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I have a midrange setup that I'm quite comfortable with. I have an American Strat that I bought ca. 2008 (I think it's a Standard but I have no way to know), and a Marshall Origin 20 Combo. I use light gauge strings (.09), a few stompboxes (mostly a reverb and a transparent overdrive) and I'm generally happy with the tone I'm getting.

However, whenever I play any note on the high strings (1st to 3rd) above the 17th fret, the tone loses a lot of texture. It just sounds tinny and weak, with almost no sustain. I would like the tone to be "fatter" and mellower same as when I play on the rest of the fretboard.

I know there are a lot of factors involved (including gear and technique), but I'm hoping perhaps there are some well-known ways to improve tone on those frets.

Edit: I have been using .10's up to last month, and the issues above still happened. I don't think that .10's alone are going to fix my issue.

Edit 2: Been testing this again. I would say I'm OK until fret 17, then it goes tinny beyond that. I have updated the question.

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  • Which pups do you use? Neck/middle will always give a more mellow sound than bridge. heavier gauge strings would help the sound, too.
    – Tim
    Aug 26 at 8:08
  • I almost always use neck/middle combo, sometimes only neck. I can't do heavier strings. I recently hurt my hands by trying to do 2 semitone bends using .10's. I need to improve my technique before I try medium again.
    – mkorman
    Aug 26 at 8:46
  • If you bend say, 3rd string most, you could use something in between what the set of 009s and the set of 010s gives. I often use 012 for the 3rd string. There's always going to be a compromise between ease of playing and sound produced.
    – Tim
    Aug 26 at 8:49
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    This might depend on which neck profile you have. The old necks, if you bend more than a tone say on the B string at maybe fret 14 or so, then the note will actually choke to a halt as it hits its own frets higher up. Newer necks fixed that - though in my opinion at the cost of overall tone. [Some new copies of 'old strats' returned to that profile, so the only way to tell is to try it].
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 26 at 10:59
  • have you tried lowering the pickup(s) slightly (or not so slightly) to see if it has an effect on your issue?
    – Yorik
    Aug 26 at 15:13
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Here's how I perform with my Strat. (And like you, I am fond of using the neck and neck/middle position on the pickup selectors switch.)

Give this a try;

Set your amp volume to your liking, after you have rolled the guitar's Volume Knob down to 7.5-ish. Make it your standard to play your main rhythm parts at that volume. Make things nice and loud at the amp, not the guitar.

Then, when you transition up to the upper frets for some lead work, roll the Strat's Volume Knob up to a higher volume.

You will find that this changes the audio dynamic quite a bit.

When you are done with the lead part or upper fret runs and chug back into the rhythm work, roll the Volume Knob back down to where it was before.

Bottom line, I see a lot of players start out their sets with the Volume and Tone Knobs maxxed-out at 10. This leaves you nowhere to go, in a manner of speaking!!

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I think you’re fretting out in some way. If I’m right, then you can verify by raising the saddles at the bridge to see if that improves your tone above the 17th fret. If you get the tone you want by raising the saddles but then the action is too high, then you need either a great setup done on the guitar or a fret leveling or both. Worst case scenario, the neck is not even above the 17th fret and you need a new neck (which happily can be bolted on easily).

I suggest finding a great tech in your area (asking a local Facebook group for musicians is one way) and take it to that tech and tell them what you told us. They should be able to fix the issue or tell you what it would take to fix it (e.g., new neck).

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