How to install a Fender Eric
Clapton Mid Boost 25DB kit with No Routing Modifications Required!
PLEASE NOTE: I've also heard that it makes your guitar low impedance, thus giving better tone though I have no idea how true that is because when I measured the output of the guitar with the preamp installed, the output is around 72k vs. the usually low 6k for a Strat pickup! It really is like playing a Strat on steroids, almost like you're running several clean boost pedals in series. It sounds great though but it is a completely different animal to learn how to play than a passive coil Strat. Many install it and shortly thereafter yank it back out when they discover it's something where they just can't seem to harness all that extra power or live with on a regular basis. This is precisely why I installed mine in a non-invasive way without hacking out parts of the guitar body and then later being sorry like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd was after routing out that huge chunk of wood on his favorite black Strat to install a kahler locking tremolo, only to later go back to the original Strat trem system and having to fill it all in with some awful epoxy resin and it still looks fugly not to mention how it might have changed the tone.
In fact, I would not recommend to install one of these on your main Strat, or if you only have one guitar because if the battery dies, you're out of business until you change the battery. Even so, I would not route out a hole in the guitar and install a battery compartment until you are absolutely certain that this is the sound you can't live without as for many, including Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton it is! I'm only suggesting doing this all in steps to make sure this is what fits your own playing style. As for myself, I could nail Buddy Guy's tone with it as you can hear for yourself below, at least close enough. I later realized though, that this wasn't really my own playing style and I could only use it so far before reverting back to my normal style which is passive pickups through pedals or clean and cranked amp. You can, however, use it with pedals and overdrive/distortion etc. but it requires learning how to control gain and boost in a whole new way so just be forewarned. On the other hand, this may very well turn out to be your signature sound! Being a tone junkie, I say give it a shot and see. You can always change it back if you don't like it with this method.
I've also read in places that since it is a 25DB Boost that you need noiseless pickups to make it work or you'll get lots of noise. This is completely false! The Mid Boost sounds great with regular vintage style pickups and is no noisier than having any boost pedal in your effects chain and in fact if you just run the guitar straight into the amp it is virtually dead quiet on positions 2 & 4 if you have a RWRP middle pickup and very quiet when set with the gain on clean with just a tad of noise when cranked. This is only due to how Strats sound in the first place. So if you don't want to sacrifice your vintage pickup tone, don't!
I've updated this page several times, so if you see anything repeated, or contrary to what something else says, it happened over time since this page was originally posted in March 2008 and now more than a year later this page gets lots of visits and I'm always glad to share what I know but please read this page in it's entirety first.
Note: I have since put Lace Gold Sensor pickups in just to come closer to the Buddy Guy tone and while they are not completely noiseless, I do really like them a lot. I didn't try the newer Lace Sensor Hot Golds because I was afraid I'd lose the vintage bell like and chirpy in-between tones that Buddy gets and I'm really happy with them. I can't say if I'd be happier with the Hot Golds because I hear they have more of everything but to me, the word "hot" implies loss of chime and tone complexity somewhere along the line as there is always a trade-off or tone loss when you increase compression as is automatic when a standard vintage pickup is wound hotter. Also, since the Buddy Guy Signature Strat comes with the Clapton Mid Boost and the Lace Golds regulars I didn't want to mess with that combo.
You can hear Buddy playing the magic combo here which is exactly how mine sounds now and I just love it or hear mine here with me playing it. The Golds can get very lively when standing close to an amp with the gain cranked up so having Hot Golds might just be a little too much, though I'm only guessing and being a tone chaser will probably already have tried them sometime down the road. I can say one thing really cool about the mid boost and Lace golds, is when I run it into a Fulltone OCD and then into an Eventide TimeFactor on the Uni-Vibe type setting on bank 5:2, it is the most beautiful shimmering liquid vibe I've ever heard! If I run a regular passive Strat through, it sounds good also but much darker like Jimi's "Machine Gun". We're talking ultra liquid smooth here and I'm sure Jimi would have loved it!
