A New Look at an Old Wiring Scheme
(and another cheap guitar makeover!)

An iPhone photo app makes this new Squier Tele look old. Duncan's Vintage Broadcaster Set makes it SOUND old.

Sometimes an antiquated idea can acquire new relevance.

Example: The ancient Fender Broadcaster wiring scheme, in which the guitar has no tone control per se, but the second knob acts as a pickup-blend control. I wired up a guitar this old-fashioned way, with some very surprising results.

My experiment had other motives: I wanted to check out Seymour Duncan’sVintage Broadcaster Set, which replicates those earliest Telecaster-family pickups. And once again, I wanted to see just how much of a sonic upgrade a simple pickup replacement could bestow on a humble guitar: in this case, a cheap, Chinese-made Squier Telecaster.

Check out the results in the demo video.

With the Broadcaster blend wiring, the middle pickup-selector position gives you pure neck pickup. Switching to position 3 (regular neck position on standard Teles) engages a tone-filtering capacitor for a much darker neck-pickup sound. The second knob does nothing in positions 3 and 2, but when you move to position 1, it fades in the neck pickup along with the bridge pickup. Fully clockwise, you get the usual position 1 sound. Fully counter-clockwise, you get the usual position 2 sound. And anywhere in between (this is the cool part) you get tones you simply can’t get from regular Tele wiring.

This wasn’t my first encounter with this wiring. But like many players who’ve tried it over the last 60 or so years, my first reaction was that position 3 was simply too dark to be of much use, and I was reluctant to sacrifice a proper tone control. (BTW, this wiring predates the Fender Precision Bass. Back in the day, this may have been as close as you could get to a good, amplified solidbody bass sound.)

But in the years since I’ve last tried the blend setup, I’ve spent a lot more time with Tele-family guitars, and I’ve realized that, while I use the tone knob often, I tend to use it in two specific ways:

    • to roll of a smidgen of highs on the bridge pickup
    • to roll all the highs off the neck pickup for EBow playing, or for creating bass parts in bands without a bassist (like my current group, Mental 99).

Meanwhile, I rarely find myself hanging out for long in the middle position, with both pickups engaged. It’s not a bad sound, but it never seems to thrill me like the brilliant bridge and fat neck sounds do.

The blend arrangement (or at least the modded version I detail below) affords all the tone control I need. Switching to position 3 gives me an instant bass and EBow setting. I don’t miss not having a dedicated tone control for the bridge, because mixing in a bit of neck tames the nastiest highs. And oh my, there are some terrific sounds available along the range of the blend knob in position 1!

Here’s the wiring diagram from the Seymour Duncan site, with my notes added in red:

The value of the capacitor linking the selector switch and volume pot determines the darkness of the position 3 sound. (There’s a deeper discussion of tone control caps in this post.) I tried several other values, and prefer a slightly less dark .033uF cap, and that’s what you hear in the demo for both guitars. However, after playing a gig with the Trussart (which is substantially warmer in tone than a classic Tele), I’m going to replace its .033 with an even less dark .022uF.

I temporarily replaced the resistor in the circuit with a B50K pot so I could choose the optimal resistance value.

Meanwhile, the resistor on the selector switch determines how much of a volume drop you get when switching to dark position 3. I temporarily replaced the resistor with a B50K pot so I could audition different values. My favorite setting: no resistance at all. I simply replaced the resistor with a jumper wire, and balance feels about right. (Again, that’s what you hear in the demos.)

I performed these mods switches less than 24 hours ago, but I’m sold! I have all the control I need. I spend much less time adjusting pots. And I love the blend pot’s in-between shadings. It’s an easy project, too.

Has anyone else tried this? More important, has anyone tried it and not hated it?

23 comments to A New Look at an Old Wiring Scheme
(and another cheap guitar makeover!)

  • dan

    love the looper stuff joe.
     

  • David Fung

    I’ll second dan – awesome looping!  

    This mod is really interesting.  I think I like the Tele tones more than you do, but I’m thinking I need to try adding a blend pot in on the middle pickup of a Strat now.  I like the Tele bridge pickup sound, but find the bridge pickup of a matched Strat set a little too thin.  Going to an overwound bridge pickup can make for better tone, but destroys the bridge/middle position which is my fave Strat tone (and often makes the in-between position buzz as well).  Maybe bringing in a little middle pickup with a blend will fix the problem.  

