Toggle switch on my guitar.

I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what the 5 position toggle switch does on my guitars. I assume it adjusts what combo of the 3 pickups are used as I can tell a tonal difference, but I’m not able to pick out enough of a difference to know what setup I should be using for different songs… Any advice or suggestions? I play punk and metal using distortion, fuzz and wah.

Right, it controls which pickups you are using. It usually goes like:

Toggle 1. Bridge pickup
Toggle 2. Bridge and middle pickup
Toggle 3. Middle pick up
Toggle 4. MIddle and neck pickup
Toggle 5. Neck pickup

In general, the neck pickup sounds fuller and the bridge pickup is brighter and sharper. The middle pickup provides a sound somewhere between the two. Combining pickups in positions 2 and 4 gives you a mix of those qualities, and a bit more volume.

As for what you should be playing it on, screw around until it sounds good to you.

Asked and answered.

All I can add is that on modern Strats, the pickups are wired out of phase, so positions 2 and 4 are not just a combination of pickups, but something a little different. To me it sounds a little like a duck’s quack. Or hollow. Or silvery.

One more thing to add, I guess, is that some 3-way switches (Les Pauls for example) are labeled “Lead” and “Rhythm”. "“Rhythm” position selects the neck pickup and “Lead” position selects the bridge pickup so you could use that as a basic guideline.

That explains why I don’t hear anything when I run it through my Boss DD-6 :smiley:

Since the factual answer has been given, I am going to offer advice.

For straight up punk driven through distortion, I think that full on bridge pickup sound best. For anything with wah I like either the 2 or 4 slots best (usually leaning toward the neck pickup for most stuff, but not always.) For metal it could really be anything depending on what part you play and what type of metal. But I would say if you are playing rythm probably lean to the neck and if you are playing lead lean to the bridge, but play around with how the different pickups sound with your set up.

Five position switch implies a stratocaster, or other three pickup guitar. The standard switch wiring for a strat is:

Switch all the way forward : front pickup
Switch next position back: front and middle pickups
Switch in middle position: middle pickup
Switch in next to back position: middle and back pickups
Switch in back position: back pickup.

There are a set of alternative wiring possibilities that people like to try, but the above probably accounts for 95% of all strats.

The main three positions are easy (i.e. one pickup only.) From front to back you get a progressively higher proportion of harmonics in the sound, since the pickup is seeing the string much closer to its end. The intermediate positions, where you have two pickups is a little weirder, as you don’t just get a simple average tonality of the two pickups, but you get a thinner sound that comes about because some overtones will destructively interfere, whilst other will re-enforce.

For distortion you want to balance how much harmonic content comes from the distortion and how much from the pickup. The rear pickup with light to medium distortion can sound very solid and is good for much punk. Indeed there are not a few punk/alternative guitarists who will simply hard wire the rear pickup straight to the output. Or build a guitar with just a rear pickup. For very heavy distortion, or where you want more low end, you are looking for the distortion to provide the harmonic content, and you probably want to start with a signal that is less harmonic rich, and thus go for the front pickup. With too much harmonic content out of the guitar, heavy distortion can get out of hand and turn into mush.

The amp settings will tend to be rather different, but if you start with the idea of looking for where the harmonic content is coming from, and where it is added to, you should have some idea on sculpting the sound you prefer. A lot of getting a good distorted sound is in hitting the distortion generating part with a signal that is not too complex harmonically, and that does not contain much energy in the frequency ranges where you want the distortion sound to end up.

You might want to get that checked out by a reputable repair shop.

…and no one knows why.

Good advice all around - a minor nit to this statement quoted above: Although positions 2 and 4 are wired out of phase on many Strat circuits, that is NOT why those positions sound quacky. They are out of phase because when they are selected together in positions 2 and 4, the out of phase wiring reduces the single-coil hum so the guitar is quieter in positions 2 and 4 vs. in the other positions. Per **Francis Vaughn **(who really should come over to the Great Ongoing Guitar Thread in Cafe Societyand join in the conversation), the quacky tones come from the positions of the pickups relative to each other under the strings and how they combine when both are in the signal.

**duffer **- since you mentioned a 5-position switch, per the other Dopers, I am assuming you have a Strat. Two comments:

  • if you can’t tell much difference between the positions, I would be worried that your on-board controls aren’t dialed up right, your amp isn’t set up correctly, you have effects put into your signal chain wrong or dialed up incorrectly or there is a wiring issue - in other words, there should be a clear difference in sound. Or perhaps your gear is only of okay quality - e.g., a starter amp that you got as part of a beginner’s kit - a fine starting place, but often limited when it comes to revealing tonal differences.

