You’ve played em’ and you’ve heard em’ but have you ever wondered how exactly a 5-way Strat switch works? We’ve put together an in-depth 3-part series that pulls back the pickguard on one of the most common switches you’ll come across. In Part 1 we take a close look at how a 5-way Strat switch works. In Part 2 we build off this knowledge and look at the most common way to wire a Strat. Finally, in Part 3 we’ll show you some very simple modifications that you can do to customize your guitar.
A dash of history
The 5-way Strat switch is the most common switch you’ll find in Stratocaster guitars. The original Stratocaster had a 3-way switch (same as a Tele) to select one of three pickups. But over time players noticed an interesting sound when switching from one pickup to the next. Guitarists found they could turn on more than one pickup at a time to get the “in-between” sounds. To achieve this, they had to do a little MacGyver action by putting match sticks or paper to keep the switch in just the right place. Finally, in 1977 Fender made the 5-way Strat switch a standard feature in their guitars. Both 3-way and 5-way switches are wired the same. The only difference is the 5-way has a few more indents (Fig 4).
What the heck is a 5-way Switch?
On a basic level, switches are connectors. They connect one or more terminals together. The 5-way Strat switch uses a blade to connect or “wipe” across the terminals (Fig. 1A). Looking at Fig 1B, you’ll notice there is a common terminal that is always connected. We’ll get into the common terminal a bit more later. Another thing to note is there are two sides to the switch—Pole A and Pole B (Fig. 2). Both sides work the same way. The only difference is the physical distance between terminals, and the numbers work in the opposite direction. That is why the commons are on the opposite ends of the switch (vertically speaking).
Lets’ get connected
Because both sides work the same way, lets take a closer look at Pole B to see exactly what’s going on (Pole A is hard to see because of the cover). There are two parts to the wiper— The common (marked in red Fig. 1A) and wide connector (marked in yellow Fig. 1A). In Fig. 1A, you can see terminal B2 and B0 are connected. The lower half of the wiper (in red) is always connected to the “common” terminal. Terminal A0 is common on Pole A side and terminal B0 is common on Pole B side.
The wide part of the wiper (in yellow in Fig. 1A) connects A1-A3 and B1-B3 terminals to their respective common terminal. As you may guess, this wider part of the wiper is just wide enough to connect two terminals at the same time (see position 2 and 4 Fig. 1B), but is also narrow enough to connect only one terminal to the common (see position 1,3, 5 Fig. 1B).
In Fig. 1B, notice how all the positions connect to B0 (common). The common is always “on” and will never disconnect from the wiper. This makes a perfect place to connect our volume pot which would be connected to our output jack. This allows us to control any “live” or “hot” pickup or pickups that have been selected via the switch. Now lets take a look at the top side of the switch (Fig 3A-3E). This is a good birds eye view of both poles and each position. Remember, these two poles work independently meaning they are not connected to each other. You’ll see in Part 2 how we’ll connect both sides of the poles.
Pole A: A1 and A0 are connected | Pole B: B1 and B0 are connected
Pole A: A1, A2, and A0 are connected | Pole B: B1, B2, and B0 are connected
Pole A: A2 and A0 are connected | Pole B: B2 and B0 are connected
Pole A: A3, A2, and A0 are connected | Pole B: B3, B2, and B0 are connected
Pole A: 5 = A3 is connected to A0 | Pole B: B3 is connected to B0
Now that you have that under your belt, click here to read Part 2 on Standard Strat Wiring.