Guitar Wiring 101

Table of Contents

Single coil wiring

Single coil pickups are the simplest to wire because they typically have only two leads – hot and ground. Some humbuckers have their coils connected internally and are pretty much the same to wire as single coil pickups. That’s why we will call them both “two conductor pickups”. Ground leads are typically connected to a common grounding point and hot leads are switched in and out of the circuit. Let’s take a look at standard Strat-style switch.

5-way standard switch

Note: looking from the terminal side, bridge terminal is the one closer to neck pickup!

It usually has 8 terminals – two poles with 4 terminals each. Each pole has one common terminal and 3 switched. The first thing you want to figure out is which terminal is common. Note that terminal on the left is connected to the lever all the time – that’s our common terminal. The other three terminals are connected to the lever only in certain switch positions. Represented as a schematic, each pole would look like this.

Strat switch schem

The only difference between 3 and 5 way switches is that 5 way switch connects two terminals with the common in positions 2 and 4: center and one outer terminal. Schematic above shows position 2 that connects both bridge and middle terminals; image below shows how it’s typically represented on diagrams.

Standard strat blank

To wire three two-conductor pickups we only need one pole. Common goes to volume pot input and 3 switched terminals are connected to pickup outputs. That way, we will select one pickup in positions 1-3-5 and two pickups wired in parallel in positions 2-4. When middle pickup has reverse polarity, noise will cancel out in positions 2-4 and they will be wired in so called “humbucking” mode.

We will use the remaining pole to switch tone pots. Typical strat wiring has two tone controls – one for middle and one for neck pickup. We want to switch neck/middle tone control on when neck/middle pickup is on. To do this, common terminal of the second pole is connected to the common terminal on the first pole (pickup output) and neck and middle terminals of the second pole are connected to their respective pots. When neck pickup is on, the second pole will switch the output to the neck tone control as intended. What happens in position 4 (both neck and middle pickups on)? Both pots will be switched on and will be in parallel. Moving any tone pot would change the overall resistance to the tone cap and change the tone. The result is below:

Standard Strat

Humbucker wiring – Les Paul

Les Paul style pickup selector switches are simple and easy to wire. Complicated part about wiring a Les Paul is having separate tone and volume controls for both pickups and having longer leads between control cavity and the switch.

Les Paul switch

Typical Les Paul-style switch has 4 terminals on one side and ground/shield on the other. Outer terminals are connected or disconnected to the closest inner terminal, depending on the position. We’ll use them as inputs from volume controls. Since we have only one output, the two inner terminals are connected together and serve as the output.
I’ll go through standard Les Paul wiring and explain what happens in each position.

  • Lead position (bridge pickup only): switch connects bridge pickup terminal to the output terminal(s) but leaves the neck pickup unconnected.
  • Middle position (both pickups): both pickups are in the circuit and connected to the output terminal which makes a parallel connection (note that both pickups are still internally wired in series, but neck and bridge are combined in parallel).
  • Rhythm position (neck pickup only): the same as for the bridge pickup but in reverse – bridge pickup gets disconnected, but the neck pickup gets connected to the output terminal(s).

Note: unlike Strat-style wiring, volume and tone controls come before the switch and switch output goes directly to the jack.

Humbucker wiring – 4 conductor

4-conductor humbuckers are fun to wire because they offer many combinations to play with. Some pickups have another bare wire which is there for shielding and should always be grounded. Manufacturers have their own color code, so make sure you find the right color code before connecting anything. Below is color code diagram for common pickup manufacturers.

Color codes

To verify that you got the leads right try to measure DC resistance across each pair of leads. Leads that belong to the same coil should measure a couple of kilo ohms, and if they don’t they should measure infinity.

Coil-tapping

This technique is only possible with 4-conductor pickups or pickups that already have coil-tap lead instead of all four leads. Coil tap is a connection between two coils in a humbucker and is sometimes referred to as “series link”. Vintage style pickups have their coil tap enclosed in the pickup which means that we can’t play with it. Having coil tap gives us a couple of wiring options:

