Guitarists and manufacturers have developed a variety of wiring schemes over the years, but for the sake of simplicity this article will focus on the basic wiring schemes found in four popular guitar models to serve as a starting point for the novice guitarist's exploration into tonal experimentation. These basic wiring schemes produce a variety of tones heard in the full range of popular music styles. Although these wiring schemes may be basic, they do not lack in versatility.
One P90 Pickup
This very basic setup features a large single coil P90 pickup with volume and tone controls. Since there is only one pickup, no switch is necessary. In addition to the P90 pickup, this setup requires two 500k potentiometers and a .047microfarad capacitor. The simplicity of this setup encourages the guitarist to experiment with tone and volume settings to get different sounds, ranging from a mid-range growl to soulful jazz tones. If you like Green Day and Billy Joe Armstrong's sound, this is the setup for you.
Two Single Coil Pickups
Spanning a range of genres, from Buck Owens's country twang to Steve Cropper's greasy Memphis rhythm and blues to the riffing wizardry of Jimmy Page's studio work, few setups match the versatility of two single coil pickups. In addition to the two pickups, this setup calls for two 250k potentiometers, two .05 microfarad capacitors and a three-way switch. In its middle position, the switch selects both pickups while the rear position selects only the bridge pickup, and the forward position selects only the neck pickup.
Three Single Coil Pickups
With three pickups, a five-way switch, a .05 microfarad capacitor and three 250k potentiometers acting as volume, tone, and tone controls, this setup offers a range of tones suitable for genres from country to the psychedelic blues of Jimi Hendrix to the smooth bedroom blues of John Mayer. The bridge pickup never passes through the tone potentiometer while the middle and neck pickups each have their own, and the volume control acts on all three pickups. The switch selects each pickup individually, in addition to bridge/middle and middle/neck, these latter producing the quacking tones this guitar is famous for.
Two Dual Coil Pickups
Created as an antidote to the scourge of the 60 cycle hum that plagued single coil pickups, the two humbucker setup calls for four 500k potentiometers wired with two .022 microfarad capacitors in series, allowing individual tone and volume controls for each pickup. The three-way switch selects each pickup individually and both together. From the warmth and depth of Al Di Meola's lightning fast fusion runs to Slash's face-melting solos, this setup runs from cool to hot.
- Backbeat Books; Guitar Player Repair Guide; Erlewine, Dan; 2007
- Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images