For the last few issues, we’ve been investigating the Fender Esquire and looking at various ways to modify its stock wiring. Last month, I showed you my personal version of the Eldred Esquire wiring [“The ‘Luthercaster’ Esquire Wiring,” October 2012]. As you may recall, it featured an additional stealth neck pickup. This time around, let’s explore using a tapped pickup in an Esquire.
As we’ve discussed in recent Esquire columns, in a single-pickup guitar like a standard Esquire, your modding possibilities are somewhat limited, assuming you only want to tinker with the wiring itself and the caps and resistors. But if you install a tapped pickup, you can produce multiple sounds from one coil. Perfect for an Esquire!
So what is a tapped pickup? A tapped pickup has a coil with two (or even more) hot leads. These leads are placed at different points in the winding to deliver a percentage of the total wind. These different percentages provide multiple output levels and tones.
As you may know, a standard single-coil pickup has one winding with two terminal points: one is the start, the other is the end. When you connect such a pickup, you hear the pickup’s full wind and maximum output.
A tapped single-coil pickup is easy to identify because of its multiple hot output leads. This has to be a minimum of two, but there are pickups with three or more coil taps. In layman’s terms, the full wind gets tapped on its way to full output, with one lead going to the outside for each tapping point. The tapping points are not set in stone, so each pickup maker can decide what he wants to offer. With a dual-tap pickup it often makes sense to provide 50 percent and 100 percent of the full wind, but it can also be 70 percent and 100 percent—or any other combination.
Tapping offers a wonderful opportunity to mod your tone, so it makes sense to compare what different pickup makers offer in tapped Telecaster bridge pickups. For example, both Seymour Duncan and Klein Pickups make tapped pickups. Klein in particular offers a wide range of tapped pickups in all shapes and tonal shades.
Seymour Duncan uses a tapped pickup in his own custom Telecaster. It’s a dual-tap Telecaster/Esquire bridge pickup with two hot leads, providing approximately 60 percent and 100 percent of the full wind.
“I’d always wanted to have a Telecaster or Esquire pickup that would give me two tones and outputs,” says Duncan. “I designed this version for a guitar I made for Alan Dutton, Jeff Beck’s road manager. Jeff heard it, used it on his 1989 album, Guitar Shop, and never gave it back. I used this setup when I played with Albert Collins, James Burton, and Roy Buchanan, and they always loved the tone.”
Seymour winds the Duncan Tapped Telecaster lead pickup himself. At 9.6k Ω, the pickup’s full output gives extra volume and sustain, while the tapped 6.1k Ω output is very traditional. The latter sound is inspired by Seymour’s favorite 1953 Telecaster.
Fig. 1 shows Seymour’s custom wiring. Here’s the corresponding switching matrix:
Switching position #1. In this rear position, the white hot lead (full output) is routed through the volume and tone controls to the output jack to deliver the sound of the complete wind.
Switching position #2. This middle position routes the yellow hot lead (tapped output) through the volume and tone controls to deliver classic vintage tones using approximately 60 percent of the full wind.
Switching position #3. In this front position, the middle position’s tapped yellow hot lead is combined with a 0.022 μF capacitor to create a bass-y preset. As with the other two positions, the volume and tone controls are in the circuit.
So what do you need to replicate this switching? A tapped bridge pickup of your choice, plus an additional capacitor. You can reuse your current 250k pots and the stock 3-way pickup selector switch.
Of course, you can experiment with Seymour’s wiring. In his circuit, the tone cap is still the Esquire’s standard 0.047 μF capacitor, so this is one area where you can try different values and change the type of cap, as we’ve discussed in detail in many prior columns.
Seymour prefers adding a 0.022 μF cap for switching position #3. I assume he chose this value because he wants a great preset for overdriven tones. But to dial in the tone you want, you can experiment with the value of this cap. A lower value will result in more high end because less treble bleeds to ground, and vice versa. A good range to tinker with is anything between 2200 pF up to 0.022 μF. You can try ceramic, film/foil, paper-in-oil, waxed paper, silver mica, styroflex, or anything else you’d like. Seymour prefers a standard film/foil cap here.
If you order a tapped pickup, you can specify different outputs. For example, a full wind of 13k Ω will sound very fat and loud, and tappings at 9k Ω and 6k Ω will respectively yield a juicy blues tone and a traditional vintage tone. As you may imagine, for a pickup with more tapped output leads, you will need a rewired 3-way switch for three taps, or a 5-way Strat switch for four or even five taps.
A word of warning: Don’t try tapping a pickup on your own—you’ll destroy it, for sure! Coil tapping is a job for experienced pickup specialists.
Next month, we’ll apply humbucker tweaks to an Esquire, starting with the “ultra flexible” Esquire wiring. Until then, keep on modding!
Dirk Wacker lives in Germany and is fascinated by anything related to old Fender guitars and amps. He plays country, rockabilly, and surf music in two bands, works regularly as a session musician for a local studio, and writes for several guitar mags. He’s also a hardcore guitar and amp DIY-er who runs an extensive website—singlecoil.com—on the subject.