Toggle Switch Basics Cover Image

How To Properly Wire A 3-Way Toggle Switch

Hey again! Today, we’re discussing 3-Way Toggle Switches and how to wire them properly in your electric guitar or bass. We get a few questions about this switch – but once you understand how the switch works, wiring it up is a breeze. Let’s jump into it!

Understanding the 3-Way Toggle Switch

The 3-Way Toggle Switch is one of the most basic switches out there and is very simple to understand if you can play with one while observing the switch in action. The essential parts of the toggle switch include the following:

  1. Switch Tip (How you toggle the switch)
  2. Thumb Screw – Required for installation inside the guitar
  3. Chassis – The metal body of the switch. The chassis needs to connect to ground.
  4. Input Terminals (Pickup’s input)
  5. Output Terminals (Soldered together)
  6. Ground Terminal (Largest piece of metal on switch)

A few different Toggle Switch designs – Right-Angle, Long, Short – are all very similar in design and operation. See below for an illustration of a primary 3-Way Toggle switch:

3-Way Toggle Switch Overview


If you’ve ever used a Toggle switch before, you know how simple it is to operate. In the middle position, both pickups are on. Clicking the switch in the downward position removes one pickup; clicking the switch in the opposite position removes the other pickup – simple!

How does it work, though? Let’s illustrate:

3-Way Toggle Switch Operation

For the switch to work properly, the pickup’s signal must connect to the Output terminals to reach the output jack. Looking closely at the Toggle switch, you can see small connectors with contact points that connect the Input terminals to the Output terminals. The pickups are soldered to the Input Terminals, and the Output Jack is soldered to the Output Terminals. When these terminals are connected, the pickups’ signal can flow through to the Output Jack. However, Rocking the switch to its “clicked” position pushes away the input terminal and separates it from the output terminal – super simple!

Looking for a tutorial on how to wire an Output Jack? Check out this article!

Here’s an actual image of what’s happening when you operate the switch:

Toggle Switch being operated

The left image above features the switch in the middle position, where both pickups are connected to the output jack. In the right image, rocking the switch to the “down” (or “right”) position separates the left contact points, thus preventing the pickup’s signal on the left side of the switch from reaching the output jack.

Wiring a 3-Way Toggle Switch

Even though it’s a simple part of your guitar’s signal, there are a few things to remember when wiring up your Toggle switch.

  1. Ground your switch correctly. The Ground terminal is your switch’s thickest, “beefiest-looking” terminal. Visually identify it and ground it correctly. If you’re having difficulty identifying the Ground terminal, find the terminal attached to the chassis or metal casing of the switch.
  2. Output Terminals need to connect. In the above image, I drew a small blob of solder connecting both sides of the switch’s output. Switches do not come like this from the factory and require squeezing them with needle-nose pliers before adding a touch of solder and your output wire.
  3. Not all switches are created equal. There are a few switch designs, and all are slightly different. If you can understand how the switch works, you can understand how to wire it up. Identify the pickup input terminals, output terminals, and ground terminal – that’s all you need!
  4. You can rotate the switch. Did you wire your pickups backward on accident? That’s okay! If you have enough wire, rotate it 180 degrees, and it will work as expected.

A basic wiring example looks like this (from the bottom of the switch):

Wiring a 3-way toggle switch

Well, that about wraps it up! The toggle switch is quite simple but can be confusing unless you take the time to wrap your head around how it works. Once you do that, it’s a breeze to understand and install without headaches again!

The important note that I would like to stress is that different manufacturers, countries of origin, and designs all change the above illustrations slightly. Taking a few moments to study the switch and reference these images should help clarify everything.

Questions? Drop them below!

Written By:

Tyler Delsack

👋 I'm Tyler Delsack, the Manager of Fralin Pickups. I've been a guitarist for 26 years, and along with managing the shop and working on this Website, I love tinkering with things!

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