“The all-new ‘passing lane’ switch instantly routes your signal from any pickup position to the bridge position with the tone circuit bypassed, blasting overtones and volume straight into the Strat-o-sphere.”
Well, I have to confess I really love Fender marketing and their tradition of using cheesy hot rod themes to sell their instruments. This mod is really cool for a humbucker/single/single (HSS) configuration, but it also works with any given pickup combination. This is not really a new or “Fender first” mod. John Suhr has used a similar “blower switch” on his guitars for several years, Yamaha equips some of their instruments with this feature, and you can find comparable mods on the Internet, often called “solo switch mods” or “lead mods.” Currently, the circuit drawing is not available on the Fender website, but they’re bound to add it soon. In the meantime, I’ll show you how to add this circuit to your Stratocaster.
Wiring diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups. Seymour Duncan and the stylized S are registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups.
You don’t need much for this mod, just a DPDT (on/on) switch and some wire. As you probably know, there are plenty of options for switching devices. Besides a mini-toggle switch, you can also use the round push/push button from Fender, which is available through any authorized Fender dealer. Alternatively, you can use a push/pull or push/push pot. Either of these lets you avoid drilling holes in your pickguard and keeps your Strat looking completely stock. Personally, I like the idea of the push/push button and the location Fender chose for it. The button is easy to reach and easy to operate— perfect to hit when you want to wail.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works: When the mod is engaged, you bypass the Volume and Tone controls, as well as the 5-way pickup selector switch, and automatically engage the bridge pickup. This works from any pickup-selector position. The idea is to switch to solo mode with the single push of a button.
For example, let’s say you’re playing a rhythm part using the neck pickup and the volume and tone controls slightly rolled back for a warmer tone. Then you switch to the bridge pickup—which is now directly connected to the output jack for maximum volume and brightness— to lay down a solo part. To return to your former rhythm mode, you simply push the button again. This naturally works best with a HSS configuration, but many Strats equipped with three single-coils have a hotter bridge pickup, so this mod makes sense for these guitars as well. It’s like having two presets you can toggle between by simply pushing a button.
Those of you who read my column regularly will notice this mod is very similar to the “direct through” mod we talked about some months ago. It too bypasses the Volume and Tone controls, connecting the chosen pickup or pickup combination directly to the output jack for maximum volume and twang. There is one difference: The “direct through” mod does not bypass the 5-way pickup selector, so you can route any pickup combination directly to the output jack. In contrast, Fender’s “passing lane” mod bypasses the 5-way pickup selector and automatically jumps to the bridge pickup.
From a technical point of view, bypassing all the controls noticeably lowers the circuit’s overall load. It’s like soldering the pickup wires directly to the lugs of the guitar’s output jack. This way, you’ll hear your pickup as never before, with full volume and maximum high-end response.
Depending on your sonic taste, this mod may yield too much treble. If so, you can tame the tone by soldering a small capacitor in series with the pickup to bring in more capacitance. (This is what we did last month to simulate vintage spiral guitar cords.) Try a value between 220pF and 1000pF, depending on your taste and equipment. I recommend adding an on/off switch for this extra cap, otherwise it will always be active.
To start, print out the standard Stratocaster wiring and put it on your workbench. This makes it much easier for you to see and understand the differences between the stock and modded schematics. You can download the standard wiring scheme from the Seymour Duncan website (seymourduncan.com/support/wiring-diagrams/). The diagram shown here is the standard Stratocaster wiring enhanced with the “passing lane” mod.
All right, that’s it! This mod is not difficult, yet it’s sonically powerful. Stay tuned for more Strat mods in the coming months, including a discussion about the good ‘ol Fender TBX tone control.
Dirk Wacker lives in Germany and has been a guitar addict since age 5. He 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 studio musician, and writes for several guitar mags. He is also a hardcore DIY-er for guitars, amps, and stompboxes, and he runs an extensive webpage (singlecoil.com) on the subject.