Do It All: 2 Humbuckers And A 5-Way Switch

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

My test subject, and #1. A Music Man Silhouette Special with a scalloped neck.
My test subject, and #1. A Music Man Silhouette Special with a scalloped neck.

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 is the switch you're looking for.
This is the switch you’re looking for.

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.

The Diagram

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.

The Sounds

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?

Join the Conversation


  1. I have eliminated the 3 way switch completely and begun using only the volume controls to select pick-ups on my guitar. It’s the wiring from a Fender Jazz Bass with coil taps added. Lots of options for funky sounds.

  2. I have a Strat with a hot rail at the neck, no middle and a full size humbucker at the bridge, first a JB, then an invader for a very long time, then a dime, now I’m experimenting again. 3 way switch at 90 degrees to my strum angle. Two micro switches that do series/parallel for each pickup. One volume, one tone, in the two positions farthest away from the strings. Works very well for high gain and electricly noisy environments, parallel options providing thereabouts a bright single coil sound without the buzz. I can set main switch and micro switches in one motion so it works really well.
    My Ibanez ART is fixed up with diMarzios and push pull pots for the same configuration. It is not as easy to use and I will be installing micro switches as per the classic Artist.
    I had a Washburn Mercury a very long time ago with a pair of stacked coil singe rail pickups and an invader, that was wired with just 3 micro switches and nothing else. It was an insane metal monster but centering the micro switches to kill pickups whilst selecting the right configuration of the desired pickup made a simple bridge to neck change really tricky. Do not recommend. I traded that in quite quickly.

  3. Probley a stupid question, but do you have to have special coil tapping humbuckers or will any standard Seymour Duncan humbuckers work?

    1. Good question!
      Any 4-conductor humbucker can be wired for coil splitting. Most of our pickups come standard with 4-conductor wiring (it’s listed in the product descriptions).

  4. Will this sound good with a JB in the bridge and a Demon in the neck? Goal is metal guitar with capability of both good leads AND cleans from the neck pickup plus the added versatility of the coil splits.

  5. In your diagram I noticed your black and white wires are switched (neck vs bridge), is that just for illustrative purposes? Or is it because of the rw/rp of the bridge pup?

  6. Looking for clarification on RWRP for the second pickup: if the notch positions both use the opposite side of each pickup, aren’t they already RWRP? Looking to do this with a set of SH-1 59’s Model 4-Conductor and not sure if I need to special order one of the pickups to be RWRP.

    1. The problem is that the wrong coil will be selected. If you just switch the wires, you will be out of phase. You have to flip the magnet too, but you can do it yourself if you didn’t custom order the pickup.

    1. Totally agree. You can have just about any pickup combination in any position. The world is your oyster!

  7. I did everything how in the drowning and I don’t have faze in 2 and 4 selection

    1. You will have to make sure you remember to flip the magnet on the bridge pickup.

        1. Loosen the screws in the baseplate; carefully part the tape at the end of the pickup; with a small screwdriver, gently push out the magnet; flip it over so the longer side that was touching the slugs is now touching the screw polepieces, and vice versa; push it back in and retighten the screws. It should take about as long as it took to type this:)
          If you’re feeling REALLY daring (!) insert a different type of magnet. If you have an Alnico V, try an Alnico II for more warmth, or an Alnico VIII for more power and midrange. Magnets are easily found on eBay. But be careful, because magnet swapping is really addictive! (If it ain’t broke, you ain’t trying…)

  8. Hi , In position 2&4 I’m having buzzing sound. Everything works but I shouldn’t have that noise. I check 1000 times my wiring and is the same how in that drawing abowe. Please help

  9. This is exactly what I’m looking to do in my LP build, two-humbucker setup. I’ve got a set of four-conductor Duncan Designed (HB103N & HB103B). Can i do this with a 5-way rotary super-switch, or do they make a 5-way super switch that fits as a replacement for a LP 3-way style toggle?

  10. Hey guys I hope all is well and I hope someone out there can assist me in my dilemma! I have a guitar that has an HSH pickup configuration with a 5 way switch, and I am attempting to install a single conductor Alnico II Pro Slash bridge humbucker but the pickup I removed as well as the neck pickup are 4 conductor connections, and using the SD recommended diagram I was not able to get any output, so I guess I am asking whether a single and a 4 conductor can be installed together with the 5 way switch. I would and will greatly appreciate any feedback on this please, and hopefully everyone is having a great weekend so far, and also thank you in advance!

  11. This was very helpful to read, thanks! I’ve been trying to wire up a Pegasus humbucker in my stratocaster that has a super switch. I’m looking at the current humbucker that a friend installed years ago and it sure looks like it was installed incorrectly given where the colors are soldered. It almost looks like it is wired to only use the bottom coil in the humbucker. I actually tested touching a screwdriver to the bottom coil and top coil of the hum bucker when the switch is toggled down and while I get a little noise from the top coil the bottom coil is way louder. The guitar is in HSS format with a 5-way super switch, and I cannot for the life me find a diagram for that configuration (on the Seymour Duncan site or elsewhere). If anyone has any info I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!

  12. This is different from the diagram on the SD support page, but they both say they do the same thing. Is that right?

  13. I noticed that at the left bottom the diagram said the bridge humbucker should be rw/rp. Now if I get the matching neck humbucker for my bridge will the neck be rw/rp or are the bridge pups wired that way when compared to the neck pup or are they that way in a set? as I bought my pups individually not as a set will I need to request the rw/rp on the new pup?

  14. I’m still trying to understand how all this works, so please forgive me if this is a stupid question: are the coils in series or parallel in positions 2 and 4?

  15. I am so happy to find this blog, what you have done here is exactly what I have been looking to fit into my 2nd home build, mini dual rail hot neck pup and an old SD bridge pup Ive had put away for years and not willing to part with, single tone single volume and a 5 way strat super switch for coil splitting, busy making the custom scratch plate now as no comercial one fits the body left over from a line 6 guts tele fit and then I will be following you very helpfull diagram, cheers.

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