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Mod Garage: The Fender S-1 Switching System

Mod Garage: The Fender S-1 Switching System
This month, we’ll take a look at the Fender S-1 switching system. Essentially, it’s a special multi-stage push/push pot designed to deliver maximum flexibility without muddling the appearance of your guitar with new switches. The S-1 consists of a 4-pole/double-throw (aka 4PDT or 4P2T) switch attached under the volume pot, with the pushbutton embedded in the top of the Strat’s volume knob. Originally, the S-1 was meant to be used with Fender’s Super Switch, a special 5-way pickup-selector switch with four independent switching stages (instead of the standard two). Combining these two devices allows virtually unlimited switching possibilities with any given pickup configuration.

Here’s what Fender says about their S-1 switching system: “A near-endless array of pickup options at your fingertips! Now standard equipment in many of our American Deluxe series and American series instruments, Fender’s groundbreaking S-1 switching system allows players to switch pickup configurations in an instant. The switch is visually undetectable, but tonally it turns your instrument into the most versatile axe on the planet! Located in the crown of the master volume knob, one push of the switch will place your pickups in an assemblage of parallel, series, and pickup-combining configurations. You can have the best of all worlds!”

As always, when Fender says “system,” they’re describing a combination of several parts. In this case, they’re referring to the Fender Super Switch, plus the S-1 push/ push pot. In this column, however, we’ll focus exclusively on the S-1 pot. (We’ll explore the Super Switch in a future column.) Even with the S-1 pot alone, you have the power of two regular push/ pull pots, which is more than cool. Fender’s Custom Shop La Cabronita Especial—which sports two TV Jones pickups, a Gibson-style 3-way toggle, and a single S-1 pot—offers a good example of the S-1 functioning without its Super Switch soulmate.

The Fender S-1 switch is available in 250k or 500k versions, each with either a knurled or solid shaft in various lengths. So the S-1 is not limited to use in Strats— you can use it in any guitar. The typical short-shaft 250k pot with a knurled shaft for Strats is Fender part number 0061256000. The 500k version is part number 0061257000. Along with the S-1 switching pot itself, Fender offers volume knobs in white, black, parchment, and aged white.

The moderately priced S-1 pot is the perfect solution for players who want to preserve their guitar’s stock appearance. The button is virtually invisible, and even with the switch engaged, nothing pops up on the pickguard. This eliminates the big disadvantage of regular push/ pull and push/push knobs and makes the S-1 switch a winner.

Of course, you don’t have to use all four of the S-1’s stages. Simply connect what you need for a given mod and leave the other stages unconnected. The S-1 switch is versatile: You can use it as a single-pole/singlethrow (SPST) switch for the “7-Sound Strat” mod, or as a double-pole/double-throw (DPDT) switch for coilsplitting a humbucker, or for doing an out-of-phase mod. Or you can harness its full 4-pole/ double-throw (4PDT) power and coil-split two humbuckers at the same time, or even create an ultra-tweaky series/parallel wiring with phasing plus an extra capacitor. These are just some examples to illustrate the S-1’s amazing potential.

So let’s dip into the S-1’s switching matrix. Looking at the switch from underneath the pot, you can clearly see the four switching stages. The black dots are the switch’s so-called “commons”—think of them as the middle lug of a regular switch—and the two other lugs (located left and right of the common) make the connections, depending on whether or not the button is pushed in.

As you can see, you can do a lot with this switch. Hopefully this will help you understand how the S-1 switch works and maybe inspire you to develop your own cool way of using it. The possibilities are mindboggling.

Dirk Wacker lives in 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 website——on the subject.