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Electric Guitar Wiring

In 1987 I bought a Cort electric guitar, an inexpensive Stratocaster-style guitar. It came with a lousy five-way switch that usually only worked in the bridge-only position. This defective switch started me on a journey through the complex and fascinating world of electric guitar wiring.

At this point, I have pretty much lost count of how many times I have taken this guitar apart and modified its innards somehow. When my initial attempts to fiddle with the switch were unsuccessful at solving the problem, I removed the five-way switch, replacing it with three slider toggle switches. However, I mis-interpreted the intended schematic of the five-way switch, and as a result I wired up the pickups wrong. Somehow I got it set up so that the tone knobs could also bring pickups in and out of the circuit, independent of the positions of the switches. It took me a while to realize this, though.

Fortunately, I discovered the Guitar Nuts web site, which showed me schematics for what the guitar wiring was really supposed to look like. I did the shielding and star-grounding mod described there; I'm not sure it made much of a difference in how much my pickups hum, but it did put me on a path to getting everything inside better-organized.

Inspired by the vast array of wiring configurations on the Guitar Nuts site, I began designing increasingly complex pickup configurations. I eventually replaced the bridge pickup with a rail humbucker, replaced the slider switches with bat-handle toggles, and added two more switches to enable a ridiculous number of pickup combinations. On the last re-wiring, I also stripped out all the cruddy wires I had been re-using and used brand new wire throughout, with many different colours for easier identification.

So, what follows are the details on that latest wiring job.


This photo shows the completed wiring:

http://www.cliffmccarthy.net/images/guitar_wiring/guitar_wiring01.jpg

The ring terminal that serves as the center of the star grounding is inside the black electrical tape. The large brown capacitor connects the guitar's internal ground to the cavity shield and the strings. This capacitor protects the player against shock resulting from DC voltage being applied to the cord. The small green capacitors are for the tone knobs.

Along the back, there is a row of five toggle switches. Most of these are on-off-on DPDT switches, but the second from the left is an on-on-on, for parallel/single/series humbucker switching. It is also slightly bigger than the others, because I couldn't find a sub-mini on-on-on switch.

The coiled black wire is from the humbucker; I didn't want to hack off the excess wire because you never know when you might need it, and extending a shielded wire like that is tricky. The electrical tape to the right of the picture shows where I had to do exactly that with the wire from one of the pickups. Repeated re-wirings over the years eventually drove that pickup to the point where I had to splice and extend it.

This picture shows the wiring from the other side; here the switches are clearly visible:

http://www.cliffmccarthy.net/images/guitar_wiring/guitar_wiring02.jpg

Here is a top view, where it is easier to trace some of the wires:

http://www.cliffmccarthy.net/images/guitar_wiring/guitar_wiring03.jpg

This shot shows the ring terminal with the electrical tape off, and my band's sticker inside the body cavity. (Putting a sticker inside like this improves the instrument's sound.)

http://www.cliffmccarthy.net/images/guitar_wiring/guitar_wiring04.jpg

I mainly took these pictures so that I could review the wiring later without taking the guitar apart; they don't really show the "how-to" details of setting up a guitar this way.

More interesting is the schematic:

(which will be added much later)