Off the record

Each month, ses­sion ace and Su­per­tramp gui­tarist Carl Ver­heyen of­fers well-cho­sen word of wis­dom on life as a gui­tarist. This month: it’s all about Strats.

Guitar Techniques - - Intro -

Some­where along the road I found a way to make the Strat’s three sin­gle­coils and vi­brato bridge re­ally work for me.

I have a con­fes­sion: I own 14 Strats. I’m not sure how it hap­pened, but some­where along the road I found a way to make three sin­gle­coils and the vi­brato bridge re­ally work for me. Then an old friend sold me a Sea Foam Green 1961 Fen­der Strat for $500, way be­fore the word ‘vin­tage’ be­came as­so­ci­ated with elec­tric gui­tars. I still own that in­stru­ment due to my pol­icy: if it sounds good, don’t sell it! But I insure it for con­sid­er­ably more these days.

It’s amaz­ing how many things Leo Fen­der got right, back in ’54. The vi­brato bridge is still one of the most mu­si­cal around, even 60 years later. And with the ad­di­tion of the five-way pickup selec­tor in the early-70s, the guitar be­came a work­horse for many styles, way be­yond its orig­i­nal coun­try mu­sic in­ten­tions.

A good light­weight Strat is hard to beat for ver­sa­til­ity. And the tonal spec­trum is much broader than its lit­tle brother the Tele­caster, or the clas­sic Gibsons. Af­ter heft­ing a Strat and mak­ing sure it’s not a heavy log, my at­ten­tion turns to the sounds and mar­riage of wood and pick­ups. Here are some of the tones I look for:

Neck Pickup. A strong neck pickup should have the most ‘sonic girth’ of the en­tire guitar. Words I use to de­scribe it are “fat” and “woody.” The sound I have in my mind is Ste­vie Ray Vaughan’s thick solo sound with a full bot­tom end. It gets a lit­tle more com­pli­cated when I add a sat­u­rated dis­tor­tion pedal into the mix, be­cause I never want the sound to ‘mush out’ below C# on the 4th fret of the fifth string. If you can dial in a clear ‘beam’ from C# down­wards, and still have plenty of sus­tain and sat­u­ra­tion, you’ve got a great neck pickup.

Neck-Mid­dle Split. This is a great rhythm sound. It’s the warm­est place on the Strat, ca­pa­ble of hol­low­body jazz tones with the tone knob rolled off and clean funky rhythm guitar that’s not too bit­ing or tre­bly.

Mid­dle Pickup. The sound I look for here can best be de­scribed as “glassy”. The clean, clear sparkle tones you get from the mid­dle pickup are a big part of Jimi Hen­drix’s stu­dio record­ings. Re­mem­ber, back in his day the five-way switch hadn’t been in­vented as a retrofit for the Strat, so with­out off­set­ting the three-way switch and hop­ing it would hold, the guitar had just three po­si­tions for the selec­tor. The mid­dle was a go-to pickup for funk play­ers, too. I’ve used it on solo elec­tric in­tros with de­lay and chorus for those shim­mer­ing tones that no other guitar can match.

Mid­dle-Bridge Split. This can best be de­scribed as the clas­sic Stra­to­caster ‘cluck’ tone. Rock gui­tarists and coun­try play­ers have used it so much over the years that it’s al­most be­come cliché, but nonethe­less, a clas­sic guitar sound every­one should own. I love the way it dis­torts; there’s both warmth and bite to the sound that works with many types of mu­sic. I’ve used the mid­dle-bridge split with mas­sive dis­tor­tion, play­ing a very high melody over a 75-piece string sec­tion. My tone was smooth and sweet, blend­ing with the cel­los and basses but cut­ting through the vi­o­lins. Bridge Pickup. Since the Strat’s bridge pickup is not mounted on a metal plate like the Tele, you don’t get that ex­treme ‘ice-pick to the ears’ tone that can spike you pretty hard. In­stead, the Strat’s back pickup is equally at home with coun­try chicken pickin’ and rock so­los with heavy dis­tor­tion. On all my Strats I re­wire the rear tone knob so I am able to con­trol and roll off the bridge pickup’s tre­ble. This also makes for some gor­geous, fat dis­torted tones for soar­ing so­los.

When the Carl Ver­heyen Band goes on tour, I bring two or three Strats, plus a few other gui­tars. Even though I use many in­stru­ments on my records, noth­ing gets the mu­sic across like a Strat. Sim­ple, el­e­gant and, even at 60 years old, beau­ti­ful to hear and be­hold. Visit­lver­ for more about Carl and his mu­sic.

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