Loaded scratchplates are a simple way to radically overhaul your guitar’s tone. Marcus Leadley checks out a pickguard fitted with a trio of up-and-coming guitarist Chris Buck’s signature pickups…
South Wales guitarist Chris Buck is one of the emergent standard bearers for the Mayall/Clapton/Slash school of blues and rock guitar playing. Meanwhile, boutique maker Radioshop Pickups is based in Bedwas, around 20 minutes drive from Chris’s front door. Given that fact, it’s no great surprise that the pair have teamed up to create a set of signature pickups. So what makes these different to other options?
Well, they’re designed to deliver increased dynamics to suit his ‘pick and fingers’ playing style for starters, and they’re also and voiced to sound particularly sweet in the ‘in-between’ positions (two and four) on the five-way selector. What’s more, there’s a Tele-style steel baseplate under the bridge pickup for a bit of added clarity and growl. The way forward regarding dynamics has been to only wax pot the outer coil windings – so they’re proofed against microphonic feedback while having more of the character of vintage single coils that were dipped in hot wax rather than soaked for an extended time.
Radioshop sells these pickups for £188 – but at £252 for a fully loaded scratchplate you’ll be saving yourself a fair bit of effort and creating an easy path to reinstalling the original electrics if you want to. Strats are a masterpiece of modular design so installation takes about the same amount of time as changing strings. All you need is a cross-head screwdriver and a soldering iron (three wires to change over – don’t forget the earth to the bridge). Pause briefly to check out the quality CTS 250k pots, CRL five-way selector, and the quality Sprague 0.047 orange drop capacitor – all hooked up together with vintage cloth covered wire and very neatly soldered.
Chris used a Fender Highway 1 Strat as his test bed for these pickups and, despite owning Strats with better pedigrees, it’s subsequently become his favourite instrument. With this in mind we installed the loaded guard into a 1976 Strat that’s been languishing, unloved, in a corner of the office for a while. And what a different beast it’s become: both more vintage and contemporary sounding at the same time. At 6.5k (B), 6.0k (M) and 6.0k (N) ohms, the DC resistance exceeds the stock ’76 pickups (5.0, 5.7, 6.0), while still being within the range of standard Fender single coils.
What’s immediately apparent is the richness of tone and the evenness of output across all the switch positions. Also the pole-piece stagger makes for a very even response across the strings. Playing with the fingers and running the amp fairly ‘dark’ (à la Buck’s preference) delivers so many usable characteristics.
The tone controls work properly – so you can get plenty of subtle roll-offs for different rhythm and lead duties. We love the bright, snappy and dynamic character around the amp’s breakup point – but clean tones are sweet, powerchords chug along beautifully and those classic rock and blues solos can be pulled off with the proper authority – so long as your fingers know how to do the walking!
Radioshop ID:Chris Buck Loaded Strat Pickguard
• Price £252 (including pickups worth £188)
• Type Loaded stratchplate for Stratocaster-type guitars
• Features 3x USA CTS 250k potentiometers (1 volume, 2 tone); vintage cloth hook-up wire; CRL 5 way selector switch; Sprague 0.047 orange drop capacitor; Switchcraft jack
• Options Choice of pickguard and pickup cover colour
Radioshop ID:Chris Buck Signature Strat pickups
• Price £188
• Type S-type pickups
• Features Hand-bevelled, vintage staggered Alnico V magnets; hand-wound with 42 AWG heavy Formvar wire; 6k (N), 6k (M), 6.5k (B) DC resistance; vintage cloth hook-up wire; black fibreboard bobbins dipped in nitrocellulose; unique Radioshop ‘ID’ wax potting procedure; Radioshop ‘Tele-fit’ Strat bridge baseplate; pickups supplied with covers, screws and spacers
• Contact Radioshop Pickups 07961 046962, radioshoppickups.com