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Introducing Fender’s 5-Way Super Switch

Instead of two stages, this switch offers four completely independent stages with six terminals each, yielding a total of 24 terminals!

Last month, we took a crash course in guitar switches—an essential step for anyone serious about hot-rodding guitars [“The ABCs of Guitar Switches," August 2011]. If you missed this column, or just want a quick review, take a moment to check it out. Additionally, you might find it useful to revisit my three-part series on Fender 5-way switches [“The Anatomy of the Stratocaster 5-Way Switch, Parts 1-3," February, March, and April 2009].

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 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.