What is ‘Strat Quack’, Anyway?

duck
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.

The More You Know: A group of ducks is called a paddling.

The More You Know: A group of ducks is called a paddling.

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.

The Duckbucker: all the quack, none of the hum.

The Duckbucker: all the quack, none of the hum.

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 Stag Mag uses staggered rod magnets, just like a single coil.

The Stag Mag uses staggered rod magnets, just like a single coil.

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?

Dave Eichenberger

About Dave Eichenberger

Guitarist Dave Eichenberger composes ambient music using guitar technology and looping, yet still has time to record and perform with international jazzy soul artist Julie Black. Follow him @Zoobiedood on Twitter.
This entry was posted in The Tone Garage and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Jay Hale

    “Ship of Fools” example FTW. Well done!

  • Drew

    I’ve played Strat’s my entire life in one form or another thanks to Jimi & SRV’s influence, but those two aside, two songs that epitomize the Strat sound to me are Eddie VH’s “Finish What Ya Started” and Brian Setzer’s “Love Is Repaid By Love Alone”. Most have heard Eddie’s, but if you haven’t heard Brian Setzer’s it’s off his “Live Nude Guitars” album and it’s killer! Great album too!

  • russel

    stagmag is the best strat humbucker

  • Tim B

    Love the 2 and 4 position sounds.Bought a B bender Tele with 3 pickups. Its wired with a 5 way. The difference between it and a strat is position 3 is bridge and neck so you get all the tele sounds and the best strat sounds.

  • Ryan N

    Little Wing intro-SRV’s and Jimi’s too

  • http://www.guitarsightedinstruction.com Alex Flores

    Excellent article, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’ve never heard of “DuckBuckers” but that’s pretty awesome in both function and their name alone! My favorite performance has to be “Sultans of Swing,” one of the FIRST classic rock songs I ever heard and one of the first songs I ever learned so it will always have a special place in my heart

  • Wes

    A lot of things that give the tone, from amps to pedals to speakers, can’t rely on just pickups. I have 4 guitars and use various Seymour Duncan Pickups from Antiquity 2 single paired with a SH Invader so ssh configuration, to the Custom 78 paired with a SH59 in the neck on one guitar. The Strat I am still building, not sure what I will use yet, and my Shecter with actives. Then I use certain tubes in my amp with particular speakers in the cab so it’s a whole system to get the tone.

  • Matthew Wagg

    I like the post but what irks me considerably about pickup reviews is that in every review I have watched, its all about the amp tone and reverb. It drives me nuts. Sure the reviewer wants to sound good but you’re not supposed to be fretwanking. You are supposed to be demonstrating the tonal qualities of the pickup, so please Seymour staff, set all your controls to 12 o’clock and no reverb or any other effect so we can actually discern why a certain pickup is supposed to sound better than any other. Otherwise what are we to believe other than pickup makers are snake oil merchants.

    While you’re at it, run the old pickups first with the same settings to ‘show off’ the better quality of your pickups.

    • Rob

      I agree with you on this, Matthew