Strat Series Wiring for a New Decade - Premier Guitar

2021-12-25 01:36:26 By : Mr. Robin Yijiu Machinery

Image 1 — Drawing courtesy of

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. Today we'll talk about a kind of evergreen mod for a Stratocaster, to implement series wiring of the pickups. Longtime followers of Mod Garage might recall that way back in late 2011 we talked about this, but it's almost been a decade since that article, “Adding Series Switching to Your Strat."

Over the years, I've received many emails about this wiring, and a lot of people failed when trying to set it up … first and foremost because it's not an easy wiring. But even some of you who sailed through it had problems, so it was time to think about this mod again in order to enhance it.

This wiring is at least 20 years old and was the first version we used in the shop. It's not easy and it has some downsides, such as possible phasing issues depending on what middle pickup is used. It also has some problems with the controls. For example, you can't use it with the typical Strat configuration, leaving the bridge pickup without a tone control. No wonder that so many people failed with it! We don't use it in the shop anymore, since over time we developed a new circuit that does the same wiring but without all the aforementioned downsides. Now we have new downsides, but we'll get to that.

The problem with the first version is mostly the standard 5-way switch in combination with only a DPDT switch. When this wiring was developed, the 5-way super switch was not invented yet, and finding switches with multiple switching stages was a real and expensive challenge. But times have changed and today's hardware market is better than ever.

The new solution is still using the standard 5-way switch plus an additional on/on multistage toggle switch. The first "parallel" sound stage is the normal Strat operation we all know:

While you're playing the two "in between" positions—bridge + middle pickup together in parallel or middle + neck pickup together in parallel—you can engage the second sound stage with the toggle switch to get the two in-between positions in series rather than in parallel. This makes this wiring very easy to handle, because you only have to fiddle around with one additional toggle switch. I think it's a very useful addition to any Strat if you're looking for series pickup tones.

Only a few guitars use series wiring for their pickups. The most popular examples of series setups are the Brian May “Red Special" and almost all vintage Danelectro guitars. But there are several good reasons why you might want to wire your Strat pickups in series. If you want more volume and midrange out of your pickups, the parallel/series switching may be the perfect option.

In contrast to the classic parallel combination of the pickups, wiring two pickups in series produces a longer path with increased resistance, adding volume while preventing the highest frequencies from getting through. With series wiring, the output of one pickup goes into the input of another pickup. Meanwhile, with standard parallel wiring, each pickup takes its own path to the output. Besides being noticeably louder, series wiring emphasizes low and midrange tones, and this is a perfect combination to drive any tube amp into saturation—and also the perfect tone for lead playing.

Before we start, just a note about one of the most popular misunderstandings: Series wiring (also called out-of-phase wiring) is only possible when using two pickups together.

So what do we need for this mod? Not much, only an additional 4PDT on/on toggle switch. These switches are expensive and have a certain physical size, but it's no problem to place them on a regular Strat pickguard. Take care to buy an on/on type, not an on/off model. It's more likely that you'll find such switches in electronic stores rather than guitar supply stores. A 4PDT toggle switch is kind of a rare bird, but there are still plenty of manufacturers and finishes.

So what about the new downsides of this wiring? Because we need a 4PDT switch, you can't use a push-pull or push-push pot because they are only available with SPST or DPDT switches. But you can use a Fender S-1 pot for this, because the switch on these pots is a 4PDT on/on type. For more info about the Fender S-1 system and how to adopt the wiring to this switching matrix please have a look at my April 2011 article “Mod Garage: The Fender S-1 Switching System."

You also can't use this wiring as a kind of "deck wiring" with two preset stages. In series mode the three positions on the 5-way pickup selector switch where each pickup is dialed in alone are not connected and will have no signal output. It's possible to incorporate this feature into this wiring but you will need a 6PDT switch for this and these are really hard to find.

Any more downsides? Yes and no. You'll have to decide on your own if the following two situations are downsides for you or not:

1. There is no way around using two tone caps with this wiring—one on each tone pot. It's not possible to share one common tone cap like in a Stratocaster's standard wiring. I think this is more an advantage rather than a downside, because you can use a standard 0.022uF tone cap for the middle and a lighter 0.01uF cap for the neck pickup.

2. If you want to install the Stratocaster 7-sound mod to get access to all possible pickup combinations, this wiring cannot connect the bridge and neck pickup in series. You'll need an additional parallel/series switch if you want to do this.

So, here it is (Image 1). I tried to clear up the drawing wherever possible, replacing some ground wires with only the grounding symbol so there are no unnecessary connections across the diagram that might be confusing. As you can see, there is a strict separation of the two switching stages on the switch this time, and no jumper wire to connect them. The first switching stage is the stage for the tone controls while the second stage is used for the pickups. This is essential for this wiring and also gives room for further modifications. It's definitely not a beginner's project, so if this is your first attempt to mod a guitar, you should start with something easier. Otherwise chances are good you'll run into troubles with this one.

Next month we will take a deeper look into grounding—some common errors and misunderstandings about it, and, of course, some embosomed fairy tales, so stay tuned.

