Are Strat Positions 2 and 4 Out of Phase?

Try this on any guitar forum: Refer to pickup position 2 and 4 as “out of phase” and someone will promptly inform you of your ignorance. But are they right?

It depends whether you ask an electrical engineer or an acoustician. True, the two-pickup settings on a Strat are not electronically out of phase in the way that, say, Jimmy Page wired his Les Paul to provide a true out-of-phase sound. (It’s a thin, strangled tone that you probably wouldn’t use much anyway.) So the electrical engineers have a point.

On the other hand, the “hollow” timbre we associate with positions 2 and 4 is precisely due to audio phase cancellation. You get a comparable result when, say, you track an acoustic guitar with two closely placed mics: a notched, almost phasey sound stemming from some, but not all, frequencies being out of phase between one listening point and the other. The distinctive tones of positions 2 and 4 are due to acoustic out-of-phaseness.

So peace, man—you’re both right. (Though you hold the moral high ground for not being a dick.)