Because the Telecaster’s 3-way switch lies at the heart of many cool mods, it’s important to explore it. There’s more to this little piece of hardware than meets the eye.
We’re making headway in our epic Tele-modding journey. So far, we’ve learned how to prepare the guitar’s standard 2-conductor single-coils for hot-rodding [“Preparing Your Tele for Future Mods,” June 2013] and taken steps to reduce feedback [“Fighting Feedback in a Telecaster,” July 2013]. We’ve even done our homework by studying different eras of Fender’s stock Tele wiring schemes [“Factory Telecaster Wirings” two-part series, August 2013 and September 2013].
Now we’re ready to explore the 3-way Telecaster pickup selector switch. I know, I know ... for some of you this topic will be as entertaining as a case of athlete’s foot. But believe me, it’s important to understand the basics of this switch. Many future mods depend on this knowledge, and acquiring it isn’t as painful as you might think. Ultimately, this information will help you develop your own mods and comprehend many different wiring schemes, even for other types of guitars.
I’m going to split this switch tutorial into three installments. We’ll start with design basics and then learn how to install a new switch, discuss how its individual lugs work, and also figure out ways to apply this info to other switches and guitars.
Please put on your white lab coat and pull out your dissecting case. Ready? Let’s begin.
Switch sources. As you probably know, many companies produce guitar switches, and popular brands include Central Research Laboratories (CRL), OakGrigsby (now owned by Electroswitch), Neutrik, Schaller, and Eyb.
Stewart-MacDonald also sold some switches with a special layout. Though production stopped some months ago and stewmac.com currently offers the CRL 3-way switches, I’m sure some Stew-Mac units are still available as remaining stock at a few guitar shops.
These switches I’ve mentioned are all different, yet they do the same thing. Because of these physical disparities, we need to settle on a standard before we start our 3-way switch odyssey. Here’s why I’ve decided to use the CRL switch: It’s the most common switch in the guitar world, and you’ll see it configured in many wiring diagrams. And Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio use it as their standard, so we’re in good company.
Design basics. You can divide these pickup selector switches into two main groups: closed and open. The open switches—CRL, Stew-Mac, and OakGrigsby—offer robust construction and the benefit of letting you see what the switch is doing when you move the lever. It’s so much easier to understand what’s happening in a given position when you can view which lugs are connected.
Another benefit of this construction is that it is serviceable if there’s a problem. For example, you can easily clean the contacts and rework the tension of the spring if necessary. Fig. 1 shows the classic CRL 3-way switch from both sides.
By comparison, Fig. 2 shows a budget closed 3-way switch with a completely different layout.
Some switches, such as the Eyb or the Schaller units, are mixtures of these two main types. These sport an open PCB based construction, as shown in Fig. 3.
What’s the best switch design for guitar? Well, as you can imagine, it’s a never-ending debate. I can only say I’ve never had a problem with an open switch, but I’ve seen and serviced countless guitars with faulty and noisy closed switches.
One argument in favor of closed switches is they offer protection against dust, humidity, and moisture. Okay, this may be true, but is it an important factor? Look at your Telecaster. The 3-way switch is mounted underneath the metal control plate and is resting in the more-or-less isolated electronic compartment. This area is already protected against dust and moisture, and I’ve never seen a rusty or dusty open switch on a Tele control plate.
The only reliable way to protect and pamper your switches—closed or open—is to use them often. This keeps all the contacts clean and will guarantee years of trouble-free operation. Don’t spray any cleaners, magic in-house recipes, or other funny things inside a switch as part of regular servicing. As long as the switch works properly, just leave it alone and use it regularly.
There are guitarists who state that open switches sound different from closed ones. Personally, I can’t hear a difference, but I’m not Eric Johnson and maybe my ears are the problem. If you can hear a difference, then experiment with both designs to fine-tune your tone. I use open CRL and OakGrigsby switches in all my own guitars and they never let me down.
Coming up next: We’ll cover installing a new 3-way switch on your Telecaster and investigate its single lugs and their functions. Until then, keep on modding!
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.