplate. Now you’ve got a really menacing Strat!
|SCN Strat Pickup Set (black)||Fender Black Accessory Kit||Fender American Standard Strat 11-Hole Pickguard (black)|
Upgrade for less than $300!
Example #3 The Clapton Kit
Almost every guitar player on the planet has drooled over the “Clapton” tone at one point or another. We offer a kit from Fender that will help you hone in on that classic tone. The Mid Boost kit includes all of the pots and the circuit board you will need to transform your Strat into your very own “Blackie.”
Combine this with the Hot Noiseless pickups in the current Clapton signature model and you’ll be riffing with “Layla” in no time. This is probably the most popular modification to Stratocasters to date.
Keep in mind that this particular kit includes a PC board that is inserted into the control cavity. You may need to route out the body to allow room for the board. Some do-it-yourselfers have managed to squeeze the board into the tremolo cavity, but this renders the tremolo system nearly useless.
- Hot Noiseless 3 Pickup Set
- Pre-Amp Mid Boost Kit
Upgrade for a little over $200!
Example #4 The Grease Bucket Tone Circuit
One challenge in getting the perfect guitar tone is cutting piercing highs without adding mud to the mix. The Grease Bucket tone circuit is a relatively inexpensive Strat modification that can be done to an existing Stratocaster that allows you to roll back the highs without muddying your tone.
Essentially, this modification adds an extra capacitor and resistor to each of the tone pots that helps control the lows. This technology is featured in the current Highway One Series Stratocasters. To add bell-like tones and clear harmonics to your sound add some custom ’54 pickups. These babies will make your Strat sing.
- .1 uf Capacitor (requires 2)
- .02 uf Capacitor (requires 2)
- 1/4 watt resistor (requires 2)
- Custom Shop ’54 Strat Pickups Set of 3
Other inexpensive modifications:
1. Use the Eric Johnson trick of switching the second tone knob from the middle pickup to the bridge. This move provides a better variety of tones than the stock configuration. This can be included with any of the other modifications mentioned. No new parts needed, just standard soldering.
2. You can switch the middle pickup to a reverse wound/reverse polarity (example) to provide humbucking qualities in positions 2 and 4.
3. All of these modifications should definitely include the installation of copper shielding tape. This stuff is great for keeping the hum down. Put it in the cavities and on the back of the pickguard and make sure all of the copper is grounded.
|Seymour Duncan APS-2 Alnico II|
Pro Flat Pickup
|DiMarzio Copper Shielding Tape|
(2" x 3-1/2")