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Guitar Wiring 101 : DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals

DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals

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Guitar Wiring 101

Table of Contents
Single coil wiring: what can you do with single coils and how to wire a Strat Humbucker wiring Les Paul: how to wire a Les Paul or similar guitar Humbucker wiring 4 conductor: how to wire 4-conductor pickups Coil-tapping: how to take advantage of coil-tap and get more sounds Multi-pole switches: how to get the best out of a Super switch Volume controls: how do volume controls work Tone controls: how do tone controls work and how to make them better No-load tone pots: what are no-load pots and how to make your own Treble bleed: what are treble bleed circuits and which one is the best (for me)
Single coil wiring

Single coil pickups are the simplest to wire because they typically have only two leads hot and ground. Some humbuckers have their coils connected internally and are pretty much the same to wire as single coil pickups. Thats why we will call them both two conductor pickups. Ground leads are typically connected to a common grounding point and hot leads are switched in and out of the circuit. Lets take a look at standard Strat-style switch.

Note: looking from the terminal side, bridge terminal is the one closer to neck pickup!

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Guitar Wiring 101 : DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals

It usually has 8 terminals two poles with 4 terminals each. Each pole has one common terminal and 3 switched. The first thing you want to figure out is which terminal is common. Note that terminal on the left is connected to the lever all the time thats our common terminal. Represented as a schematic, each pole would look like this.

The only difference between 3 and 5 way switches is that 5 way switch connects two terminals with the common in positions 2 and 4: center and one outer terminal. Schematic above shows position 2 that connects both bridge and middle terminals; image below shows how its typically represented on diagrams.

To wire three two-conductor pickups we only need one pole. Common goes to volume pot input and 3 switched terminals are connected to pickup outputs. That way, we will select one pickup in positions 1-3-5 and two pickups wired in parallel in positions 2-4. When middle pickup has reverse polarity, noise will cancel out in positions 2-4 and they will be wired in so called humbucking mode. We will use the remaining pole to switch tone pots. Typical strat wiring has two tone controls one for middle and one for neck pickup. We want to switch neck/middle tone control on when neck/middle pickup is on. To do this, common terminal of the second pole is connected to the common terminal on the first pole (pickup output) and neck and middle terminals of the second pole are connected to their respective pots. When neck pickup is on, the second pole will switch the output to the neck tone control as intended. What happens in position 4 (both neck and middle pickups on)? Both pots will be switched on and will be in parallel. Moving any tone pot would change the overall resistance to the tone cap and change the tone. The result is below:

Humbucker wiring Les Paul

Les Paul style pickup selector switches are simple and easy to wire. Complicated part about wiring a Les Paul is having separate tone and volume controls for both pickups and having longer leads between control cavity and the switch.

Ill go through standard Les Paul wiring and explain what happens in each position. Common is connected to ground and out goes directly to the jack. Lead position (bridge pickup only): switch connects neck pickup to the common lug (ground) but leaves bridge pickup in the circuit. Middle position (both pickups): nothing is connected to the common lug which means that both pickups are left in the circuit. Since both pickups are grounded and both their hot leads are connected to output, we have them connected

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Guitar Wiring 101 : DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals

in parallel. Dont mistake this with internal series connection in each humbucker. Coils are connected in series but two humbuckers are paralleled. Rhythm position (neck pickup only): similar to Lead position, bridge pickup is shorted to ground which leaves us with neck pickup only. Note: unlike Strat-style wiring, volume and tone controls come before the switch and switch output goes directly to the jack.
Humbucker wiring 4 conductor

4-conductor humbuckers are fun to wire because they offer many combinations to play with. Some pickups have another bare wire which is there for shielding and should always be grounded. Manufacturers have their own color code, so make sure you find the right color code before connecting anything. Below is color code diagram for common pickup manufacturers.

To verify that you got the leads right try to measure DC resistance across each pair of leads. Leads that belong to the same coil should measure a couple of kilo ohms, and if they dont they should measure infinity.

