Fig 1. (Above) The switching matrix for this project’s
on/on/on switch, as seen from underneath
Fig 2. (Right) The schematic for wiring a DiMarzio
Chopper bridge pickup to an on/on/on switch.
Remember, the pickup’s bare ground wire also
goes to ground.
In our previous two columns, we discussed
the sonic benefits of installing
a humbucker pickup in an Esquire
[“Humbucker Pickups in an Esquire, Pt. 1
& 2,” December 2012 and January 2013].
Now, let’s go one step further and discuss
a strategy to enhance the tonal palette
even more, using a scheme I sometimes call
“ultra-flexible” wiring. Essentially, the idea is
to squeeze as many useable sounds as possible
from a single-pickup Esquire. To give you
a real-world example, I’ll explain how our
shop uses this scheme on one of our custom
Esquire-style models called the “Mnajdra.”
But I’ll also explain the principles behind
ultra-flexible wiring, so you can add this feature
to any Esquire wiring of your choice.
As we saw in last month’s column, you
can get three basic tones out of a humbucker
that offers 4-conductor wiring: both coils
wired in series (normal humbucker mode),
both coils wired in parallel (this yields a
hum-free, single-coil-like sound), and coilsplit
(a true single-coil mode achieved by
shutting down one of the coils).
Is it possible to get even more sounds out
of a 4-conductor humbucker? Yes, but not
every option makes sense in a musical context.
To understand why, let’s be more precise
regarding the basic tones we just described.
From an electrical point of view, they are: both
coils wired in series (in phase), both coils wired
in parallel (in phase) and coil-split (lower coil).
You guessed it: There are three additional
sounds you can coax from a 4-conductor
humbucker: both coils wired in series (out
of phase), both coils wired in parallel (out
of phase), and coil-split (upper coil). This
expands the tonal palette to a total of six
basic sounds from only one pickup. By the
way, the coil-split mode is always in phase,
simply because there’s only one active coil
and nothing to be out of phase with.
To access these three additional sounds,
you can use a complex rotary switch, a 5-way
super-switch with four independent stages
(aka “4x5 switch”), several mini switches
mounted on the control plate, or push/pull
or push/push pots with a DPDT switch.
While it’s electrically possible to add the
three extra sounds, in my opinion they’re
not really useable. For starters, in the coil-split
mode, the difference between engaging
either the lower or upper coil is barely
noticeable—the coils are simply too close
together to make a big sonic change.
It’s the same with the two out-of-phase
options. It’s true that switching the phase
between two pickups that are separated by
some physical distance can sound very cool.
This is because of the phase cancellations
that occur due to the pickups’ different
locations. However, the two coils within a
single humbucker are physically close, and
this yields only a minimum of phase cancellation.
Sonically, the effect is very subtle—
especially on a humbucker that’s designed
to fit into a single-coil space.
To access the three most useful sounds
from a 4-conductor humbucker, I suggest
adding a 3-way on/on/on mini-toggle
switch. This keeps the Esquire’s standard
3-way pickup selector free for other uses.
(Stay tuned for details in Pt. 2 of this column.)
On an Esquire or Telecaster, there’s
plenty of space on the control plate between
the two pots for this kind of switch.
A bit more expensive than standard
switches, the mini toggle we need has two
stages and a special switching matrix. Fig.
1 shows this matrix, as seen from below.
There are several on/on/on switches available,
so make sure to get the right one.
You can easily install this switch on the
control plate between the two pots by drilling
a 6 mm hole exactly in the middle of
the plate. This new switch can substitute
for the standard 3-way pickup selector by
taking over its functions. This way, you can
dial in the desired pickup operation mode
with the new switch, then add your favorite
Esquire wiring after the switch.
It’s important to understand that the
new switch is wired ahead of the stock
3-way switch, so the pickup is directly
connected to the on/on/on switch, and it
receives the signal before the pickup selector
switch. You can orient the new mini toggle
on the control plate so the switch works up/
middle/down (my preference), or turn it 90
degrees for left/middle/right operation.
Now you need to know how to connect
the wires from the pickup to the switch. To
illustrate, I’m going to use the DiMarzio
Chopper bridge pickup that I described in
depth last month. Fig. 2 shows the wiring
using DiMarzio’s color code. If you use a
different pickup—and that’s not a crime—
you’ll have to convert the color code first to
make the schematic work properly.
Naturally, the pickup’s bare ground wire
goes to ground. Note the black jumper
wire on the switch: Don’t forget to solder
it—this is very important for the on/on/on
switch to function properly.
By simply mirroring the diagram, you
can decide if you want parallel or series in
the up or down position (or respective left
or right position, depending on how you
physically orient the switch). If you don’t
want the coil-split option in the middle
position, you can figure out how to rewire
the switch to put coil-splitting in the up or
down location. Simply use the diagram in
Fig. 2’s switching matrix to work this out.
Next month we’ll conclude our exploration
into this Esquire-meets-humbucker topic by
combining the on/on/on switch with a flexible
Esquire wiring. This project yields a total
of nine different and useable tones from a single
pickup. Until then, keep on modding!
Germany and is fascinated
by anything related to old
Fender guitars and amps.
He plays country, rockabilly,
and surf music in two
bands, works regularly as a
session musician for a local studio, and writes
for several guitar mags. He’s also a hardcore
guitar and amp DIY-er who runs an extensive
—on the subject.