4-Way Switching For Your Tele

We get asked about 4-Way Switching a lot. It’s a simple mod that when added to your Telecaster, puts your pickups in Series, instead of Parallel. You can get a pretty beefy tone with both pickups on like this, and it adds a new dimension to your favorite guitar.

What’s the difference between Parallel and Series?

In a standard guitar, like a Strat or a Tele, your pickups are in Parallel. What this means is each pickup has it’s own path of output. For instance, the White (hot) leads connect to the switch, and the Black leads attach to Ground. Series wiring puts your pickup’s outputs into your other pickups. To illustrate, we’ve made an illustration:

Fralin Series and Parallel

Parallel Wiring gives the pickup the shortest possible distance to the Output Jack. Series wiring gives the signal a much greater distance to travel. The signal experiences more resistance, thus getting bigger and beefier as a result.
 
You might have noticed a volume drop when you switch between pickups in the middle positions. With Parallel wiring, the perceived sound decreases when combined with another pickup.
 
For instance, if you only selected your Bridge pickup, it’s output is 100%. When combined with another pickup, say, the Middle pickup, it’s output seems to drop by approximately 25%. The combination of the Bridge and Middle might result in a total combined output of, say, 50%.
 
Series wiring combines the pickup signals in a way where the volume is louder and thicker. When your pickups are wired in series, the combined signals would equate to 200%.
 
Note: the above percentages are only used for explanation, and are not accurate.

Okay, how do I wire it up?

With a 4-Way Switch, you get the following switching capabilities:

  1. Bridge
  2. Bridge and Neck in Parallel
  3. Bridge and Neck in Series
  4. Neck

To wire it up, take a look at the following diagram:

Fralin Pickups 4-Way Switching For Telecaster

 

Note: If your Neck Pickup has a cover, you will need to separate the jumper connecting the cover to ground and run a separate wire off of the cover to be grounded separately. For a How-To, check out our guide here.

How It Works:

Position 1: Bridge Only

Neck White = Connected To Output
Neck Black = Connected to Nothing*
*(Since this is the coil wire, the Neck pickup doesn’t have continuity)
Bridge White = Connected to Output
Bridge Black = Hard Ground to Pot

Position 2: Bridge & Neck Parallel:

Neck White = Connected To Output
Neck Black = Ground
Bridge White = Connected To Output
Bridge Black = Hard Ground To Pot

Position 3: Bridge & Neck Series:

Neck White = Connected To Output
Neck Black = Bridge White
Bridge White = Neck Black
Bridge Black = Hard Ground To Pot

Position 4: Neck Only

Neck White = Connected To Output
Neck Black = Ground
Bridge White = Connected To Nothing
Bridge Black = Hard Ground To Pot

If you know this is the mod you would like to do, you can order our pickups with a “3-Wire Neck“. What we will do is give you a lead that runs off of the cover. If you already have a Tele Neck and want to convert to a 4-Way Switch, you will need to solder a wire to your cover, and remove the ground connection from your coil. Basically, clip the jumper wire that grounds your cover to your black lead. To see how this mod is performed, check out our guide here: Convert your Tele Neck into a 3-Wire Neck


We hope you found this article helpful! Give us a call or shoot us an email with any questions.

 

52 Comments

  1. Is there a reason the tone capacitor is wired on lug one of the tone pot and not lug two? All other diagrams I’ve seen with this modified 4 way wiring have that cap on lug two.

  2. Great guide! I have a question I hope you could answer. I bought a used SSS Tele (neck and middle Dearmond Goldfoils, bridge stock) with a 5-way switch. The middle + bridge position were out of phase so I reversed the bridge’s pickup lead, including cutting the base jumper wire. Now I am thinking about taking out the Goldfoils for the stock neck pup and a 4-way switch. Will I have to anything different because of what I did with the bridge pup?

  3. I need to mod a single humbucker with standard 4 conductor wires and ground.
    Series, parallel, series with tone and complete bypass of volume and tone controls.
    Any suggestions on accomplishing this simply?

    Thanks,
    Zim

  4. Thanks Tyler… you are absolutely right. I found the issue…. in an effort to save space, I pushed the tone cap down too far and the leg was touching the tone pot. I separated that connection and all is well.

    Freakin awesome mod!! And I love the switch positioning you have here with the neck and bridge in the 4/1 spot. Much better than having the neck pickup on the 3 spot.

  5. After doing this, my tone pot completely kills the volume when turned all the way down. When I get to about 1 or 2, the volume cuts out completely. What gives?

    1. Hey Ben,

      Something is definitely not wired right on this. It can be a few different things – can you take it to a luthier for analysis?

      Also, the switch pictured above is the Oak Grigsby 4-Way Switch. Make sure that you have the same switch, different manufacturers might work differently.

      Tyler

  6. Hi,

    Great article, explains everything nice and clear.

