Meet Mongrel Strat #1

Three "mismatched" Duncan pickups in an off-the-rack Mexican Strat. (Left to right: Lipstick Tube for Strat, Alnico II Pro Staggered, Twang Banger)

As previously threatened, here’s the first installment in a series on unusual Strat pickup combinations, inspired by a big box of Duncan pickups and a couple of prewired “BYOP” pickguards. I tried a couple of meh combinations that I didn’t like enough to record, but this third experiment seemed worth sharing. Dig this odd combo: Lipstick Tube neck. Alnico II Pro middle. Twang Banger bridge. Comments and post mortem after the clip. Have a listen!

If you’re intrigued by this combination at all, keep listening at the end of the clip, after the screen goes dark, at which point I hooked up a looper and layered various pickup combinations. To my ear, it really sounds like three different guitars.

This was actually the third oddball combination I tried — my first two attempts weren’t even worth recording. I was chasing after the sound of a guitar I once had on long-term loan, courtesy of the legendary Fat Dog of Berkeley’s Subway Guitars. He’d replaced the bridge pickup on an original ’60s single-cutaway Danelectro with a pre-CBS tele pickup. Both pickups sounded awesome, and the blend was killer. I knew I wouldn’t get the same sound with a solidbody Strat, but I was angling for something that pushed the guitar to greater extremes — more treble clank for the bridge pickup, and a looser/warmer neck sound.

My first attempt: Lipstick Tube neck and middle pickups, with a Twang Banger bridge. The Twang Banger is a fascinating pickup with a copper-coated bottom plate, Tele-style. All three pickups sounded great, but the blends were lacking. You’d expect the loud Twang Banger to dominate the lower-output lipstick tubes, right? But no — the lipstick sound predominated in the bridge/middle and bridge/neck combinations, so much so that the tone wasn’t all that different from the lipstick tube pickups alone.

The next experiment replaced the neck pickup with the Alnico II Pro. Same issue — the blends just weren’t as cool as I’d thought they’d be. But when I swapped the neck and middle pickups as demoed here, with the Alnico II Pro in the middle, the blended settings suddenly came alive, and I felt like I’d found a recipe worth sharing.

Any of you have unusual Strat pickup recipes to share? Has anyone mixed lipstick tubes with Fender-style single-coils on the same guitar? Fess up!


16 comments to Meet Mongrel Strat #1

  • Nuno Carmona

    Hey Joe!

    The problems with mixing the middle pickup with the others is maybe due to (high) resistance differences which lead to the lowest resistance pickup dominate over the high resistance pickup even though it has less output by itself.

    Just a guess.

    Nice demo. 

  • Dan

    Clang! Finally, the perfect word to distinguish strat and tele bridge sounds! Now, I no longer have to use degrees of twang to describe these nuances to customers. A million thanks.
    Also, I like how the neck/middle and bridge/middle sounds aren’t the usual clucky sounds associated with those positions on a strat.

  • John Gee

    Now that’s definitely different… But different is good. Does sound like three different guitars. The neck and bridge has a very nice tone Joe. Did you wire that just like the diagram? Very cool.

  • Ardiril

    That bridge and neck combo was sweet!

  • Matt Seniff

    The Twang Banger sounds great. Is the bottom plate copper coated steel?

    • joe

      Yes. More info here:

      • That looks great I may need to put one in AmStd-GR-ready Strat it sounds like a it would be a better fit for me than the Virtural Vintage pickup I have in there now. I might actually start using the bridge pickup, it’s a cool guitar I have a Hipshot Trilogy bridge on it as well. Only problem is that removing the pickguard on the GR ready Strats is a pain as there are a lot of extra connections for the internal hex pickup. Thanx for the demo it was real eye opener.

        • joe

          Hey Matthew — have you read anything about Fishman’s upcoming wireless guitar synth? I got to check it out at NAMM, and it’s pretty impressive. No interface box — just a thumb-drive-sized bluetooth receiver. Should sell for under $300! 