Ok so here we go. If you want to install this little gem in under an hour and not want to have to make a permanent commitment, you absolutely can but it's a little tricky. The regular Clapton and Buddy Guy Strats have a cigarette pack sized hole routed in the front of the body next to the pickup and control cavities (see below examples) and then a 9v battery hole routed in the back next to the spring cavity which you have to leave the spring cover on to hold in place. With the no-route method, the battery is concealed under the pick guard alongside the 5 way selector switch taped to the underside of the pick guard and the circuit board is mounted to the control cavity floor just under the battery, volume and tone pots and all those associated wires in addition to several wires protruding from the circuit board of the Mid Boost. So it's all a little tight and you have to be careful where all the wires lay when you press the pickguard down to screw back on so there's no pressure coming from the pots & wires down on top of the circuit board but once it's all together it works great! Also, the battery lasts around 6-12 months depending on how much you play so you can always pop in a new one every several string changes, no biggie. It's probably a good idea to remove the PG anyway after several string changes just to make sure the pots are all nice and tight and not grounding out from loose washers and nuts and you should always hold the pot in place from the underside while tightening the nut or you risk turning the pot and breaking wires. Plus, if you're a tone junkie like me, you're always looking under the hood for one reason or another. ;-)
Preparation: If you're already a skilled soldering guru, move on to the next step. If not, you will need a 40 watt soldering pencil like the ones sold at Radio Shack to solder the wires to the pot shells as they need lots of heat to melt solder to. Best to do the main soldering of the resistors and cap on the TBX pot in some little vise or something as not to melt the pickguard since this can happen if it gets too hot it you try to do it with the pot mounted on the guard. Then you need some good rosin core solder and a small pair of wire cutters. I mistakenly listened to some folks who said silver solder is the best but it is also next to impossible to solder with! It never sticks and by the time you get something to stick, you've either melted the pot's internal components rendering the pot useless or damaged some electrical component like a cap or resistor. Instead, get Light Duty Rosin core .032 gauge for small wires and .062 gauge for soldering all your ground wires to the volume pot. I haven't tried the star grounding like recommended by Guitar Nuts but it might be ok to do. You really don't have to if you use Lace pickups because they're next to noiseless anyway from what I've read by Don Mare on the FDP forum. Also, the rosin core solder makes it a cinch to solder the wire onto the claw which is next to impossible with silver. If you can avoid have to de-solder that claw wire, by all means do! Also, make sure not to overheat the back of the pots too much when soldering wires to them because I've ruined several from applying too much heat. Use alligator clips on the ground wires just before the solder point when you attempt to solder the 3 from the pickups to the pot casing to avoid heating the wire too much and that heat traveling up to the pickup and messing with the pickup's wax potting that is typically applied at the factory. Another tip is don't heat up the pot while it is screwed into the pickguard! It will warp the heck out of it with too much heat. Instead, unscrew the pot and set it in one of those little dollar store vices that's around 2 inches (fits in the palm of your hand) and can sit inside control cavities as well like this one Those are nice because they fit into tight places without having to disassemble your whole pot assembly. I put the pot shaft in there and tighten it enough not to bend any of the shaft blade edges and it kind of acts as a heat sink while heating up the back of the pot shell case. I hold the 40 watt tip laying it flat on the shell next to the wires, just long enough for them to melt and pull off. Get a Vacuum Desoldering Tool to suck up all the loose stuff from the pots and the switch when re-arranging pickup wires, etc. That makes it easy to remove them and make a new and good solder connection. Before soldering any wires to lugs, always have a good mechanical connection by gently squeezing the wire bent over onto the lug with some needle nose pliers, then hit it with the solder by heating up the lug and let the solder run onto it, not down the pencil tip. Ok enough about soldering skills.