Until then ... keep on modding!

A 4-wire humbucker ready for modding.

What does this mean? I’ll explain how to do a wiring that yields 16 different sound combinations.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. This month, we’ll talk about how to wire triple-shot humbucker pickups. I’ll explain what this means and how to do it, so let’s go.

When you have a humbucker with a traditional 2-conductor wiring, you don’t have any sound variation by itself—only together with another pickup that you can put in parallel or in series with it, in phase, out-of-phase, or half out-of-phase, and so on. With a 4-conductor wiring on your humbucker pickup, you have access to the start and the finish of each coil, and this can be used to get a total of four different tones out of it, whether it’s a bridge or a neck pickup. A 4-conductor wiring results in a total of five wires coming from such humbuckers:

The possible combinations and sounds you can dial in are:

This is the factory standard way all humbuckers are internally connected when they have a 2-conductor wiring with only hot and ground. This is also the standard way in almost every guitar loaded with one or more humbucker pickups, producing a warm, loud, and fat tone with maximum output and the humbucking function engaged.

This option gives you a single-coil-like tone but keeps the humbucking function engaged. You won’t get a crystal-clear Strat or Tele tone, but to me it sounds at least single-coil-esque, maybe closer to a P-90 than to a standard single-coil. It sounds different with any humbucker, so it’s a matter of trying it out.

This wiring is splitting the humbucker in half, shunting one coil to ground, leaving the other coil engaged like a true single-coil pickup. In this mode, the humbucking function is no longer active, so you’ll receive all kinds of hum and noise, just like with any single-coil pickup. Don’t expect a true Strat or Tele tone. If this is your goal, there are special humbuckers made of two real single-coil pickups. The downside of this special breed is they don’t sound very good as a full humbucker, so it’s always the art of compromising. Splitting to the south coil of the humbucker, which is the screw side, is recommended for neck humbuckers, but can also sound good for bridge humbuckers.

This wiring follows the same idea as #3, but will leave the north coil, which is the slug side, active. This version is recommended for a bridge humbucker because it gives a fuller sound compared to the screw side.

To clear up some terminology, there are several descriptions given to the individual coils of a humbucker and depending on the manufacturer of the pickup, they are sometimes used side by side: The (non-adjustable) slug coil is also called north coil or inside coil, while the (adjustable) screw coil is called south coil or outside coil.

Having two 4-conductor humbuckers in an HH guitar will result in four different sounds from each pickup. Plus, you can combine them for a total of 16 different sounds, which is a lot of choice, not counting possible additional options like phasing.

What sounds like a good plan or must-have often turns into a real issue, because space is your enemy! Try to do this on a Les Paul and you’ll face that there isn’t enough space for all the additional switches that are needed, and that’s the same with a lot of other guitars. So, some years ago Seymour Duncan came up with a clever product called the “Triple Shot.”

This is a humbucker mounting ring with two integrated slide switches and a ribbon cable going from the switches to a small printed circuit board (PCB), which is the connection terminal for the five wires coming from the humbucker plus a shielded output cable. The Triple Shot is available in different colors and shapes, so it’ll fit virtually any guitar, no matter if it has a flat (Strat, Tele, SG, etc.) or arched (Les Paul, 335, etc.) top. With the Triple Shot, you don’t have to drill any new holes into your guitar, and you don’t lose any controls by replacing them with switches or the like.

Operating the Triple Shot is easy, but it takes some getting used to. Because of the two slide switches, you need to know what combination will produce each sound, which can cause some confusion at the beginning. Another benefit is that the optical appearance of your guitar is not altered in any way and it’s easy to remove if you need or want to. An often-heard downside is the high price for the Triple Shot ($39 street). Personally, I think it’s worth the price because it’s high quality, but if you’re on a budget, this can be a deal-killer.

The good news is, you can get the exact same performance from a rotary switch, which costs only a fraction of a Triple Shot. The sad news is, you need one rotary switch for each pickup and, naturally, you need space to place them somewhere on the guitar.

For this you need a 2P4T rotary switch, which means it has two poles (comparable to the standard 5- and 3-way switches you all know) and four switching positions. Physically you have five lugs on each switching stage, with one of them being the output of this stage. The lugs are numbered from 1 to 4 and the output on a rotary switch is always labelled with a “C” for “common.” The rotary switch wiring you need is illustrated in Fig. 1.

Take care to get a good-quality switch. These switches are available in a wide range of quality and prices. There are open ones, like the one shown in the diagram, and closed ones. The trick is to connect both switching stages (output of stage #1 goes into stage #2), which is something you already know from your standard 5- or 3-way switch.

Fig. 2 shows how to connect your 4-conductor humbucker to the rotary switch. With this wiring you receive the following switching matrix:

I chose the Seymour Duncan color chart for the diagram, but you can transfer it to any brand humbucker using color code transfer charts on the internet.

That’s it for now. Next month we’ll continue our relic’ing project, focusing on the neck and fretboard. We’re getting close to the finish line on that one, so stay tuned.

Until then ... keep on modding

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