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Mod Garage: How to Wire Alternative Tele 3-Way Switches

October 25, 2013
Believe it or not, we’re almost done with our discussion of the Telecaster 3-way pickup selector switch … at least for now. (Later, we’ll return to the basics when we explore the Telecaster 4-way switch in detail.) So far, we’ve focused on the stock Tele switch [“Inside the 3-way Telecaster Pickup Switch,” October 2013, and “How to Wire a Stock Tele Pickup Switch,” November 2013]. Now it’s time to transfer what we know about the stock switch to popular alternative versions from different manufacturers. Armed with the information we’ll cover here, you’ll be able to wire up any switch of your choice—and also adapt wiring diagrams you might find on the web, most of which use the CRL switch layout—without driving yourself mad in the process.


Fig. 1. The classic open CRL 3-way Tele pickup switch has two stages, or rows, each with four soldering lugs.

First, let’s review what we covered in the previous column. Fig. 1 shows the schematic for the CRL 3-way switch that we used as our quasi-standard Tele wiring. It has two stages (or “rows”) and each stage has four soldering lugs. Stage 1 (with the metal frame that holds the screws) is the top row and stage 2 is the bottom row.
Armed with the information we’ll cover here, you’ll be able to wire up any switch of your choice without driving yourself mad in the process.
In addition to this open CRL switch, some Teles sport other switch types, so let’s take a look at the most important alternatives. To wire these up, all you have to do is transfer the wiring from the CRL switch to the corresponding lugs of the other switch—it’s like painting by numbers. Here’s the wiring chart:


The open OakGrigsby 3-way switch (Fig. 2) is very similar to the CRL. It offers the same high quality and similar switching sensation, though the lugs are shifted slightly. This is the standard switch you’ll find in most Fender guitars today. After using CRL for a very long time, Fender now mostly uses the OakGrigsby switch, and only installs CRL switches on some selected series. Since the OakGrigsby (which has been acquired by Electroswitch) and CRL switches are essentially equivalent in price and quality, it’s simply a matter of choosing one—you can’t go wrong with either.


Fig. 2. The stages and lugs on the open OakGrigsby 3-way switch are very similar to the CRL.

Stewart-MacDonald’s open 3-way switch is very common in the U.S., but a rare bird over here in Europe. It’s a very high quality switch with improved gold contacts and an extremely smooth switching feel. Stew-Mac stopped selling it some months ago, offering standard CRL switches as a substitute. For almost 20 years I’ve had Stew-Mac switches in some of my own guitars and they’ve never let me down. Although these switches are no longer directly available from Stew-Mac, I’ll bet there is still a lot of remaining stock in music stores. Because this switch was sold for decades and it’s installed in countless guitars, it has to be included in our list. The orientation of the lugs is a bit unusual, as you can see in Fig. 3.


Fig. 3. The orientation of the lugs is a bit unusual on the extremely smooth Stew-Mac 3-way switch.

Imported closed 3-way switches (aka budget or far-east switches) have only one row of lugs, but still offer two stages (Fig. 4). Typically these switches are used in low-cost instruments and because of their poor quality, they’ve deservedly earned a bad reputation. But you can also buy high-quality closed switches with this arrangement of lugs and stages, and they often cost more than open switches. So pay attention and avoid the cheap versions that won’t get you through the gig. Also bear in mind that most imported switches require a metric switch tip with a smaller slit than U.S.-made switches.


Fig. 4. Imported closed 3-way switches have only one row of lugs, but still offer two stages.

Offering open PCB-based construction on a metal frame, the Megaswitch T from Eyb Guitars and Schaller is a combination of an open and closed switch. Older versions of this German switch offer an extra ground lug, marked with a red G in the diagram, while the newer versions have a metal ground lug connected to one of the two screws on the back of the switch. Because of the special, ultra-flexible layout of the switching matrix (Fig. 5), you will have to do some extra jumper-wire connections with the Megaswitch T, so you’ll need to download the instruction manual from Eyb (eyb-guitars.de) or Schaller (schaller-electronic.com) before you start soldering.


Fig. 5. With its open PCB-based construction, the ultra-flexible Megaswitch T offers many wiring possibilities.

Congratulations, that’s it! Now you’ll be able to develop your own mods with any given switch in your Tele. And speaking of mods, next time we’ll tackle one of my favorites: ’50s Les Paul wiring in a Telecaster. I’m sure you’ll love it. Until then, keep on modding!