You’ve heard the term before: ‘Strat Quack.’ Judging by the name you’d think it’s a sound you won’t get from your stock Les Paul or shredstick, and you would be right. While those guitars have their own unique sound, there’s a reason many players pick the Strat time and time again. This article will try to explain what this sound actually is, and how you can get your guitar to give you more of it.
I’m confused. A Strat doesn’t sound like a duck. At all.
Well, musicians have some colorful names for things, don’t they? The sound we guitarists traditionally associate with quack would be a Stratocaster, with the pickup switch selecting two pickups. On most stock Strats, that would mean the 5-position pickup switch would be in positions 2 or 4: The neck + middle or the middle + bridge. Both positions are wired in parallel, which means the current flows through each pickup separately, and not from one to another.
I think the sound comes from the slight canceling of frequencies you hear when two single coil pickups are selected. It is almost like a wah pedal stuck midway, but instead of a hollowness in the mid or lower frequencies, we hear a slight hollowness in the upper mids, making the notes pop right through a dense band mix. I can demonstrate this sound playing a lick first with a neck humbucker. In this case, it is the SH-2 Jazz:
Now I’ll play the same thing with the neck + middle single coils. Here we have the very fine SSL-52 Five Two for Strat, my favorite single coil pickups.
One more time, this time with the middle + bridge single coils, also the Five Twos.
Hear how the neck humbucker was full and rich? The single coil examples sound like they have a few bands of a graphic eq pulled all the way down. This is what guitarists call ‘Strat quack.’ For what probably is the shining example of this sound in a song, listen to Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing. Mark Knopler’s clear fills have hooked many a quack addict. One of my favorite quacky sounds is Doug Boyle’s playing on this Robert Plant track.
Why would I use that sound?
This sound keeps those low strings sounding like a grand piano (in my mind anyway), and the high notes cutting through a really dense band mix without becoming shrill. Some people describe it as ‘bell-like’, in that the clarity blooms after the initial pop of the picked string. The notes are very dynamic too: you can vary the way you shape the note by how you pick.
You’ll be in good company coming over to QuackTown. Players like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, SRV, and even later-era Pete Townshend use it all the time. It works for country, blues, pop and classic rock; quackiness will come through most amp settings, although extreme distortion will dilute it quite a bit.
How can I get that sound in my guitar?
You have a slight advantage if you already have a guitar with three single coils. While I already mentioned the Five-Twos, for a more traditional sound you can look at the APS-1 Alnico Pro Staggered for Strat. For great classic looks and tone, the Antiquity II Surfer captures the classic sounds of the 60s with classic looks.
If you want a more silent Strat, without sacrificing any of that ducky love or vintage looks, I like the STK-S4 Classic Strat Stack Plus. You can read Jay Hale’s review of a whole Stack Plus set here. This pickup can be split when used in conjunction with another pickup giving true single coil sound, but sounds dead silent alone.
Of course, no discussion of Strat Quack would be complete without mention of the Duckbuckers. These may not look like a traditional single coil, but that’s the point. The goal was to create the quietiest and quackiest pickup that gets all the quack you want and responds to string bends the same as a traditional single coil.
And what if I have a humbucker?
The unique Stag Mag is a pickup which essentially combines two single coil pickups into a humbucker. The 4-conductor wiring allows you to wire them in parallel (like a Strat) or split them, making a great single coil. Also, the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop can make any single coil pickup in their current lineup (even ones you dream up) in a humbucker housing. Finally, we can all possess the quack.
Who’s your favorite Strat player? What is your favorite example of Strat Quack?