Universal Route in a Strat: Effect on Tone [Pros and Cons]

Have you ever heard about guitar routings? 

You may wonder what is about and what is its function. As explained in many of our articles, wood is the main material in instrument construction and routing is related to that.

Routing simply refers to the slots in the guitar body in which pickups and electronics are placed. 

Apart from the standard, we also have the universal route but how this contributes to tone? What’s the difference between other routings?

The universal route consists of a wide and large rectangular cavity in which pickups of any kind can be installed without extra routing. It might have an effect on tone but is not apparently noticeable.

What a curious topic, isn’t it? 

In this article, we will explain in detail everything related to this routing. 

In addition, we will provide information about how it influences sound, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.

Is a universal route the same as a swimming pool route in a Strat?

When it comes to routing the Strat is one of the most conflictive guitar models. 

This is because a common strat modification is replacing the bridge single coil for a humbucker but due to the dimensions of the former, extra woodwork is needed to install the latter.

However, some strat models come with a universal route, and as its name evokes, this feature makes it easier to install pickups of every size without extra routing. 

Another way to call this characteristic is the swimming pool route.

Although some players claim that they are different things, both are terms that refer to an identical route. 

Therefore, “swimming pool” is just a synonym for universal routing, and it is called that way because its shape resembles a swimming pool.

Therefore, it is usual to feel confused among so many concepts but they are exactly the same. 

Next time you hear one or the other, don’t worry, it refers to the same kind of slot. 

What is a universal or swimming pool route in a Strat?

Now we know both are alike terms, is important to explain what they are. 

Contrary to single coil routing, universal or swimming pool routing provides enhanced options that allow installing every pickup in the guitar.

In short, both routings consist of a big rectangular cavity of 145 mm long and 70 mm wide approximately. 

Having said that, there’s no more to explain, it simply refers to the available space in the guitar body under the pickguard.

Are swimming pool routes common in Strats?

The construction of Stratocasters has changed over the years. 

In the same way the company has modified the neck joint, the headstock, and other aspects, the routing has also been improved or simply amended.

It is said that during the 90s, Stratocasters were built employing this method but specimens from that with single coil routing can be also found. 

Nowadays, most custom shops are inclined to produce their strat models with the universal route.

Therefore, it is common to find this guitar model with a swimming pool route. 

However, single coil or HSH routes are also usual and easy to find in Strats, mainly in models before the 1990s.

Do universal routed Strats sound different?

This issue has brought a great debate among musicians mainly in internet forums. 

While some guitar players claim that exists a difference in sound, others assure that the disparity would be so small that no one could notice it.

As a matter of fact, the density of a wooden piece does influence how the vibrations are transmitted thus affecting the tone. 

Therefore, a larger cavity will detract from the density in the body of the instrument, but it is not the only factor that determines the tone.

Different types of tonewood react differently, so perhaps this aspect influences the sound even more than the timber density. 

As a result, a few cubic inches of wood won’t have a strong effect on the sound.

Pros of a swimming pool route in a Strat

Loads of musicians affirm that the universal route will only bring you advantages. 

The first and most relevant point in favor is the versatility it provides.

The swimming pool route will give the broadest range of options in terms of pickups. 

Do you want humbuckers? 

No problem.

Do you want three Z-Coils? 

You can do it.

Do you want to experiment with three Telecaster bridge pickups? 

Go for it, you will be able to install them.

Another remarkable is related to the shielding, thanks to the shape of the cavity it won’t take long and won’t be hard to install it. 

Oppositely, with regular routes, you will struggle to properly shield your guitar body.

Cons of a universal route in a Strat

When it comes to guitar modifications, it is common to think that while you gain in some aspects, you lose in others. Incredibly, this doesn’t occur with the swimming pool route, although we know that having less mass will result in less sustain, we previously explained that is not noticeable at all.

Most players assure that this guitar building brings more benefits than drawbacks. 

Therefore, if you intend to try different pad configurations, this routing will best suit your preferences.