  • Series coils (standard): connect the hot lead to output, ground lead to ground and leave the coil-tap unconnected. Provides the most output.
  • Splitting the humbucker #1: by grounding the coil-tap and connecting the hot lead to output we’re rendering the coil closer to ground useless because both of it’s leads are grounded. What we’re left with is the coil closer to the hot lead. Since we only have one coil, it will not be hum-cancelling on it’s own. It’s common to split a humbucker, so it can be wired with another coil in parallel, making the noiseless combination, especially on H-S-H guitars.
  • Splitting the humbucker #2: by grounding the hot lead and connecting the coil-tap the output we’re left with the coil closer to ground. Some pickups have asymmetrical coils and even symmetrical coils will sound different because the one closer to bridge will sound a bit brighter. That’s why it’s useful to have both options available.
  • Parallel coils: coil tap connection needs to be broken for this kind of wiring, so three lead pickups cannot be wired this way. The idea is to join start of each coil with finish of the other coil. One on those connections will be hot, the other ground. Parallel coils will sound more like a single coil sound, noticeably quieter and shallower than a series connection.
Multi-pole switches (aka 4-pole switch, aka Super switch)

These are the most versatile 5 position switches around. They have 4 poles, each pole has one common and 5 switched terminal which makes a total of 24 terminals. With that many connections you can wire pretty much any pickup combination you can imagine. Poles are mounted on two wafers, two poles each. Common terminals are usually the outer two terminals on each wafer. Image below shows multipole switch, two poles on the front wafer are outlined with different colors.

Super Switch

Diagram below shows switch diagram with all 4 poles outlined in red and all terminals marked – C stands for “common” and 1 through 5 are terminals that get connected to the common in a certain position.

Super switch diagram

The only downside is that these switches are physically larger than most other switch types and mounting them in cavities routed for some smaller switch may be tricky.

Now, let’s go through one example of wiring using a Super switch and hopefully you’ll figure out how it works somewhere in the process. Below is a diagram taken from DiMarzio site and wires two humbuckers. I marked poles 1-4 right next to the common terminals.

Super switch example

  1. Position 1 (bridge humbucker, series connection): poles 1, 3 and 4 do not have any effect in this position because nothing is connected to terminals that correspond to position 1. That leaves us with pole 2 which connects bridge pickup hot lead to the output (volume pot input).
  2. Position 2 (outside coils, parallel connection): this one is more exciting because all poles do something. Pole 1 connects bridge pickup coil tap to ground, effectively splitting the bridge pickup. Pole 2 connects bridge pickup hot lead to the output. Pole 3 connects neck pickup coil tap to pole 4 which connects it to the output. What we end up with is a coil from bridge pickup coil tap to hot lead and a coil from neck pickup ground to the coil tap. Because of the way poles 2 and 4 are connected, these two coils will be paralleled.
  3. Position 3 (both humbuckers): Poles 1 and 3 do nothing, so we’ll ignore them. Pole 2 connects bridge pickup hot lead to the output and pole 4 connects neck pickup hot lead to the output. Each humbucker has it’s coils connected in series and humbuckers themselves are connected in parallel.
  4. Position 4 (inner coils, parallel connection): This is similar to position two just inverted. Pole 1 connects bridge pickup coil tap to the output through pole 2. Pole 3 grounds neck pickup coil tap and pole 4 connects neck pickup hot lead to the output. That leaves us with bridge pickup coil from ground to coil tap and neck pickup coil from coil tap to hot lead. Again, they are paralleled.
  5. Position 5 (neck humbucker, series connection): This is similar to position 1. Poles 1, 2 and 3 do nothing and pole 4 connects neck pickup hot lead to the output.
Volume controls

Volume pots are wired as simple voltage dividers. Higher settings have higher resistance to ground and lower series resistance, so more signal passes through. When maxed, volume pot has zero series resistance and full pot resistance to ground. Signal takes the path of least resistance and most of it will go though. However, some signal, mostly treble will be lost. With low pot values (250K) it will be more noticeable than with higher (500K and 1M) pots. That’s why typical pot values for brighter single coil pickups is 250K and for warmer humbuckers 500K or sometimes even 1M.

Typical volume pot setup is shown below. Input goes either directly from the selector switch (Strat style, master volume control) or from hot pickup lead (Les Paul style, separate volume controls). Output goes either to the output jack for Strat style guitars or to the switch for Les Paul style guitars.

Volume pot

Another thing to bear in mind is pot taper. Two most commonly used tapers are linear and logarithmic. Linear taper, as name suggests, linearly increases resistance throughout it’s range. That’s ok for some applications, but not for volume pots. Our humanoid ears work in logarithmic fashion, so volume pots need to have logarithmic taper in order for us to hear smooth transition between quieter and louder settings. If volume jumps suddenly in the first 20%-30% of volume pot range and then does almost nothing in the rest of the range, it’s likely that you got a linear pot instead of logarithmic.

