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The Modded Eldred Esquire Wiring

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The Modded Eldred Esquire Wiring

The modified Eldred Esquire wiring. Any ideas for a cool name? Illustration courtesy of singlecoil.com

Now that we’ve investigated Mike Eldred’s wiring scheme (“The Eldred Esquire Wiring,” August 2012), I’d like to show you a modified version of this circuit I developed for my personal Esquire—the one I play onstage, which is nicknamed the “Luthercaster.” More about this Esquire and its complete wiring diagram next month.

The basic Eldred wiring is very useable and flexible, and that’s the main reason why so many pro Esquire players choose it. Some years ago, I wired my Esquire this way too. But after some time, I realized it’s not exactly what I need onstage when playing with my local Johnny Cash tribute band. So I started experimenting with the wiring, tweaking it to meet my personal needs, and came up with this version. It’s still unnamed, so if you have a cool suggestion, please email me.

It’s not a complicated modification of the Eldred wiring, but very effective. It affects switching positions #1 and #3—position #2 is identical to the original Eldred wiring. Here’s the switching matrix of my modified version of the Eldred Esquire wiring:

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 also the same as on a standard Esquire, with the pickup signal routed through the volume and tone controls. It sounds a little warmer than position #1.

Switching position #3. In this front position, the pickup is routed through a single, small capacitor and volume control, and the tone control is bypassed.

To sum up the differences compared to the original Eldred wiring, my version sports a true-bypass wiring in position #1 (rather than routing the pickup through the volume control and bypassing only the tone control). For position #3, I chose a different value for the capacitor, and I also chose a different type for the standard tone capacitor that is connected to the tone control. Let me explain what I did and why.

True bypass in position #1. This option connects the pickup directly to the output jack, completely bypassing the electronics. In this position, you hear the pure sound of the pickup. Personally, I think the difference between the pickup connected to both controls and connected to only one control, as in the standard Eldred wiring, is clearly audible, but also kind of subtle. By comparison, the sonic difference between the pickup connected to both controls and true bypass is huge.

As you know, there aren’t many Johnny Cash songs that feature an overdriven guitar sound, and most solo parts are played clean and loud. This was the main idea behind this modification. I play the rhythm part in position #2, so I can fine-tune every song with the volume and tone control. For the solo, all I have to do is switch to position #1 and I have exactly the additional amount of volume I need to cut through the mix. To return to playing rhythm, I simply flip back to position #2 after the solo. This works like a kind of clean solo boost, with position #2 being my rhythm preset. No messing with the controls is required to get a good solo tone.

Different capacitor value for position #3. Instead of the original 4700 pF value, I chose a slightly smaller 3300 pF value and installed a 225P series Orange Drop cap on the 3-way switch. I chose this smaller value because I think it enhances the vocal quality of this switching position, and also makes it perfect for some old-style garage rock sessions, giving you an early ’50s guitar tone you can hear on countless old records.

As another benefit, I can use this position as a second preset for songs like “I Walk the Line,” where Luther Perkins chose a very similar tone to play his part. With their typical mid-scooped tone, Orange Drop caps work perfectly for this, as they support the vocal qualities of the tone. Physically, the 225P series is much smaller than the common Orange Drop series for tube amps— this is because of their smaller wattage. It’s much easier to place them into a Telecaster control cavity than the big 600V types. Yet in a passive circuit, they offer the same tone.

Different capacitor type for the tone control. The standard Eldred wiring uses a modern 0.047 μF film/foil cap on the tone control, and that’s what Mike Eldred prefers. I experimented a lot with the tone cap in this circuit and ended up with a new-old-stock (NOS) 0.05 μF “high voltage” ceramic cap from the early ’60s, manufactured by the Sprague company. That’s exactly the cap Fender used in the ’60s as a tone cap in their Strats, Teles, and some other instruments. The difference is that Fender used a 0.1 μF value, while I agree with Eldred, that a lighter 0.05 μF value is much more useable. This cap offers an unheard amount of harmonic overtones (mostly at 2k and 3k) and are simply perfect for this circuit. At least, that’s my two cents.

As always, this circuit is not set in stone! Experiment with different cap types and values to customize the wiring to your personal taste.

So what do you need to set up this switching? Not much: a 3300 pF (0.0033 μF) capacitor, a 0.05 μF tone cap (or 0.047 μF for modern caps), and some wire—that’s it. Basically, you remove the standard Eldred 4700 pF cap, throw in the new 3300 pF capacitor, change the tone cap, and move some wires. In general, this wiring sounds best with two 250k pots and a traditional Esquire/Telecaster bridge pickup.

Stay tuned for next month’s column where I’ll show you the complete wiring diagram of my personal Esquire, plus share some secrets on how to achieve an authentic Johnny Cash tone with an Esquire—it’s an email question I receive a lot. Until then, keep on modding!


Dirk Wacker lives in 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 website—singlecoil.com—on the subject.
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