Dan Armstrong's SUPER STRAT
As appeared in Guitar Player Magazine
Aug, 1987



Original Aug. 1987 Article Text  |  Feb. 1993 Article Reprint Text  |  Installation Photos  |  Examples

During the short lifetime of the electric guitar, the idea that three pickups might be the best wqy to go has occurred to many guitarists and most guitar designers. The possibility of a broad range of tones is the lure, but a practical means of accessing those many colors is the problem. A pair of pickups can be connected to produce 6 combinations, while 3 pickups allow 35. For about 20 years I have applied my twisted mind to the question of how to switch three pickups, and experienced many an "ah-ha!" such as a "secret switch" job for Jimi Hendrix and the 9-way switching for Fender's The Strat, as well as the "stock parts only" project for Guitar Player in Feb. '87. Those schemes have all been rather compromised by a perceived need to employ the traditional Strat lever switch. By breaking free of this limitation, it was possible to rethink this entire matter and arrive at a rational switching system that provides all of the very best combinations and still makes mechanical sense.

This modification uses three mini toggle switches (one is a 3-way), each relating to its own pickup, and yields 12 settings. Three of the settings are each pickup alone, three are parallel pairs, three are series pairs, and one is all three in series/parallel. All combinations are in phase. Tone controls follow the standard Strat convention; that is, no tone control for the "bridge-only" position, while the tone controls for the neck and middle wrap around each pickup and provide interesting sounds, especially in the series mixes.

I have been using this system for more than two years now (with some variations, such as coil-splitting), and I've duplicated it for a large number of guitarist friends. Although it's a bit more complicated than a 5-way switch, no one seems to have any difficulty in learning to opperate it efficiently. I have found this to be the most comprehensive and satisfying control system I've ever used, and in fact I find myself completely spoiled by it. I promise, this is the coolest 3-pickup switching set-up!

If you wish to install this system in your guitar, here are few pointers. First, the wiring is rather complicated, and if you're a beginner at this sort of thing, or not a very good solderer or circuit reader, turn the job over to someone with more confidence and experience. Collectors beware: Like any other modification, this will almost certainly drag down the market value of a vintage instrument. If you do modify your vintage guitar, save the original parts. And if you have a recent-issue guitar under warantee, this will definitely void it.

If you undertake this modification project, only use high-quality switches--poorly constructed ones can be susceptible to noise and prematue breakdown. Use a good electronics-grade rosin-core solder (never use acid-core solder, because it corrodes metal parts, including switches, pots, jacks, and wires). Exercise caution, wear eye protection when soldering or cutting wires, and work slowly.

With this modification, the only visible change to the guitar involves replacing the lever switch with three mini toggles. This can be done neatly by mounting the switches right next to each other. The switch levers can be 1/2" apart, and the entire triple-switch array fits into the slot where the stock switch used to be. The switches needed are two DPDT on/on 2 position types, and one DP3T on/on/on 3-position type. Make sure you get an on/on/on, as this switch may be a little hard to locate.

Be sure to ground the switch bodies (some have a solder tab, others will require wrappinga wire around the threaded "neck" of each switch and wiring that to a ground point). If your bridge pickup is a humbucker (with or without a coil-splitter), the circuit needs no modification. For guitars with only one tone control, the optional master tone shown in the diagram may be used. The .05uf capacitor in the string-to-ground line is for shockproofing (it greatly reduces the chances for shocks if you touch your strings and other electrical gear).

Where possible, larger versions of the images below are available by clicking on the image.

I start with the wiring done outside of the guitar. First I do all the jumper connections.

Then I add pickup hot and ground connection wires that are raised above the switches.

Here is my most recent target guitar. A 1987 Ibanez 540R Blue Burst.

Existing pickups, pots, and switches have been removed.

Armstrong switches and concentric pots installed with volume and ground connected.

Pickups installed to their raised switch wires and branch wires going to the tone controls.


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