This technique is only possible with 4-conductor pickups or pickups that already have coil-tap lead instead of all four leads. Coil tap is a connection between two coils in a humbucker and is sometimes referred to as series link. Vintage style pickups have their coil tap enclosed in the pickup which means that we cant play with it. Having coil tap gives us a couple of wiring options: Series coils (standard): connect the hot lead to output, ground lead to ground and leave the coil-tap unconnected. Splitting the humbucker #1: by grounding the coil-tap and connecting the hot lead to output were rendering the coil closer to ground useless because both of its leads are grounded. What were left with is the coil closer to the hot lead. Splitting the humbucker #2: by grounding the hot lead and connecting the coil-tap the output were left with the coil closer to ground. Some pickups have asymmetrical coils and even symmetrical coils will sound different because the one closer to bridge will sound a bit brighter. Thats why its useful to have both options available. Parallel coils: ground the coil tap and connecting ground and hot leads together to output.
Multi-pole switches (aka 4-pole switch, aka Super switch)

These are the most versatile 5 position switches around. They have 4 poles, each pole has one common and 5 switched terminal which makes a total of 24 terminals. With that many connections you can wire pretty much any pickup combination you can imagine. Poles are mounted on two wafers, two poles each. Common terminals are usually the outer two terminals

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Guitar Wiring 101 : DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals

on each wafer. Image below shows multipole switch, two poles on the front wafer are outlined with different colors.

Diagram below shows switch diagram with all 4 poles outlined in red and all terminals marked C stands for common and 1 through 5 are terminals that get connected to the common in a certain position.

The only downside is that these switches are physically larger than most other switch types and mounting them in cavities routed for some smaller switch may be tricky. Now, lets go through one example of wiring using a Super switch and hopefully youll figure out how it works somewhere in the process. Below is a diagram taken from DiMarzio site and wires two humbuckers. I marked poles 1-4 right next to the common terminals.

1. Position 1 (bridge humbucker, series connection): poles 1, 3 and 4 do not have any effect in this position because nothing is connected to terminals that correspond to position 1. That leaves us with pole 2 which connects bridge pickup hot lead to the output (volume pot input). 2. Position 2 (outside coils, parallel connection): this one is more exciting because all poles do something. Pole 1 connects bridge pickup coil tap to ground, effectively splitting the bridge pickup. Pole 2 connects bridge pickup hot lead to the output. Pole 3 connects neck pickup coil tap to pole 4 which connects it to the output. What we end up with is a coil from bridge pickup coil tap to hot lead and a coil from neck pickup ground to the coil tap. Because of the way poles 2 and 4 are connected, these two coils will be paralleled. 3. Position 3 (both humbuckers): Poles 1 and 3 do nothing, so well ignore them. Pole 2 connects bridge pickup hot lead to the output and pole 4 connects neck pickup hot lead to the output. Each humbucker has its coils connected in series and humbuckers themselves are connected in parallel. 4. Position 4 (inner coils, parallel connection): This is similar to position two just inverted. Pole 1 connects bridge pickup coil tap to the output through pole 2. Pole 3 grounds neck pickup coil tap and pole 4 connects neck pickup hot lead to the output. That leaves us with bridge pickup coil from ground to coil tap and neck pickup coil from coil tap to hot lead. Again, they are paralleled. 5. Position 5 (neck humbucker, series connection): This is similar to position 1. Poles 1, 2 and 3 do nothing and pole 4 connects neck pickup hot lead to the output.
Volume controls

Volume pots are wired as simple voltage dividers. Higher settings have higher resistance to ground and lower series resistance, so more signal passes through. When maxed, volume pot has zero series resistance and full pot resistance to

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Guitar Wiring 101 : DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals

ground. Signal takes the path of least resistance and most of it will go though. However, some signal, mostly treble will be lost. With low pot values (250K) it will be more noticeable than with higher (500K and 1M) pots. Thats why typical pot values for brighter single coil pickups is 250K and for warmer humbuckers 500K or sometimes even 1M. Typical volume pot setup is shown below. Input goes either directly from the selector switch (Strat style, master volume control) or from hot pickup lead (Les Paul style, separate volume controls). Output goes either to the output jack for Strat style guitars or to the switch for Les Paul style guitars.

