How to set up your Strat so that you can blend all of the pickups using just the volume knob
Hello and welcome back to “Mod Garage.” This month I’ll show you how to set up the so-called “Blender Stratocaster,” which is a very versatile modification. We’ll also talk about some downsides, which many of you already know and live with. Lots of Strat players are looking to get as many different sounds as possible out of it, so the Blender Stratocaster is a very good mod to enhance your tonal palette.
In a nutshell, the Blender Stratocaster has three Volume pots (one for each pickup), but no Tone control and no 5-way pickup selector switch—each pickup is always on. If you want to turn a pickup on or off, you just adjust its Volume control. You can blend all three pickups together to your personal taste and create some very unique sounds. With the normal Stratocaster wiring, the pickups are completely on or off, but with the Blender Stratocaster you can dial in all shades in between. As you can see, this also includes the features of the “7-Sound Stratocaster” mod [Oct. 2008], which gives you the bridge-plus-neck combination, or all three pickups together. This is a great feature in the studio, but it’s also a good thing for live gigs. If you can live without a tone control, give this wiring a try.
Wiring diagram courtesy Seymour Duncan Pickups and used by permission. Seymour Duncan and the stylized S are registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups with which Premier Guitar magazine is not affiliated.
Now you have a Stratocaster with three Volume controls and virtually unlimited possibilities for combining pickups. With a Blender Stratocaster, however, you will also discover two unpleasant things. The first is an old friend you all know: one of the idiosyncracies inherent in passive single-coil pickup systems like the Stratocaster is that when you turn down the volume (even just a bit), the high end or treble loss is not proportional. In other words, a small cut in volume creates a far greater loss in your guitar’s treble response. The Blender Stratocaster is no exception.
The perfect solution to combat this so-called “volume vs. tone” problem is an active guitar electronic. Another, much simpler solution is the use of a treble bleed network on the volume pots. This is a combination of a cap and a resistor in parallel or in series. We’ll talk about this topic more in a later column. But what amounts to a downside for some players can be an enhancement for others. I know lots of players who really like this treble roll-off, and they use it intentionally to shape their sound.
Another downside of the Blender Stratocaster is something that Les Paul players already know: the pickups are not decoupled from each other. On a Les Paul this problem occurs when using the middle position of the 3-way pickup selector switch (both pickups on at the same time). The Volume knobs do not act independently, so if you shut down the volume of one of the pickups, the whole guitar will be silent. We have the same situation on the Blender Stratocaster; when you shut down the volume of one of the pickups completely, the guitar will be silent. This means that it’s not so easy to play with only one pickup on a Blender Stratocaster. You’ll have to blend in the two other pickups as well, at least a little bit… say 2 to 5 percent. I doubt this will be audible, but it’s a cut in comfort without any doubt. It is the nature of the beast; you have to decide if you can live with this or not.
Again, the perfect solution is an active guitar electronic. You can find similar “solutions” for this problem all over the internet, but I can´t recommend the following… a very simple adaptation from the standard Fender Jazz Bass wiring: the Volume pots are wired backwards! This way, the pickups are decoupled from each other, and you can turn down the volume of one without affecting the others. Sounds like a simple and perfect solution, right? But the price you have to pay for it is very high.
With the volume pots wired backwards, you’ll lose all of the high end and bite from the pickup, even if you turn down only slightly. The resonance peak of the pickups will be lost, and they’ll sound dull and lifeless.
Alright, that’s it. Stay tuned for more Strat mods coming next month.
Until then... keep on modding!
Dirk Wacker lives in Germany and has been addicted to all kinds of guitars since age five. He is fascinated by anything to do with old Fender guitars and amps. In his spare time he plays country, rockabilly, surf and Nashville styles in two bands, works part-time 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.