Tone controls

Most guitars have at least one tone control installed. They can be either assigned to a particular pickup (Strat or Les Paul) or work as master tone control (Ibanez and others). Electronically, it’s a variable low-pass filter. Lower the resistance, more treble gets cut which means that higher pot values will sound a bit brighter (typically 500K vs 250K). Capacitor values usually traditionally range from 0.022uF (22nF) to 0.047uF (47nF) but many people find these values too large and install much smaller caps instead. Values of 10nF, 6.8nF or even smaller are reported to work quite well (I used 10nF in my latest mod). To help you decide between cap values and composition, check out this site. It hosts a couple of useful videos with cap value and composition analysis.

You’ll notice that once it reaches zero sound gets very muddy very fast. That’s because we have zero resistance between the signal and the cap. To prevent this, some people put a small resistor (10K or so) between the pot and the cap. That way we won’t affect pot operation at higher settings (510K is very close to 500K) but at lower settings it will prevent it from reaching zero as we’re always adding 10K in series.

No-load tone pots

Even with tone control maxed some high frequencies get cut. To let all the frequencies through you can either get a no-load pot or make one. CTS makes them for Fender and what they do is simply break the connection between the wiper and conductive element when pot is maxed. Additionally, they have an indentation so once they reach maximum setting they “click” and it’s not that easy to turn them back. To make your own just cut (or cover with nail polish) the element near the end, so that resistance between the wiper and the opposite lug reads infinite when maxed, at lower settings it should read as usual.

Note: no load pots won’t work for volume control! Don’t try to use them.

If you ask me, they aren’t worth the hassle. Fender pots have annoying click and it’s not easy to mess with your own pots for very subtle result.

Treble bleed
Volume pots don’t attenuate all frequencies consistently. Treble gets attenuated faster which results in treble loss when volume is rolled down. Treble bleed circuits (or bright caps) are there to compensate for treble loss and make guitar sound at lower volume as close as possible to sound with volume maxed. There are several different treble bleed circuits used or recommended by guitar/pickup manufacturers. What’s common between them is that they are installed across guitar volume pot (input and output lug).

Treble bleed

  • Single cap, ranging from 100pF to 500pF, sometimes even bigger. Ibanez uses 330pF on many RG models, some PRS have 180pF or so. This configuration works well with higher volume pot settings, but with very low settings (30% or lower) it gets really bright.
  • Cap paralleled with a resistor. DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan recommend this configuration. Typical values are 560pF and 300K. It’s supposed to provide more consistent treble bleed but having a resistor paralleled with the pot will mess up pot taper. When rolling the pot down it is actually getting closer to a ~190K pot because 500K || 300K gives around 190K.
  • Cap in series with a resistor (shouldn’t matter which comes first). Kinman recommends this for single coils but it works rather well for humbuckers too. I installed 1nF cap in series with a 130K resistor and it works awesome. Resistor is there to limit the effect of the cap and having it in series with the cap means it shouldn’t affect pot taper as much. Larger cap means wider frequency range, so treble jump isn’t as sudden. So far, this is my favorite treble bleed circuit.

Note: some folks actually prefer volume pot treble roll-off, so you should try few different setups and find the one you like.

Comments
42 Responses to “Guitar Wiring 101”
  1. haggai says:

    I’ve got a fifth pot and capacitor array jammed in the back of my LP. It runs from the red n white wires of my seymour bridge pup to coil tap push pull on the neck pickup volume. My two humbuckers are out of phase in the middle position, and what this fifth pot seems to do is control how quacky the phase sound gets.

  2. George says:

    Hello,
    I have a guitar with three Humbucker pickups .
    I do not understand exactly the scheme. – http://www.guitartechcraig.com/techwire/diagindx.htm
    Guitar have only 2 potentiometer . 1 master volute and – Tone with pushpull .
    I connected with 20pin super switch . 3 pickups with 5 cable .
    How to connect pushpull 6 pin which is one of Tone potentiometer ?
    I can not find such a scheme – 3 humbuckers , 1volume and 1 tone pushpull with 20pin super switch .
    Surely this is unusual. Please draw with a pencil on a sheet of paper and photograph it with a scanner.
    And sent with the response. Please. I would be very grateful.
    George Bulgaria

  3. Rabib says:

    I have read a huge number of articles till now but as I’m new at this, I’m having some difficulties. I would really appreciate some help wiring a guitar of mine.
    These are what I have right now:
    DiMarzio Chopper (Neck)
    DiMarzio Injector (Middle)
    Seymour Duncan SH-5 (Bridge)
    1 Volume Pot (EVH 500k)
    1 Tone Pot (Stock Ibanez)
    5-way Pick up selector (Stock Ibanez)

    I was expecting to wire it this way
    1. Neck
    2. Neck and Middle
    3. Middle
    4. Neck and Bridge
    5. Bridge

    I don’t want to split coils in any position and I was expecting a rather heavy output but not muddy. Is this possible ? Can anybody please help me with diagrams or at least a written instruction ?
    Expecting a reply very eagerly.

