Find those buried sounds in your trusty Strat.

The Seven Sound Stratocaster

Hopefully you've taken some time to improve the primary tone of your beloved Stratocaster following our last installment [“Stratocaster Insight," September '08]. This month we will begin talking about some of the most popular mods for Stratocasters. We'll start with a simple but effective one: the seven-sound Strat. This modification is one of the oldest ones around. While its origins cannot be confirmed, some sources claim that it was the idea of the famous Western swing guitarist, Eldon Shamblin; others attribute the trick to one of the fathers of the Stratocaster, Bill Carson.

No matter where it came from, the seven-sound Strat mod addresses one of the major deficiencies with the Strat's design (or any other guitar with three single-coil pickups, for that matter). A Strat normally has three pickups but only a 5-way selector switch, limiting you to combinations like bridge/neck while keeping other unique choices, like all three pickups simultaneously, out of reach. With open 5-way selector switches available from companies like CRL and Oak Grigsby [now acquired by Electro Switch Corporation], it's easy to add some of these esoteric combinations to your guitar. Unfortunately, because the switch has only five positions, you'll still have to give up some options – perhaps not a terrible thing if you never use the middle/ bridge combination, for example.

But if you're interested in having the most options available – switch limitations be damned – you'll want to try the seven-sound Strat mod. It will leave the 5-way selector switch combinations untouched and will add two other combinations. But before we begin tinkering, let's review the stock positions you'll find on a run-of-the-mill Fender Strat:

5-way selector switch pickup combinations
position 1 Bridge pickup alone
position 2 bridge + middle pickup in parallel
position 3 middle pickup alone
position 4 middle + neck pickup in parallel
position 5 neck pickup alone

The concept behind the seven-sound mod is simple: add a switching device that can activate the neck pickup. There are several solutions available to make this happen, but they all have one thing in common: a simple on/off (SPST) switch. Simply drill a hole in the pickguard and install a small SPST toggle switch near your existing 5-way selector switch. Wire it according to the following diagram:

The Seven Sound Stratocaster So how does it work? Position 1 of the 5-way selector switch activates the bridge pickup alone; by engaging your new toggle switch, you can activate both the neck and the bridge pickups together. Likewise, with the 5-way selector switch in the second position and the bridge and middle pickups activated, a flick of the toggle switch adds the neck pickup to the equation. You can also route the bridge pickup to the toggle switch for a similar effect — simply use positions 4 and 5 to get the new sounds.

So with the toggle switch added, let's take another look at the Strat tone chart:

5-way switch pickup combinations 7-sound mod
position 1 Bridge pickup alone bridge + neck in parallel
position 2 bridge + middle pickup in parallel all three pickups in parallel
position 3 middle pickup alone
position 4 middle + neck pickup in parallel
position 5 neck pickup alone

The Seven Sound Stratocaster Of course, the new combinations that arise from this modification are a matter of taste – I personally find the three-pickup sound to be the least useful of the two new combinations, although it works well for rhythms. The neck and bridge pickups together sound great, reminding me a little bit of a Telecaster, albeit a lot fatter and more defined. I used to call it the “Sweet Home Alabama" setting. Give it a try and see what you think.

If you're more of a traditionalist, or the thought of drilling a hole through your pickguard simply isn't exactly appealing, another option is to replace one of your pots with a push/pull or a push/push type of pot with a SPST or DPDT switch. If you actually enjoy standing out in the crowd, another cool way to perform this mod is to use a completely new pickguard with three individual SPST switches instead of the common 5-way switch. Fender used this method on the shortlived Stratocaster Elite, which featured three small on/off push buttons for the pickups, among other “improvements." While the Strat push buttons were initially a flop, it has been over 20 years since their appearance, meaning that it may be time for you to bring them back for a bit of ironic, vintage style.

Have fun with this mod; it's an easy one to do and it will open up a few more tonal posibilities for you to explore. Next month, we'll continue our Stratocaster mod efforts, turning our attention to those famous out-of-phase sounds. Until then, keep on modding!

Linda Manzer and Pat Metheny’s collaboration on the Pikasso guitar proves that a good creative chemistry between luthier and client can lead to extreme innovation!

Photo by Brian Pickell

The construction of your dream guitar can be a fun journey, but learning the language is essential.

You’ve visited countless websites, played as many guitars as you could lay your hands on, and zeroed in on the luthier that resonates most with you. You’re ready to take the plunge and your next step is to have a conversation with the builder. You’ll both have lots of questions. Be sure to listen and let them guide you through the process. This is when the fun begins.

Read More Show less

Megadeth founder teams up with Gibson for his first acoustic guitar in the Dave Mustaine Collection.

Read More Show less

Gibson 1960 Les Paul 0 8145 is from the final year of the model’s original-production era, and likely from one of the later runs.

The story of 1960 Gibson Les Paul 0 8145—a ’burst with a nameplate and, now, a reputation.

These days it’s difficult to imagine any vintage Gibson Les Paul being a tough sell, but there was a time when 1960 ’bursts were considered less desirable than the ’58s and ’59s of legend—even though Clapton played a ’60 cherry sunburst in his Bluesbreakers days. Such was the case in the mid 1990s, when the family of a local musician who was the original owner of one of these guitars walked into Rumble Seat Music’s original Ithaca, New York, store with this column’s featured instrument.

Read More Show less