How Do Blade Switches Work?

3-Way, 4-Way, 5-Way….Toggle, Blade, Rotary…There’s a lot of switches available for your electric guitar. Some come in a variety of designs, and can introduce some really neat functionality to your guitar. These little connectors are really powerful when you know how to use them, so let’s learn how they work!

Today, we’re going to talk about Blade Switches. With understanding the Blade Switch, you can really customize how your electric guitar’s pickups behave and sound – making your guitar even more unique than it is. Let’s dive in!


The Basics:

The most important thing to note about the switch is that it’s a connector. Depending on how you have it wired, its’ sole purpose is to connect pickups and outputs. It does this by using the Blade to wipe across the Terminals. When the blade is connected to the terminal, the signals are connected through to the path you’ve designed.

5-Way Switch Blade & Terminals

 

See below to see how the terminals are laid out: There are two sides of the switch, Side A, and Side B. These sides are completely independent of each other, meaning A1 can’t be connected to B0 unless a jumper is activating both sides of the switch (more on this later).

See below how a basic 3-Way or 5-Way Blade switch is laid out.

Blade Switch Terminal Basics

You can see that the switch has 2 Sides, and 4 Terminals Per Side1-3 are the selectable terminals, and the 0 is your common – it’s always connected!


5-Way Switching:

5-Way blade switching is the easiest switch to comprehend, which is why we’re going to start here. The Blades can choose two terminals at the same time on the same side. The 5-Way Blade Switch looks exactly like the 3-Way Blade, except it has a slightly larger wiper blade to choose more than one terminal at the same time. This is really useful for selecting the Bridge and Middle pickup at the same time, to get that infamous “quack” tone.

The image below shows what terminals are connected when you’re on each position. Please note that the “0” terminals are your common connections – they are always connected.

How it works:

On Position 1 (Bridge), A1 and A0 are connected, and B0 and B1 are connected.

On Position 2 (Bridge and Middle) A1, A2, and A0 are connected, and B1, B2, and B0 are connected, and so on and so forth.

You can see a pattern emerging here! Let’s show you a real world example on how we wire this up:


Stratocaster Switching:

There are many, many ways to wire up a Stratocaster, however, let’s take a look at a really popular one. Please note that we’ve added a jumper here! The purpose of this jumper activates (or connects) the second side of the switch. So, we have an input side of the switch where our pickups are soldered to, and an output side of the switch where our signal is going.

Check it out:

5 Way Stratocaster Switching

As you can see, all the pickups are entering the switch from Side A. This leaves Side B to use as an output section. So, if you have two tone controls, you can wire up the Bridge to one Tone Control and the Neck and the middle to another. You have a lot more versatility with using both sides of the switch in this way. Before we get into other switching, let’s talk about the other side of the switch:


the Second Side Of the Switch:

By activating the Side B (or the Side A, depending on how you’re wiring this up) you can achieve some more versatility with this switch. To activate the other side, you run a jumper from one side of the switch to the other side. This lets electricity move to the second side, allowing a lot more tonal combinations and output configurations. To get electricity to both sides, we run a jumper from one Common to the other Common. Let’s take a look at what we can do:

 

Tone Configurations For Strat

As you can see, by jumping to the next side of the switch, you can create a lot of tonal variations with your Strat. Having this second side of the switch is really useful when you have two tone controls – you can use the Neck and Middle on one tone control, and the Bridge on a separate tone control with a different value. Now that we’ve understood the basics a bit and talked about some real Stratocaster examples, let’s get into 3-Way Switching:


3-Way Blade Switch: The Basics

The 3-Way Blade switch is one of the original switches for the guitar. It was introduced on the original 1950’s Broadcasters with two pickups, and solidified with the Telecaster in 1951. The 3-Way Switch, like the 5-Way Switch, is comprised of 2 sides, with 4 terminals on each side. The only difference here is the size of the blade that wipes the terminals. The 3 Way Blade only connects one terminal at a time, where the 5-Way Switch Blade can connect two terminals at a time.

