Tons of guitar players grow up on and ply their trade on the venerable Fender Stratocaster. It’s one of the finest electric guitar designs, a fact attested to by its popularity and longevity.
It’s not without its quirks, however.
Many players (yours truly included) have found that the bridge pickup on a Strat can be overly bright, lack body, and not balance well with its middle and neck position siblings. The Strat’s stock wiring does little to help this fact. To this end, many guitarists have taken to installing full humbucking pickups in their guitar’s bridge position, ala Eddie Van Halen. This solves some issues, but creates others.
Here are two workarounds to the Strat bridge pickup blues:
If you absolutely do not want to install a humbucker in your guitar, which can require body modifications and new parts, you can simply modify the stock wiring. Strats come with their two tone controls wired to the middle and neck pickup. Simply reassigning one of these tone pots to the bridge pickup allows you to then roll off some of the harsh top end associated with that position. It’s a simple mod used by the likes of Eric Johnson. It’s fast, easy, and if you’re handy with a soldering iron it can be free too!
The other option is to install a humbucker in the bridge position. Choosing the right humbucker is important. It’s imperative that you choose one that balances well with your existing pickups. The great thing with some humbuckers is that you can also wire them to split, effectively cutting out one coil, allowing you to retain that single coil sound. Another option here: instead of wiring the pickup to split, you can wire the coils in parallel instead. A normal humbucker runs in series: that is, one coil feeds into another. Parallel runs the coils simultaneously. The benefit here is that the resulting sound is closer to that of a traditional single coil, yet retains the hum-cancelling abilities of a full series humbucker. It also balances much better between the other pickup positions.
For myself, I’ve come to rely on the parallel wiring trick. I just don’t get along with traditional strat bridge pickups, but I love the parallel sound. It’s the perfect compromise. I use a special tone pot with a push/pull switch. This “hides” the modification and saves me from having to cut holes in pickguards or bodies.
These mods are simple, effective, and relatively low cost. Be sure to check with your pickup maker of choice for wiring diagrams and pickup selection advice. DiMarzio, Seymour Duncan, and Detroit’s own Motor City Pickups are great choices. As always, if you’re uncomfortable with this kind of work, get thee to a qualified tech.