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Strat players - how do you tame the sound?

posted on #1
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So... I have a Strat which I bought on a whim expecting to like it but I don't. It shouts, it's not a subtle thing at all. The G string seems twice as loud as the others and the whole tone of it bites my ears. With a lot of distortion it sounds... ok, but it's shrill on all pick ups.

My previous guitar was a Jaguar which sounded great clean, really jazzy and rounded but clear.

For a clean tone what do you do? I don't have an amplifier though I do have an old POD thing which can be useful.
The best I can do is turn the volume down on the guitar and use this EQ setting in my DAW.

I have an image to show but after clicking "choose file" and choosing it I can't work out how to add it to this message. Essentially I've made a wide 6db cut at 250Hz and a big more narrow 15db cut around 2.5KHz.

Any tips for taming this gritty guitar would be welcome. :)
posted on #2
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If you have a 5 position switch Position #2 is hum-bucking Bridge & Med, #4 Is Med & Neck.
These are the only ones I like to use, gives it that strat sound that can’t be duplicated.
I also balanced the individual pickups Output between High and Low E and then between the pickups using my recorders meter. It’s close but you can’t match it exactly.
I measured them for you. Measure from pick guard to top of pickup not the magnet, close to the High and low E string.
( Neck pick up low E 3cm high E 6cm ) ( Med Low E 4cm High E 7cm )
( Bridge low E 7cm High E 9cm )
Song #124575 Lead Guitar Strat Med and Bridge pickup. Rhythm Guitar Telecaster
Song #110458 Strat Bridge only tried to sound like a Pedal Steel
posted on #3
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Assuming the guitar is in factory stock condition and....
Assuming noone previously changed pickups or electronics or has it wired in some funky messed up way......

The factory spec for Fender pickup height and most all electric guitars is 3/32nds (2.38mm) measured FROM TOP OF MAGNET TO BOTTOM OF LOWER ESTRING AS YOU HOLD DOWN THE STRING ON THE VERY LAST FRET ,as illustrated in photo:

[img]https://www.sweetwater.com/sweetcare/media/2018/07/8.-Pickups-set-to-3-32-on-bass-side-768x357.png[/img]

AGAIN...HOLD DOWN THE STRING ON THE LAST FRET WHILE MEASURING.

[img]https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2F4.bp.blogspot.com%2F-cCQqTgo1ANc%2FUx073h0M7wI%2FAAAAAAAAERs%2FVZQ4vkXy0RA%2Fs1600%2FStratocaster-pickup-height-023.jpg&f=1&nofb=1[/img]

On the High E you can set the same or else 2/32nds (1.98mm)

You can put tape on the pickup and mark where you started so you can always go back:

[img]https://www.sweetwater.com/sweetcare/media/2018/07/6.-Mark-Pickups-768x374.png[/img]

So once in that general area, the next thing is the magnetic pole pieces. For a strat they normally follow the radius of the strings as such:

[img]https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fstatic1.squarespace.com%2Fstatic%2F510519ace4b0869f641519d9%2F51051a84e4b0a00e2e9133e4%2F5426fe5ce4b0f39bff3155d8%2F1411843643208%2F%3Fformat%3D1000w&f=1&nofb=1[/img]

[img]https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2Foriginals%2F8b%2Fd1%2F60%2F8bd16060f7b6c840d5183c9137a2920b.jpg&f=1&nofb=1[/img]

The photo illustrates the factory pole magnet heights normally found . Do they look close to that?

If not someone was playing with the pickups and screwed them up in some funky messed up way.

You should have a pro luthier look at it.

If the pickups dont even look like anything in the photo...someone replaced the normal strat pickups and you will have to find out what kind they are and if they are "hot pickups".

Strats have a very distinct sound but "Shrill" is hardly ever a descriptive. Should be very clean ,full sounding, smooth and on open chords....chimmey.

One last thing to verify...

When you use the pickup selector switch....Do you get clean separation? Does the switch control each pickup separately and then blend both of them when in the middle position?
If you select JUST the bridge pickup..do volume and tone work?
If you select JUST neck, does volume and tone knobs work?

