How to wire a guitar Three-Way toggle switch

Written by kevin krause
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Electric guitars that feature two pickups---such as the Gibson Les Paul---generally follow a wiring scheme that requires a three-way toggle switch to select either pickup or a combination of the two. When the switch is moved into position, it closes a circuit between two metal relay contacts. Because it is an electromechanical device, a switch may go bad from time to time. If your switch is scratchy, makes excessive noise when being toggled or does not toggle at all, replacing the switch could solve the problem. Knowing how to wire a three-way toggle switch will enable you to perform minor fixes to your guitar's electrical circuit.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Soldering iron
  • Insulated copper wire
  • Rosin-core solder
  • Screwdriver

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  1. 1

    Identify the terminals on your three-way toggle switch. One side of the switch will have four terminals. The two outside terminals will receive the input signal from your pickups. The middle two terminals will send output to the guitar's output jack. On the opposite side of the switch, you will find a terminal to be used for wiring the switch's ground.

  2. 2

    Bend the inner two terminal contacts together so they touch. Apply a bit of solder to secure the connection between the contacts. This will create a single output that receives signal from both inputs, allowing both pickups to operate when the toggle is in the "middle" position.

  3. 3

    Run the output wire from the middle terminal of the bridge pickup's volume potentiometer to the top terminal of the toggle switch; solder into place. It is important to note that the pickup to be active will be wired to the opposite terminal of the toggle switch position. This means that if the "down" position selects the bridge pickup, the input from the bridge pickup should be wired to the top terminal.

  4. 4

    Run the output wire from the middle terminal of the neck pickup's volume pot to the bottom terminal of the toggle switch and solder into place.

  5. 5

    Solder a wire to the combined middle terminals of the toggle switch. Route the wire through the guitar's body to the output jack and solder the free end to the terminal on the jack.

  6. 6

    Solder a ground wire to the grounding terminal on the switch and route the wire through the body of the guitar to the cavity containing the pots and output jack. If the wire is multibraided, untwist the three leads. Otherwise, you will need to run three separate wires from the grounding terminal on the switch.

  7. 7

    Solder grounding leads to the chassis of each of the volume pots. Solder the third grounding lead from the switch to the output jack.

  8. 8

    Plug your guitar into your amplifier and test to see if the switch is functioning properly. If the switch is not selecting between the pickups, you may have wired the inputs and outputs wrong. If the guitar is creating a hum or buzz, the ground wires may be loose or wired incorrectly. A scratching noise when switching the pickups usually indicates a loose wire somewhere.

Tips and warnings

  • Be sure to have enough wire to reach from your switch to the pots and output jack. See the Resources section of this article for websites where you can obtain special grouped and shielded wire packages for electric guitars. If you use separate wires, it may be helpful to group them together with electrical tape for easier routing through the body cavity and to keep things neat.
  • When working with an electrical circuit, be sure the guitar is unplugged from your amplifier and that you are properly grounded with both feet on the floor. Touch the screwdriver to a metal component in the circuit to discharge static electricity and avoid shock.

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