Introduction: How to Wire a Guitar for 2 Volumes Instead of 1 Volume 1 Tone

This is the pick guard from my last project, The Skateboard Guitar. It will soon be going on the Fabric Stencil Guitar.

For this project, I am converting a two humbucker guitar with one volume and one tone into one that has a volume for each pickup and no tone control.

This is my favorite setup for guitar wiring because:

1. I rarely use the tone knob on any guitar.

2. I like to keep one volume on zero so the toggle switch becomes an on/off, and can also be used for stuttering, killswitch-type effects.

3. I like to keep the neck pickup at a lower volume for cleaner sound coming through my tube amp, and the bridge pickup on ten for more output at the flick of a switch.

The guitar in this case is a Jagmaster, but this would also work on many other 2 pickup/2 knob guitars that have a 3 way toggle switch.

The whole process took about an hour.

Tools Used:
-40 Watt pencil type soldering iron (maybe overkill, but works fast, and I'm not worried about frying any capacitors for this one).
-Needle nose pliers.
-Wire cutters
-Soldering probe tool thing (has paid for itself a thousand times)
-Delsoldering braid
-Razor blade (for stripping the ends of wires)
-Alligator clip extra pair of hands thing (also paid for itself many times over)
-Lead free rosin core solder
-Electrical tape
-Wet rag (to wipe soldering iron tip)

Step 1: Make Diagram

I drew up a diagram before doing anything. I could have used a schematic from the Seymour Duncan website, but I've done this so many times, and even when you do have the schematic, it can help to draw it yourself to make the layout of wires better.

The way I think about a volume pot is: signal goes in one side, comes out the middle tab, other side is grounded. Reverse the order of the input and the ground, and the knob turns the opposite way.

With this kind of three way switch it's easy too look and see what's connected. Just make sure it's not upside down.

The picture I drew below leaves out the wire that grounds the whole thing to the bridge itself. It also doesn't show that I bend the grounded tab on each pot up so that it and any wire connected to it are soldered to the casing.

Step 2: Disconnect, Clean

For this step, I removed everything I didn't need, and cleaned all the contacts so there was a little hole I could put the new wire in.

If you are new to soldering, the key is patience. Also, if you touch the hot soldering iron, your skin will burn into bubbling blisters that hurt really bad. After burning myself a few times years ago, I learned to respect the tool and to be very careful, and haven't burned myself in many years. BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THIS DANGEROUS TOOL. It will burn the palm of your hand so bad, you will lose sleep because it feels like your hand is in a jar full of poisonous jellyfish.

To remove a wire: get a tiny bit of solder on the tip of the iron, hold it to the connection and wait until the solder melts, then use a probe or pliers to remove the wire. To clean the contact, you can use desoldering braid, or get the contact hot, push the solder through with a probe, let it cool and snip off the little spike of solder with wire cutters.

To connect a wire to a contact: If you stick the wire through and then fold it around and twist it on, it can be hard to remove later, so I usually just stick it through, or maybe put it through and bend it. I usually just touch the contact with the tip of the iron with a tiny bit of solder on it, and wait a while, until the wire itself is hot enough to melt fresh solder. Don't just touch the solder to the iron and drip it on, it wont bond to the metal. The solder should dry to a shiny silver if you did it right.

To connect a wire to a pot casing: I hold the stripped end of the wire to the casing using the tip of the iron, wait a while, touch solder to the wire (not the iron) and build up a little puddle of solder. (This can take a while, and can take forever with smaller wattage soldering irons. Using the big 40W iron it usually takes less than a minute, but be careful, that thing will melt the plastic off any wire that comes near it.) Before removing the iron, I hold the wire down in the puddle with the probe tip so that the wire doesn't move at all while the solder is cooling. If the puddle is shiny when it cools, that's good. If its dull gray, that's not so good.

Step 3: Prep, Solder

Here I have everything in place except the tiny green pickup wires, which I will do after soldering in all the other stuff.

Not all brands of pickup use the same color coding system. These are Seymour Duncan pickups, but if you are using DiMarzio, Gibson, or anything else, be sure to go online and look up the color codes.

Step 4: Test, Organize

Once you have everything where it belongs, plug it in to a practice amp, and rub something metal on the pickups, while testing the switch and volume knobs.

If everything works, pat yourself on the back, do a little dance, and carry on.

If it doesn't work, then troubleshoot while still plugged in to the amp. An extra wire to use as a test connector can work wonders.

If you even suspect a part is bad, throw it away and replace it. It's not worth spending hours troubleshooting for some crappy 3 dollar part.

The real test is when you have put the guitar back together and strung it, and tuned it, and are jamming on it. If the electronics go out then, you'll have to stop playing, cut the strings off, take the guitar apart, troubleshoot, solder...