If not ...someone rewired it in some funky messed up way.

Take it to a pro luthier.

If the guitar is used and had a previous owner , there is a possibility they put in the cheapest pickups they had and kept the stock pickups which would be your problem. Other then hoping the pickups have a label on the bottom, you wouldnt know someone could have installed cheap pickups that never came with the guitar and while the guitar passed an inspection , it isnt really the pickup for the guitar and it was resold into your hands . If its used , people do alot of crazy things to guitars and remove what they think is valueable.
Edited by LittleWing on October 31 2021 09:05
posted on #4
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Clearification: You stated your G string especially is harsh.

The pole magnet height for the G string will depend if its a solid string or else a "wound " string.
The G string is always the string that vibrates most violently when you strum...

[img]https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jazzguitar.be%2Fforum%2Fattachments%2Fguitar-amps-gizmos%2F16149d1417432585-humbucker-replacements-polepieceadjustmentcopy-jpg&f=1&nofb=1[/img]
posted on #5
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LittleWing wrote:
Clearification: You stated your G string especially is harsh.

The pole magnet height for the G string will depend if its a solid string or else a "wound " string.
The G string is always the string that vibrates most violently when you strum...

[img]https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jazzguitar.be%2Fforum%2Fattachments%2Fguitar-amps-gizmos%2F16149d1417432585-humbucker-replacements-polepieceadjustmentcopy-jpg&f=1&nofb=1[/img]
Thanks for the reply. :)
Yeah, I already did that on instinct a few years ago. You know what? I think for me a part of the "problem" is the scale is so long it's not comfortable to play which either results in it being hard work or sounding bad because of inaccurate fingering. I much more enjoy playing my child size acoustic and I really did love that shorter scale Jaguar.

But, but. but - it does sound so shrill whatever I do. I may attack the pole pieces again and really exaggerate the plain wound diagram you posted.

Thanks again. :)
Edited by zedders on October 31 2021 10:28
posted on #6
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Pole piece heights are non adjustable on normal strat pickups. People DO adjust them with a piece of wood and a hammer but its entirely at your own risk.

The info above is meant to check what you have to see if its correct.

At the very most however , you can always get a new set of pickups which really isnt a big deal.
As long as you are confident the guitar is playable, the switches and knobs work as they should and its simply the tone that is the problem...its nothing throwing money into it , wont cure.

Do be careful if you decide you want to knock down the pole piece.If they are the screwdriver/adjustable type then disregard.

You can read this for further info:
https://hazeguitars.com/blog/how-to-set-pickup-pole-piece-height
Edited by LittleWing on October 31 2021 17:13
posted on #7
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LittleWing wrote:
Pole piece heights are non adjustable on normal strat pickups. People DO adjust them with a piece of wood and a hammer but its entirely at your own risk.

The info above is meant to check what you have to see if its correct.

At the very most however , you can always get a new set of pickups which really isnt a big deal.
As long as you are confident the guitar is playable, the switches and knobs work as they should and its simply the tone that is the problem...its nothing throwing money into it , wont cure.

Do be careful if you decide you want to knock down the pole piece.If they are the screwdriver/adjustable type then disregard.

You can read this for further info:
https://hazeguitars.com/blog/how-to-set-pickup-pole-piece-height

I used the flat side of a screwdriver on them and pressed with my thumb.
I'm not convinced by this guitar, it sounds "wrong" even when it's not plugged in. Kind of cheap and nasty and not like a strat should sound. I have experience of good ones from back in the 70's/early eighties and of course by loved but gone 62 Jaguar. Those guitars you could belt away and they were very forgiving - this one seems like unless you hit the strings very gentle it sounds gash, plugged in or not. I think I've just got a duff one. I wish I'd never bought it - I remembered all those good ones and trusted Fender to still be making good guitars. Oh well! I think I'll probably abandon it TBH I don't think it's worth spending money on but I guess I could try another neck as I think it's the neck that's the heart of the problem. Who knows? I had a luthier sort out some high frets and set it up and it's better since but still not right.
Edited by zedders on October 31 2021 17:41
posted on #8
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I just purchased A PRS Silver Sky on friday. Its shipping out tomorrow.

