Electric Guitars – How to Use the Pickup Selector Switch

One of the inherit beauties of the electric guitar is the ability to create a myriad of tones. There are so many choices out there in reference to body style pickup configuration and other determining factors that one could easily get confused. What about the pickup selector switch, what role does it play with your tone and how do you use it effectively? This is a common question especially among beginning guitar players that are looking for the exact application of all the elements needed. To start with, there are two different common types of selector switches. There is the 3 position switch and the 5 position selector switch. We will go through each one and what each position means. Make sure if you’re taking online guitar classes you ask your teacher for more specifics if you don’t understand.

The 3 position switch – you will find almost all guitars with 2 pickups have a 3 position switch on them. It might be labeled as lead in the down position and rhythm in the up position. Then of course there is the middle position where you are left guessing. I address this with all my students during online guitar classes. To make it simple, the purpose of this switch, it is simply turning on and off the two pickups. In the up position, only the neck pickup is active. The bridge pickup will be completely shut off. This is a good setting for subtle background rhythms. The middle position will be a combination of both the neck and the bridge pickup. If you have 2 volume controls and 2 tone controls, such as with the Gibson Les Paul, you can mix the sound of these two pickups to your liking. This setting is also used for rhythm, albeit the rhythms are going to be louder in the mix since the bridge pickup is activated. Of course the last position, all the way down, turns on the bridge pickup only. This is obviously the lead position, since it typically is a hotter pickup, and receives more of the string vibration coming off the bridge.

The 5 position Switch – I get more questions about the 5 position switch than any from students during online guitar classes. This will be a switch typically found on a guitar with three pickups, like the Fender Stratocaster. It serves the same function as the 3 position switch but obviously accommodating the extra pickup. Position one which is all the way up, is turning on the neck pickup only. Again, this is really good for subtle rhythms as it produces the fattest tone you will get on the guitar. The next position down will turn on your neck and middle pickup. This too is a rhythm setting and will give more treble to your tone. The third position will turn on the middle pickup only. This setting will provide a nice rhythm tone as well and is applied when you want to cut through the mix, but not too much. The next notch down will turn on the bridge and middle pickups. This is a great setting for more prominent rhythms and for less boisterous leads, like harmony leads for instance. If you’re doing the harmony part, you will not want to be as prominent in the mix as your counterpart. Last but not least, all the way down and you turn on the bridge pickup, giving you the most gain you can achieve, and the best setting for playing lead.

As with anything you will want to experiment. More information can also be obtained through online guitar classes. You’ll find different pickups can achieve different levels of the aforementioned tones. Just remember, learning how to use these settings properly, and knowing which song or situation matches up with the best setting, will speak well of you professionally.