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The Fender Delta Tone System, Part 1

This month, we’ll begin a two-part series on Fender’s Delta Tone system, which includes so-called “no-load” pots.

Turning Fender's 250 kΩ no-load potentiometer to 10 removes it and its capacitor from the circuit, increasing the output and brightness of any pickups attached to it.

This month, we'll begin a two-part

series on Fender's Delta

Tone system, which includes so-called

“no-load" pots. Fender introduced

the Delta Tone in 1997, and the first

guitar to receive this new feature was

the American Standard Stratocaster.

The Delta Tone system is still in use

today. Fender called it a “system,"

because the Delta Tone is not a special

part you can add to your guitar,

but rather a combination of several

items, including a slightly hotter

bridge pickup and a modified tone

circuit (see “Digging the Delta Tone"

sidebar below for details).

Here's what Fender says about

the Delta Tone system:

The Delta Tone wiring features

a no-load tone control for the

middle and bridge pickups, great

for producing just a bit more

midrange and hotter output

from the Stratocaster. The no-load

tone pot works like a standard

tone knob from positions

1-9, but at 10, it is removed

from the wiring completely so

that you get the full, unadulterated

sonic output of your pickup.

It means more output and more

treble without using a booster

pedal or active controls.

If you want to add a Delta Tone

system to your own Strat, it's not

too hard. First, you need to choose

a replacement bridge pickup. Given

the virtually countless Strat pickups

available today, it should be easy

to find a good, slightly overwound

bridge pickup. For example,

Fender offers Custom Shop Texas

Special Strat pickups as a set (part

0992111000) or individually.

After installing the hotter bridge

pickup, you'll have to change the

configuration of the tone controls

on your Strat's 5-way pickup selector

switch, but you already know

how to do this, right? We explored

this in detail in several of my earlier

columns. In a nutshell, you only

have to add a short jumper wire

between terminals 1 and 2 on stage

2 of the 5-way switch.

The last step is to replace the

tone pot (which is now shared by

the bridge and middle pickups)

with a no-load pot. This is available

from Fender in several versions.

For a standard Strat, the 250 kΩ

version with a split shaft (part

0990832000) will work perfectly.

So what exactly is a no-load

pot? As Fender's literature hinted,

it has a detent at position 10 that

completely bypasses any filtration

via the tone capacitor and the load

of the pot itself. Unlike the TBX

tone control, which has a detent at

position 5 (the middle setting) and

gradually reduces the amount of

filtration through the capacitor, the

Delta Tone's no-load feature eliminates

it completely at the detent.

As a result, you hear more of the

direct, naked sound of the pickup.

To get an idea of this tone, you

can do a little experiment before

you decide to replace the pot. Plug

in your Strat and play a favorite

song—something you know inside

out—using the middle pickup.

Next, desolder the middle pickup

from the 5-way switch and solder

the two leads directly to the output

jack. Now play the song again.

It's a stunning difference, no?

What you now hear is the true

tone of your middle pickup in

all its sonic glory. The sound is

noticeably louder, richer, and full

of detail. Why? Because when it's

connected to the Strat's electronics,

the pickup is colored by the tone

capacitor, the load of the pots, the

wiring, and, to a small degree, even

the 5-way switch. The extent of the

loading effect depends on a guitar's

pickups and wiring, but eliminating

it is often described as “removing

a blanket from the amp." If you

like this naked pickup sound, a

no-load configuration is worth a

try. Because only the pot and tone

cap are removed from the circuit,

the result won't be exactly the same

as the direct-to-output jack experiment,

but it comes close.

Naturally, you can replace

both your Strat's tone controls

with no-load pots for even more

flexibility. But on a Strat with

standard wiring, you can't use a

no-load pot as a volume control.

If you try, you'll have a very

silent guitar with the volume

knob set to 10!

Next month, we'll take a

closer look at no-load pots and

how to convert a standard pot

into a no-load pot. Until then,

keep on modding.

Dirk Wacker lives 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——on the subject.