Electric Guitar Switch (What It Is And How To Use It)

Every new electric guitar player must learn how to control their instrument well. Most electric guitars are designed to be as versatile as possible, but learning to use their extensive array of features and electronics can be challenging. Most electric guitars have a switch as part of their controls, and many new guitar players find themselves wondering what exactly this switch is and how to use it properly.

The switch on an electric guitar is usually a pickup selector switch. This switch is used to select which pickup or combination of pickups is in use. Changing the active pickup changes the way the instrument sounds. Every electric guitarist must learn to use the switch well to play the guitar well.

The electric guitar has various controls, knobs, and switches that perform their own functions depending on the guitar model. Some guitars have more controls than others, but almost all electric guitars have a switch of some kind. Let’s explore the switch that is installed on eclectic guitars to find out what it is and what it does.

The Electric Guitar Toggle Switch

The switch on the electric guitar goes by many names. Some call it the toggle switch, others call it the selector switch or the pickup selector, and some refer to it simply as the pickup control or the switch.

Whatever you call it, this switch is a critical feature on most electric guitars and unlocks the true versatility and ability of the instrument.

The main reason for the switch on most electric guitars is to switch between the pickups of the instrument. Placing the switch at different positions activates specific pickups or pickup combinations.

When the pickups are used in different ways and in different combinations, the guitar sounds completely different. Changing the position of the selector switch completely changes the way the instrument sounds.

There are different forms of toggle switches depending on the guitar model, but most guitars that have variable pickup wirings have a selector switch to change the way the pickups are used.

Learning to use the pickup switch well is a critical aspect of learning to play the electric guitar, and no electric guitarist can learn to fully master the instrument without learning to use the switch well.

Let’s explore some more fundamentals of the electric guitar switch to help you better understand how to use it.

Electric guitar switch

Electric Guitar Switch Variations

There are many different electric guitar models made by a wide range of companies and brands. Different guitars have different wiring systems that correspond with different hardware configurations, and this means that there are different types of electric guitar switches that function in different ways.

There are two main types of guitar pickup selectors out there: three-way switches and five-way switches. There are some other switch types that are far less common, but these two are the main options for most electric guitar types.

Five-way electric guitar pickups selectors are typically used on Strat-style guitars that are equipped with a set of three pickups. The typical way that the switch is configured is as follows:

  • Position 1: bridge pickup only.
  • Position 2: bridge and center pickups combined.
  • Position 3: center pickup only.
  • Position 4: center and neck pickups combined.
  • Position 5: neck pickup only.

The first position is closest to the bridge pickup, and the fifth position is closest to the neck of the guitar.

Each of these pickup selection options provides a different guitar tone. The bridge pickup sounds very bright, while the neck pickup sounds very warm, and the center pickup sounds clear and rich. Combining these three tonal options provides a wide range of versatility from electric guitars with five-way switches.

Three-way electric guitar pickups switches are typically used on electric guitars that have two pickups to use in combination. These switches are far easier to understand, as they are used on guitars that have fewer options to use.

The typical three-way switch configuration is as follows:

  • Position 1: bridge pickup only.
  • Position 2: bridge and neck pickups combined.
  • Position 3: neck pickup only.

This combination of options provides three different tones to use from the instrument, as the bridge pickup on these guitars typically sounds very punchy and strong, the neck pick sounds very warm and controlled, and combining the pickups provides a smooth, versatile tone overall.

Some guitars have two-way switches that simply switch between two pickups with no combination setting, and some have three-way switches that switch between three pickups with no combinations.

Do All Electric Guitars Have A Switch?

Now that we have learned most of the important information regarding electric guitar pickup switches, many guitar players may still find themselves with one last question: do all electric guitars have pickup selection switches?

The answer here is no; not all electric guitars have pickup selectors. The switch that allows control over the pickups on electric guitars is designed to make a guitar as versatile as possible and provide as many tonal options as possible from an individual instrument.

However, some electric guitars that are designed specifically for one particular tone do not need a pickup selector, as they are not designed to use a different tone.

This is very typical for signature model guitars designed by guitarists who play in a band that uses one specific tone. These guitar players never switch between pickups and therefore have no need for a toggle switch.

Some of these guitars do not have more than one pickup, as the guitarist that designed the guitar only needs one pickup in one position. This type of guitar also has no need for a toggle switch, as there are no pickup options to toggle between.

Conclusion

Most electric guitars have toggle switches for switching between different pickup combinations in order to alter the overall tone of the instrument. Understanding how to use the pickup switch on your guitar is critical for learning how to play the instrument well.

Take the time to experiment with the different positions that your guitar’s switch has and find out what they all do. Listen for the tonal changes, and learn to use the option to its fullest. This will unlock the true versatility of your instrument.