Need to change your pickup switch? Our man in the workshop will show you how to change this crucial component as used on Strats, Teles and more...
Pickup switches come in a variety of shapes and sizes and, confusingly, the terminals that you solder to are nonstandardised. Many USA and Mex Fenders use Oak Grigsby or CRL brand switches. Our case study here did not, so we will take you through what you need to do to change from one style to another.
A good-quality switch is essential, so expect to pay about a fiver for one. It’s important to note that they all sound the same but cheapo ones wear out much faster and begin to crackle quicker. The best switch we’ve found is the CRL, as it uses a lovely little spring.
This Strat has been stored in a cellar. Luckily, the pickups survived and, magically, the pots too but the damp was all too much for the switch even when cleaned. The poor neck of the guitar has had its lacquer flaked off nearly all of the fretboard and the timber has swollen... yes, it’s true: cellars are bad for guitars. Let’s do it! Are you ready to switch a switch?
What you need
- 40-watt soldering iron
- 60/40 solder Wire
- Wire cutter
- Wire strippers
- Soldering helping hand
- New pickup selector switch
- PH2 screwdriver
- Tuning fork
- Soft mat
Skill level: Intermediate
Let’s start by going under the hood. Off with the old pickguard, unscrew all those tiny screws and put them somewhere safe.
This Strat was pretty damp so these little screws were rusted in a little. We will show you a way to test wiring without bothering to re-string the whole guitar too!
The good thing about a Strat is that the pickguard acts as a soldering station when you flip the guard upside down.
Be careful not to yank the three wires that are still connected. They’re for the output jack and the bridge earth wire. Put a mat inbetween the pickguard and the face of the guitar to avoid any scratching.
We are changing the switch for one that uses a different terminal layout.
If you’re changing like for like, taking a photo or writing down the wire arrangement will prove to be very helpful. This guide will show you the way to get it right with any type of five-way pickup switch.
Out with the old, useless and crackly! We’re cutting off the old wires leaving ourselves as much of the wire as possible.
On the right we have the three pickup hot wires and the output to the master volume pot. On the left we have the two wires that go to the tone controls. Note the small jumper wire in-between the terminals.
Screw in the new pickup selector switch. We’ve chosen an Oak Grigsby, which are common, however, the terminal layout is confusingly different.
The PH2 screwdriver is the right size for the bolts they supply with these switches. Note the orientation: terminals facing towards the pots and not the outside.
Now we need to prepare the six chopped wires as well as the new switch’s terminals.
Strip 4mm from each of the wires you already snipped off with your wire strippers. Each exposed wire will need a small amount of solder ‘tinning’ and the terminals on the switch need the same treatment too.
The Oak Grigsby switch has a total of eight terminals, four on each side. We like how you can see what’s going on!
On the left we have the ‘common’ terminal and then three other terminals. The common one will be connected to the volume pot and the other three for the pickups. We’ll deal with the other side later.
Flip the pickup switch towards the neck switch position and check which terminal is connected to the common one – that’s where you should solder the neck pickup’s white wire to.
Here is the pot output wire. Because we tinned, we don’t need three hands! Hold the wire to the terminal and apply heat – it will pool and melt together.
By flipping the pickup selector it’s clear which terminals are activated and therefore connected to the common terminal.
With your three pickup wires on and the output wire on it’s time to create a new jumper wire that connects the two common terminals together (one on each side).
At this stage we have our three pickups and output connected with the jumper ready to go.
Let’s test that we got it right so far. Plug into your amp and we’ll tap-test the backs of the pickups. Flip the switch to neck and test that the neck is on (and not the bridge). If you’ve got it wrong, swap the terminal the pickup wire goes to.
Let’s now wire up the tone pots. There are a couple of different schemes for the two tone pots and you can choose which tone pot is assigned to which pickup(s).
Throw the switch to neck and see which terminal is connected and solder the corresponding tone pot wire to it. Repeat for the other pickups.
Check your work with the tuning fork. You should have the pickup selector switch the right way around and your tone pots assigned as you wish.
The tuning fork simulates a string and saves stringing the guitar up in case you need to make a change! When you’re done, sew it all up and tighten the pickguard screws up.