Getting a new mod for your guitar can be an exciting time, especially when it comes to adding special effects right at your fingertips!
Guitar Killswitches aren't all that common, however they seem to be gaining in popularity over recent years. Some guitarist like Buckethead have even adopted their used as part of their playing style. So what is a killswitch exactly? It's basically a device that cuts power to your guitar's pickups, creating a staccato or "machine-gun" effect.
The cool thing is that it can be used rhythmically & incorporated into your playing to give your music an added dimension in sound. If you want to see some heavy killswitch-action, I suggest checking out the video clip above of the guitarist Buckethead. He's been known to mesh this mod really well into his music & create some awesome riffs with it!
I've also included a quick demo of other things a killswitch can do followed by an installation walk-through by CS Guitars in Scotland , great video with lots of informative bits.
2 Types of Killswitches
The most common types of devices you'll encounter are Normally Open(NO) switches, and Normally Closed (NC) switches.
The difference lies in how they are installed & their mechanism used to accomplish the staccato effect.
A normally open switch works by grounding out the pickup's power to ground. In this instance, 1 wire is connected to the pickup's power, and the other to ground. When you press the button, it closes the switch & creates a controlled short, thus "killing" the power.
A normally closed switch however, works simply by cutting either the power or ground wire in two. When you press this type of switch, it creates an "open" or a gap between the wire it's installed on & so the electricity can no longer pass through the switch.
They're different mechanisms that accomplish the same effect, however we find that NO switches tend to be a little more sophisticated in their build quality.
Please note that if you try to install a NO switch as if it were a NC switch, it can cause the reverse kill-switch effect and your guitar will only be heard while the button is pressed!
Optional LED Wiring
Some guitar kill-switches can also be equipped with an LED and this might be a little tricky because there are two configurations available. One is primarily for active-pickup guitars, and the other for passive pickup guitars.
The reality is that this really depends on the type of input jack you have installed in your guitar. Active pickup guitars usually come with Stereo jacks, & all other guitars tend to have Mono jacks. However, you can always install a stereo jack into a guitar with passive pickups.
Difference Between Stereo & Mono jack
A mono jack will have 2 prongs, Tip & Sleeve. This type of jack will require some sort of micro-switch to be able to turn your LED on or off.
A stereo jack will have 3 prongs. Tip, Ring, & Sleeve. This type of jack can be used as a switch, because when you insert your cable, it acts as a bridge & allows electricity to pass from the Tip to the Ring. The result is that you can wire your LED so that it turns on when you have a cable plugged in, and have it turn off when you unplug your guitar.
Step 1: Drilling Hole
To unlock an awesome addition to your guitar, you'll inevitably have to do the unthinkable!
Yes, to install a killswitch, you'll have to drill into your guitar or perhaps a pickguard.
A killswitch can be installed just about anywhere, however I prefer to do it above the electronics cavity area because it's closer to the rest of the electronics & most of the time will not require further routing of the body. The killswitch I'm installing here actually has its own nut so you can secure it to the body without having to use messy adhesives.
What to drill with
If you're like me, you'll want a nice clean cut hole that perfect to fit the killswitch in. There are many ways to bore the hole but not all are so effective. Once could opt for a "spade bit" to cut the hole but these types of bits have a tendency to "walk" or wander away from their original location and can have disastrous consequences. Instead, I recommend using whats called a "Forstner" style drill bit. These can get quite expensive but they're definitely the best for the job. They have a notch in the center to stabilize while cutting & make perfectly uniform holes.
So when you get down to it, first lay down some painters tape, this will help to protect your finish as well as give the bit something to grab onto for its initial spin.
Once you have painters tape laid out, you can mark the center where you want to cut the hole. Finally, dig a small pilot-hole or divot so the center of the forstner bit can sit inside firmly & stabilize before turning on your drill. Once you get the drill started, slow & steady will get you through before you know.
Step 2: Wiring the Kill-Switch
Wiring up a Normally Closed Switch
These are the switches create an "open" when you press them. To wire this type of switch,
simply cut the pickup's positive/live wire and then connect your switch in between, one wire end per prong.
Wiring a Normally Open Switch
The switch shown here is a N.O. switch, it creates a "short" when you press it. To wire this type of switch,
simply connect 1 of its wires to the pickup's positive/live at the jack, and connect the other wire to the ground, also at the jack.
That's really all there is to it!
you can also hook it up to one of your potentiometers by again connecting to a positive & a negative.
Tip: If you install a normally open switch (shown) as if it were a normally closed switch, you will get the reverse effect and your guitar will only work when you have the button pressed down.
At this point, you're all set to enjoy a whole new dimension to your playing. Crank that amp & let those fingers fly, don't forget to unleash a barrage of "machine-gun" effects here and there! It's real fun to integrate into your playing & the possibilities to create new texture is limitless.
Step 3: LED Wiring (Passive Pickups) - OPTIONAL
If you've got a switch like mine with an LED integrated into it, here's how you can hook it up to a guitar with passive pickups, or more importantly, a mono input jack.
- Resistors - Mine came with two 75 ohm resistors, these are important as they'll prevent your LED from taking too much power & potentially burning out.
- 9v Battery
- 9v Battery clip
- On/Off switch
To keep things short, you'll connect the LED positive lead/wire to your on/off switch, then connect your two resistors inline, and finally connect to your battery clip's positive red wire.
LED+ > I/O Switch > Inline Resistors > Battery Clip+
If you look at it in reverse,your battery power will pass through the resistors before entering the i/o switch, and before reaching your LED.
To complete the circuit,
connect the LED- to the battery clip's negative and you're 100% done! Now you can control exactly when you want the LED turned on or off. Best of all, it won't affect how your killswitch functions. That means you can still use it even if the LED is off!
Step 4: LED Wiring (Active Pickups) - OPTIONAL
If you've got a switch like mine, here's how you can hook it up to a guitar with passive pickups, or more importantly, a stereo input jack.
Since most guitar's with stock active pickups already have a stereo jack installed, they also have a battery installed too. So unless you're installing a new stereo jack into your guitar, you won't need a battery or battery clip.
- Resistors - I used two 75 ohm resistors, these are important as they prevent your LED from taking too much power & burning out.
- Stereo Jack
Start by connecting your LED positive wire to your inline resistors, and then hooking those up to your battery's positive wire/lead
LED+ > Inline Resistors > Battery Clip+
Now your battery's negative will be connected to the prong as shown in the picture, also called the "Ring"
Your LED- wire will connect to the middle grounding prong known as the "Sleeve".
This is also where you'll find the negative wire for your pickups
When you plug in your instrument cable,
it will make a bridge between the two & and act as a switch, allowing power to flow through to light your LED.
When you unplug your guitar, the LED will go off - just don't forget to unplug it when you're done playing!
Step 5: Finished Gallery
Here you can find a bunch of cool guitar pictures that have been sent to me after installing their own LED killswitch. They pretty much fit any guitar & certainly give them some extra pop!
Thanks for reading,
if you have any questions or concerns,
please feel free to post a comment or find me on social media!