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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Thursday, March 16, 2017
How a Fender/CRL Style 5-Way Switch Works
Although I post mostly theological articles, today I want to discuss something practical for anyone who is trying to figure out how exactly a Stratocaster style 5-way switch works.  I'll try and keep it short and simple.

There are different ways to wire a five-way switch, and depending upon what brand you get, the pin-outs can be a little different - but the theory is the same, and this will help you to understand what is going on in that switch.

More often than not, the only time you bother to read about how a five-way switch works, is when your looking at a wiring diagram for an electric guitar, and feel a little flabbergasted by all the wires going in and out of that five-way switch.  You've told yourself that perhaps if you understood how it worked a little more - the rest of the diagram would make a little more sense.

Well the first thing you need to understand is that your five-way switch is really two three way switches sandwiched together - take a look at this fancy graphic I made just for this post:

It took me all day thank you.

On the left you see my rendition of one side of the five-way switch (labeled Pickup connections).  Don't mind the rest of it for a moment - what I want you to look at is the four connections or terminals (the things you would solder wires to) on that side.  One of the four terminals is longer than the others.  This allows it to always contact that white part you see in the diagram.  Basically when you rotate the switch, the white part connects blue part to one (or two) of these terminals. 

The same thing happens on the other side (see the other switch graphic - the one with the purple and orange terminals).  Think of one side of the 5-way switch as it's own switch, and the other as a separate switch - moving the switch rotates wipers on both sides of the 5-way, so that in each position a similar connection is made on each side of the switch.

If you physically have such a switch with you - you don't need a multi-meter to tell you which posts/terminals are connecting - in any of the 5 positions - you just need to look at the wiper blade and see which terminals it touches (on each side) - those that are touching are the ones which close the circuit in that position.

The reason we say that a 5-way switch is actually two 3-way switches is because there are three terminals on each side that can connect to the longer terminal.  But the blade is just the right width that in two of the five positions - it actually connects the longer terminal to two of the shorter ones at the same time.  I'm not surprising anyone here, but that is how the physical connection is made to play through two pickups at the same time.

You can see that in this (rather similar, but slightly different) graphic:

Note the color changes? 

You've probably noticed also that I've labeled one side of the switch "pickups" and the other "tone pots".  That's because that is how we use the switch - one side turns on the pickups - the other side selects which tone circuit will be used.  The standard way to wire a Strat is to have the tone control closest to the neck pickup, adjust the neck, and the other tone adjusts the middle pickup.  The Strat was designed when surf music was popular, so the bridge pickup typically doesn't have a tone control - but you can (if you want) just wire a jumper between the neck and bridge terminals on the "pickup" side of the 5-way, so that the same tone settings for your neck pickup affect your bridge pickup up - easy-peasy - and since you don't normally play the bridge and neck pickups at the same time - you don't really lose anything - you just gain more versatility in your tone control.

But I digress.

The point is that whatever pickups you turn on (on the pickup side of the switch), you should be turning on the appropriate tone control on the other side.

Most wiring diagrams have something like the third graphic from the left - representing the "top" of the switch (really it's the bottom, but when your soldering it, everything is upside down, and that looks to be the top, as it were.   I included the colors so that you could see which side is what.   The top half is for the pickups, the bottom, for the tone controls.  When you wire up your Stratocaster, you typically put the side that connects to the tone pots, facing the tone pots, and the side for the pickups facing away from the tone pots.

The last item in my graphic is the schematic representation of the switch.  I call them "two 3-way switches" but what we're really talking about is a two "pole" switch - that is a single switch that closes two circuits at the same time.   In this case the circuits that are closed are each 3-way circuits.  Don't let the five positions fool you.  You have five positions because two of the positions purposely combine two pickups.

You may read about 5-way "super" switches - they have four poles instead of two - which means twice as many terminals, and four circuits being set by the same switch.  It follows the same principles as are laid out here.  I personally think you get more useful mileage out of a DPDT push/pull pot  (dpdt = double pole, double throw) - unless you're doing something really fancy with split coiled humbuckers, you probably won't use these - but you'll understand them, because they follow the same basic principles.

In these diagrams, I have the posts labeled as follows:
  • C: Common
  • N: Neck
  • M: Middle
  • B: Bridge
But that is just because 5 way switches are typically used where there are three pickups (usually single coil) - so rather than call them something generic like 0, 1, 2, & 3 - I went with how these switches are typically used in a Strat.

In the graphics, the blue and red posts correspond to the pickup side of the switch, and the purple and orange are for the tone controls and by the way, ...yes, I have noticed that the red and orange are sadly similar to one another  - I should have used green instead of orange...

Using the colors, you can see how the switch is portrayed in various circuits.  It really helps when you're trying to think your way through the circuit (I like to design my own circuit mods) and you're trying to understand the path the current takes through the switch.

That's the last of the pics.   The pictures are actually a little bigger than they appear in this post.  You can open one or more of them up in another browser tab if you want to make them bigger. 

I hope that helped you understand this clever little switch a bit better.  I've found bits and pieces of this over the years, but I hadn't seen anyone put it all in one place - so I thought I'd do that and maybe save someone a few hours of searching, and a few more of trying to make heads or tails of it.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or thoughts. 
posted by Daniel @ 10:01 PM  
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