Okay, ready for some more switching lore? Before we venture into new realms, let’s review what we know: A normal 5-way pickup selector has two stages (or rows), each of which is equipped with four soldering lugs.
Stage 1 is also called the “input stage,” while stage 2 is the “output stage.” In a nutshell, you have hot wires from the pickups that are going into the switch (stage 1, lugs 1+2+3), and a hot wire that goes out of the switch (stage 2, lug A) and to the volume pot. From there, the signal goes to the tone pots and then on to the output jack. So, each stage of the switch has three inputs (lugs 1+2+3) and one output (lug A). Check out the following diagram of standard Stratocaster wiring.
The standard 5-way switch offers lots of options. But when your wiring gets complex and you start integrating out-of-phase wiring, series/parallel switching, coil-splitting, and the like, you soon discover you need additional switching devices, such as mini toggles or push/pull pots to make these schemes work.
That’s exactly why the “5-way super switch” was invented. Instead of two stages, this switch offers four completely independent stages with six terminals each, yielding a total of 24 terminals! This makes additional switching devices more or less obsolete, because all you need is already there in the switch itself. This switch is also often called a “4-pole switch,” “double-wafer switch,” or “double-throw switch.” But all these terms mean the same thing: Technically, you have a 24-lug, 4-pole/5-throw switch (aka 4P5T).
Fender sells an open-frame version of this 4P5T switch, which, as you can see below, has a construction that’s similar to a standard 5-way switch.
The German company EYB also makes a PCB-based version of the switch called the double-wafer M4 Megaswitch. (Incidentally, if you know who first invented this 4P5T switch, please drop me an email. I’d like to give credit where it’s due.)
If you think this is a monster of a switch (which it really is), be prepared for even more: EYB also offers a stacked version of their M4 Megaswitch with eight (!) instead of four stages (aka 8P5T). If you have a lot of time on your hands and want to explore the world of unlimited switching possibilities, this one will keep you busy for several weeks. Or years.
Because you can use a super switch as a standard 5-way switch and still have so many options for future mods, installing one seems like a no-brainer. But there are also two downsides to this slick bit of technology that I need to mention.
First, a super switch is physically much larger than a standard switch. Installing one in certain guitars—like a Telecaster—poses massive problems. Sometimes the only way to make them fit is by routing out your electronic compartment. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, always double-check the dimensions of both the switch and cavity before you make your purchase.
To accommodate the open Fender switch, you need at least 21 mm of space surrounding it. Allowing 25 mm helps avoid any problems with the soldering terminals. At this point, I’ve only used the stacked 8-pole version from EYB in one guitar. I can tell you it was really a challenge to make it fit, even in a Strat.
Second, super switches aren’t very well documented, and you’ll only find a few wiring diagrams on the internet. This is because they’ve only become available in recent years, and they’re much more complicated to work with than the standard 5-way switch. So if you’re looking for a lot of “paint-by-numbers” diagrams, you will be disappointed. It’s crucial to understand the basics of this switch so you can develop your own mods and switching schemes. You simply can’t depend on anyone else’s diagrams.
Stay tuned for the second installment of our 5-way super switch series, in which we discuss the technical side of this beast and how to wire it up. I’ll show you an easy-to-understand switching matrix you can use as a template to develop your own super-switch mods. See you then!
Dirk Wackerlives 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—singlecoil.com—on the subject.