          • Matt Seniff

            Yeah I did see the article about it the Triple Play.  Looks like it could be pretty cool, wireless midi would certainly solve the problem of those expensive GK cables that wear out easily. With the midi conversion right on the guitar it should trigger well assuming that you setup the pickup correctly but keep in mind that you need to get a whole cycle of a note before the midi happens so the open low E will still have a bit of tracking delay. The main thing after that is figuring out how to use synth sounds on a guitar. Violin seem a natural but 6 string chords of violins are a bit strange. While I usually set my synths on continuous notes rather than chromatic steps I have found some cool tricks like using a harmonica or accordion patch in chromatic steps while playing the guitar with a slide and mixing guitar sound in with synth, you can make it seem like a harmonica playing with a slide guitar as 2 separate instruments. I tend to to use things improperly and strangely so using synth instruments in incorrect manners works for me. But if you really want to sound like you are playing another instrument it takes a bit of practice and time to figure things out. Piano intervals on guitar is a bit of a mind bender for instance and saxes only play one note at a time. But the Triple Play looks like a fairly painless way to do midi-guitar and even if all you do is use the midi controlled synth to fatten out your guitar tone it is worth it IMHO. It can also be fabulous for looping and I am guessing you might find it very useful in your looping based band. The Triple  Play also has an arpeggiator which can be very cool. I have a buddy with a Roland GR-1 that does some very cool stuff with the arpeggiator even tho’ it is a real dinosaur of a guitar synth.
            I have played guitar synth for 12 years mainly used Roland stuff. The cool thing about the Triple Play is that it uses a magnetic pickup which I prefer over the piezos. I found that the piezos can pickup and trigger on physical noises on the guitar as well as that really loud guitarist or drummer next to you when you are live. That was a real eyeopener for me. I had a Brian Moore and Godin SA with the piezos and sold them off, even though tracking was a bit better (I miss that Godin it was a sweet guitar). The magnetic style pickups like the GK-3s just work better for me and I also use them with an OC-20 and WG-20 which were hex pickup stomp boxes that both sounded much better with the GK style pickup IMHO. I have a GR-55 now and tracking is amazing, light years better than my old GR-30 (but you get used to triggering delays much quicker than you’d ever imagine). The really key thing with any hex pickup is getting it installed and set up correctly they need to be as close to the bridge saddles as possible and also to be  mounted rock solid (you can’t use sticky tape or any of that temporary stuff they need to be screwed down). I really like the GK-3 which comes with a metal plate mount that goes under a Tune-o-matic bridge and it gets as close to the saddles as possible. That is the only thing the Triple Play seems to be missing at least in the info I have seen. It is not clear whether the the hex output goes thru the wireless as well as the midi. The hex outputs can be used by themselves if processed (they sound less than perfect due to placement IMHO).
            There is also a system that Keith McMillan is selling called “The String Port” that takes the individual hex signals and processes them in VST style software on a Mac. You can process each string totally differently and do some really cool stuff way beyond what a Roland VG-99 can do, the demos look great. You should check out the demos if you haven’t already done so. But no Windows version yet and I got tired of waiting, I got a GR-55 with a GK-3 pretty cheap instead and it is very cool with a Fuzz Face inserted between the guitar and the GK-3 guitar connection.

  • Oinkus

    Off topic but do you use the side car with the boomerang ? Seems to be a better looper to use live.

    • joe

      Just got one, and haven’t had a chance to play with it yet. But my hopes are high…

    • That Side car looks pretty cool. I have an original Boomerang with the upgrade to 2.0 so it won’t work for me but that adds a lot of functionality. The Boomerang folks are very good designers, their foot switches have the best feel of any looper I have tried. I mostly use a looper for building a wall of sound and noise but I got pretty good with the reverse function. I used to do the upgrades for them in this area some years ago on the original model and they were nice guys to deal with. I noticed on their website that they are getting ready to release a volume/expression pedal based on their roller mechanism which I always thought was a genius piece of engineering. I may have to buy one when they hit the streets.

  • Matt Seniff

    Is the Twang Banger a new product? I am not seeing it at the places I usually shop?
    Also does any one have a recommendation of a replacement tele bridge pickup? I have a Squier Pro-Tone Tele with a humbucker at the neck and a standard tele pickup at the bridge (nice guitar with what looks like a swamp ash body and clear finish). The neck humbucker is actually pretty nice sounding but the bridge pickup is sort of lack luster. I am not necessarily interested in a standard tele tone I am a mostly P90 guy, but if I found a pickup that sounded like the Twang Banger in Joe’s demo that might make me happy. Any ideas?

    • joe

      No, it’s been around for awhile. SD makes something like 200 pickups, so you’ll inevitably see only a smaller subset in most guitar shops, though you can get anything online (and order any variation thereof directly from the Custom Shop). 

      Did you want something vintage-flavored? I used the ’50s Broadcaster set in a Squier in one of my demo videos:

      Those cheap Fenders sounds shockingly good with the right pickup upgrade. 

      • Matt Seniff

        I’ll look at the Broadcaster set but my Tele has a full sized metal covered humbucker in the neck it’s the stock pickup it looks like a PAF (it actually sounds pretty good). I normally like a darker sounding tone generally speaking, but I was really floored by the sound of the Twang Banger it just sounded so sweet and musical but had attitude. I probably need something with a higher output than stock. I play finger picked slide almost exclusively these days so one thing I really have thought  about is to find a pickup that sounds like the horseshoe pickup on my old National Lap steel (the kind with the metal plate screwed over the top above the strings). I play stylistically sort of British 60’s electric blues like The Groundhogs but also with some garage and at least tonally a bit of early King Crimson mixed in (that’s an overly simple description because my influences are very diverse but it’s close) . I use fuzz a lot so I want to avoid anything with icepick high end. My favorite pickups are P90s. I guess what it comes down to is I want a bridge pickup that will get me excited since the current one is sort of bland sounding.

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