The Bridge Pickup on My Stratocaster is Too Bright, WTF?

I used to have a love/hate relationship with my Stratocaster.   Actually, to be more precise, a four parts love to one part hate relationship.  If I put the five-way pickup selector in positions two through five I was in Strat heaven, you know the common adjectives; glassy, bell-like, and  Hendrixic (I made that one up).  But what’s the deal with position one, the bridge pickup all by itself,  in its naked glory, producing its unadulterated, ear splitting tone.  When I bought my first Strat I thought it was defective, but after a quick call to customer service I was  informed that this was in fact not a defect.  One tone control for the middle pickup, one for the neck, and none for the bridge.  Great, now what?

I guess I could just avoid using the the first pickup selector position, but that would be like buying a five pound bag of apples, using four pounds to bake a pie and then throwing the other pound away.  What a waste, that other pound would have made some killer fritters.   There must be a way I can cook up something useful with this pickup, let’s get the tools out and take look under the hood.

First let’s nail down what’s going on with the pickup selector.

Non-Artist Rendering of a Stock Five-Way Switch

  • It’s a five-way switch with two discrete poles.  I will call one pole the PINK POLE and the other the GREEN POLE.
  • Each pole has three inputs.  I will refer to these as Bridge (B), Middle (M), Neck (N).
  • Each pole has one common which is also referred to as an Output (O).

Here is what input will be sent to its respective output in the five different positions:

  • Position 1 – B to O, B to O
  • Position 2 – B & M to O, B & M to O
  • Position 3 – M to O, M to O
  • Position 4 – M & N to O, M & N to O
  • Position 5 – N to O, N to O

Here is the switch as it would appear with the rest of the guts.

Non-Artist Rendering of Stock Strat Wiring

  • The pickup hot wires all go to the Green Pole and the tone controls go to the Pink Pole.
  • The Green Output connects to the Pink Output and then goes to the volume.  This will make the output on the Green Pole interact with the output on the Pink Pole before it goes to the volume and ultimately to the output jack.

So, if we choose position 5 we get N interacting with N or the neck pickup interacting with the neck tone.  Position 4 gives us N and M interacting with N and M, the neck and middle pickups interacting with the neck and middle tone.  My issue is that when I switch to position 1, I get B interacting B which is the bridge pickup interacting with squat.

At the time, I had never modified a guitar before and wanted to keep it as simple as possible as well as easily reversible.  The first thing I did was take a picture before I started moving wires around so I would have an “oh, crap” reference.  Next, I simply moved the wire from M to B and then added a wire from N to M.  This gave me a bridge tone control and now the other tone controlled both the middle and neck pickups.

Non-Artist Rendering Strat Wiring Modification

There are many other ways around this problem, a quick Google search will soon overwhelm you with options.  Let me explain why I chose this option:

  • It required no new parts.
  • It was easily reversible if I didn’t like it.
  • If you have basic soldering skills you don’t need to get a guitar shop involved.   If you don’t have basic soldering skills get them, there are lots of tutorial videos online on how to solder.  Once you learn how there are many simple mods you can do.
  • Changing the pickup to something darker in tone might alter the bridge and middle combo (position 2) that I liked.

Turning the bridge tone down to about seven takes just enough top end off to no longer foul the ears yet it keeps the Strat tone.  I now have a versatile guitar with five very usable pickup selections.  There are situations such as playing in a large band with multiple guitars and horns where you really need a solo to cut through the mix.  You can still do that by tuning the tone up to ten. (Why do you think so many funk and country guitarist use Strats and Teles?)

I hope this post will help anybody else looking for a way to tame their Strat bridge pickup. If you try this modification leave a comment and tell me what you think.  If you did a different modification leave a comment too, I’m always looking for new ideas.


12 Comments on “The Bridge Pickup on My Stratocaster is Too Bright, WTF?”

  1. […] The Bridge Pickup On My Stratocaster Is Too Bright! (guitarwtf.com) […]

  2. AiXeLsyD13 says:

    Dumb question time… what’s the capacitor for?

    • MTF says:

      That is actually a good question, not dumb. Many guitarist don’t know and don’t bother to ask. The cap acts like a filter, sending high frequencies to ground making them disappear. When the tone knob is at 10, the cap is not filtering and you have a bright tone. As you turn the tone knob down, more high frequencies get sent to ground making your signal darker. Changing the value of the cap will also affect how much of the highs will be rolled off. Vintage Strats have a .1 microfarad cap making it very dark when completely rolled off. Newer Strats have a .022 making not so dark. Humbucking guitars use around a .047 as they don’t have as many highs to begin with as with a single coil. It’s good to experiment if you don’t like the range of your current tone control. Higher Cap Value = Less High Frequency Roll off. I actually use a .047 on my Strats because I never rolled them completely off. Now I can quickly roll the tone all the way down and get a nice mellow tone without being too dark.

      Hope this helps and have fun modding your guitar!

      • AiXeLsyD13 says:

        Interesting, that does help. I’m actually planning on putting in 2 single-coil-sized rail humbuckers and a lipstick tube into a strat clone. (Lipstick at the neck.)

        So, I may want to play around with come capacitors since I’m switching from a single-coil to a humbucker?

        I generally play “all-out” at the bridge. Tone & volume all the way up, & I like the humbuckers.

      • MTF says:

        Sounds like a cool combination. Another thing to consider is the value of the pots. Single coils typically use 250k for tone and volume humbuckers usually use 500k. The higher the value of the pot more highs. I added a Hot Rails to the bridge pickup on one of my strats and kept the stock 250k pots and it sounded really dull. When I switched to a 500k pot it really opened it up but had to run the tone knob for the neck and middle pickups at about 8 to take some of the added highs off of them. Overall I was very happy, I was able to play a wide range of styles at a gig without the need to change guitars.

      • sawww says:

        uh you mean larger cap, more HF rolloff. you said it backwards above

      • Matt Fleming says:

        Yup, good catch.

        .022uf least dark/HF rolloff
        .047uf darker/more HF rolloff
        .1uf darkest/most HF rolloff

        Thanks

  3. […] The Bridge Pickup On My Stratocaster Is Too Bright! (guitarwtf.com) […]

  4. Bigjohn12 says:

    The greasebucket tone circuit is a major breakthrough for this problem. My local guitar guy did mine for me and it has since become one of his bread & butter moneymakers. Once he heard mine when it was done, he modded his personal strat and let others hear it and Bamm! He’s done many for many happy strat players here. Bridge tone, neck tone, and open on middle. Plus, they don’t get sloppy sounding when you roll the tone off.

  5. billy says:

    Glad I found your blog I’ve just got an upgrade package 3 pots volume with treble bleed + custom jack and 5 way for my ’94 Japanese Strat and mine has got the import 5 way so I was trying to figure out which way the US 5 way goes and which tone pot I put the .22 cap on. So thanks for the very useful info.


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