Here’s how to streamline the pickup switching scheme on an underrated Fender.
This month we'll explore one of Fender's outlaw guitars, the Mustang. Although Adrian Belew, Kurt Cobain, John Frusciante, and John McLaughlin played this short-scale solidbody at some point in their careers, the Mustang isn't on most guitarists' radar. That said, I think it deserves a closer look because you can still buy a vintage Mustang for a decent price. Fender made this model in large numbers, so a lot of them are still out there in surprisingly good shape, thanks to the Mustang's excellent build quality.
A little history. The Mustang debuted in August 1964 and stayed in production with some changes until CBS sold off Fender in the early '80s. The Mustang was basically a Fender Duo-Sonic equipped with Fender's Dynamic Vibrato, and was only available in a solid red, white, or blue finish—the so-called “patriotic colors."
The Mustang was designed as a student model, but it became popular with those who like the unique tone and feel of a short-scale guitar, as well as players with smaller hands. Early Mustangs are the most sought-after models, and for most collectors the golden era of the Mustang only lasted some months until CBS bought Fender in January 1965. CBS made the first changes to the Mustang in late '65 or early '66, and it's easy to see if a Mustang is a pre-CBS model: CBS introduced the large headstock, so all pre-CBS models have the original smaller Fender headstock.
Stock sounds. The Mustang's slanted bridge and neck single-coils were made exclusively for it—they're not the same pickups found in either a Strat or Tele. The rest of the original electronics consists of 250k master volume and master tone pots, a 0.05 µF 50V ceramic cap for the tone control, and a pair of 2P3T on-off-on slide switches.
Each pickup was connected to one of these switches, which offered the following settings:
• Pickup engaged in phase
• Pickup off
• Pickup engaged out of phase
This wiring scheme yielded a total of eight different sounds. You could use the pickups either alone or in parallel, and either in or out of phase when played together. ToneShapers.com has a nice diagram drawn by George Ellison of the original Mustang wiring. Here's a nice diagram of the original Mustang wiring drawn by George Ellison of ToneShapers.com.
Hot-rod sounds. It's possible to modify the wiring in several ways. For example, you could wire the pickups in series (in or out of phase) or install a more conventional Fender-style pickup selector switch. In fact, the vintage Mustang's body was already routed for this latter option, and consequently vintage Mustangs often have modified wiring under the hood. To me, this indicates that even in the mid '60s the original wiring wasn't very popular.
So how can we make the wiring more user-friendly while serving up sweet tones? There are many mods out there, but my favorite is shown in Fig. 1. We've configured several guitars this way and our customers have been pleased. In this wiring, we skip the pickup phase options and convert one of the switches into a conventional pickup selector switch. This yields three combinations:
• Bridge pickup alone
• Bridge plus neck pickup in parallel and in phase
• Neck pickup alone
This is the same switching matrix you'll find on almost any Telecaster and it offers classic Fender single-coil tones.
The second switch is converted to a preset switch. When set closest to the neck, the preset switch overrides the 3-way pickup selector switch. This override setting engages both pickups in series (in phase) for a fat and loud solo tone that's also suitable for some nice jazz playing. The remaining two positions on the preset series switch are inactive and don't affect the 3-way pickup selector switch.
I recommend using 250k audio pots and a 0.022 µF tone cap for this mod, which provides a tonal palette that's great for almost all styles of music. This wiring isn't for you if you need the Mustang's stock phase in/out option, but otherwise why not give it a try?
Next month we'll scrutinize the Fender Jaguar to see if we can make its switching more practical and perhaps update its tones. Until then ... keep on modding!