  • Okay - at a high level, as rules of thumb:
    [li]Position 1 (i.e., Bridge pickup or the one closest to the guitar’s bridge) - clean for bright country playing or clean bright single-note picking; crunchy for rock leads or, with the Volume rolled off a bit to take some hair off the sound (yes, this matters - try rolling it off to about 8 or even 7), hard rock and punk rhythm work [/li][li]Position 2 - Bridge + Middle: clean with a bit of chorus on it: Dire Straits’ early stuff; the Sweet Home Alabama riff; crunchy would be maybe some funk lead and rhythm work[/li][li]Position 3 - middle only: clean = standard rock rhythm work; crunchy = standard crunchy rock rhythm work[/li][li]Position 4 - Middle + Neck - clean, with a bit of chorus = 80’s New Wave rhythm work; with a tad of crunch on it you can do great funk work[/li][li]Position 5 - Neck: Clean is for warm jazzy rhythm or lead work; crunchy is Stevie Ray Vaughn for Pride & Joy[/li][/ul]

Hope that helps.

Good stuff WordMan, and thanks to everyone else. It is a Strat but I’m stuck with a shitty amp til
I can afford better. I played around a bit knowing what to listen for now. On the full down (bridge?), the one I’ve just always used I get the best results for stuff like the rhythm sections on AC/DC, Disturbed etc. Full up seems to sound best for stuff like the intro to Nightmare, Stairway to Heaven, Fade to Black. And middle seems to work best with Offspring et al. Though that could be all in my head, I’ll have to keep playing with it. Funny, in all my years of buying books not one has ever addressed this issue. Anyway, thanks again everyone.

I’m guessing that this:

is the primary reason he can’t tell the difference. Back in my metal/hardcore days I had a rat’s nest of wires running through half a dozen stomp boxes all turned all the way up and I remember not using the position switch very much because at 100+dBs, it didn’t much matter.

When I was taking guitar lessons, the instructor told us (all two of us :)) that the strats originally came with a three position toggle switch (one for each pickup), but that guitarists found that they could balance the switch between two positions, and Fender switched to five position toggles to make this easier. No idea whether that is true.

It’s true - the 5-way wasn’t standard until maybe 1975. Hendrix popularized the “in-between” positions, but it was an old blues trick he learned from Buddy Guy and Otis Rush…

I have a 4-way switch on my Tele: Lower pickup, upper pickup, both pickups, and… ? I don’t remember.

Not “out of phase”.

Hard to believe no-one else has said this yet, but positions 2 and 4 on a Strat-type selector are not out-of-phase. They sound a bit more “hollow” than the single-pickup positions because they’re hearing two different sections of string at the same time, but the electronics are in phase in every position on a standard 5-way switch.

The difference someone mentioned above is that, on more modern Strats/copies, the middle pickup is reverse wound/reverse polarity, AKA RW/RP, which means that positions 2 and 4 become humbucking. But either way, humbucking or two singles, it’s all in phase.

There are phase switches on a few guitar models, but standard Strat-type wiring is all in phase. True out-of-phase wiring is fairly rare since the sound is significantly quieter and “low-fi” compared to in-phase pickup combinations, but there are players who find uses for the sound.

Jeez, guys, “out of phase”? It’s extremely basic guitar-wiring knowledge, I shouldn’t need to explain that to people who actually own Strats/copies.

Neither pickup! Duh!

Actually, both pickups in series, and both pickups in parallel (normal wiring). Apparently, you get a fatter sound in series.

I have been playing for 45 years and that doesn’t mean I know about wiring. I pay more attention to what’s going on between the bridge and the nut. (I have never owned a Strat but I have a PRS with a 5-pos switch that probably wants me to think it’s a Strat.)

So for the benefit of us who don’t know this basic knowledge, maybe you do need to explain…what’s the difference between out of phase and reverse polarity and why do each of these affect the sound the way they do?

Out of phase should have something to do with the signals not being in sync, which I would imagine you would need active electronics to do, but what the hell do I know. IIRC, if two identical signals are 180[sup]o[/sup] out of phase you wouldn’t hear a thing.

Come to think of it, I don’t even know if pickups in a passive circuit even have a concept of phase, since they just turn the string vibrations into a signal. The phase is whatever the string is doing. But I’ve never studied this stuff so I don’t really know.

When I was young and stupid I added a double-pole/single-throw switch to my guitar to be able reverse the pickup wires on one pickup. When the wires are reversed from the original configuration and both pickups are on at equal volume, it gives a thinner sound that is vaguely reminiscent of that Strat sound, but this is a Gibson with humbuckers.