Better to do it right the first time. So take your time on each and every move that you make.

Put some music on, or have someone to talk to in the background, but don't ever hurry.


Dobes49 made it!(author)2015-12-16

I have a Tokai strat with one tone knob. The tone of the pickups are amazing. I want to put the three pickups in a strat with two tone knobs. I searched such a conversion on the net, but came up with nothing. Ideas?

TimothyH11 made it!(author)2015-07-31

Honestly, Thanks man. I would not have a functional guitar without this instructable. My 3-way broke and i managed to work out how to use the guitar without it (using your diagrams of course)\. The only downside is that the pots cant be turned to absolutely one pickup with how i have it or they both cut out. Maybe if i rewire some of the grounds i could fix it but i cant be bothered. Thanks again!

poop+poop made it!(author)2010-02-27

i was wondering if any one could give me a wiring diagram on how to wir 2 pickups with a 3-way toggle with left position being one pickup, middle being both, and right being the other position?

sleeler69 made it!(author)2010-02-16

Ive got a Les Paul that I want to rewire so that it has the look of the Nikki Sixx Gibson Blackbird Bass  No knobs, just a toggle switch for on/off. Im putting in a Dimebag Duncan in the bridge and nothing in the neck. simular to the look of Ruyter Suys SG(although she has a single knob and a switch. Now I know the first question is gonna be WHY? I have other guitars and I want something a 'lil different than the others and I really like the stripped down look of NO knobs and just the switch. Ive never messed with the wiring on any of my guitars before but if this switch isnt to difficult I would like to do it myself! Any suggestions would be GREAT! THX

ntagn33 made it!(author)2010-02-17

That should be pretty easy to do. If you have never soldered anything, you might want to practice on some stuff first and do a little research, or get some help.

Here is the wiring diagram for a les paul

Step by step, you could 1)Disconnect everything except the wire that goes from the output jack to the switch. 2) Solder black wire from pickup to one side of the switch. 3)solder a wire to the ground tab of the switch, this will go to the output jacks ground. 4)solder green and silver wire from pickup, ground wire from bridge, and ground wire from switch to ground of output jack. 5) cross your fingers and plug it in.

There might even be a way to do it without soldering. you could: 1)cut the wire that goes from the neck pickup volume to the switch. 2) remove the knobs and the nuts that secure the pots. 3)make sure everything is on 10, pull the pots out of their holes, with wires still connected, tape all that stuff up and leave it inside the control cavity. ta da!

sleeler69 made it!(author)2010-02-18

Thx alot for the quick reply.  I appreciate the helpul hints. You sound like you know what you are talking about ,so I whave another question for you or anybody else who might be able to help. I have an original Bill Lawrence L500XL bridge pickup and the S.Duncan Dimebag SH-13 bridge pickup and I would like to be able to compare the two to one another. Rather than having each installed in 2 different guitars,could I install one in the neck and the other in the bridge and get a fair comparison between the two? Or would the pickup in the neck be deprived of its full potential capabilities by being in that spot? By the way, that stencil job turned out really well. Thx again for the reply and for your time.

ntagn33 made it!(author)2010-02-19

I have a guitar with Bill Lawrence  500XL and 500 XXL that I've had for almost 10 years and I love them. I think I got them from Stewmac. I haven't really kept up with the story, but it seems they have been hard to find, and made by different people at different times, and I guess the Duncan is a copy of the XXL.

My opinion regarding your question: The exact same pickup will sound very different depending on what position it is in. It will sound more treble-y in the bridge position, and there will be an output difference too, I think. It really is hard to tell unless you have 2 identical guitars with different pickups, or can play one through an amp you are familiar with, then change the pickups and play it again on the same settings. That is kind of a pain. If I were you, I would be tempted to use the Bill Lawrence just because it is cool and rare and a smaller company. Then again, I might assume the Duncan to be hotter, if it is a copy of the XXL.

You could also try to measure the resistance in Ohms of each pickup, and then assume that the one with more resistance is hotter and rock that one. That is probably what I would do.

When it comes to tone, there are so many variables, and people have so many opinions. Remember to trust your own ear before anything anyone else says.

iamtoats made it!(author)2009-10-26

 do you think i would be able to make 2 tones and 0 volumes if I switched a few things around? I would love that........ Then when I solo, I don't need to fool with the knob.... (I leave the volume on full all the time anyway....)

ntagn33 made it!(author)2009-11-09

Yeah, that should work. Just wire them like tone pots instead of volume pots. Kinda like a Les Paul without the volumes. has lots of wiring schematics. I forget what size capacitor would be needed but they are super cheap.

black+kujo made it!(author)2009-08-06

this is a good, basic Instructable. and very precise