It was designed by John Mayer and the pickups are manufactured on the same machines that made the classic 57-58 strats.

If you ever see one...try it out. It sounds more like a strat then a strat.

[img]https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fmmrmagazine.com%2Fsite%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F0002018APRWEB%2F10SilverSkyHorizon_PRS.jpeg&f=1&nofb=1[/img]

I have a luthier named Darryl Guinn of Guinn guitars who I use all the time. He restores classic guitars going all the way back to early 1900s. He does celebrity guitar work to.
He told me once he sees Ibanez, Fenders and Gibsons the most come in for quality issues.There is a forum thread I posted with photos of all the guitars in his shop as i spent the day with him learning guitar adjustment.

He told me its always a crap shoot if you are getting a guitar built on friday at 3:30. Meaning those guitars , the quality slides due to everyone wanting to go home. You want a guitar built on a tuesday when they get into the swing of things work wise.Sad but true.

Personally and its strictly my opinion....I feel PRS is the best overall great value. Even the lower budget line , the quality is there and has to meet a standard. Thats just me . Ive sold many PRS guitars just by being in a music shop and telling someone I meet whos trying guitars to check one out.I tell tmy local music shop I want to start getting commission.
I also dont have any issue with Squier or Epiphone.

Epiphone especially , there was a Wikiloops member named Jazzpick and he talked me into buying an Epiphone Dot and showed me there is a community out there that prefers Epi Dots over Gibson ES 335. I added Seymour Duncan Seth Lover pickups and had the wiring upgraded by Darryl right down to an original 1958 russian bumblebee capacitor and it far exceeds a Gibson ES335 which I also own. One of my favorite guitars ever that I owned.My pickup pole pieces have hours of time on them adjusting the magnet a quarter turn and microtweaking them for a perfect blend when I strum a chord. Darryl works on violins and I told him I wanted to play "smooth and silky" and he knew what I wanted.

People forget Epiphone was considered higher quality then Gibson all thru the sixties. The Beatles chose Epiphone over Gibson.

My main axe..the Epi Dot sounds exactly like Jazzpicks here as he helped me upgrade it:

[youtube]_EjNRHzsUOs[/youtube]
Edited by LittleWing on October 31 2021 19:11
posted on #9
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Thank you very much for your insight but ouch - £2.5K - sadly I can't justify such a beast these days though I guess if a guitar retains it's value the price in immaterial. I swing between a cheap Harvey Benton and a full on real vintage fender, but even those are luck of the draw - I remember choosing a fabulous one for a friend in the early 80's when shops were chokka with second hand ones. You could try 20 in an afternoon AND buy a 60's Strat for £350 and we did, it was lovely - I'd have liked it myself. Some were real dogs though even back then. The problem now is finding a shop that actually stocks more than one.
posted on #10
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Pretty much decided to do some more pickup pole surgery. I know it's risky but I don't feel I have anything to loose. If I break them it might turn out to be a good thing.
posted on #11
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Well, I think partially I was suffering from "warble" withe strings being too close to the pickups despite being set a little lower than fender spec, but also that damn shouty G string has been killing this guitar so I took the plunge and lowered the pickups almost down to the scratch plate at the bass end and a couple of mm higher at the thin string end and then rammed the G-pole piece which was about level with th pickup surface so it's now about 3mm below the surface. What a difference! The E-string is a little bit too quiet, I haven't moved any poles apart from the G, but oh so much better - I can bash away on it now which is all I really wanted - to be able to put a little heart into my playing instead of treading on egg shells.

Thanks for the encouragement my friend - your focus on pole height setting has cracked it. I thought the frets or the nut were out of whack making it sound out of tune, but it seems like it was the magnetism from the pickups all along. Super happy here, now I just need some new strings. :)
posted on #12
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Right, OK, I'm getting somewhere. New strings on, intonation reset and it sounds like a strat ON SINGLE PICKUP POSITIONS. In between positions where the middle pickup is supposed to be out of phase (?) making that exaggerated thin almost gutless jangly but very Stratty tone... mine doesn't. Those positions on mine sound fat, bassy and dull. Something is wrong.

