Hands-On Review:Fender S-1 Switching System

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The ultimate custom axe tones-now stock.

By Quincy Lee Hart

It's a fact-accept it: Fender guitars and basses have set the standard for years. They're full of great sounds, fantastically playable, and infamously indestructible. Countless players have hit the stage and studio with a Fender in their hands, rippin' it up and laying down the cool licks, riffs, and grooves. And many, many of those players also chose to modify, customize, and/or hot rod their respective axes. Nine times out of ten, those alterations were done in the name of tone, not playability or feel.

If it ain't broke...
The thing is, Leo Fender got his designs right the first time. The Strat, Tele, P Bass, and J Bass are not only exercises in artfully designed manufactured goods, they're also sweet-playing electric axes that have innovated, inspired, and influenced generations with their distinct vibe and feel. Simply put, you can't go wrong with a Fender in your hands. It's going to play like butter and look killer.

But that hasn't stopped people from playing around with the electronics and pickups. The Stratocaster, already the most versatile axe Fender offers, has borne the brunt of this enthusiasm for experimentation. Someone, it seems, is always trying to squeeze just one more sound from its space-age, double-cut solidbody. Would-be six-string Edisons have expended a lot of energy tweaking pickups, switching, knobs, wiring, and tremolos with a nearly endless array of aftermarket add-ons and home-cooked sonic remedies.

Something for everyone
But what if your favorite Fender came from Corona already hot-rodded? How nice would it be to pick up a new Strat or P Bass with a hot pickup and switching system setup already installed? Thanks to the Fender research and development team, now you can. Their latest innovation in guitar technology is the
S-1 Switch, a discrete button mounted directly onto the volume control pot on all American Series guitars with humbucking pickups; the Hardtail Stratocaster; Precision Bass, Jazz Bass, and all American Deluxe guitars.

It opens up entirely new ranges of pickup configurations and tones, as well as some favorites modders have been doing for years. Activating the extra circuitry connected to the switch converts pickups from serires to parallel, as well as turning humbuckers into single-coils. Owning a guitar or bass with an S-1 Switch will be an incredible boon to players, considering it will make each bass sound like two basses, and will make each guitar more tonally diverse than ever before.

Players should also get some peace of mind from the fact this is a Fender installed and approved system covered by their five-year warranty. Normally you'd have to buy a new Strat or Jazz Bass and immediately butcher it to shoehorn in an active preamp, humbucker, or versatile switching system, destroying the warranty in the process. All that is part of the past, thanks to the S-1 Switch. You can get the sounds you want without sacrificing your instrument's well-being or warranty. Fender purists need not fret, either. Visually, tonally, and materially, these are essentially the same instruments unveiled to the world in the '50s and'60s.

Today's hottest tones

The Stratocaster was introduced in 1954 and has thrived fundamentally unchanged throughout 47 years of production, becoming the favored instrument of millions of guitarists including heavyweights such as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Yngwie Malmsteen, and David Gilmour. There's no way Fender is going to mess with that mojo. Pressing the Switch on a S-1

appointed Strat essentially doubles the number of pickup selections available, and really shines on a humbucker equipped model. It will put a veritable parade of parallel- and series-wired pickup configurations at your disposal.

The S-1 Switch does a similar trick for the American Deluxe Telecaster. There's no more need to carry around two guitars to achieve Strat versatility or tone. Now you can do it all with the guitar that started it all-its palette of sonic colors widened even further on humbucker-equipped models.

In the 40-odd years since its introduction, the Fender Jazz Bass has become an institution, its players dedicated to masterful low end. Everyone from chops-masters like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller to punk-rock pounders Matt Freeman and Dan Adriano have found a lot to love in the J. Its thin, offset body is comfortable and it's easy to get around on the low-profile, narrow neck. Thanks to the S-1 Switch, it has something else to offer now. With the circuit engaged, it switches the pickups from parallel to series, giving the bass a fatter, beefier tone with more pronounced lows and low mids.

The first electric bass to roll off the production line at Fender was the Precision Bass. Its classic tones have held down the bottom end for countless gigs and records. And the S-1 Switch has only made it better, without affecting any of its great bass tone or fantastic playability. Press the S-1 Switch and the split single-coil pickup goes from series to parallel, giving the bass a brighter, snappier tone with more midrange bite and treble snap.

All of the new Fender guitars and basses with the S-1 Switch will be crafted in the Fender state-of-the-art facility in Corona, California. Make sure you experience the difference this electronic kick-in-the-pants makes for your tone and sound.

If you purchase an American Deluxe guitar or bass, you'll also be pleasantly surprised to find a new pickup residing in your instrument's body. It's no secret that pickup designers have been striving to develop the ultimate noise-free single-coil replacement pickup. In pursuit of as little 60-cycle hum and extraneous noise as possible and the classic bell-like tones and fidelity of the original Fender designs, Fender has poured their energy into discovering a new world pickup for the ages. With open minds and a willingness to seemingly question everything, Fender partnered with legendary pickup designer Bill Lawrence. The pickup that was birthed from this extraordinary partnership is the new Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickup. It has no hum, no microphonics, close to zero magnetic interruption of the string path; and the widest sonic parameters possible-from Fender classic single coils to tones not yet imagined. Truly a revolutionary design in guitar pickups.