How to use different tone caps for different positions on the Strat
Hello, and welcome back to “Mod Garage." I've received several emails asking about using different tone caps in a Stratocaster, so I'd like to show you a cool little mod to do so. I hope you remember the column about separating the both Stratocaster tone controls from each other (the Tone-Split Mod). This gives you the ability to use individual tone caps for the middle and neck pickup tone controls, or with another little mod, two individual tone caps for the bridge and neck/ middle pickup positions. This is very handy if you want a bigger tone cap for the bridge pickup, because this pickup has the most twang and bite.
For example, you could use a 0.022uF cap for the bridge pickup and let's say a 0.01uF cap for the middle and neck pickup, which are warmer sounding anyway and don't need such a big tone cap. This is also very useful if you want to combine different values plus different types of tone caps. Not long ago, I had a customer who wanted a vintage-sounding bridge pickup on his Strat, but with a very warm and jazzy tone from the neck pickup. We ended up with an NOS 0.02uF Sprague High Voltage ceramic cap from the '60s for the bridge pickup and another NOS 0.05uF paper-in-oil cap out of military supply for the middle and neck pickup. This is a perfect mod to fine-tune the tonal structure of each pickup, but what if you want to have two different tone caps for one pickup? It's possible, read on.
Understanding Your Options
You can use this “cap switching" mod not only on a Stratocaster, but virtually all tone controls in every guitar. In a nutshell, this mod adds a switch with two capacitors, and you can toggle between them. You don't need much for this mod, just two tone caps of your choice and an SPDT (single pole, double throw) switching device. This can be a small toggle switch or a push/pull and push/push pot. Why would want this? There are several scenarios where this mod can help. Say you want two caps of the same value but very different types to achieve different sounds— for example, a 0.022uF High Voltage paper-waxed or paper-in-oil cap for the neck pickup tone control to achieve a very warm and jazzy clean tone, and a 0.022uF Orange Drop cap for a raunchy, punching distorted tone. The midrangy sound of these caps is very helpful for defined overdrive sounds and will help you to cut through any mix. Try this with a paper-waxed cap and you'll be disappointed.
Or, perhaps you want two caps with different values to shift the range of the tone control? The smaller the cap, the more precisely controllable it is. This is especially helpful when you want to warm up your tone only slightly. For another example, you can use a 0.05uF cap to achieve very dark and jazzy neck pickup lead tones, plus a 6800pF cap for a lot of warm tonal shades when playing rhythm. Naturally, you can also use different types of caps with different values. The possible combinations are virtually endless and the versatility of your guitar will be greatly enhanced. Another benefit of this mod is that you can combine it with any other mod we've discussed during the last few months.
First, you have to decide if you want to use an additional mini-toggle switch or a push/pull or push/push pot. Normally push/pull and push/ push pots have a DPDT switch, instead of the SPDT required for this mod—but you can use only half of the DPDT switch. After installing your switching device, connect the two caps of your choice as shown on the diagram below. If the leads of your caps are long enough, you can twist the legs that aren't soldered to the switch together, put a little solder on them and connect them to the tone pot.
Instead of the normal SPDT switch, you can also use a single-pole on/off/on switch, with an extra, neutral switching position in the middle. Connected as shown, the middle and the neck pickup are disconnected from the tone circuit in the middle position of the switch, which is very similar to a no-load pot. This will give you a resonance peak of approx. +3dB—a noticeable sonic difference! Alright, that's it! Stay tuned for more Strat mods coming next month, when we'll talk more about tone caps for Strats. 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 plays country, rockabilly, surf and Nashville styles in two bands, works regularly 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, singlecoil.com, about these things.