I was "late to the party" when it came to playing a Strat - only played one properly about 4 years ago.
I love the Strat "Tone" but always struggled with the Ice Pick tone of the Bridge Pick up.
I've wasted loads of money on changing pickups but have now finally found the cure thanks to a very informative piece I found on a website about 3 months ago.
The traditional approach to taming the Strat Bridge tone is to:
a) Ensure that the tone control is wired to Bridge Pickup (not always the case on some strats
b) Wind the tone control down
This sort of worked for me but I never found it completely satisfactory when compared to the tone I got from a Bridge Humbucker.
The website in question is http://www.buildyourguitar.com/resources/lemme/index.htm
It basically covers how pickups work especially when wired into a circuit containing Volume and Tone Controls. It also demonstrated why Strat Pickups sould like they do and how you can easily modify the tone very cheaply and easily.
The following graph shows the frequency response of a Single Coil pickup as fitted to a Strat. Notice the large "peak" as the frequency gets higher.
On the neck pickup, this is great because it imparts the lovely bright and chirpy Strat tones that we all love, but it is alos responsible for the harsh Ice Pick treble response on the Bridge Pickup primarily because the Bridge Pickup will naturally produce more treble anyway because of it's physical location (close to the end of the strings).
Now, the interesting thing is that the traditional tone control does indeed reduce some of the high treble frequencies but more often than not, it does this by reducing the "height" of the peak. For those of you who know about Tone controls. you will know that you have a Capacitor in the circuit that lets high frequencies pass through to "earth" as you close the volume control. Now, I always thought that the value of the capacitor has a great impact on the resulting tone - it does - but not in the way in which you might think.
Basically when you close the tone control, it is very unlikely that you are hearing the impact of the Capacitor - rather you hear the impact of introducing additional "resistance" into the circuit (Tone Control is in Parallel with the Volume Control). In effect, this reduces the overall resistance between the Pickups and "Earth" from the nominal 250K (Value of Volume Control Pot) to something like 150K. This reduces the height of the peak and sounds less "trebley". The thing is, you could remove the Capacitor altogether and you would still here the impact of the "tone" control. The Value of the Capacitor only has an impact on the Tone control below about 4 -5 (marking on Tone Control).
I often found that the Tone Control removed a lot of "bite" from the Strat Bridge pickup, perhaps even "draining" some of ther perceived "power".
Anyway, the solution to Ice Pick Strat tones is not to go and waste 100's on hand wound boutique pick ups. The answer is a 10 pence capacitor that can be connected directly across the pickup output to lower the frequency at which the "peak" occurs.
I have soldered a 1nF ceramic capacitor across the output of my Strat Bridge Pickup and it sounds fantastic. The good thing is that this modification has no impact on the Neck pickup - it only applies when the Bridge pick up is switched in. If you look at the graph above, a 1nF capacitor will reduce the peak frequency from something like 8KHz to around 3.5 kHz - much lower and "easier on the ear"
The graph shows the impact of different sized capacitors - the higher the value, the lower the peak frequency. The exact size of capacitor will vary due to the pick ups that you have (number of windings etc) but it's cheap and easy to experiment with.