The Eldred Esquire wiring schematic. Illustration courtesy of www.singlecoil.com
This month, let’s continue exploring Esquire mods by diving into the so-called “Eldred Esquire wiring,” which is currently one of the most popular wiring schemes for this iconic Fender model. The Eldred wiring is named after Mike Eldred, who directs the Fender Custom Shop. (This must be one of the dream jobs in today’s guitar industry!) Mike came up with this wiring for his personal Esquire and it was an instant success.
In addition to managing the Custom Shop, Mike is also a great guitarist who gigs a lot with his trio, so he knows what a guitarist really needs. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike at one of the winter NAMM shows in California, and he’s a very nice and funny guy, too. (Visit fendercustomshop.com and mikeeldredtrio.com for a closer look at Mike’s work.)
Like so many other Esquire players,
Mike doesn’t like the stock switching position
#3, which routes the guitar’s single
pickup through the volume control and
a fixed “treble roll-off ” capacitor/resistor
network. Here is the switching matrix of
his preferred system:
• Switching position #1. This rear position is the same as on a standard Esquire. The pickup is routed through the volume control only, with the tone control bypassed for a hotter, louder lead sound with extra highs.
• Switching position #2. This middle position is also the same as on a standard Esquire, with the pickup routed through the volume and tone controls. It sounds a little warmer than position #1.
• Switching position #3. In the front position of the Eldred Esquire wiring, the pickup is routed through a single, small capacitor and volume control, with the tone control bypassed once again. You might think this is a very small and lame modification because it consists of nothing more than removing the fixed treble roll-off network and replacing it with a capacitor. But it’s a very effective mod that’s both versatile and useful.
Adding the small capacitor and entirely removing the treble roll-off network gives this switching position a kind of “oh-oh” vocal quality and creates a scooped and hollow midrange that sounds nice and warm. This specific sound is also called the “cocked wah tone.” When playing an Esquire that’s wired this way, anyone with a wah pedal will immediately know why. Using some volume swells (the volume pot is still engaged in this switching position), you can completely mimic a wah pedal, once—like the great Greg Koch or Jim Campilongo—you master the playing technique.
To hear how this switching works and sounds, you can watch a video from the Fender Custom Shop, where Mike walks you through his switching system on a relic’d ’50s top-bound Esquire (YouTube search term: LTD Release ‘50s Top Bound Esquire Relic).
So what do you need to set up this switching? Not very much—just an additional 4700 pF (0.0047 μF) capacitor and some wire. That’s it. The project basically involves removing the treble roll-off network, throwing in the new capacitor, and moving some wires. Generally, this wiring sounds best with two 250k pots and a traditional Esquire/Telecaster bridge pickup. Mike actually prefers a hotter bridge pickup model with a more prominent midrange. Fig. 1 shows the Eldred Esquire wiring schematic.
Even though the Eldred wiring is versatile
and sounds great, it’s no crime to
customize it to your personal preference.
Here are some ways to experiment with
• Start with the 0.047 μF tonecap from the standard Esquire circuit and then experiment with the value and the type of the cap. In several earlier columns, I’ve discussed the various options in detail.
• Mike prefers a standard film/foil 4700 pF cap for switching position #3. You can experiment with the value of this cap to dial in the tone you want. A lower value than 4700 pF will result in more highs because less treble is bled to ground and vice versa. A good range to tinker with is 1000 pF up to 6800 pF, but naturally you can use any value you like.
• Another excellent area to experiment with is the type of cap you choose to replace the stock treble roll-off network. You can try ceramic, film/foil, paper-in-oil, paper waxed, silver mica, Styroflex, or anything you would like to try. Personally I prefer a 715P or 225P Orange Drop cap for this, because these caps also offer a prominent midrange scoop that perfectly supports the vocal “oh” quality of the tone. These caps really fit like a pair of old shoes with this wiring. But it can also be interesting to use a completely different cap (and value), making the “oh” sound more like an “uh” or “ah.”
I think you know what I mean! In next month’s column, I’ll share my personal custom version of the Eldred wiring and explain how the Esquire I use onstage is configured, so stay tuned. Until then, keep on modding!
Dirk Wackerlives 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.