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Tone Capicitors and RW/RP Pickups in Stratocasters

by vaughn skow October 27, 2014 2 min read

Hi fellow tone-seekers!  I just had some EXCELLENT questions about Stratocaster pickups come in via my site,  So good I think I might use tham in a blog :-)

Vaughn Skow Vintage Guitar Pickup RW/RP middle RWRP

Q: Besides hum - does Non RW/RP mid pup really sound better and deliver more "quack" to in-between positions 2 & 4, than RW/RP?

A: It is my experience that the answer to this question is NO.  I offer the non RW/RP option on my historic 1954 & 1959 Strat sets for purists who demand it, but such purists would also demand a 3-way switch on their Strat … which means there would be no “in-between” positions … and no benefit from an RW/RP middle pickup! 

Q: What NOS tone capacitor (& value) would complement your historic '64 set, best... do you suggest. Does it play any role at all tone?

A: Ahh, this is an area where my opinion is sometimes different than others!  It is my opinion that vintage Strat pickups sound best with the .1uf tone capacitor that was in fact used in vintage Stratocasters.  Vintage style pickups with Alnico Magnets and vintage wind counts can sound overly bright with the lower “modern” values. The ONLY time I recommend going to a .047 (or less) is when using pickups with ceramic magnets, which are inherently less bright and more “barky”; this is especially true if they are “over-wound”.   Yes, modern lower-end Strats, like the Fender “standard” made in Mexico come with .047uf caps, but they have terrible pickups with non-magnetic pole pieces being charged by a chunk of cheap ceramic magnet glued to the back of the pickup … they NEED all the sparkle they can get!  I’ve had the opportunity to dissect and blueprint many “holy-grail” original vintage Stratocasters, and they almost all had 1uf tone caps!  There is a magic that happens with the combination of true vintage-spec Strat or Telecaster pickups and the .1uf capacitor.

1958 Fender Strat Tone Capacitor Cap

Q: NOS cap or not?

A: I’m a fanatic on using NOS parts in some places, like tubes for instance, but capacitors are not one of those parts!  I’ve compared NOS paper-in-oil and “bumblebee” caps to modern silver mica (and lots of others) … and I actually prefer the new caps; I can’t tell a BIT of difference in the sound … but the old caps values have often drifted all over the place!

Q: Some of the most respected pickup builders (C.Novak, M.Gray, D. Mare, M. McConachie...), as a matter of fact tend to differ on their opinion to these subjects. I was just wondering what's being the truth, out of your vast experience and knowledge.

A: Thanks for putting me in that group!  I consider Curtis Novak & Jason Lollar … along with Bareknuckle in the UK to be folks that helped blaze the trail I am on :-)


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