I started out as a Strat guy. Then when I moved over to vintage Marshall-style amps, just couldn’t stand the reedy, thin sound of my Strat with my amps. It sounded fine clean, but the overdrive sound was horrid. Well I finally came across a Strat that has much more balls than my old one. It’s an American Strat that has been hot-rodded with noiseless Kinman pickups and an L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X upgrade, which places a pickup in the tremolo bridge called the X-Bridge pickup. This includes a three position switch that functions similarly to a Les Paul switch: Fully up is magnetics only, middle is a mix of X-Bridge and magnetics, then all the way down is X-Bridge only, which is produces a fat, gainy tone.
I think that’s the problem that I had with my Strat and other Strats I’ve played. They don’t have enough gain to really push my vintage Marshall-style amps. But with the X-Bridge, I can get enough gain to push my amps to their sweet spots. I should say that that’s only for my non-master volume amps. It works great with my Fender Hot Rod; in fact, I was playing around yesterday and getting gorgeous overdriven tones with that amp using this guitar.
As an example of the effect the X-Bridge has on gain, here’s a comparison clip. The first part is just the magnetics, then the second part is played the same with the same chords and same pick attack. Gives you lots of gain. 🙂
I’ll tell you what: The X-Bridge seals the deal for me.
Next, here’s a short song applying both magnetics and X-Bridge. The rhythm part is played with just the magnetic pickups, and the lead is played with the X-Bridge. I have the amp set with the volume at 6 on Channel 2 of my Aracom 18-Watt Plexi combo and the tone at 3pm (optimum for a Plexi).
Where I had the amp set, it was just at the edge of breakup for the Strat in magnetics only mode. Then when I engaged the X-Bridge, I got a nice gain boost that pushed the amp over the edge. That gives me a nice, light overdrive that adds just a tiny bit of compression and sustain.
This is really profound for me because I had all but given up hope on Strats, even though I love their tone. My old Strat just doesn’t have the balls that this one has. It’s just way too thin and bright; which reminds me that the Kinman pickups are absolutely fantastic! They have a bit deeper tone than a vintage Strat pickups – I have the ’57 Tex Mex in my MIM Strat – and THEY ARE NOISELESS! No more 60Hz hum! 🙂 Frankly, I didn’t know too much about these pickups, but they’re apparently very popular replacements among Strat and Tele players. They’re not cheap at $300 for a set, but they’re well worth the money.