The Mod Squad
it’s about time our modding readers chipped in with tales of want and woe. Dave Burrluck is your tone therapist…
Having realistic aims for your modding project is key for a successful result. One dose of realism comes with the realisation that you can’t always get what you want, however hard you try. One reader has a problem…
“I have a 1980s Japanese Fender ‘superstrat’ with a Kahler locking vibrato which I bought knowing I would change the pickups. Let me state first of all I am a Gibson man and like fat humbucker sounds. I can’t stand the thin pingy sound that I get when playing Strats, although loads of people get good sounds with them. I used to use a Fender Concert but now use a Marshall DSL 50 (Bletchley-made version).
“So, I changed the pickups years ago and now have a Seymour Duncan Custom Custom in the bridge position. No problems there, great sound. The problem is with positions two and three, middle and neck. Whatever I put in there has no ‘push’ or guts (projection might be a better word here, but I’m sure you get the picture). I have a Seymour Duncan APS-1 Alnico Pro II in the middle and an SSL 6 custom flat in the neck.
“I’ve also tried a JB Jnr in the neck and a Kent Armstrong STCR7, which was about twice as loud as anything else, so rejected it because of sound balance issues.
“So before I bin the guitar, can you suggest anything? Regards, Graham.”
Hey Graham! Okay, you’re looking at the microphone – your pickups – but there’s a limit on what you can achieve to create that ‘Gibson tone’ when the primary unplugged voice of your guitar is so considerably different to, for example, a Les Paul. I don’t have the precise specs on your guitar but I’m suspecting it’s a maple-necked bolt-on with a long scale. My distant memory of Kahler vibratos, although extremely well engineered, was that they really didn’t do a great deal to help either sustain or tonal body. Back in the day with super-saturated tones de riguer this was less of a problem.
If you’re after nailing a ’Burst, well, good luck! I think it might be a tonal quest that you won’t ever nail. In the same way that it’s hard to create true single coil voices from a twin humbucking Gibson-style guitar with entirely different construction, scale length and hardware compared to a Fender, the reverse is also true. That said, aiming for a ‘hot rod’ modded, thicker Gibson-ish tone is much more doable. A certain Mr Van Halen springs to mind.
So, as you’ve said, the Custom Custom is doing it for you. I doubt very much that this creates a real ‘Gibson voice’ but not surprised at all if it’s doing that more EVHlike thing. Now, while stating that you don’t like those ‘thin pingy’ Strat sounds – if I’ve understood correctly – you have two single coils on your guitar, the Alnico Pro II of which is extremely vintage Strat. Now, whether or not these are hot single coils or whatever they’re still going to produce that ‘Strat tone’ you clearly dislike, to a certain extent.
I’d be very inclined to stick with Seymour Duncan and maybe look at the SL59-1n Little ’59 Strat, with its “PAF voicing in a single coil size neck pickup,” which has a more open midrange than the JB you tried. Personally, the Duncan ’59 is one of my favourite pickups, a really versatile relatively low output voice that does anything from jazz to classic rock and then some. Obviously, the Jr version will sound different to the full-sized version but unless you want to route out your guitar and scratchplate, it could be a good place to start.
I’m unsure whether your guitar has a five- or three-way lever pickup selector switch. If it’s the former, again aside from voicing the middle pickup on its own you have the two mixes in positions 2 and 4, which are always going to add a touch of ‘Strattyness’. If you don’t want that you could simply replace the five-way with a three-way lever and just wire the bridge and neck pickups for a classic bridge, both, and neck set-up. And the dual pickup mix – something you don’t get on an SSS or HSS guitar with a standard 5-way selector – is a huge part of the ‘Gibson voice.’
I’d also consider your set-up. I definitely recommend 0.010s and a slight raising of the neck pitch which would necessitate raising the saddles and achieving a little more back angle. It all helps.
Let us know how you get on and keep those questions coming.
This SL50-1n Little ’59 can offer your Strat’s neck pickup position extra oomph…