First, set the circuit board inside the control cavity with the part where the wires are protruding out of it facing the neck. You will note that the board's outside corner down near the jack end is in the way. You will need to snip about 1/4 inch off for it to fit. Since it is brittle, just snip a tiny part of the tip being careful not to cut into where the circuit is embedded in the board. A small piece is really all it takes and then the board drops right down in. Then, put a 2 inch wide piece of the furry side of Velcro down inside the floor on the control cavity to kind of cushion the circuit board and keep it from grounding out it you have any kind of shielding or shielding paint as many Strats do under the paint. Then just put 3 small screws like the kind that screws your pickguard on into the 3 remaining screw holes of the circuit board. You can screw them in without any drilling, just a few turns to keep the board steady but NOT enough turns to make the screw come through the back of the guitar! I screwed mine in on a slight angle to allow a couple more turns. Once you have that mounted in there, put the TBX pot together with the resistor and capacitor. The diagram that comes with the Fender Kit is a little confusing. So I used another diagram I found which was helpful to see how the resistor and cap gets wired. Plus the input jack wiring is easier to see and understand where the wires go than in the Fender diagram that comes with the kit, to me at least. See Fender Clapton Mid Boost Wiring Diagram With the TBX, use this link to see the resistor and cap placement but use the Fender diagram supplied with the kit to see how the TBX connect to the 5 way switch because they are different. On the above diagram, it shows the yellow wire from the circuit board going to the 5 way switch at the same lug as where the center wire from the TBX goes. However, on the Fender diagram, it shows the yellow wire going to the center lug on the TBX and then another wire going from that same center lug to the 5 way switch. It will probably work either way. I just chose Fender's way on this part as it seems to make more sense to me to only have the one wire traveling to the switch. NOTE: If you are using passive pickups such as custom '69, Fat '50s or even stock Fender pickups instead of noiseless pickups such as Lace Sensor Gold pickups, Lace Hot Gold Sensors, etc. then this diagram is suggested for wiring the TBX pot a little bit differently.
TROUBLESHOOTING PLEASE READ: You might want to read this first to save time of making any mistakes. I probably get 5-10 emails per week from guys who install this and for one reason or another hear loud noise, no sound, weird sounds, etc. First make sure that you use the 50k pot for the Volume control and the 250K pot is for the Boost/Gain control! Probably 9 out of 10 mistakes is guys have that reversed. Second, make sure the circuit board is not touching anything else. There is sometimes shielding paint underneath the regular paint inside many US Made Strats so if you don't insulate the board before mounting it to the cavity, the wire tips on the bottom of the board could penetrate the paint and ground out on the shielding paint under the surface. Another mistake is not soldering the wires to the output jack correctly. Study the other diagrams above to see how and where those wires go because Fender's diagram can be a little confusing. Another one is make sure you have the resistor on the TBX control right. It goes from the right lug on the bottom through the center lug on top, then the other end grounded to the top shell case. Make sure none of that is grounding out against a shell case, etc. Also, sometimes there's just a dirty solder connection. Try reflowing the solder on each joint where you wired it all up to the switch etc. Use the solder sucker if necessary to clean it up and reflow making sure not to melt anything with too much heat.