    I am looking at carrying out this mod on my Tele. I have JBE Danny Gattons, which I believe have a hot, cold and separate ground wire, so should work OK. But I can’t decide whether to go for a 4-way switch or a push/pull tone pot switch. I guess the push/pull will just bypass the 3-way and output the pickups in series, and when the switch isn’t engaged, the 3-way will just operate as normal.

    I’ve found a lot of articles and forums talking about the 4-way mod, but hardly any mention using a push/pull instead. Is one method better than the other? are there any advantages to using a 4-way switch over a push/pull or is it just personal preference?

    1. Hey Sam,

      It’s really personal preference whether or not you go with the Push Pull or the 4-Way Lever. The benefit of the Push Pull is that you can simply engage the Series sound whenever you want – like a “fat switch”. Pushing back down on the push pull pot will disengage the series sound, allowing you to jump back right into whatever pre-defined position you had.

      Stay tuned, we may be doing an article on this mod in the near future.

      Tyler

  7. I have a bit of the opposite problem. I have a neck pup with three conductors, but I only have a three way switch and I don’t want to convert to four way. What do I do with the third conductor? I’d really appreciate the help!

    Alex

    1. Hey Alex,

      It really depends on your pickup. Usually, the 3rd conductor is for coil splitting a humbucker. If that’s the case, you can check out our article on that here.

      Other than that, you can only do the 4-Way Series / Parallel mod with a 4-Way switch. If you didn’t want to do anything with the 3rd Conductor, simply tape it off with some masking tape.

      Tyler

  8. Hello, I’m building a Tele Partscaster. I bought a custom 4-way 920D built control plate. Instead of 1 tone and 1 vol. knob it has concentric knobs (ea. knob controls volume with a ring at the base controlling tone).

    My question is do I ground the metal neck pickup cover the same way or do I need to solder a jumper to next pot as well? Thanks.

    1. Daniel,

      Usually the plate connects all the metal, so grounding one thing essentially grounds everything. Avoid ground jumpers, as this will create a ground loop. You’ll need to ground the Neck Cover to the back of the volume pot / wherever else everything is grounded. Just make sure the Tele Neck cover is separated from your coil.

      Tyler

  9. Hi, Tyler, my name is Steve. Do I understand you’re a Virginia guy? I live in Front Royal and, coincidentally, have a 28 year old son named, Tyler. Anyway, my question is does anyone make reverse ( volume pot in front, switch in rear ) control setup with 4 way switching?

    1. Stephen,

      Yep – based out of VA here, with the shop. We make the control plate that you’re looking for, starting at $85.00 – Available here.

      Tyler

  10. I am building my tele with a p90 in the neck, and a normal bridge, and this is my first build, will the four way still work with the p90? this is my first build, so i don’t have much experience of how this works.

    1. Hey Colin,

      It will work fine, just make sure you get 2-Conductor lead for your P90, or it won’t work.

      T

  11. Good day.

    How would one perform this mod with a covered humbucker (2 conductor wire) in the bridge position, or is that not possible? Thanks.

    1. Dave,

      It should be possible, but the switching will be different. If you had a Humbucker with multiple leads in the Neck, you could separate the chassis ground from the coil ground and perform this mod as described above. We don’t have the diagram for completing this mod using your bridge as the series connection.

      Tyler

  12. The few I wired up from directions had Bridge, Both in parallel, Neck, Both in series after install. But the description here looks like it is different. Can you explain why not have the sounds like the description and instructions for 4-way switches we buy?

    1. Doug,

      This is our favorite schematic and function. Bridge / Bridge – Neck in Parallel / Bridge – Neck in Series / Neck. It’s easier to use going from the Bridge and Neck position. You can find Fender’s original diagram all over the web, even though the switches are the same.

      Cheers, Tyler

  13. Thanks, Tyler, for your clear wiring diagrams for a 4-way. It’s the 3rd or 4th try with a Peavey generation series 2 tele copy but I have a persistent problem. Everything works except this: no matter how I wire, going from neck pos. 4 to the series combo, pos. 3, it cuts out, dead. I’m not enough of an electrician to fix it, but can you offer an idea? Going from pos. 3 to 4 does not cut out.

    1. Les,

      Are you trying this with a new switch? It sounds a lot like a faulty switch or sweeper. If it’s working on position 3 when you move it to 4, it theoretically should work when you move it back.

      Tyler

      1. Tyler, it was a new Oak whatever 4-way and since I’ve wired it four times there could be some problems with the sweeper and loose solder. My friend the guitar builder tells me that the Peavey hum canceling pu at the neck, the defective position pu, has a split humbucker-like coil that may explain the red, black and shield wire from it. There is no pu cover so what’s the shield for? When I reversed red and black on the 4-way it was screwed up but differently! Thanks, still frustrated.

        1. Les,

          You might be best served taking this guitar to a luthier with experience with wiring and electronics. The shield is the “chassis” ground, and will ground all the metal in your neck pickup. I’m not familiar with Peavey pickups or how their wired. My guess is that you need to find the Hot wire and the Coil Ground wire. If there are wires tied together from your humbucker, that might be the series connection and thus should stay connected.