This should look familiar! The “0”‘s are always connected, and the blade selects one terminal at a time. So, even though this seems easier, there’s a few challenges presented when using 2 pickups – let’s take a look:


Telecaster Switching:

There’s a challenge when using a 3 Way switch with a 2 pickup guitar: the blades only choose one terminal at a time. 5 Way switches don’t have this problem. We can easily remedy this with a little bit of jumper Kung-Fu. See below for an illustration – I’ve made the Terminals outlined when they are being chosen by the blade, and the inner terminals are colored when they are active.

With this wiring, we wire the Bridge into A0 and the Neck into B0B3 is the main output of the switch.

How It Works:

Position 1 (Bridge): In Example A, Terminals A0 and A1 are chosen on side A. Terminals B0 and B1 are chosen on side B (highlighted boxes).  The Signal path connects A0 to A1, which is connected via jumper to A2 – B2 – B3 (Output). The Neck, is not activated as it is not hardwired into the jumper path.

Position 2: (Neck and Bridge): Example B connects the Bride and the Neck together. The Bridge is connected on side A to A2, which is connected through the B2 and B3 (Output). The Neck is connected to B2 which is connected to B3 (Output). This allows both signals to pass through the output.

Position 3: (Neck Only): Example C takes the Bridge out of the equation. The signal enters from the Neck pickup to B0, which is directly connected to B3 (Output). The bridge is connected to A3, which isn’t part of the jumper scheme, thus has no where to go.


4-Way Switching:

This one is a little trickier. If you haven’t seen our article on 4-Way Telecaster Switching, please do so here. The 4 Way switch was introduced by Fender and gives you the option to put your pickups into Series as well as Parallel, which is standard. Putting your pickups into Series puts the pickups’ output into each other, to make a stronger, beefier tone. The 4-Way Switch has 5 Terminals per side, as opposed to 4 like the 3 and 5-way switch. Here’s how the terminals are laid out:

As you can see, there’s really nothing new here, just a lot more options for wiring. The “0” terminals are always connected, and then you slide the blade, the blade will choose a different set of terminals. Here’s our favorite wiring for a Telecaster utilizing a 4-Way Switch, given to us by our buddy Doug Smith at Bluetone Guitars.

 

4 Way Switching Wiring

Yep. That looks like a spaceship. However, when you break it down, it’s pretty easy to understand the signal paths:

How It Works:

Position 1: Bridge Only: On Side A,  The Neck Black lead is connected to terminal A1 – this isn’t connected to anything, so, the Ground is basically being lifted off of the Neck. On Side B, B1 (Bridge White) is connected to B2, which is then sent through the output to the volume pot. By lifting the ground off of the Neck pickup, You’re creating a short down the line where the coil is concerned, thus making it Bridge only.

Position 2: Neck and Bridge in Parallel: On Side A, The Neck Black (A0) is connected to A2 which is being jumped to A4 and sent to ground. On Side B,  B1 (Bridge White) is being connected to the output of the switch, which is being jumped to B1, which is Neck White. Thus, the grounds are bring sent to ground, and the whites are being sent to the output – parallel.

Position 3: Neck and Bridge In Series: On Side A, The Neck Black is being Connected to A3, then jumped to B3, which is connected to the White of the Bridge on B1 (This takes the hot signal of the Neck and putting into the Bridge). On Side B, the Neck White is being connected to the output, letting both pickups pass through in Series.

Position 4: Neck Only: On Side A, The Neck Black is connected to Ground, and on Side B, the Neck White is hardwired to the Output.


Oh yeah – we’ll need a breather after that one. There are lots of ways to wire the switch up, and you can experiment with other and new creative ways to re-route your pickups signals. We hope that this article has been comprehensive as well as easy to understand! Until next time, Cheers!

2 Comments

  1. I’ve wired up 4-way for Tele a long while and Strat switches to have the forward tone control affect the bridge pickup as well as the neck pickup. But the article is complicated enough to confuse and frustrate most ordinary guys like me. It’s useful as a reference and for guitar geeks, but regular guys will glaze over. Too much too quick.

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