In the mid sixties there were two groups of youth cultures known as Mods and Rockers. Mods wore suits or trendy clothes, listened to 60’s music by groups such as the Yardbirds and The Who, and drove scooters. Rockers wore leather jackets and jeans, listened to Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley and other 50’s rock and roll, had pompadour hairstyles, and rode motorbikes. In their heyday they descended by the hundreds on seaside towns on Bank Holidays, and ended up beating the hell out of each other!
Nowadays, in guitar terminology, Rockers are guitars or pickups which belt out a good rock and roll sound, while Mods (short for modifications) are alterations to give different tones to the instrument. The most common of these is achieved by different wiring, changing or adding switches or active circuitry.
A popular example is the 4 way Tele mod, which requires changing the normal 3 way selector switch to a 4 way switch. The new switch enables connecting the two pickups together in series as well as in parallel. This produces a marked difference in tone – a bigger fuller sound – not attainable with the original 3 way switch. A common mod to Strats, is an extra switch which connects bridge and neck pickups – again, not a standard option on original Strats.
Push/pull switches allow coil tap, phase reverse and other variations, without the need to drill extra holes for more components – especially desirable when enhancing a vintage instrument while still keeping it ‘original’. Active circuitry can further extend tonal variety and control, but is more complex and requires a battery fitted somewhere on board as well.
Some simple mods can be highly effective just by rearranging the existing wiring. If they don’t do the trick, changes of components – from capacitors to pickups, will all result in different sounds. The type, value and construction of pots. and caps. make subtle but noticeable changes to tone. The vast variety of pickups on offer indicates a very fertile area for mods. An often neglected off-board mod is the pick! Different materials, thicknesses and shapes produce different tones. The way a pick is used is another whole topic in itself.
On the more esoteric side, the ultimate mod is probably to the player him/herself – the human touch!
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