As I've explained in a previous blog entry, my friend was in the market for a new Fender Stratocaster and, ended with an American Deluxe SSS, 2010 model.
Not because of its sound, but because of the rest of ergonomic and good enhancements.
We have already decided to swap those pickups with David Allen's pickups and, after hearing the EJ model, we decided to go for Dovers set, which should nail EJ's tone.
I myself own one of the first Deluxe versions (that was produced for very short) so, I knew what's good and wrong with that axe.
In some way, this entry is an overall review of the American Deluxe model 2010 and, a story of the wiring mod I've designed for this axe, to substitute non-sense factory tones.
The Beast and the Beauty
Seriously, this guitar is Hell and Heaven, Beast and Beauty.
They did an awesome job in some areas but, they have took scary decisions in other areas.
Let's talk about the good things first.
From a "wood-luthier" point of view, this guitar is what any strato ever dreamed.
I mean, wood quality is clearly superior, as well as inlays and overall finish.
It has compound radius fretboard (my own deluxe, hasn't), a good nut (not the LSR nut of mine), staggered tuning keys (that give the right angle to strings, to avoid the tree strings) and, locking keys (which help to keep the tuning stable.
It has a nice Deluxe Bridge, that works pivoting with its blade on two posts, as any modern bridge (Kahler, Floyd Rose, etc.), which gives a better touch, immediateness and accuracy to tremolo effect and, helps to tuning stability also.
Also, the junction body / neck was beveled to allow a more comfortable access to low frets.
Well, in wood, hardware and ergonomics aspects is a great enhancement respect of Standards.
Now the bad (and understandable) things.
Why in the Hell, the minds that prototyped such a guitar thought on a set of Noiseless Samarian-Cobalt N3 pickups?. Not sounding bad at all, they aren't organic and, this is more clear when you just play any other good Strato. Why a Deluxe model has such a thing?.
Then, the potentially interesting S-1 switch, which should bring you 5 new exciting alternative pickup combinations (or sounds) to cover lots of ground. A good configuration that can give you 10 different sounds (including the 5 standard strato sounds) sounds amazing on paper, right?.
Well, from an "electronics-tech" point of view, every taken decision during design phase was wrong for this axe. Even the combos that came with the first version of the Deluxe SSS made more sense.
Most of the 5 alternative combos (with the S-1 pushed down) have no real use and sound really awful.
So, I can imagine lots of people missing all the good that the Deluxe model has to offer, because it plainly sounds worst than any Standard, with stock pickups and wiring.
Fender people!. What were you thinking while designing the electronics side?.
Bringing back the Deluxe to life
An axe of this level owes stuff at its level. We were clear about to throw there a set of David Allen's Dovers, because that was the sound we wanted for this axe.
Now, it was time to re-design the alternative wiring for this axe and, I had some surprise, again!.
After removing all the solder and, leave components unwired and clean, I've discovered that the new Deluxes are mounting some kind of hybrid super-switch.
It has one wafer as the original 5-way (that is, 3 real positions and 2 fake notch positions) and, one more wafer as the super-switch (that is, 5 real positions) so, this is a mix of a DP3T (with two notch positions) and a real DP5T. So, you have all the issues of the typical standard 5-way and, just few advantages of the super-switch.
Once more, Fender people, what were you thinking on when designing this axe?.
Well, we had to buy a new brand Super-switch (4P5T) to have 4 poles with 5 real positions to re-design the wiring for some interesting alternative sounds.
My plan was to preserve the original strato sounds in the normal mode (S-1 switch up) and to, provide LP-like sounds and some other interesting alternatives (as the middle position of the tele and, one of my favourite combinations).
So, my plan was to have:
1. Virtual LP Neck humbucker (Neck in series with Middle)
2. Virtual Middle position of Telecaster (Neck in parallel with Bridge)
3. Virtual LP Middle position (Neck in series with Middle - in parallel with - Middle in series with Bridge)
4. HS combination (Middle in series with Bridge - in parallel with Neck)
5. Virtual LP Bridge position (Middle in series with Bridge)
Results exceeded our expectations. In words of my fellow friend luthier: "this axe covers several decades of music styles. Every combo makes sense and has a real use. This is the most versatile guitar I've ever heard.".
