In Guitar Wiring 104, we saw that the standard Stratocaster 5-way switch is an evolution of the 3-way switch. It doesn’t actually have five separate contacts for the five positions. Instead it has three switchable contacts, and in the “in between” positions on the switch connect two of these contacts at the same time.
This works fine if all you want to do is wire a Strat completely as standard. But as soon as you want to change something, the structure of the 5-way switch can become a problem. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we had a similar structure to the three-way switch – so that we had five switchable contacts, one for each position on the switch.
Well, these switches do exist. Let’s see how we’d use one to wire up a Strat – for now, we’ll reproduce the standard wiring. Here’s what the switch looks like schematically:
We have our common contact at the bottom, which can be connected to one of the five switchable contacts at the top. Immediately here we can see a problem. With a Strat wired the standard way, we would need the neck pickup connected to the first two contacts, the middle connected to the second, third and fourth contacts, and the bridge to the last two. But this gives us a familiar problem – we’ve now connected all the contacts together, meaning that all three pickups are active at all times.
We address this familiar problem with a familiar solution – adding another pole to the switch. We now have two identical switches connected to the same physical lever, but not electrically connected to each other. Here’s what our switch looks like in real life:
The two outermost contacts (closest to the bottom of the image) are our common contacts. The two sets of five contacts are the switchable ones. So to wire up our standard Strat switching scheme with this switch, we can use the following setup:
We connect our volume control to both common contacts (yellow wires in the diagram), and then use the contacts on the switch to give us our five standard Strat pickup selections. The neck and middle tone controls are connected as normal.
So that’s the standard wiring. But let’s have a play around. Many players find the middle position on a Strat – where only the middle pickup is active – doesn’t get used very much. Perhaps it would be nicer to replace that middle position with a Tele-like sound – the neck and bridge pickups connected together. Here’s how we can achieve that:
You can see that our yellow wires are still the same – connecting the common contact of both poles to the volume control. But now, the bridge pickup is active in positions 1, 2 and 3, the neck pickup in positions 3, 4 and 5, and the middle in positions 2 and 4 only. The other thing we’ve done is change the middle pickup tone control to a bridge pickup tone control. This gives us at least one active tone control in all positions on the switch.
This two-pole switch is actually not quite what people usually mean when you hear them refer to a “super switch”. In the next article, we’ll look at what they really mean – an even more flexible four-pole switch. This opens up even more possibilities.