Axes Xplained
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Axes Xplained


OK, so we have explored parallel wiring possibilities in a prior post:

So in the prior post, we see the diagram for the well known seven positions configuration in which all the possible parallel combinations are explored (excluding ones where some coils are in series).

If we add in the switch to reverse the phase of say, the middle pickup, then we bump the options up quite a lot. Personally, I’m not a massive fan — maybe I’ll come back to it one day.

There are some other options for combining the pickups — individual switches for the pickups which is a little more drastic than I have in mind, but not an objection that holds much weight for everyone.

The details of wiring up such as beast are here, at least and no doubt in may be in other resources.

Series Combination

I’ve been meaning to explore this for some time.

In searching for prior art: I found this post, but to be honest:

  1. I could not get it to work,
  2. I had issues convincing myself that my reading of the diagram made sense.

So, on the hunt for enlightenment I came to the conclusion that the approach is categorically different for series wiring. Note as a primary requirement I intended to avoid making any more holes in the guitar, so it has to work with the current selector.

The key realisation is for series combination of pickups, the choice is which pickup is removed, by shorting it out. This is as opposed to what is added by connecting it to the output in the parallel mode.

After that, this first idea came quite simply.

The gist is that you start with all pickups, and the selector chooses more and more pickups to short out

So, this arrangement goes all the way from the truly retrotastic “3 pickups in series” to individual pickups. The selector is less intuitive, as it is choosing what pickups to exclude as opposed to which pickups to add in to the mix.

Series combinations versus selector position

  1. Bridge + Middle + Neck
  2. Bridge
  3. Bridge
  4. Bridge
  5. Bridge + Middle

In some ways, a 3-way selector would be as useful, as the “in-between” positions 2 and 4 add little utility when it comes o choosing which pickups to have in series.

The actual works

I picked this wiring as it’s actually one of the more straightforward wirings. Nevertheless, be warned it can be a little involved; I would recommend ensuring there is plenty of slack in the pickup wires.

Here’s all the gory detail in a sequence.

For this job, labelling will come in handy
join them up first
first working draft
here’s a crossover to transpose the position of O/P and Ground — Why? — we’ll see later.
final wiring
ok, seal that mess up tight

So, only having three combinations is kinda OK as a curiosity


As it happens, the crossover switch changes the game as the effect of grounding the top of certain pickups is inverted — we then actually have as options

—  Position 1 — — — — — — — — — — Position 2
1. Bridge + Middle + Neck — — — — Bridge + Middle + Neck
2. Bridge — — — — — — — — — — — — Middle + Neck
3. Bridge — — — — — — — — — — — — Middle + Neck
4. Bridge — — — — — — — — — — — — Neck
5. Bridge + Middle — — — — — — — Neck

So, the secret ingredient here is the DPDT switch, which gives us the combinations:
Bridge, Neck, Middle + Neck, Bridge + Middle, Bridge + Middle + Neck

These combinations give a more radical set of changes to the tonality.

Adding one more switch to short out the middle pickup gives us Bridge + Neck, though this only gives us this in position 1 and changes the other positions as a side effect.

Now we get the option of Bridge + Neck

Enough talk! what does it sound like?

Here’s a recording of the various combinations.

Flicking the switches to get this sequence was more than a little off-putting, as may be heard in the shaky recording.


#1 Higher output

The raw levels for the video above — only changes were pickup selection

This is really noticeable for the 3-pickup combination — take a look at the recorded amplitude.

Bearing in mind that the ear’s perception of intensity is logarithmic, the single coil and 2-coil combinations don’t sit too oddly in combination with the single pickup selections — in fact looking at the table above there are some tonal shadings that have a nice contrast for only a really easy switch of one switch.

#2 very obvious filtering of highs

This can be heard very clearly going from B+N to B+N+M in the recording, but it’s best to compare with the prior recording side by side to hear how much the different wiring on the identical guitar with the same set of strings impacts the quality of the higher frequencies.

With all 3 pickups in series, we can really hear the effect of the self-filtering of the pickups and there is a very dark and loud filtered tone. This might suit for emulating some early 1940s jazz recordings, but I find it a little limiting.

Tonal Quality

To my ear, the 2 — pickup combos (Mid + Neck, Neck + Bridge)have the effect of having some “family resemblance” to the equivalent parallel combinations — I’ll get onto the reasons how that might be in a future post with added science, but listening side by side it’s clear there is much less brightness to the sound, and obviously more output.

Yet more options

We haven’t touched upon “out of phase” wiring options — these would certainly balance up the levels and also I expect produce a greater tonal range as the net effect is we’re subtracting a lot of the frequencies in common for two sensors and hence accentuating the difference in their output, due to (1) electronic properties and (2) positioning.


The total range of sounds from the guitar is yes wider — with the current loading of single coils that are wound on the higher output side, let’s face it — this results in elimination of the classic twang, which this guitar never had a great deal of in the first place (well, not the way I play it).

What I personally look for in a guitar is the ability to have a chameleon-like ability to generate as many authentic and distinctive tones as possible from the guitar itself — although there are many great one-trick ponies out there *cough* Les Paul *cough*, that’s not what interests me.

So, that said, to my ear, the main contrast is between the native sound of the bridge and neck pickups and the series combinations. For these pickups with their higher output and hence higher inductance, the series configuration starts to filter out a lot of the top end where a lot of the character is added by the pickups — see How Passive Tone Controls Work for the details.

All of that prior discussion would be for clean sounds — for crunch, well to my ears the series sounds are a little too dull to make pleasing rhythm or crunchy tones.

For crazy levels of drive, the 3 pickups combination is quite aggressive, although nowadays, dialling any amount of gain you want is really no longer the issue it used to be. What that sound is great for, though is for outrageous use of a Wah pedal and overdrive, a la Prince “Let’s go crazy”.



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Patrick Martin

Patrick Martin

Person. blah blah about me ... WAIT CLIMATE CANCER WE CAN BEAT IT PEOPLE ... all opinions my own