Recently a client brought me a very cool 2004 Fender Tele (Photo 1) that needed a new blade switch. His guitar played well (and looked great too) but the switch had started to cut out at random times onstage. It’s not uncommon for a Tele switch to wear out—especially if you use it vigorously—so let’s see what it takes to replace it.
Plan of attack. I decided to install a CRL 3-way switch, a high-quality unit you can get from such luthier suppliers as Allparts and Stewart-MacDonald. (Oak Grigsby and Switchcraft are two other excellent brands.) Though they cost a few more bucks than cheapos, good switches will give you much longer service and are well worth the investment.
After gathering your tools and supplies (soldering iron, 60/40 solder, 12-gauge stranded wire, hemostats, and a medium-tip Phillips head screwdriver), unscrew the control plate, flip it over, and eyeball the existing 3-way switch. Remember to place the screws in a small box so you don’t lose them. Plus, you don’t want a wayward screw to end up under the guitar because it will scratch the finish.
Tip: Before you unsolder and remove the switch, draw a diagram of how it’s wired. Even if your new switch comes with a diagram, it’s a good idea to document where each wire is attached on the original one.
The old switch in this guitar used the traditional Fender wiring, so my diagram looked like Fig. 1. This is the standard Tele configuration.
Fire up the iron. The next step is to unsolder the two pickup wires from the blade switch. On a stock Tele with single-coils, there should be one lead wire to remove for each pickup. When soldering or unsoldering a wire, grip it with a pair of hemostats so you won’t burn your fingers! Once the solder is molten, give the wire a gentle yank to pull it free.
In addition to the pickup leads, there’s one wire that connects the output of the switch to the input of the volume control. Unsolder this wire from the switch only. In all, there are three wires to unsolder from the switch.
Detach the old blade switch. Next remove the two mounting screws that fasten the original switch to the control plate. Typically these are Phillips head screws, but some guitars require a small flathead screwdriver. The blade switch should drop right out of the control plate.
If you have a guitar with an inexpensive “box” switch, confirm that the mounting holes line up properly for the new switch you intend to install. Some imported guitars have different hole spacing than U.S.-built models for mounting the switch onto the control plate. If that’s the case, you’ll either need to get a new box switch or swap out the old control plate for a new one with hole spacing that matches an American CRL switch.