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Stratocaster Master Tone Configuration

A 10-minute Strat mod from Dirk Wacker

Welcome back to the world of hot-rodded Stratocasters! I hope some of you succeeded in getting rid of the penetrating high end by adding tone control to your Stratocaster bridge pickup. Sometimes it’s pretty easy to mod your guitar for some additional tones. This month, we will talk about another easy-to-do Stratocaster modification: the master tone/master volume modification.

Thanks to Seymour Duncan for the diagram.

The history of this mod is a little bit funny. Introduced by Fender in 1983, the Stratocaster’s second tone control was retired, and the output jack lost its jack plate and moved from its former place into the pickguard. This was a necessary decision, based on the need for cost-cutting, but some time later this exact configuration became popular on the so-called “Super Strats” from other companies like Ibanez, Kramer and many more in the late eighties. In a nutshell, this is the standard Telecaster configuration, but with three pickups and a 5-way pickup selector switch. So why should someone want this configuration on a Stratocaster? There are several reasons:
1) to simplify that layout of the controls
2) to make things more visually appealing, on a Strat with a beautifully grained top, for example
3) to make space for another mod
4) to reduce the overall load—with one fewer 250k or 500k pot, you also have less treble roll-off, great for ultra-long cable runs or a primarily dark-sounding guitar
5) to save money when you build your own budget Stratocaster. I have a Stratocaster with the master tone and master volume configuration that has a blend pot for an additional piezo pickup, instead of the second tone control. I can only say that this configuration works very well, and it leaves the classic look untouched.

Electronically, this modification isn’t difficult— you simply have to follow the drawing above. The differences in wiring between the standard Stratocaster and this modification are obvious. There is one less tone pot and a few small differences on the 5-way switch and wiring from the volume pot to the tone pot. And that’s it! You only need some wire and a soldering iron to perform this mod, and you should be done in ten minutes. You can choose to use 250k, 500k or 1Meg pots—whichever is your personal preference.

I hope you find use for this mod! Next month, there will be no mercy: you can put on your white lab coat and we will start to talk about the anatomy of the 5-way pickup selector switch. Until then, keep on modding!
Dirk Wacker
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 confessing hardcore DIY guy for guitars, amps and stompboxes and runs an extensive webpage about these things.