    Can you tell us what your signal chain looks like? Are you miking the amp here or going direct?

    BTW, I continue to love the Steelcaster.  It costs more than a carload of Squiers.  It’s worth it!

    • joe

      Ooh, that sounds interesting. And now I’m really eager to do a three-pickup Tele using the same blend-the-middle idea. Every play with the bridge + neck Strat sound? It’s really sweet and very usable.

      Signal chain? For that video in particular? Let’s see…guitar through homemade delay, trem, and reverb pedals, into that Tremolux amp and white cab with an Alnico Blue that you see behind me. Royer R-121 mic to Avalon 737 preamp to Apple’s Logic Pro. Plus the looper, of course, in line after the pedals. I use something like that for a lot of the demos on this site, though a fair number are through the amp simulators in Apple’s MainStage.

      I won’t argue with you about the Steelcaster. I haven’t loved a guitar that much since I was a kid — or at least since before I worked as a jaded guitar mag editor. James Trussart’s stuff has so much character and vibe. Quirky as hell, but for me, his instruments have a character and point if view I just don’t get from a lot of otherwise excellent modern guitars.

      • David Fung

        Whoops, didn’t see your response until I was visiting your NAMM report!  

        On the Strat…  I’ve played axes with the 3 miniswitches and have to admit that I haven’t been a big fan of the bridge+neck tone.  Oh great, now I’ll have to wire up a Strat with TWO blend knobs…

  • Roger Moore

    Third that on the loopin’! Sounds creepy cool. :thumbup:

    That does seem to be such an interesting wiring scheme. I must admit that I am one of those that traditionally rarely used my tone control. Just left it wide open most of the time and changed pickups to get varying tones. But since doing a bunch of looping myself I have started using the tone control a lot more. It’s very nice to layer up the darker and brighter tones you can get using the tone knob. Just so you don’t keep layering the same frequency range. It makes me kind of wonder why you don’t see more ‘pick-up blending’ knobs nowadays. Seems like a cool idea, that should work in a number of different guitar/playing styles.

     

    • joe

      I’m not trying to be creepy! I just turned out that way!

      I know what you mean about the tone controls — for a long time, I never used them either. To be honest, passive tone controls don’t usually sound very good — or at least not as good as when the circuit is wide-open. Often it’s better to trim highs at the amp, or better still, with your playing technique. And like you, looping got me deeper into using the tone pots, because as you’ve surely learned, you have to work extra hard to differentiate the looped layers to keep them from congealing into sonic oatmeal.

  • Tom

    I love a good Telecaster tone, too. But whenever I try to play my early ’90s Am Standard Tele lately, I simply sound like ‘Mr Icepick is Turning Up the Treble.’ Everyone else sounds great on the almighty Tele. Playing with the tone pot doesn’t seem to help me, either.
    I may just need a new set of pickups.

    • joe

      Well, the Tele can be what a friend of mine once called a “tough love” guitar. It doesn’t necessarily flatter you the way some guitars do. But nothing sounds better in the right pair of hands…

      Besides finding the right pickups (which can definitely help!), you might try different amps, or even different picks.

      Another random idea: old-school nickel strings, which tend to be less trebly than modern formulations.

  • Oinkus

    Can’t live without my blend knob , strat master volume and tone plus blend between the bridge and neck just allows you to find the fun spots of sound if and when you need them.

  • NJ Slim

    Cool stuff … I’ve used the blend-neck pot on my Strat for ever, it seems.  Same deal … just a pinch of neck and the bridge sounds sweeter.  What was the looper, if you don’t mind my asking?

  • Ben

    So, I have been a Gibson player most of my life, and I use the “both” position a lot and use both volumes to blend (and I mess with tones too). I play a strat and tele a lot , but mis this blending ability, so this thread is really cool. But I use the tone control fully (it took a little trial and error to get the right setup).  BTW I love the neck + bridge comby on my Strat and I use it a lot (I’ve got a Duncan JB in the bridge, tapped both single and dual).  So here is the question: can we wire it to get both?  Have three knobs, Vol/Tone/Blend with a switch for blend that disables/enables it? This could be cool with the three-pickup set up too..on a tele…o boy….can it  be done?

