Stratocaster Direct-Through Mod
Mod your Strat to connect the pickup directly to the output jack, Esquire-style.
Hello and welcome back to “Mod Garage.” This month’s mod is one of my favorites; I have it in all the guitars I use on stage. I call it the “Direct-Through” mod, but I´ve also seen it as the “Solo Switch” or “Treble Boost” mod. It all means the same: connecting the pickup directly to the output jack! This isn’t a new one. Fender did this way back in the early ‘50s on the Esquire—a Telecaster with only a bridge pickup. The 3-way pickup selector switch on this guitar offered a direct-through routing of the pickup at position 1. This adaption of the Esquire switching option can be used on your Stratocasters and with any pickup combination.
There are several ways to wire this one up on a Strat. I’ll show you the way I think is best, as well as being the easiest and fastest. The 5-way pickup selector switch will stay mostly untouched, so you don’t have to worry about its position while playing—simply choose the pickup or combination of your choice and engage the Direct-Through mod to route it directly to the output jack. You’ll need a small 2PDT toggle switch or any push/pull or push/ push pot with a 2PDT switch.
So what’s the benefit of this mod, you ask?
There are several. For one, it will enhance your tonal palette. The pots of the volume and tone controls add a good portion of load to the system, especially the typical 3x250k pot configuration of a standard Strat. 500k or 1M pots add less load, but the higher the resistance, the less useful the taper in a pure passive system like our Stratocaster—so this load will result in less high end, less volume, and therefore a different tone. If you want to get an impression if this mod is for you, simply solder the two leads of the Strat pickup of your choice directly to the output jack and play. What you hear now is the “real” tone of the pickup. Compared to the standard configuration, it’s noticeably different.
Second, it offers a more trebly tone. Hard to imagine, but some players really want more treble out of a Strat! This mod will do the trick. An example of this tone is the famous “James Bond Theme.” Use the bridge pickup of your Strat, engage the direct-through option, and play as near as possible to the bridge. This is also a suitable option for surf music and similar playing styles—hence the reason this mod is sometimes called the “Treble Boost” mod. It can also provide for a solo boost. With the Direct-Through mod, the tone is noticeably louder, so this can be the little extra volume kick you need, to drive your amp into saturation for a solo. It works perfectly together with overdrive stompboxes as well. If you need two completely different volumes out of your Strat, you can use your volume pot to dial in the “normal” volume level you need. With the direct-through switch engaged, the volume pot is bypassed, and your guitar is running full-throttle for a fat and loud solo. This is the reason why this mod is sometimes described as a “Solo Switch” mod.
Wiring diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups and used by permission. Seymour Duncan and the stylized S are registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups, with which Premier Guitar magazine is not affiliated.
Let’s Get Started
As always, in case you haven’t done this yet, printing out the standard Stratocaster wiring and placing it on your workbench is always a good start. This way it´s much easier for you to see and understand the differences compared to the modded schematics. You can download the standard wiring scheme directly from the Seymour Duncan webpage. Next, you need a 2PDT switching device. You can drill a hole in the pickguard and install a small toggle switch, or use a push/pull or push/push pot with a 2PDT switch. Personally, I like the additional toggle switch installed on the right side of the 5-way pickup selector switch. Have a look at the diagram below: we are breaking the signal right after the 5-way switch, so this mod is also an excellent way to examine how different 5-way switches can influence overall tone, if you’re interested. First, we have to cut the jumper wire between the two stages of the 5-way switch—that’s very important! Afterwards, connect the switch as shown in the diagram. Don’t forget the little jumper wire on the bottom of the switch!
Alright, that’s it! I hope you’ll have fun experimenting with this mod to discover some new sonic territory. Stay tuned for more Strat mods coming next month. Until then... keep on modding!
Dirk Wacker lives in Germany and has been addicted to all kinds of guitars since the age of five. He is fascinated by anything that has something to do with old Fender guitars and amps. He hates short scales and Telecaster neck pickups, but loves twang. In his spare time he plays country, rockabilly, surf and Nashville styles in two bands, works as a studio musician for a local studio and writes for several guitar mags. He is also a hardcore DIY guy for guitars, amps and stompboxes and runs an extensive webpage singlecoil.com about these things.