There are no markings on the pickups, but this was a new guitar when I bought it so unless the shop or their setup guy switched the pickups, which I doubt, it has not been messed with. As there are no markings, is it possible that Fender assembled it with the out of phase pickup in the wrong place? Or wired it wrong or something? I'm assuming assembly guy gets a box with 3 pickups in it, one being out of phase/polarity or whatever it is that makes a Strat sound like a Strat on those in-between positions. Does anyone know if there is a way to test the phase or polarity (or is it both? apart from using your ears? Maybe I just need a magnet?
posted on #13
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I think there suppose to wired in parallel sounds like they could be in series. May have to check internet wiring diagram.
Edited by GBD on November 03 2021 07:15
posted on #14
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GBD wrote:
I think there suppose to wired in parallel sounds like they could be in series. May have to check internet wiring diagram.
Thanks I'll do that. :)
I have discovered since my above ramblings that all 3 pickups actually should be in phase and the thin sound from positions 2 and 4 comes from natural phase cancelation and build up. Except mine doesn't!

Not sure it would be physically possible wire in series via the switch an in series the resistance would double rather than halve like mine does. Maybe I've simply overdone my pickup pole adjustment.

All good fun, I'll crack it eventually. :)
Edited by zedders on November 03 2021 13:02
posted on #15
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Great Idea to check the resistance. I must have been retired to long or to old to think of that. You did spark my curiosity. My 1996 ( Made in Japan 60s closet classic ) readings approx. All pickups 5.6k ohms together 2.93k ohms. all knobs full up 1 foot jumper cable. Now I need to find a jam been a long time since I played this one. :D
The 2 pickups together is hum canceling. ( Fender web site ) The hum canceling is achieved because the middle pickup is reverse wound and also has the magnet polarity reversed. If you have a magnet you can check the polarity. I don't know how you would check the winding.
Edited by GBD on November 04 2021 06:20
posted on #16
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GBD wrote:
Great Idea to check the resistance. I must have been retired to long or to old to think of that. You did spark my curiosity. My 1996 ( Made in Japan 60s closet classic ) readings approx. All pickups 5.6k ohms together 2.93k ohms. all knobs full up 1 foot jumper cable. Now I need to find a jam been a long time since I played this one. :D
The 2 pickups together is hum canceling. ( Fender web site ) The hum canceling is achieved because the middle pickup is reverse wound and also has the magnet polarity reversed. If you have a magnet you can check the polarity. I don't know how you would check the winding.
I have also read that higher resistance pickups (more windings - more power) are duller in positions 2 and 4. Also that in positions 2 and 4 both tone pots are in play. Some people are recommending that the middle pickup can be wired so it bypasses the tone pots and that gives a brighter sound for 2 and 4.
I'm quite baffled as every strat I played previously has the strat "sound" in 2 and 4 and mine just doesn't!
posted on #17
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All those circles I've been going round. Always booming bass end and either dull or spikey top end. Not clean and clear Fender sound.

I've cracked it - 2 things.
1) middle pickup lower than bridge and neck pickup helped a little

2) Amp sims. If I had an real amp, possibly I would have been happy all along, but I DI with amp sims and the ones I had were not good. I found one with clear bass, clean top end and also great distorted sounds. Seems like a good all rounder. It cost £45 (intro price) but hey, still cheaper than a real amplifier. It's "Ampcraft 1992" by Kazrog if anyone is interested and it's based on a Peavy 5150 which might mean something to you metal guitarists. I never really liked Peavy amps back in the day but then I had quite a collection of real amps - I had 2x Vox AC15's and an AC30 - you could buy them in junk shops for £5-10 back in the late 70's. I also had a 50w Marshall combo and the classic Fender Twin Reverb but my favourite wasn't even a guitar amp, it was a Selmer "treble & bass" 100w valve PA amp and a 4x10" cab. Turned up full that one had a great sound but it was LOUD! Those were the days!

Thanks for all your suggestions along the way. :)
Edited by zedders on November 09 2021 12:57
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