          Tyler

          1. Thanks, Tyler, I found that using both black and shield from the Peavey “humbucker” Tele pickup on a pot ground gave me a satisfactory solution, not perfect. I’ll certainly consider Fralin equipment in the future. I lived in RIchmond in the 70’s and love going back to VA.

  14. I’m a lefty, so here’s a stupid question, can i simply order a “pre-wired custom telecaster control plate” off your web site with a 4-way switch tele configuration? Any reason I’d have to tell you it’s for a lefty tele?

    Also, it comes pre-soldered, correct? I’d just have to solder the jack wires and pickup wires onto it?

    1. Hey Matt,

      You would want to tell us that it’s for a Lefty Guitar. We’ll use Lefty Pots, and wire it up accordingly.

      It does come pre-wired. We can wire the Output Jack up for you, if you’d like. All you would need to do is solder the pickup wires to where they needed to be.

      Tyler

      1. Thanks Tyler. A few additional questions:

        What brand Pots do you use for lefty?

        Does your lefty 4-way switch control panel have Treble Bleed mod to clarity when turning the volume down?

        Just to make sure, since I’ve seen the switch settings can be different per vendor online, you wire the switch so that position 3 is the Bridge/Neck in Series, and position 4 is the Neck by itself, correct? That’s what I prefer.

        thx,

        Matt

        1. We use CTS Pots for left-handed pots.

          That mod is called our “Volume Kit”, which we can install for you for an additional $5.

          That’s how we wire our switches by default!

          Thanks – Tyler

  15. I’m trying this for a 2 humbucker setup. Neck is a braided Gibson, and bridge is a 4 conductor Dimarzio. I wired the Dimarzios black and white leads together ie in series. The switching is not working for me. The neck pickup stays on in all positions and the bridge pickup is not coming on in position 3.
    Any help would be a God send.

    1. John,

      Double check your DiMarzio color codes, and also make sure that your switch is an Oak Grisby 4-Way switch. Each manufacturer can be slightly different.

      Tyler

  16. I’m trying to do this mod on my G&L. Which by the way does not have a ground on the neck pick up. It is working in position 4, 3, and 2. However, position 1 is the same as position 2 –
    it is not just a bridge pick up. It seems to be neck and bridge in parallel – just like position 1. I’ve gone over it so many times that my eyes are crossing. Any ideas?

    1. Hey Nate,

      Do you know what type of switch it is? This wiring is for the Oak Grisgsby 4-Way Switch. Your switch may be laid our differently than ours. Take a look at our “How Blade Switches Work” post to understand them.

      Every time we wire up a switch, we study it to make sure how it works.

      Tyler

    2. If anybody else has this issue, I figured out the problem. The slot on the control plate for the blade switch was not long enough for the blade switch to reach position 1. I had to file away at the slot for a while to get the switch to fit. I will note that both the control plate and 4-way switch were brand-new Fender parts. Fender makes parts that don’t fit each other. Sigh

      1. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly and thanks for the great diagram. This layout makes much more sense than the standard 4-way switch layout.

    3. I watched this video a few times before I did mine. Everything went smoothly. I love that fourth position. I gig regularly with my tele and only take it out of position four when I need to sound like Luther Perkins.

  17. How do I wire the 4-way switch if I would also like to install a bridge pickup with three wires?

    1. Darryl,

      You should be able to find a diagram somewhere online for this. We only use 3-Wire Tele Necks.

      Tyler

  18. Great post, Tyler.
    How do you make such terrific drawings? If you haven’t already, check out the rest of 4-way switch wiring diagrams on the internet. Your’s are way better. Well done.

    1. Thanks Robert.

      I use a couple of awesome programs and a lot of practice. Thanks for the love.

    1. Dave – thanks for your question. If you don’t have a common ground, (like a Tele Neck, which grounds all the metal), then you risk sending your ground signal through to your amp. What this could equate to is a popping sound or a zapping sound when you touch the pickup, especially the magnets.

      1. So is there a way to do the 4 position wiring with a Strat Neck pu that does not have a metal cover?

        I want to have the 4 way Tele switching on a mod I am doing with a Strat neck p/u and a bridge Humbucker… if possible.

        1. Tom,

          Sure thing. Just keep in mind that you might have a bit of ground noise enter your signal when you put the pickups in series, if you’re going that route.

          Tyler

      1. Follow up. I know I could sit down and try to figure it out based on the schematic, but instead of snipping the wire in the neck pick up I did so on the bridge and then will ground the bridge plate (and strings) to a pot. Will this change anything in the wiring diagram above?

        1. Tyler,

          I haven’t had a chance to experiment with this yet. Let me know how it goes.

          Tyler

          1. I see the wires to the output labeled Hot and Ground. In this diagram is that true for the pickups as well or are we flipping the hot and ground on one of the pickups in order to have a reverse polarity?

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