Saturday, 7 June 2014

Understanding the 5-way Switch

Whether it's controlling your Stratocaster or your sleek Ibanez shredder, the 5-way switch is the most common switch choice for 3-pickup guitars out there today. And yet, as popular as it is, the unassuming 5-way is one of the least understood switch types used in guitar wiring.

Whether you're thinking of wiring your new guitar build, modding your existing axe, or even creating some mind-blowing wirings for your 2-pickup guitar, an understanding of the 5-way switch and how it operates is central to getting your wiring correct.

In general there are 3 flavours of 5-way switch out there. These are the standard Fender switch - having 8 pins, 4 to a side - and 2 kinds of import switch having either 7 or 8 pins in a row across the bottom.


No matter which configuration you have, the operation of the switch is identical in all cases. You need only identify the specific pin configuration provided by your switch to apply it to your own particular wiring design.

The most important thing to know about the 5-way is that, internally, it operates as a 2-pole / 3-way switch. This means that internally the switch is made up of 2 lots of 3-way switches as shown below left. Each 3 way switch directs one of 3 input signals (or a combination of them) 1, 2, 3 to the output 0.


In terms of the Fender standard 5-way, each set of 4 pins on either side represents a single 3-way pole.  For the 8-Pin Import switches, the leftmost 4 pins correspond to one pole, and the rightmost 4  pins correspond to the second pole. The 7-pin configuration is identical to the 8-pin, except for the fact that both poles share the same central output (0) pin.

With each pole operating independently, the following connections are made in the 5 switch positions:

Switch PositionBlue (0) Connected toOrange (0) Connected to
1Blue (1)Orange (1)
2Blue (1) and (2)Orange (1) and (2)
3Blue (2)Orange (2)
4Blue (2) and (3)Orange (2) and (3)
5Blue (3)Orange (3)

It's operation is pretty straightforward once you know the pin assignments! For a standard H-S-H set-up, only one pole of the switch is required to give a simple 1: N, 2:N+S, 3:S, 4:S+B, 5:B switching configuration since all these combinations map directly to a single column in the table above.


The second pole comes into it's own when coil tapping can be employed to split humbuckers into single coils. For example in the wiring diagram given below.