(Simplified version)

Guitar pickups are made of magnets and wires, with the wire coiled around the magnet or magnets, hence the name “coil”.

One end of the wire, let’s say the “south” end, is the signal, and the other (“north”) end is the ground.

If you have two or more pickups wired together, then all south wires are connected to the selector and all north wires to the ground. That’s standard wiring.

If you reverse the wires so that one pickup is wired “backwards” the end result is that the pickups, when used together, will be out of phase. This results in part of the sound being cancelled out: the sound becomes quieter and thinner because everything except the mids is attenuated. It sounds like that’s what you did to Gibson you mention.

A few guitars have phase switches that you can use to put one pickup out-of-phase with the other(s), but phase switches aren’t common because the sound isn’t particularly useful.

As for RW/RP, that’s what makes a humbucker buck the hum. Two magnets with opposing polarities and with the coils wound in opposing directions. That sends the 60-cycle hum to earth instead of to your amp.

Humbuckers are basically two single-coil pickups, one reverse-wound and with a reverse-polarity magnet, stuck together.

With Strats, the pickups were all the same polarity/wind-direction until RW/RP middle pickups became popular sometime in the 80s. Now RW/RP middle p-ups are standard in most Strats/copies. However, they’re all in-phase in all p-up positions whether or not the mid is backwards.

Multiple pickups can also be in series or parallel, too, which is another set of wiring options. The two coils of a humbucker are usually wired in series with each other, and individual pickups on a multi-p-up guitar ('buckers, singles, or mixed) are usually wired in parallel.

You can get some worthwhile variations in sounds using series/parallel switches, and that’s a much more useful option than putting pickups out of phase with each other. But it’s only really worthwhile for clean sounds, once you start making things dirty the subtleties tend to get drowned out.

I am by no means an expert about these things, but I find them pretty interesting. I can, at least, grasp much of what the actual experts say. And trust me, I’ve spent much more of the last 30-plus years playing guitar than I have holding a soldering iron.

You could probably Google up a better explanation than what I just wrote, but I didn’t feel like just copying links for you.

First of all: :smack::smack::smack:

Second of all: yeah, gotta go with **CookingWithGas ** (and thanks, btw) - as I have claimed a few dozen times on the SDMB, I am not an electronics guy…and perhaps I should remember that when it comes to speaking in the GQ section vs. Cafe Society - noted.

Now, from an electronics standpoint, yes, you are correct - the quiet effect I described is from the RW/RP aspect, not the out of phase.

However, the point I was ***really ***trying to make (and just tossed of the incorrect statement as a now-clearly-inaccurate aside…grr) was that the quack is not due to an electronic circuit factor, but rather to the position of the two selected pickups in relation to each other. While both an out-of-phase tone and a quack tone are thinner vs. normal, each is due to a different reason.

And Shakester, let’s be clear about this: be nice to us guitarists. You must understand - some of us, like clearly you, come at the electronics from an *electronics *standpoint, meaning: you both comprehend the guitar and the electronics challenge you want to work on. Others, like me, hate electronics and don’t really understand the underlying science of it, but love messing with my rig when I think I have understood how to make it better. When, after a bunch of research, I figure out that I want a certain type of tone, so I swap in a .47 cap instead of a .22 cap in the tone circuit, I have *no fucking clue *what I just did. But I can solder and and I know that a circuit mod is perfectly reversible, so why not? I try a few caps, play the damn guitar, and use my ear to decide what’s better. Did I end up changing the cap? Often, yeah - but after I complete the research, experiment, and make a decision, I promptly forget all the electronics. Happens every time. :wink:

OK, now I’m really confused.

I’m pretty sure that the quacky sound is not caused by the distance between the pickups. Last night I was fiddling with an instrument that I’ve owned for nearly 30 years. It has a toggle switch that was described to me as a “phase switch.” I don’t know the story behind the wiring, but I know how it sounds. I’ve always described the positions as “out of phase” and “in phase”, but they could be better described as “quack” and “not quack.” And I’m pretty sure that throwing that switch doesn’t change the distance between the pickups.

And I know that I can replicate that sound on my Strats by selecting multiple pickups.

As far as the sound being quieter, I haven’t really found that. Maybe a tiny bit, but not so much that I’ve had to make a volume adjustment. As for the sound being “useless”, I find a great use for it. It’s my favorite setting. As for it being so subtle that it’s rendered unnoticeable under the influence of distortion and other effects, that’s simply not true. Effects bring out the best in that setting.

I don’t know the science behind it, but I know what I like. I will never buy another guitar that can’t at least be modded to sound like that.