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The Stratocaster "Jazz Switch" Mod

Prior to 1967, Fender used the following wiring: bridge pickup alone, neck pickup alone, and neck pickup alone with an additional 0.1 µF cap engaged.

This month we're checking out another Strat mod that's very easy to do and that offers a lot of utility. And it's cheap! All you need for this mod is a simple on/off toggle and a capacitor—that's it. The idea is based on the stock Fender Telecaster wiring from the early '50s.

As you may know, until 1967 Fender used a different wiring for Telecasters than the scheme we know today. On standard modern Teles, the wiring is bridge pickup alone, both pickups together in parallel, and neck pickup alone. But prior to 1967, Fender used the following wiring: bridge pickup alone, neck pickup alone, and neck pickup alone with an additional 0.1 μF cap engaged. (We'll explore this old-school Tele wiring in a future column, when we switch from Stratocaster to Telecaster mods.)

In Fender literature from

the era, this neck-pickup-plus-capacitor

wiring was described

as a “pre-set bassy sound," and

the idea came from Leo Fender

himself. Leo believed guitarists

should have the capability of playing

bass lines without switching

instruments. After experimenting,

he came up with this solution and

the result was a boomy, bassy tone

that didn't require an additional

tone knob. This was intended as

a “bass preset" that would allow a

guitarist to simply flip the 3-way

pickup selector to enter bass territory.

For this reason, the mod I'm

about to describe is often called

the “bass switch mod."

The preset idea is something

Fender used in several other guitars

as well, including the Jaguar.

However, it turned out Tele

players didn't want to play bass

lines, and once the Fender P bass

was invented (it came soon after

the Telecaster), this bass preset

remained mostly unused or fell

victim to early modifications.

When Fender finally changed

the wiring, it was a concession

to countless customers' demands

and an admission that this preset

tone was more or less unusable.

After 1967, this wiring option

was almost forgotten. But in the

early '80s, adventurous jazz players

like Mike Stern discovered that old

Telecasters made a durable alternative

to an expensive archtop jazz

box. Suddenly, the old Fender preset

wiring was something desirable

and practical. It worked perfectly

for those dark, jazzy tones certain

guitarists were looking for, and a

new hype was born. Some players

stayed with the stock Fender wiring,

while others started to experiment

with different cap styles and

values. Leo Fender never intended

his wiring for this kind of “abuse,"

but even today, it's the standard for

a lot of jazz players all around the

world. So if you want to throw in

some cool jazz lines without messing

with your Strat's tone knobs,

this preset mod is for you.

I've adapted the preset to

accommodate any Stratocaster

wiring and to work in conjunction

with all the standard 5-way-switch

pickup combinations. To summarize:

You won't lose a switching

position on the 5-way switch,

yet you'll receive a lot of different

new tones because the mod works

with all pickup combinations. To

mimic old-style jazz tones, people

recommend using the Strat's neck

pickup, but I also like using the

bridge-and-middle pickup combination

with this mod.

First, you'll need an on/off

switching device. You can use a

mini toggle (which is what I prefer)

or any kind of push/pull or

push/push pot. The advantage of

using a pot is that your Strat will

remain visually unaltered.

Second, you'll need an extra

capacitor to throw into the circuit.

This area offers a lot of opportunity

to experiment. You can try

different cap styles—like paper-in-oil caps, foil/film caps, old-style

paper-waxed caps, ceramic, and

so on. For this application on a

Stratocaster, I prefer the warm

and growly character of new-old-stock

(NOS) paper-in-oil caps.

But there's no right or wrong—it's

only the tone that matters, so if

you like it, use it.

A cap's value (or capacitance,

to be more precise) provides even

more options to tinker with. You

can stick with the original Fender

value of 0.1 μF, but most players

feel this is over the top and simply

generates too much bass. A good

range to experiment with is from

5000 pF up to 0.05 μF—and

everything in between. The results

depend on a lot of factors, such

as the pickups, the Strat's neck

and body woods, your cable, and

your amp settings. With a Strat,

I find NOS 0.05 μF paper-in-oil

caps sound good with any Fender

amp. Marshall players should

lower the value a little—0.033 μF

is a good compromise.

Technically, this mod is very

simple. Flipping the switch, you

engage the additional capacitor

and send some highs to ground.

Just how much depends on

the capacitance of the cap you

choose. Think of it as a slimmed-down

version of the Gibson

Varitone circuit, which is based

on the same principle but uses

a rotary switch to dial in several

different caps to achieve different

tones. (We'll talk about the

Varitone circuit in a future column

on Gibson mods.)

After you've installed the

switching device of your choice,

you only need to connect the

capacitor to the switch, with the

other side of the cap going to

ground. Connect the other switch

lug to the hot lug of the output

jack, where it joins the wire coming

from the volume pot. Done!

The diagram shows how to connect

everything. [A larger image

is available in the online version

of this month's column.]

This mod isn't difficult, and

it enhances your tonal palette—

especially when you want to

throw in some jazz lines. Stay

tuned for more Strat mods coming

next month. 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.