It’s been too long since we talked clean sound. Lately we’ve been messin around in the dirt with cranked Tweeds and low wattage Fender amps in the service of rock’n roll. Now let’s sober up. We’ll share our experience and advice in the hunt for Fender clean sound. And we’ll let our Strat loaded with Fender CS ’69 pickups do some of the talking through a 6L6 Deluxe Reverb loaded with the EVM12L speaker.
Getting a pleasant clean sound is difficult given any brand and model of amp and guitar. It may be a reason why some don’t play clean as much as they should. They simply do not know how to select and combine guitars, pickups, amps and speakers. That’s why fenderguru.com is here to help.
We all talk a lot about amps that take pedals well. How many times have you heard about a Strat-friendly amp? Not so often, we guess. But you know damn well what we mean, eh? Many of you are Strat players and love its scooped, quacky clean tone. You know how important the guitar setup is, proper string action, straightening the neck and correct pickup height. Not to mention finding good pickups that matches the guitar. Equally important is finding an amp that pairs well with the guitar. This search goes on for a lifetime. There are many dissapointments down the road and the journey is demanding and expensive. Once in a while you come across fun and inspiration and playing the guitar is joyful and gives you energy. You find a guitar and an amp that creates harmony between your music, fingers, ears, heart and soul. For us this happens when we discover a nice clean tone. A nice clean tone is not only beautiful on its own, it is the best starting point for pedals and amps to add layers of distortion and effects.
Hot single coil pickups for strats have been popular the last decade. Many pickup builders offer various degrees of hot, particularly for the bridge pickup which many have found too bright and thin in most stratocasters. In this perspective the ’69 Fender Custom Shop pickups are not trendy or hot. They are in fact relatively weak and soft with low output and good sparkle. We have installed these pickups on our strat with Ash body, maple neck and braz. rosewood fretboard. Together with the Callaham tremolo bridge the neck offers a beautiful sparkle, and due to the general low output level it’s not harsh or brittle. There is also a deep, firm and chunky bass response which we credit the slighty thicker neck profile for. Our preference with strats is to set the neck straight by adjusting the truss rod and set the action high enough to avoid string buzz. The pickup height on this guitar is initially set at 2.3mm and 2.9mm on treble and bass side, measured from magnet pole to underside of string when string is held down at the 21’st fret. Then we adjust by ear to get a balanced volume as possible between the different pickup positions. The bridge output will come out slightly lower than the others, and we’d rather have that than sustain reduction, magnet pull and ice cold tone when the pickup is set too close.
We selected our Linda Ronstadt Deluxe Reverb for this guitar, a 1971 Deluxe Reverb with 6L6 tubes, diode rectifier and a vintage EVM12L speaker. This amp shares the tone characteristics with the guitar; clean, “American”, scooped, sparkle, bassy and full-bodied. We set the amp in its sweet spot and plugged the guitar directly into it with no pedals. We’d describe this tone as sweet, juicy and naturally compressing with enough muscles in the low and and just the right amount of sparkle on top. This is what we mean by clean tone! The first Romeo and Juliet licks are played with position 4, clean, soft and sparkling. The bridge and bridge+mid positions are cleaner than the positions involving the neck and mid pickup, alone or together. Next in the video is Little Wing played in position 2, neck+mid, a little hotter than position 4. Then we go to Texas Flood with neck pickup/pos 5.