    Thanks.

    • Bancika says:

      You can’t with a simple 5-way. Problem is position 4. You can wire it mid+bridge or get a 4 pole super switch

      • Rabib says:

        I think I could work with that. :/ Could you please give me a diagram of how to wire these with the stock switch ? Every diagram I found till now splits the coil in position 2 and 4.

        • Bancika says:

          Just wire it as a strat with coil taps terminated.

          • Rabib says:

            Could you please help me with something more ? What do I do if I want to keep neck and bridge in the middle ?

  4. Trevor Vallis says:

    I forgot to add that the pickups are single wire humbuckers.

  5. Trevor Vallis says:

    I have a strat which I am building with 2 x Epiphone humbuckers, a 3 way lever switch, 2 volumes, 2 tones (using mini CTS pots) and 2 x OIP 0.22uf caps… I need help. I’ve followed the gibson LP diagram (Seymour Duncan) and translated the toggle switch to a lever switch but it doesn’t work. It sounds great but I have issues with controlling the volumes and switching. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  6. Tcrow says:

    I ‘m build a guitar and wanted to wire it the same as a Les Paul Reording, so can anyone tell me what type of control the decade control is, so I know what to purchase, I have s schematic but nothing as to the type of control it is. thank you in advance for any answers. CHEERS!!

  7. Anthony says:

    im kinda expirementing with some idea’s and i was wondering can you wire a covered and open humbucker and both being a neck position pickup and if you can how would this sound if you done this before.

    • Bancika says:

      I don’t understand, having a cover is kinda orthogonal to wiring. You either cover the pickup or not, regardless of the wiring.
      I have covered my paf 36th set with dimarzio covers, but didn’t notice much difference in sound. Dimarzio covers are said to be transparent…

  8. khalid says:

    hi there, i have an old 5 way switch which have 3 terminals on each side and 1 terminal at the center. it also got a small spring under the switch. how can i use this switch in my guitar with H-S-H configuration?

    thanks.

    • Bancika says:

      You only have one pole on that switch which is not enough for common HSH wiring. You can wire it in a simple manner, but positions two and four wouldn’t be humbucking. On those 3 terminals wire bridge, middle and neck pickups, and the remaining terminal will be the output.
      I’d get a proper strat switch, it’s only like 15$ for a good one.

      • khalid says:

        i’m sorry, i can’t follow it, how can i post a picture to you of the switch so that i can understand better?

        thanks.

        • Bancika says:

          something like this (N=neck pickup, M = middle, B = bridge, O = out to volume pot)


          N M B
             O

          this assumes that you placed the guitar so that the bridge is on the LEFT and neck on the RIGHT.

          • khalid says:

            oh is see now, thanks for your help, i did look around for standard switch, i maybe opt out to use the e megaswitch instead. thanks again.

  9. Chris says:

    Hello!
    I am making a diddly bo and have a single coil pickup from an old Kalamazoo. What is the most simple way to wire it without any pots. I would like to go straight to the jack. The pickup only has a white and a black wire coming out of it. Any help would be great

    • Bancika says:

      Just connect white wire to jack tip, black to jack ring (you can do the other way round too).

  10. Chris says:

    Hey all. I am attempting a Diddly Bo (One string ala Jack White in “It Might Get Loud”). I have my string mounted, my bottle placed, and I can hear the sound faintly. It’s coming together in a good way. My biggest problem is the pickup. It is placed, but I do not know a thing about what I’m doing. I do not want a volume or tone pot. I thought I could just put the white wire on one part of the jack and the black on the other. Clearly, that did not work. Please advise me on how to get this done as SIMPLY as possible.
    Regards!

  11. Darthfader says:

    Hi,

    I just installed a Seymour Duncan Distortion Humbucker SH7-6b (Bridge) on my RG7321 but something isn´t right…. there´s a kind of “static noise” I can´t get rid off (the kind of noise you get when you get close to a display for instance).
    I re-checked everything and even asked a friend to check, and we came to the same conclusion, that the wires are all correctly welded (according to Ibanez diagram).

