The Fender "Passing Lane" Stratocaster Mod
This mod bypasses the volume and tone controls and engages the bridge pickup with the push of a button
This month, we'll begin exploring some “factory
stock" mods found on certain Fender
models, starting with the “passing lane"
mod. Fender started using this mod with a
push/push button on the new 2010 American
Deluxe HSS Strat, and advertises it as follows:
“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
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.