Build a Killswitch Into Your Guitar




About: I'm a top-hatted, kilted, former-bike mechanic, sysadmin, and author with a fondness for silly things and delicious food. Holler at my Philly folks!

People seem to love killswitches, just look at Buckethead and Tom Morello, and a lot of people want to put them into their guitars. I have nothing against this, all the more power to you. The problem I see is with solutions that still produce an audible hum when the killswitch is engaged. This is because a lot of solutions short-circuit the guitar or cable, rather than actually killing the signal-path.

You see, no matter how much you payed for your guitar cables, there will still be some level of hum produced by your rig, especially with an extensive pedal-board, or with distortion effects like fuzz-boxes so long as the circuit that is your rig is closed. In this instructable, I will show you how to add a noise-free killswitch to any guitar with a 1/4 inch output jack.

Step 1: Parts

You will need:

-- A guitar, obviously.
-- A pushbutton normally closed momentary switch. It is very, very, important that the switch be normally closed, check the package carefully before you buy your switch.
-- A soldering iron.
-- Solder.
-- Heat-shrink tubing (or electrical tape in a pinch) to make everything all nice and pretty, and to prevent accidental short-circuits.
-- Screwdrivers that can open up your guitar.
-- Wire cutters and wire strippers.
-- A drill with an appropriately-sized bit. Check the packaging for your switch to see if a mounting-hole diameter is listed, since this will help a lot. If you can't find a listed size, err towards a smaller hole, since you can make holes bigger, but not smaller.
-- You may also need a bit of extra wire if there isn't enough slack, a foot of stranded 20 AWG copper wire should be more than enough.

Step 2: Prep-work

Before you can install your killswitch, you are going to have to get at the guts of your guitar, specifically you will need to get at the wires that go to your guitar's output jack. Find the wire that connects to the sleeve of the plug, in most guitars this wire will be black. Trace this wire back to the guitar's volume pot (or wherever the wires finally come together to become a single pair), but don't cut the wire yet.

Now you're going to have to figure out where you want to put the switch. Unless you're willing to do a lot of extra work, you'll be limited in placement options by where the guitar's control-cavity is. Once you've determined where you want to place the switch, carefully mark the position and then drill a mounting-hole for the switch. If you're drilling through the body of your guitar, drill very carefully through the front of the guitar so that if there is any accidental splintering, it will be out of sight. To minimize the risk of splintering, you should press very gently while running the drill at a high speed.

Step 3: Installation

Now comes the time to cut that wire that you traced back at the beginning of the previous step. Before cutting the wire, make sure that there is enough of the wire to go from the volume pot (or wherever) to the switch and then to the output jack; if there isn't enough wire for this, you'll have to splice some in. Whichever way it turns out, wire in the switch; if your switch needs to be installed in the guitar before connecting the wires, do so now and save yourself some time and effort. Also make sure, if you're using heat-shrink tubing, that it is in place before soldering your wires.

Make sure to insulate all your connections, and test them somehow before you close everything up, especially if you had to de-string your guitar in order to install the switch. The best way I have found to test your wiring is to plug your guitar into an amp, turn on the amp, and then stick some ferric object (like your screwdriver) onto your selected pickup, or if you did not have to remove your guitar's strings, pluck a string; if you don't get any sound make sure first that the volume is up on both the guitar and amp, and then that your selector-switch (if applicable) is set to the proper pickup. If you get sound, then you're golden, otherwise go back and check all your connections.

Step 4: Finishing

When you're as sure as you can be that everything is in working order, put everything back together and rock out.



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27 Discussions


6 years ago on Introduction

volkswagon guitar? sweet! i want one for i play guitar and love volkswagons!


7 years ago on Introduction

I've started using these switches instead of the type shown.

Although they are called "large", they are not much bigger than the one above but they seem to be a lot sturdier and they have a much smoother action, without that sticking that I find the above switches often have. I think they only do them in push to make though so they will only work in the "short to earth" type kill switches..


10 years ago on Introduction

yout dont even need a kilswitch cuz u can turn the volume down all the way on one of the pickups, the flick the selector switch a bunch like tom morello

2 replies

yea i know that now, the pickup selector on my les paul i quite finicky now because i used to use it quite a bit as a kill switch. and almost every guitar that has 2 different pickups (ex. les paul's, sg's etc...) have 2 seperate volume knobs.


9 years ago on Introduction

I never use those tiny cheap switches, they crap out too easily.

The first guitar I put a kill switch on was wired this way... never again.  Every time you'd push-n-release the button you'd hear "POP" "POP" "POP" "POP", like when you unplug the patch cable with the amp still on.

The best way is a Normally Open switch wired across the jack connections. It works as if you turn your guitar's volume knob instantly to zero.


10 years ago on Step 1

normally closed? i thought it is normally open, if closed then to sound the guitar we must push the button

1 reply

Reply 10 years ago on Step 1

no, because this one works opposite of the way other killswitches do, instead of shorting it to ground, it breaks the circuit entirely.


11 years ago on Introduction

Thanks, TheMadTinker and pandaman0529 for your Instructables.

There are two basic approaches to creating a kill switch: the closed-circuit or bypass method used by pandaman0529, and the open circuit method used by TheMadTinker. There are diagrams here that show the difference, for anyone who still thinks they're the same -


4 replies

Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

If you have, it wasn't me; I haven't posted any of my other electronic work on the interblag.


10 years ago on Introduction

How can I be positive and constructive about your guide? I have an Engineering Technologist Degree in Electronics and I had no idea what you were talking about. I think you could improve your guide if you made it clear what you did, and had some useful pictures rather than what you actually have now. DeanAdam's link instantly conveyed what was happening with two pictures. As near as I can tell what you are doing is effectively unplugging the guitar cable by using an open switch,. thus leaving the input to the amplifier floating. I can't imagine that being a very good solution. With a Gibson wiring when you toggle the pickup switch from rhythm to treble you get the on/off effect if one volume is turned down and one is up. When you turn down one volume you are grounding the output of the guitar and thus no signal goes into the amplifier input. The correct way to wire a kill switch is going to be to ground the output, not to leave it floating as you have done. SO yes you have done it differently to Pandaman, but you have also done it incorrectly.

Nice guitar (mouth waters) I'm going to do this once I can buy a normal-on switch at a hobby shop or something :) hooray!


11 years ago on Introduction

this is exactly the same as my instructable...just with fewer pictures
and my instructable kills the signal...there is no "audible hum" when the switch is pressed, its as if you turned your vol pot. all the way down, or unplugged ur guitar from the amp.

the most confusing part is that you said "a lot of solutions short-circuit the guitar or cable, rather than actually killing the signal-path." when number 1- you basically did what i did and number 2 - you short circuted (or allowed a current to flow along a different path from the one intended.) the signal.

seriously, theres nothing different. congradulations