The Fender Stratocaster is among the most iconic guitars ever produced. While its stunning good looks and playability are part of what has kept it at the forefront of the guitar market, equally as (if not more) important is just how flexible it is from a tonal standpoint.
That’s all thanks to the multiple pickup configurations that the Stratocaster offers. Its most common form features three single-coil pickups, which are controlled by a five-way pickup selector switch. Let’s take a quick look at the different settings where we’ll get an idea of the various types of Strat tones you can get while also mentioning a few examples of each in action.
Position #1 – Bridge Pickup Only
The bridge pickup all by itself is snappy with tons of treble to spare. Some may think it’s a little too bright, but Position #1 is your go-to choice if you want to be sure to cut through the mix. Countless country tunes have leaned on the bridge pickup (with a little compression) to get that tight ‘twang,’ and with tunes like ‘My Woman From Tokyo’ (Deep Purple), it can fit right in with some good ol’ classic rock as well.
Position #2 – Bridge and Middle Combination
Position #2 is one of the most unique tones that has ever come from an electric guitar. It’s not as bright and aggressive as the bridge pickup on its own, and you’ll commonly hear it referred to as a ‘quack’-type sound. It’s the signature sound for songs such as ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ (Lynryd Skynyrd) and ‘Sultans Of Swing’ (Dire Straits).
Position #3 – Middle Pickup Only
Rich and full, the middle pickup has a warm sound without getting too muddy – all while keeping some of that trademark Fender punchiness that a good Strat is known for. Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, and Bonnie Raitt are just a few artists who tend to use the middle position quite a bit.
Position #4 – Middle and Neck Combination
Similar to the ‘quack’ you can get from the bridge and middle pickups, but warmer with a lot less bite. Don’t get us wrong – using the bridge pickup (in any combination) has its place, but it just comes across with too much high end for some players. Position #4 still gives you that funky tone without any of the harshnesses. Think ‘Pride and Joy’ (Stevie Ray Vaughan), and you’ve got a prime example of Position #4 in all of its glory…
Position #5 – Neck Pickup Only
It’s far enough away from the bridge to keep the treble at bay but not too thick to where it can’t be used. It’s the warmest out of all the sounds that a Strat can produce, all while retaining more than enough definition where every note still rings through without turning to mush. ‘Lights’ by Journey is a good example, along with ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ by Hendrix.
A significant part of the Strat’s appeal is all of the different sounds you can coax from it. It has earned a rightful reputation as a guitar that sits right at home with numerous styles and genres, from soulful blues, pure rock and roll, and bonafide country twang. The wide range of sounds makes it an excellent choice for cover bands that play a broad spectrum of styles.
If you haven’t had the chance to see all that a Fender Stratocaster can do, we highly recommend doing so – it’s certainly time well spent!
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