How to wire a Fender Stratocaster

Hot Rod Mod: New Strat circuit

by Marc-Oliver Richter,

The Fender Stratocaster is a classic and is basically still built today as it was thought up by Leo Fender in the 1950s. The same circuit has been used in electronics for over 60 years: three pickups are controlled by a master volume potentiometer and a tone potentiometer for the neck and middle positions using a selector switch.

In the days of Leo Fender, the original 3-way switch was extended by a 5-way switch, so that the intermediate positions that were interesting in terms of sound could also be used. Apparently they didn't dare to make further circuit changes later. Although the pickup equipment of the successful model moved with the times and the tonal needs and humbuckers were often installed instead of the single coils, the circuit with master volume and the two tone controls was largely retained. Why this is so is one of the riddles of history for me. Because I think the circuit no longer makes sense for today.

At the time the Stratocaster was created, the concept may have met the sound needs of guitarists, but today the two separate tone controls, which also dampen the rather soft PUs on the neck and in the middle, are hardly in demand. Hand on heart: Who uses the two potentiometers regularly? At least I don't. So it's high time to pimp the circuit a bit. After we had already planned a circuit change in the last episode, the task for today is clearly formulated: In the Strat, a humbucker on the bridge and the two single coils on the neck and in the middle are to be connected in such a way that a master tone potentiometer and two volume pots are available.


Since potentiometers also influence the sound when they are fully turned up, it does not matter which potentiometer values ​​are used. As a rule, guitars with single coils have 250 kOhm pots, while humbuckers use 500 k pots. The smaller the value, the greater the height attenuation of the potentiometers. The 250k potentiometers tame pointed single coils, while the 500k potentiometers help fat humbuckers in terms of height. This is of course not a must.

If you want to shape the sound in a special way, it is also a good idea to play with the potentiometer values. For particularly sharp Telecaster sounds, 1 megaohm potentiometers were originally installed. I justified the selection of the potentiometers for my current project "Heavy-Strat" ​​in the last post. So only briefly: The Seymour Duncan SH-6 humbucker gets its own volume control with 500k. The two Squier standard single coils share a volume control with 250k. For the master tone potentiometer, I decided on 250k, otherwise the single coils would be too pointed for me. The powerful bridge humbucker can cope with the small height attenuation.

To ensure a reasonable control behavior v. a. To achieve the volume pots, pots with logarithmic characteristics are used. Logarithmic potentiometers harmonize better with the human ear, as they cause higher value changes at the beginning of the control path. With linear potentiometers you have the feeling that nothing happens at the beginning of the control path and the change then comes very abruptly. A special switch is not necessary, as a switch with two switching levels is sufficient for the separate volume control. Every Fenderstyle 3 or 5-way switch offers this out of the box.

The two levels are v. a. Easy to see when the switch is open: To the left and right of the movable blade are three connection fields which, depending on the switch position, get contact with the switch output. Since there are three inputs and one output on each side of the blade, the switch has two levels. A good illustration of this can also be found on the Rockinger website.


The Strat is really good for working on electronics. Almost all electronic parts are gathered on the pickguard. So once you have loosened the connections of the output socket and the ground connection to the bridge, you can easily tinker with the electrical system. However, solving them is not always that easy.

The ground connections are usually made via the potentiometer housing, and unsoldering takes patience and a lot of heat. A bit of fresh solder will help make the old solder more flowable again. The use of the desoldering pump or desoldering heat can also help. All tricks have to be used here, especially with weak soldering irons. You can also see from my example that desoldering was not that easy. Soldering with the recycled components will certainly no longer win a beauty prize.

After unsoldering, the rebuilding comes: I want the volume control for the humbucker at the top. I use it the most. In the middle is the volume control for the single coils and then the tone control at the bottom. I briefly considered whether I would like the SH-6's split function. Then I would have used a push-pull potentiometer. It would definitely not have been in the upper position, but would have replaced the master tone control. In the end, it doesn't matter which potentiometer you combine the switch function with, and a pulled down potentiometer would have been less of a problem when playing. But in the end I do without the additional sound function.

So the Seymour Duncan's red and white wires remain soldered together and only the green and black wires are connected. Somewhat confusing with Seymour Duncan is the color code. While the color black often stands for the crowd, Seymour Duncan uses it for signal routing and green for the crowd. So the green cable and the ground wire come to the housing of the 500k volume potentiometer and the black cable to the potentiometer input. The middle of the three soldering lugs, the output, carries the signal on to the switch. The other external connection of the potentiometer is connected to ground. With guitars, this is often done in a rather rustic way by bending the connection to the potentiometer housing and soldering it firmly.

The connections of the two single coils go first to the switch and then to the 250k volume potentiometer. How the switch is assigned depends on the type of switch. Basically, however, all switches have three inputs and one output per level. If the occupancy z. B. is not visible when the switches are closed, the multimeter helps. The middle input definitely belongs to the middle pickup. Whether the left or right input is assigned to the neck or bridge pickup depends on the installation position of the switch. The same applies here: if you can't see it - measuring helps.

The master tone control is at the very end of the circuit. It gets its signal from the output of the 5-way switch. You can then solder the output socket to the same connection later. The output of the tone potentiometer (middle solder lug) is connected to ground via the capacitor, usually a 22 nF type. If you look at the wiring from the switch side, one level is available for the two single coils (position 3 middle pickup, position 5 neck pickup). Position 1 (bridge pickup) remains free. The switch output of the level is then led to the 250k volume potentiometer.

From the output of the 250k potentiometer (middle soldering eye) it goes over to the other level of the switch, there also to positions 3 and 5. The two soldering connections 3 and 5 are connected to one another. To do this, I simply strip off a longer piece of the stranded wire and solder it to both connections. The output of the 500k potentiometer, i.e. the volume control of the humbucker, is routed to position 1. The output of the second switch level now comes to the tone potentiometer and the output socket.

Now pull all ground connections, i. H. Connect the ground cables from the pickups to the potentiometer housings at as one point as possible, connect all potentiometer housings to one another and finally connect the ground connections to the output socket and the bridge. That's it then. Now screw the pickguard tight, pull up the strings and you're done. Anyone who uses a replacement pickguard from the aftermarket like me will probably have to drill a few new holes for the pickguard attachment. Because

the standardization does not go so far that all pickguards also have the fastening holes in the same place. This is only annoying if the holes are very close - but not close enough - to the old holes and you have to decide whether the screw will at least go in at an angle or whether there is still enough space for a new hole next to the old hole. How to deal skillfully with the wooden things, however, is a completely different story, which I also like to leave to other people ...

(published in Guitar & Bass 02/2021)

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