Samick Motherlode

December 2014
more... Premier BlogGearGuitar & Bass ModsHow-TosMod GarageT-StyleNovember 2013

Mod Garage: How to Wire a Stock Tele Pickup Switch

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Fig. 1. The standard practice is to mount an open 3-way Tele switch so its spring faces the edge of the body.

Now that we’ve made friends with the Tele’s 3-way switch [“Inside the 3-way Telecaster Pickup Switch,” October 2013], it’s time to learn how to install it correctly and find out what those lugs really do.

From reading countless emails, I know one of the main problems guitarists encounter installing a new switch: How do you orient it on the Telecaster’s metal control plate? It’s easy to get confused because you can rotate the switch 180 degrees and it still fits on the control plate and in the cavity. From an electronic standpoint, the question is irrelevant. The switch is mirrored and will work in either orientation. All you have to do is wire it up carefully and you’re good to go.

But in the real world, the standard practice is to mount an open switch so its spring faces the edge of the body, as shown in Fig. 1. There are also open switches that lack this spring. In that case, orient the switch so the metal frame that holds the screws faces the edge of the body (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2. Some open switches lack a spring. In that case, orient the switch so the metal frame that holds the screws is facing the edge of the body. Diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan and used by permission.

Closed switches should be mounted with the soldering lugs facing the pots, so all connections come from this direction.

Okay, before we go any further, let’s review the terminology we’ll use when discussing a standard CRL/OakGrigsby open switch, as shown in Fig. 3. Notice how the switch has two stages (those are the two “rows”), each with four soldering lugs. Lugs 1, 2, and 3 are the switchable lugs, while lug A is the common lug. For each position on the lever, a lug on each stage is connected to its respective common.


Fig. 3. A stock 3-way Tele switch has two stages, each with four soldering lugs. Lugs 1, 2, and 3 are the switchable lugs, while lug A is the common lug. For each position on the lever, a lug on each stage is connected to its respective common.

Essentially, the Telecaster 3-way switch consists of two 2-way switches on one lever. On a Tele, each of the two pickups uses its own stage to achieve the “both pickups together in parallel” middle position. The bridge pickup’s hot wire is usually connected to stage 1’s common lug, while the neck pickup is connected to stage 2’s common.

Fig. 4 shows the complete switching matrix of the 3-way switch and tells you what lugs are connected to each other, depending on the switching position.


Fig. 4. The standard switching matrix for a Tele 3-way switch.

The standard Tele wiring schemeis shown in Fig. 5. The blue connections are permanent jumper wires. Notice the connection between the #2 lugs of stage 1 and stage 2. This is where the two stages are connected, and it’s the key to engaging both pickups together in parallel in the switch’s middle position.


Fig. 5. The wiring scheme for a stock Tele 3-way switch.

Lug #3 of stage 1 and lug #1 of stage 2 remain untouched on a standard Telecaster. To avoid a short, be sure no other wire accidently touches these lugs. The hot wires of the two pickups are connected to the switch’s two commons—bridge pickup to stage 1 and neck pickup to stage 2. Lug #3 on stage 2 is the output that connects to the volume pot.

We’ll revisit the 3-way switch when we take a closer look at the Telecaster 4-way switch—a very special switch. But meanwhile, if you want to drill deeper, I highly recommend getting an open CRL or OakGrigsby switch and a digital multimeter (DMM) with an audible continuity testing function. Connect one testing wire from the DMM to any lug of a stage, flip the switch and see what happens on the other lugs. It’s fun and you can learn a lot from this.

Next time, we’ll discuss how to transfer this knowledge to any other 3-way switch. Until then, keep on modding!
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