The “Super Strat” Treble Bleed

The term “super strat” originated in the ’80s when fans of shredding guitar started outfitting stock Fender Strats with a humbucker or two (often with toggles for tapping or splitting the coils) and a double-locking tremolo like those from Kahler and Floyd Rose. Ibanez is perhaps the most successful of the companies that caught on to the trend and made it the foundation of its unique line, but today the term “super strat” is used more broadly to refer to just about any brand of double-cutaway guitar that sports an abuse-proof vibrato system and electronics that offer a variety of single-coil and humbucker sounds.

Given this heritage, it goes without saying that these guitars are often already equipped with circuits far more elaborate than the classic axes we’ve been discussing up to this point. But there’s still one area in which many of them can still be improved. That’s where our fourth fab project—the treble-bleed mod—comes in.

“Super strats” are often used with heavy distortion, but unless they’ve got active electronics, as soon as you turn down their volume knob(s) to get a cleaner tone, the sound gets muddy and less defined. As previously described, this is because a good portion of the high-end content is bled to ground.

So what is a treble-bleed network and what does it do? In layman’s terms, it´s a combination of a small capacitor and a resistor wired in parallel (there are also variations with a cap only or a resistor in series with a cap). Techies sometimes call it an “RC network” (the “RC” referring to the resistor and capacitor), a "high-pass filter," or a “treble-bypass filter.” The theory behind this simple circuit is much more complicated than it looks, so I’ll break it down the simplest way I can. As a rule of thumb, the circuit’s brightness is determined by the resistor’s value (i.e., a lower ohm rating translates to more treble), but the frequencies that are present are determined by the cap´s value (i.e., the lower the value, the higher the frequencies, and the higher the value the lower the frequencies).

When you roll down the volume in a treble-bled circuit, it begins filtering out bass frequencies, thus making the trebles more prominent. To be clear, it doesn’t boost trebles—a passive circuit can only selectively attenuate. But with a little trial and error, you can fine-tune your circuit’s component values in order to filter out the specific frequencies that are muddying your signal when you turn down. And the result can be just as effective—if not more so—than a boost, because it lifts the metaphorical wooly carpet from off your signal without boosting a handful of frequencies out of the context of an overall band mix.

Given the huge range of variables in the rest of your “super strat’s” circuit—from pot values to pickup magnets and output ratings—it’s almost impossible to specify which capacitors and resistors will work best for your project (never mind what the rest of your signal chain looks like). But a good starting point is to get some small caps—say, from 220 pF up to 1200 pF—and resistors—from 100k ? up to 330k ?—and start experimenting to find out what works best for your guitar, your rig, and your musical preferences.

The easiest way to experiment and find the optimum capacitor and resistor values is to solder two wires to the input and output of the volume pot, and then connect an alligator clip to each of the free ends. This way you can let the two wires hang out from the control compartment for fast access. Try a bunch of different cap and resistor values, and when you’ve found your favorite combination, solder it into the circuit permanently and remove the two test wires. Then your shred machine will be an even more versatile and great-sounding guitar, no matter how much distortion you’ve got it going through!

Wiring diagram for the “super strat” treble-bleed mod. Diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups.

It’s a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World
Whether you’re new to modding or an old hand at it, remember that it’s not always the complicated mods that sound the best. Simple mods—those here, and many others—can drastically enhance your guitar’s tones. So give these a try, and then be brave and solder along to new ones, too. And if you’re not already checking out my monthly Mod Garage column, be sure to join us there each month. Until then, keep on modding!