  • Dave

    In response to Ben, this is the standard wiring system on the Kinman K-9 system, which I have on 2 of my Strats. And you have two options for the tone knob, standard or hi-fi (there is a switch on the pot), the latter working more like a wah tone filter, which I love. Plus, there is a push-push knob on the blend knob so you can get the middle and bridge PUs in series. Very, very cool.

  • Aaron

    Hey Joe, I was wondering if you could give me a hand… I followed these instructions for my tele, and double and triple checked all connections, but no matter what I do my vlume knob doesnt work as nice as it should. It sounds like a faulty connection but everything is soldered according to the diagram… I’m using a neck Tele Hot Rails minibucker and for the bridge I’m using a standard tele pickup with two wires leaving… if you look up the wiring page for the Hot Rails wiring I’m sure you can see what I changed to accommodate the minibucker. I cant figure out for the life of me what’s going on! I’ll try a few other things when I get the chance but a reply would be MUCH appreciated! (I can upload anything at request, video of the problem, wiring diagrams, pictures). And also, a deeper explanation: when I move the volume knob occasionally I get a crackling and sometimes in certain positions (usually close to all the way on or all the way back) I get nothing but feedback… The blend knob is working fine as is the three way switch. 

  • mateo

    great demo joe! 
    i wired mi Tele this way with SD Jazz humbucker in the neck position. After installing 500K volume pot for humbucker I realised that the bridge SD vintage broadcaster pickup was too thin and fairly unusable. Now it’s a great sounding, all around setup. I’m wondering about the blending pot. I have 250K no load tone and it’s fine but what would it be when to use 250 volume pot or 500K tone (linear)? Would it change the way the pickup blends? 
     

    • joe

      I’m glad you liked the demo, Mateo! :)

      But I don’t quite understand you question — are you saying that simply changing the volume pot from 250K to 500K after swapping the neck pickup made the bridge pickup sound better?

  • mateo

    No no! After installing 500K volume,  bridge pickup sounded too thin and harsh. In this broadcaster wiring it seems to sound good. Maby the possibility to blend the pups makes it nice sounding because I can roll unwanted highs off by blendind a bit of neck pup. My blend pot is 250K tone pot. I’m wondering what is the best blending pot ( 500K  or 250K,  linear or audio )? 
    I like this setup because I’ve got goods of traditional single coil bridge and middle (by blending) and also fat neck humbucker. 
    Have a good day :)) 

    • joe

      Actually, the very first thing I’d try is to adjust the pickup height. I’d experiment with moving the bridge pickup as close as possible to the strings, and then lowering the neck a lot more than you might think advisable, just to see what happens. Your bridge pickup should sound twangy/clangy, but not thin per se. I wonder if the louder/fatter Jazz neck pickup just makes it sound tinny in comparison, and this is a pretty easy way to check. Let me know what you hear! :)

      • mateo

        Thanks for this simple advice!
        I raised the bridghe pup and lowered the neck humb. Now they are quite balanced in volume and the single coil gained some “body”.
        I also added 350K resistor parallel to bridge pup hot cable to tame highs a bit ( 500K would be better but I don’t have one at the moment :) because of 500K volume.
        And I used 0,01uF cap in 3rd position.
        Nice sounding and versatile setup :)) 

  • Dan

    Hi Joe!
    I’m turning my Esquire into a Tele. I was going to have it wired with no treble control on the neck, only the bridge, setting my amp sound to suit the neck and then using the treble as a sort of preset for the bridge.
    This wiring scheme affords so many more options, and with the blend pot set half way I’m assuming I could still get the standard mid position sound. Currently my guitar is still an Esquire and the switch in the neck position, clean has an underwater, slightly out of phase nasal sound.
    Oddly enough, with overdrive added it compresses and sounds like an SG!
    Which is nice…but not really usable for me.
    My question is: Can the blend pot be assigned as a bass roll-off in the “dark” switch position, in addition to functioning as a blend pot in the bridge position? Or does that require an extra pot?

    Thanks, Dan

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