How Should a Three-Way Pickup Selector Be Wired?

Written by matthew anderson
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How Should a Three-Way Pickup Selector Be Wired?
The three-way pickup selector is the white switch near the top of the Gibson Les Paul. (guitar player image by bright from Fotolia.com)

Three-way pickup selectors are most commonly associated with Gibson style guitars with two humbucker pickups. The three-way pickup selector selects each pickup individually, or both simultaneously. Almost all guitars come already wired. Only guitarists replacing a faulty three-way selector or building a guitar from scratch need to wire this part themselves. Guitar parts dealers, luthiers and most electric guitar retailers sell spare three-way pickup selectors. There are three tabs on the selector that are grouped together. A fourth tab for the ground is also present, but set apart from the grouped tabs for easier identification.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Soldering iron
  • Electrician solder
  • 2 Wires (approximately 6 to12 inches)

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Touch the end of the output wire for the neck pickup to the left or right tab on the three-way pickup selector. The tab you select is the one opposite the direction you want to push the selector when you want to use the neck pickup. The output wire is either the hot wire from the pickup (if the pickup does not have its own tone or volume controls) or the output wire for the controls for that pickup. The output wire should be the only wire not connected to something else, which makes it easy to identify.

  2. 2

    Touch the tip of the soldering iron to the end of the solder. A drop should melt onto the tip of the soldering iron.

  3. 3

    Touch the molten solder to the connected wire and tab. The solder solidifies to hold the wire in place once the soldering iron is removed.

  4. 4

    Solder the output wire for the bridge pickup to the left or right tab on the selector. Use the tab not used for the neck pickup.

  5. 5

    Solder a wire to the centre tab on the selector to the leftmost tab of the master volume control. Solder the wire directly to output jack if your guitar does not have a master volume control.

  6. 6

    Solder a wire to the ground tab on the selector and to the metal back of one of the controls. It can be soldered anywhere to the back of the control, as long as it contacts metal. The back of every control should be connected to the ground if the guitar is properly wired, so it does not matter which control back it is connected.

Tips and warnings

  • Three-way pickup selectors are usually placed into very cramped control compartments. The common method of soldering by pressing the solder and soldering iron to the connection simultaneously is usually impractical. You usually need your second hand to hold back wires to prevent the soldering iron from burning them. That is why the method of soldering used in this article differs slightly. This method allows you to solder using only one hand.
  • The length of the wires needed varies based on the position of the controls in your guitar. The wires needed for a Gibson Les Paul would be longer than the ones for a Gibson SG because the three-way pickup selector is located further away from the other controls in a Les Paul. The wire should always be long enough so it still has a little slack when wired.

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