Some people want a specific guitar for each tone. Perhaps some chime and cluck from a Strat, or low-end chunk from a Les Paul. Maybe you want the ring or a Rick, or the aged darkness of a hollowbody. This is all well and good if you can own all the guitars you want and have a safe place to keep them all. In the studio it is nice to have the option of all of the right sounds for every part. Live it is great to bring the right guitar for every song too, but sometimes it isn’t practical. Rather than a boatload of different guitars, most working bands get by with a main guitar and a backup capable of many different tones. This article will explain how I like to wire my guitars that have two humbuckers, one volume, one tone, and a 5-way switch so I can get five distinct tones capable of covering a wide variety of sounds.
The Theory Behind It All
For a pro guitarist, I actually don’t own many guitars, so I need to get many sounds out of each one. But, I need distinct musical sounds that I can get to quickly. That means no push-pull pots in conjunction with the 5-way switch, and no mini-switches for me. I have to be able to get to the sounds I want in 1 move. I also don’t like 100 sounds I won’t use, or that sound too similar, since it would probably take too long to move through the sounds I don’t need to get to what I want. So this is designed for hard-wiring my favorite five sounds (for now) onto a 50way switch. I like things simple, so my preference is for a single volume and single tone control, both of which I use a lot!
The Idea and the Plan
For the 5 positions on the switch, I needed these combinations:
1. Bridge humbucker
2. Outside coils of both humbuckers
3. Both humbuckers on full
4. Inside coils of both humbuckers
5. Neck humbucker
This allows me to fake a few single coil-ish quacky sounds, as well as the oomph from the humbuckers. I should mention that I also play through non-master volume amps set pretty clean, and use pedals for my gain. Most of my gain is supplied by the Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive. I don’t ever use a lot of distortion, and it is more for sustaining the notes than going to Super Crunch Town.
This plan calls for a 4-pole Super Switch, one mother-of-a-switch to replace the boring ol’ 5-way in your guitar. This switch has 24 terminals, and allows for some pretty creative switching possibilities. I made sure the large switch fit in the cavity of my guitar, or else I’d have routing to do as well.
I also needed two 4-conductor humbuckers. These are the types of pickups that have four wires coming off of them (and a bare wire). It won’t work with the vintage two-conductor variety. I needed one pickup to be reverse wound/reverse polarity, so the splits would be correct, and there wouldn’t be any phase issues. For more info on polarity and phase, check out this article.
The pickups I am using are an APH-1 Alnico II Pro for the neck, and a TB-11 Custom Custom for the bridge.
Here is the diagram I used. I used cloth-covered hookup wire, since it is really easy to work with, and while I was in there, I shielded the pickup cavity.
Now, I am no wiring guru, but I know how to get help. I asked for input on the Seymour Duncan User Group Forum’s Pickup Lounge room, and someone took the time to draw this for me. How cool is that? People there know their stuff.
In the sound clips below, I start playing chords with the neck pickup and play the same phrase (more or less) going through all of the pickup positions with slightly different amounts of gain.
Now I will try moving through the switch positions with some soloing. The small pauses in the phrasing occur when I make the switch. I used a looper for the background chord progression. Each switch position goes through the chord progression once.
The idea behind my approach to identify and isolate the tones that I need for me to do my thing is obviously different than that of many people. Hopefully, we can start looking for our gear to adapt to our needs and not the other way around. It is easy and inexpensive to change the wiring of a guitar to suit your needs, and your needs are as individual as you are.
Do you have any interesting wiring tricks on your guitar? What guitarist gets your favorite unusual sounds?