Our plan is to go back to the store where my other fellow friend bought it and do a face-to-face comparison with the amazing Eric Johnson's model. We all (us and store' staff) know how both axes sounded before so, it will be a very exciting test, which I hope to record and hang in Youtube later.
This will leave you to understand how amazing would be a Deluxe with the right electronics from factory and, if you like how it plays, you will be able to enhance it with some additional economical effort but, at least, you will have a great ergonomical axe (with Charvel's compound radius fretboard!), versatile and sounding good as hell.
New heart and neurons for the beast
Before going for the wiring diagram, I would like to warn you about a very important issue, if your plan is just to swap stock pickups with a new set of good sounding strato pickups.
Warning about mounting sets with RWRP middle in a Deluxe!
If your intention is just to swap the annoying N3 stock pickups with a good sounding replacement set of pickups, be aware that you will be able to use there a set without RWRP middle pickup.
Reason is that stock wiring uses some (awful) out-of-phase combinations and, an RWRP pickup reverses the whole wiring sense and, makes no good to something that already sounded bad.
If your plan was to just swap original set of pickups with a new one, just be sure you use regular middle pickup.
With David Allen's Dovers
Most of DA' sets have a RWRP middle pickup so, they aren't direct candidates for direct replacement pickup but, since stock alternative combos made no sense, we've already decided to re-design the whole axe for versatility and real application.
My design includes no out-of-phase position so, you can throw there any kind of set of pickups (with or without RWRP middle) and, it will work flawless. If you use a RWRP middle, you will have real virtual humbuckers (alternative positions 1, 3 and 5), with hum cancellation, otherwise just expect some hum but, that's all.
As ever, click on the diagram for full size.
Pickups white conductors are drawn in light blue for readability.
This wiring will give you 100% satisfaction if you use mentioned DA Dovers, even that other pickups of similar quality level (if they are) can give you very good results.
Eric Johnson is originally using a 300K volume pot and 250K tone pots. He also uses a 0.1 mF cap, while my design works with a 0.047 mF cap.
DA pickups were designed to work with standard strato configuration and, therefore, they deliver same (or better tone, we will discover it in the comparison video!) with just three pots of 250K (stock).
Also, Eric Johnson is assigning Neck pickup to Tone 1 (middle pot on diagram) and Bridge pickup to Tone 2 (lower pot on diagram). But, we are using standard strato tones assignment here, therefore, Neck to Tone1 and Middle to Tone2.
To go for the EJ tone arrangement, just move the olive green wire from the tab where M+ lands to the tab where B+ lands and you are done.
The owner of this axe is a fellow friend, who has not knowledge and not real interest on any technical subject. He just loves to play guitar and has "tone". Plays a broad range of styles and does it with feel and technic, with some special magic. You know what I'm talking about.
Who did the work was my other fellow friend luthier (and brother of the owner), who is a beast of wood and hardware but goes lost in electronics (even that solders as a pro). He couldn't understand what all those wires that he had to solder were going to do and, was scared to loose the standard strato sounds.
I want to share with you their comments, after testing the guitar with selected pickups and new brand wiring design, because it made me laugh a lot.
"There is only one word that can define this: PERFECTION".
"I give thanks to God to allow me to play THIS axe".
"It has so huge sounds that I have to redo my whole rig' setup"
"I even don't need pedals, this is pure crazyness!".
"Gooooood, this is a fucking MASTER WORK!. A real beast!."
"I have no words to explain it... 10 sounds that cover most of the great decades of music.
Sound covers from Van Halen to pure Gilmour, Knopfler, Clapton, Prince... anything!"
"Clean, you get all the best sounds of the musical history, I swear it!".
"Man, my sincerly congratulation!. This is the more complete guitar I've ever heard. Anything he plays sounds to a disk record. Hiperpolivalent.".
"We MUST build guitars exactly as this one. They will be sold with ease".
"You should be here. Drive to here and, get some cava, dozens of bottles!".
Just stay tuned. We will arrange a demo session with Auvisa store's people to make a fair comparison with the expensive (but awesomely sounding) Eric Johnson's model.