    Now I´ve seen wiring diagrams where there´s a 330pf capacitor on the Volume, and also read stuff about reverse magnetic polarity issues…

    Any ideas to get rid of this irritating noise?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Bancika says:

      make sure that shielding is done properly. All the shields need to be grounded, so check for DC continuity between jack sleeve and pickguard shield, cavity shield, backs of pots and pickup metal plates. Everything should be connected.

  12. peter holyman says:

    Hi, I have just bought a new 2012 Les paul standard. The wiring is in a cicuit board construction not independant wiring. I want to install a treble bleed on both volume pots and have independant volume control when in the middle position of the switch (both pickups together). i have done these mods on my other les pauls. Can you help? Thanks, Peter (UK)

  13. Chuck says:

    Hello. I have a humbucker pickup that has the ground shielding wire and it then has 2 wires coming out of it 1 red and 1 white, this is running to the 3 way selecter switch. How do I connect the 2 wires to the switch?

    • Bancika says:

      there are few possibilities, but you can’t be sure unless you measure with a DMM which is yours. Red is probably hot which goes to the switch, but the white may be either ground or coil tap. Try measuring DC resistance between shield and white. If it’s close to 0 it’s GND, if it’s several KOhms, it’s coil tap.

  14. T.S. says:

    So, I’m familiar with how traditional Strat, Tele, and LP wiring go, but I’m redoing a Telecaster so that it won’t have a neck pickup and will only have a DiMarzio Tone Zone T (single-coil sized humbucker) in the bridge.

    Now, what I would like to do is have one 500k coil tap pot, and one 2 meg pot to run the thing wide open with both coils. How can I wire the selector switch so that one position will run ONLY the 500k, and the other will run ONLY the 2meg? I basically want each knob to function completely separately from one another. I have a Tone Zone in another guitar, and have tried it with both pots – sounds great with the 500k, and I love the screaming leads that you can get with the 2meg, but having it as a 2meg makes it tougher to enjoy playing more sedate stuff. I’d love to be able to switch between the two!

  15. Aranos says:

    Great information! However I was also looking for the sounds that you could/would get with each wiring connection, i.e., Jazz, funk, rock, country, etc. and which combination would produce. Otherwise, this is valuable information, good job.

    • Bancika says:

      that was not the goal. I wanted to explain basics so you can figure out everything else yourself. There are way too many pickup models, switches, music styles and combinations to cover 🙂
      cheers

  16. Andrew says:

    I’m custom building a guitar that will only have one humbucker I want a really sleek look with as few knobs as possible is there any way to just directly wire the humbucker in without having volume or tone knobs or a selector switch?

    • Bancika says:

      sure, just wire hot lead to output jack tip, gnd to jack sleeve and leave the center tap (if available) unconnected.

  17. Bill Barfield says:

    I need a wiring diagram for two 4 wire humbucking pickups with 2 volumes and a standard strat 5 way switch.

    • Bancika says:

      please read the section about strat switch. When you figure out how it works it will be trivial for you to come up with a diagram yourself
      cheers

  18. Isaac says:

    I need to figure out the wiring for a guitar I’m currently building. It’s got 2 humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions and one single coil in the middle. The neck humbucker has only one wire, the bridge has 4. There are three pots, one volume (controlling all pickups – master volume), one tone (controlling the middle and neck) and one coil-split/tappable tone controlling the bridge. It has one standard 5-way switch.
    Could someone help out? Is this even possible to do?
    Thanks

  19. JoeC says:

    Is the mulit-pole switch available as a 2-pole, 5-way single wafer switch?

    Also, where does one get data sheets on these selector switches? It seems the manufacturers do not publish mechanical drawings or data sheets. I spent hours on Google with no success looking for detailed information.

    • Bancika says:

      I haven’t seen 2-pole switch with 6 contacts per pole. If you have enough space just get a 4-pole and ignore two poles you don’t need.
      As for the data sheets, I haven’t seen any. Method I use to reverse-engineer a switch is mentioned above – once you figure out common contacts and poles, you can use multimeter to see which contacts get connected in which position. That’s very easy to do for strat or super switch, but there are some tricky ones, like those Megaswitches stewmac sells. Those are internally pre-wired to give certain pickup combinations not possible with a standard strat switch.
      Cheers

  20. Yamadron says:

    Thanks for the information.
    Very cool website to learn from it the basics of wiring and understand how guitar parts work .:)

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