Fender Clapton Mid Boost On/Off Switch Mod One thing that's not so great about the active mid boost circuit is that there is no on/off switch! To turn it off, you have to yank your instrument cable out every time you're finished playing or it will drain the battery. Being a quick forgetter, I don't really like to have to do this because I think it wears on the output jack and eventually you will have cable failure from all that yanking if you're like me and just leave your guitar plugged in on a stand. Plus you want to only have to remove the pickguard every 6 months or so to change the battery right?! So for $2.99 you can grab a SPST Submini Toggle Switch at Radio Shack Part No. 275-612 To Install it, you simply cut the black battery wire that is running to the center lug of the stereo output jack. I actually extended this wire by a few inches to give me a little breathing room to move the switch in between the 2 tone pots. Then you just eyeball and drill a 1/4 inch hole where you want to put the switch, making sure that the square bottom part of it will clear the cavity walls when the pickguard is pressed back down to the body. It doesn't matter which end of the battery wire is soldered to either of the 2 switch lugs. Just think about how you want to position your switch and if you add a few inches of wire you can turn it whichever way you want. I believe the short lug is off position and long is on. Careful not to overheat the lugs as the plastic holding them can melt fast and don't over tighten the nut to the pickguard! I destroyed 2 of them. First one cracked in half but was a cheaper make with black plastic and the second one I over tightened and it pulled the thread shaft off the switch. So grab a couple! The switch itself is very solid though once installed and shouldn't give you any problems. This is also a cool mod for un-plugging the guitar cable with your amp on - No noise when switch is turned off! NOTE: Just realize that this does not make it a passive signal where you can still play without the battery. All this does is cut the power off to conserve battery. Unfortunately, the active boost circuit does not allow for passive signal to flow through so unless you have a live battery inside, your axe is dead as a doornail.
Stereo Jack One thing that can be a bit of a challenge installing this whole thing is using Fender's standard method of de-activating the circuit to avoid battery drain, they include a stereo output jack. How this works is you take the black wire from the battery clip (other red wire is already soldered to the circuit board), and you solder the black wire to the center lug of the stereo output jack. So now when you plug in your instrument cable it turns it on and when you unplug it turns it off. If you install the on/off switch mod as suggested above, you now have 2 ways to turn it off. Either by switch or by unplugging the cable. One problem I had with this stereo jack is it didn't want to fit down inside the cavity without shorting the whole circuit out when I tightened down the 2 outer screws to hold the jack in place. So I wound up having to use a drill (which I wouldn't recommend because I chipped some paint around the outside of the cavity) to lengthen the cavity enough for the jack to fit. I also noticed an indentation inside the jack wall from the jack tip when plugged in so I drilled a little in there to give the tip some extra room as well. If you run into this problem and you're not comfortable messing around with any part of modifying your Strat's body, you can eliminate the stereo jack altogether and use your regular mono jack. Just solder the black battery wire to the same sleeve lug that your main ground wire is soldered to. However, with this method, you definitely will need to install the on/off switch. Otherwise, the circuit will always be active and draining the battery. By installing the switch, you can turn it off and keep your existing mono jack.
So here we really go. The first pics are what a Clapton Strat body looks like routed for the circuit board and battery, which you can just as well have done for probably under $100 at your local guitar or carpentry shop if you don't mind altering your Strat's body, though I'm still hesitant and since this no-route option works, why bother. There are also other alternatives to the battery from this thing called XBat-9 which allows you to power the circuit externally, which I haven't tried but found while researching this all, though I'm not sure I'd want to be tied into using a stereo instrument cable. See http://precisionmusictech.com/xbat.htm
If you're a pickup junkie like me, a good friend of mine, Aaron, at Rumpelstiltskin Pickups custom winds Fender type pickups to spec from any era and can customize to suit. Check out his site and sound clips.
Soldering tips: When attempting to solder all the ground wires etc. to the backs of the pots, first hold the tip on the back of the pot for 5-10 seconds till it starts getting nice and hot with the 40watt iron and then hold the solder on to it and melt a nice little puddle. Then grab the wires you want to solder down, hold them with some needle nose pliers or something in place. Then heat that puddle back up to melting point and lay the wires on that wet puddle. It should be just enough to make them stick. Then, melt more solder on top of the wires and try to make it all seal down to the pot with a good connection.
Testing: A great way to test this out or any pickup soldering job is to get one of those little Mini Amp-U-Plug-N-Play for around $30. This way, you aren't messing around with cables and live amps and soldering irons all in the same vicinity. I use mine all the time to jam on at night but also to check to see if my soldering worked! That way you can plug it directly into the input jack without cables or hearing loud pops on a larger amp to tap on the pickups with a screwdriver, etc. to make sure everything is connected and working correctly before closing it up and re-stringing.
If I missed anything, you can contact me