Pickups & Conventional Wisdom

I love 3 single coil strats, but like many, I’ve never really loved the sound I get from my bridge pickup. I’ve been able to get by alright with a dedicated tone knob wired to it (I often set it to 7 or 8). Even still, I fine myself longing for a better sound that’s less harsh and brittle. Last year I had an idea to address this and ultimately abandoned that after posting a thread on the gear page. I got a number of thoughtful responses, and my take away was that increasing the pickup output the closer to the bridge is pretty important. The reasons for doing this make sense as the strings vibrate under the bridge pickup. I believe this was one of the main reasons why Gibson added volume pots per pickup. Many of the tried and true combinations follow this rule (think Duncan JB & 59) and also many models will tweak the output and offer a neck and bridge version. Anyway, I let conventional wisdom stop me from trying out my favorite single coil pickup in the bridge position.

When I put this strat together I went with the Area 58s in the neck and middle and the 61 in the bridge. This is a very popular combination and for good reason. The 61 is a good sounding pickup; I definitely prefer it to the 67. ….but the 58. ……the 58 ….. I’M CRAZY ABOUT HOW THE 58 SOUNDS!! It’s basically the perfect sound for what I’m after. Vintage strats essentially used the same pickups in all three positions. Eventually Fender moved to a reverse wound middle when the 5-way was added, but it wasn’t until much later that companies started worrying about different output levels. Right or wrong some of these vintage instruments are some of the most sought after in the world and the pickups are a big part of the valuable.

Last week I watched an interview from NAMM w/ Paul Reed Smith where he tells the story behind the pickups in the Silver Sky. I have some friends that own these and rave about the pickups and I’ve been wanting to try one. During this interview in passing Paul mentions (at 5:40) that all of positions are the “same pickup”. I really like and respect how Paul kept his eyes on the prize and didn’t listen to any of the internet trolls that bagged on things like the 7.25 radius. Anyway, it struck me that he also didn’t focus on different pickup outputs for this project. Since I was sitting on a few Amazon gift cards I figured I didn’t have anything to lose by trying a 58 in the bridge for fun. Worse case I’d waste an hour and I could always sell it if I didn’t like the results.

One of these days I’m going to buy a Silver Sky
My assistant was not very helpful with this project.

Long story short, I’m loving the 58 in the bridge. It’s every bit as good as I was thinking it could be. I was super easy to install, but a little annoying that I have to take the neck off to remove the pickguard on my strat. Anyway, I’m really glad I tried this and it’s a reminder that “conventional wisdom” doesn’t always apply. A saying we have at work applies here, “being technically right, isn’t always right.” Three Area 58s in a strat won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of this model I think it’s definitely worth trying out.

2 Replies to “Pickups & Conventional Wisdom”

  1. Hi! Thank you for posting this!

    What did you feel like you were missing with the 61 in the Bridge, and what did you gain by putting the 58 in the bridge?

    Strats break my heart every day, and keep me awake at night, and I throw so much money are trying to overcome their flaws, but no other instrument inspires me more when I hear a great one.

    Among several other combinations I have on tap, I’m trying to find the single coil sparkle in the bridge position of my 58n/67m/61b Strat. I’ve messed with pot values, cap values, and am happy with the results immediately after restringing, but find that the sparkle is gone within hours.

    Do you think some of that sparkle might be reclaimed with a 58 in the bridge?

  2. I enjoyed the 58 in the bridge for about 6-9 months and then after the novelty wore off, I got tired of it. I find that most pickup changes I really like it at first because it’s different, not necessarily because it’s better. What really made me realize what I was missing was the pickups in my JB strat I got. Those have the hot noiseless set and they are killer. I was expecting to toss them out, but nope, they’re amazing. I would describe the 58 as less harsh and a little thinner than the 61. I’ve heard that the 67 is cool in the bridge and neck positions, but I’ve only tried one in the middle. The VV 54′ pro is supposed to be a killer bridge pickup also. …but curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to try the old Eric Johnson thing and wire up an old HS-2 as a single coil. That’s now what I’m using for my neck & bridge pickup in this guitar w/ a ’58 in the middle. I have a couple youtube videos on it. Right now I’m really happy with both of my strats.


    Let me know what you try next!

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