In this “stealth” circuit, the Strat neck
pickup is hidden below the pickguard. Illustration
courtesy of www.singlecoil.com
Now that we’ve explored a hot-rodded version
of the Eldred Esquire wiring [“The
Modded Eldred Esquire Wiring,” September
2012], I’d like to show you the full wiring I
have in my personal Esquire. Nicknamed the
“Luthercaster,” this is the guitar I play onstage
with our local Johnny Cash tribute band. I
decided to use an Esquire in this band primarily
because Luther Perkins—Cash’s first guitarist—played one most of the time.
An Esquire is simply perfect for this kind
of music. Perkins was a Fender player to
the bone, and the Fender folks were kind
enough to give him a new guitar from time
to time—an early endorsement deal of sorts.
Other than a short romance with a Fender
Jazzmaster in 1959, Perkins played an
Esquire until his untimely death in 1968.
Before I explain the wiring in my Esquire,
I have to describe our band’s set list. We have
a classic lineup: a drummer, a bassist, a lead
guitarist (that’s me), and a singer who plays
rhythm guitar. This lets us cover a lot of Cash
songs and authentically nail his early sound.
For the songs Cash recorded late in his
career for the American Recordings label, I
play an acoustic guitar because there’s no need
for electric guitar tones. But there are also
Cash songs with keyboards, horns, banjo, and
fiddle—and no electric guitar. Furthermore, I
often want to play acoustic guitar in the verse
and electric guitar in the chorus, or vice versa.
Playing two instruments in one song is always
a problem! Sure, I could put my acoustic guitar
in a special stand and play it like Santana
or the Scorpions, but I don’t think it looks
good, plus it’s not practical on small stages.
After a lot of experimentation, I came up
with a solution that works perfectly for me. A
customer told me about his Boss AC-3 Acoustic
Simulator pedal, and though I never expected
a digital modeling box to be a suitable solution,
I was curious. I grabbed one on eBay and
when it arrived, I plugged in my Strat. With
a clean tube amp, it sounded ... not bad. So I
gave it a chance at our next rehearsal. Playing
the Esquire, I was very disappointed. My tone
was cold and sterile. Even a pure piezo pickup
played into a transistor amp sounded warmer. I
tweaked the AC-3’s knobs to no avail.
How could this be? Same amp, only a
different guitar. I played it with a Strat again
and the pedal sounded much better, but
only with the neck pickup. Playing it with
the Strat’s bridge pickup produced the same
ice-pick sound as with the Esquire. Okay, I
realized the neck pickup was the key, but as
you know, Esquires don’t have a neck pickup.
I didn’t want to destroy the classic Esquire
look with a neck pickup, but I also wanted
to use the AC-3 to simulate a flattop in
some songs. (By the way, the AC-3 doesn’t
sound like a real acoustic guitar when I play
by myself at home, but onstage with other
instruments, the pedal really starts to shine.)
After some of my trial-and-error attempts,
the final solution came from my friend
Michael Pantleon at LeoSounds pickups (leosounds.
com). We call it the “Esquire stealth
pickup.” The idea is simple and not new: You
install a pickup underneath the pickguard, so
it’s invisible from the outside. Fender did this
in 1965 with their first Marauder series, and
other companies have tried this too.
Using a router to cut an additional Stratsize
pickup cavity was easy, but getting the
pickup to sound right through the pickguard
was tricky for two reasons: You can’t adjust
the pickup height, and the pickup is farther
away from the strings than it should be. But
Michael solved this problem and the result
was much better than I expected. The trick
is to use a non-magnetic plastic or Bakelite
pickguard (a metal pickguard affects the
sound) and build a pickup with flush pole
pieces so it fits snugly against the ’guard.
On my guitar, it sounds like a standard Strat
neck pickup mounted on a Telecaster—imagine
a Fender Jerry Donahue Telecaster—only
you don’t see the pickup. This turned out to
be perfect for the Boss AC-3, and it sounded
great right from the start.
My contribution was to figure out how
to integrate the new pickup into my existing
wiring. I wanted to keep the modded
Eldred wiring (see last month’s column for
that schematic), so I experimented a bit and
came up with the following circuit. It incorporates
the modded Eldred wiring, as well
as an additional switch I call the “acoustic
switch.” Here’s the switching matrix:
Switching position #1. This rear position
is true bypass. The guitar’s single pickup
is routed directly to the output jack, with
the tone and volume control removed from
the signal path for maximum twang and
spank, and to provide a good solo boost.
Switching position #2. This middle position
is the same as on a standard Esquire, with
the pickup signal routed through the volume
and tone controls. It sounds warmer than
position #1 on my Esquire.
Switching position #3. In this front
position, the bridge pickup is routed
through a single, small capacitor and volume
control, and the tone control is bypassed.
The acoustic switch. Turning this on
engages the stealth neck pickup and routes
its signal directly to the output jack, bypassing
all the electronics and also muting the
stock bridge pickup. This works in any
position of the 3-way switch.
You can use a push/pull or push/push pot
for the acoustic switch, but I prefer an additional
mini toggle switch located between
the two pots on the Esquire’s control plate.
When I want to use the AC-3, I just flip
this switch. I simply use the AC-3’s volume
control to achieve unity gain with the bridge
pickup. It took me several rehearsals to master
the technique of flipping the switch with
my right hand while simultaneously engaging
the AC-3 with my right foot, but before
long the movement felt quite natural.
So what do you need to set up this
switching? In addition to routing the
pickup cavity, you need a special flush-pole
pickup and a toggle switch or a push/pull
pot. For me, a Stratocaster neck pickup on
an Esquire is the right choice when you
want to drive an acoustic modeler. But I
can also imagine a stealth humbucker or
P-90 underneath the pickguard to provide a
second tone that’s completely different. For
more Perkins-style mods, visit premierguitar.
Germany and is fascinated
by anything related to old
Fender guitars and amps.
He plays country, rockabilly,
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
—on the subject.