Another thing to bear in mind is pot taper. Two most commonly used tapers are linear and logarithmic. Linear taper, as name suggests, linearly increases resistance throughout its range. Thats ok for some applications, but not for volume pots. Our humanoid ears work in logarithmic fashion, so volume pots need to have logarithmic taper in order for us to hear smooth transition between quieter and louder settings. If volume jumps suddenly in the first 20%-30% of volume pot range and then does almost nothing in the rest of the range, its likely that you got a linear pot instead of logarithmic.
Tone controls

Most guitars have at least one tone control installed. They can be either assigned to a particular pickup (Strat or Les Paul) or work as master tone control (Ibanez and others). Electronically, its a variable low-pass filter. Lower the resistance, more treble gets cut which means that higher pot values will sound a bit brighter (typically 500K vs 250K). Capacitor values usually traditionally range from 0.022uF (22nF) to 0.047uF (47nF) but many people find these values too large and install much smaller caps instead. Values of 10nF, 6.8nF or even smaller are reported to work quite well (I used 10nF in my latest mod). To help you decide between cap values and composition, check out this site. It hosts a couple of useful videos with cap value and composition analysis. Youll notice that once it reaches zero sound gets very muddy very fast. Thats because we have zero resistance between the signal and the cap. To prevent this, some people put a small resistor (10K or so) between the pot and the cap. That way we wont affect pot operation at higher settings (510K is very close to 500K) but at lower settings it will prevent it from reaching zero as were always adding 10K in series.
No-load tone pots

Even with tone control maxed some high frequencies get cut. To let all the frequencies through you can either get a no-load pot or make one. CTS makes them for Fender and what they do is simply break the connection between the wiper and conductive element when pot is maxed. Additionally, they have an indentation so once they reach maximum setting they click and its not that easy to turn them back. To make your own just cut (or cover with nail polish) the element near the end, so that resistance between the wiper and the opposite lug reads infinite when maxed, at lower settings it should read as usual. Note: no load pots wont work for volume control! Dont try to use them. If you ask me, they arent worth the hassle. Fender pots have annoying click and its not easy to mess with your own pots for very subtle result.
Treble bleed

Volume pots dont attenuate all frequencies consistently. Treble gets attenuated faster which results in treble loss when volume is rolled down. Treble bleed circuits (or bright caps) are there to compensate for treble loss and make guitar sound at lower volume as close as possible to sound with volume maxed. There are several different treble bleed circuits used or recommended by guitar/pickup manufacturers. Whats common between them is that they are installed across guitar volume pot (input and output lug).

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Guitar Wiring 101 : DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals

Single cap, ranging from 100pF to 500pF, sometimes even bigger. Ibanez uses 330pF on many RG models, some PRS have 180pF or so. This configuration works well with higher volume pot settings, but with very low settings (30% or lower) it gets really bright. Cap paralleled with a resistor. DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan recommend this configuration. Typical values are 560pF and 300K. Its supposed to provide more consistent treble bleed but having a resistor paralleled with the pot will mess up pot taper. Cap in series with a resistor (shouldnt matter which comes first). Kinman recommends this for single coils but it works rather well for humbuckers too. I installed 1nF cap in series with a 130K resistor and it works awesome. Resistor is there to limit the effect of the cap and having it in series with the cap means it shouldnt affect pot taper as much. Larger cap means wider frequency range, so treble jump isnt as sudden. So far, this is my favorite treble bleed circuit. Note: some folks actually prefer volume pot treble roll-off, so you should try few different setups and find the one you like.

4 Responses to Guitar Wiring 101


Isaac says: 07/01/2011 at 03:59 I need to figure out the wiring for a guitar Im currently building. Its got 2 humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions and one single coil in the middle. The neck humbucker has only one wire, the bridge has 4. There are three pots, one volume (controlling all pickups master volume), one tone (controlling the middle and neck) and one coil-split/tappable tone controlling the bridge. It has one standard 5-way switch. Could someone help out? Is this even possible to do? Thanks Reply


JoeC says: 02/01/2011 at 18:43 Is the mulit-pole switch available as a 2-pole, 5-way single wafer switch? Also, where does one get data sheets on these selector switches? It seems the manufacturers do not publish mechanical drawings or data sheets. I spent hours on Google with no success looking for detailed information. Reply

Bancika says: 02/01/2011 at 19:10 I havent seen 2-pole switch with 6 contacts per pole. If you have enough space just get a 4-pole and ignore two poles you dont need. As for the data sheets, I havent seen any. Method I use to reverse-engineer a switch is mentioned above once you figure out common contacts and poles, you can use multimeter to see which contacts get connected in which position. Thats very easy to do for strat or super switch, but there are some tricky ones, like those Megaswitches stewmac sells. Those are internally pre-wired to give certain pickup combinations not possible with a standard strat switch. Cheers

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Guitar Wiring 101 : DIY Fever Building my own guitars, amps and pedals



Yamadron says: 23/09/2010 at 13:37 Thanks for the information. Very cool website to learn from it the basics of wiring and understand how guitar parts work .:) Reply

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