HSH Wiring Mod to HH/SSS

The Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul are two guitars that never have and never will fall out of favour. They cover very different ground in terms of tone, the Strat reigns supreme for crisp, bright, clear tones while the Les Paul has a heavier, fatter, punchier sound. This is down to their use of single-coil and humbucker pickups respectively. Both are great for blues and making the choice between the two camps is difficult – so wouldn’t it be great if you could get all this out of one guitar, just from the flick of a switch? This page explains how you can modify a HSH configuration guitar to switch between SSS and HH configurations, greatly expanding the versatility.

Guitar pickups and notation (HH, HSH, SSS, etc.) are explained very well in this article from Wikipedia. Another good place to learn more about guitar electronics is the excellent GuitarNuts website.

Why?

You’ve got a HSH guitar (or any three pickup guitar for that matter if you want to change the pickups) that you want more versatility from. You wish you could have all the tones of a Les Paul and a Stratocaster in one guitar.

One of my first electric guitars was a Godin SD which I love to bits. It’s a HSS guitar and I loved the strat-like sounds from the single-coils and the powerful bridge humbucker. A couple of years later I was lucky enough to buy an American Deluxe Strat (they’re a lot cheaper in the States!) and I found there was a lot of similarity between the two guitars’ sounds. It felt like the single-coils on the Godin were trying to emulate a Strat, but now I had a great Strat (which does it so much better!). So that got me thinking about changing the Godin pickups…

What?

Given that I had the Strat thing covered, I wanted more punch from the Godin and that got me thinking about single-coil sized humbuckers. Two of the bigger pickup manufacturers, Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio, both produce humbuckers that are sized to fit as single-coil replacements. After listening to the sound files on the Seymour Duncan website I decided to go for a ’59 humbucker at the bridge, a Lil’59 humbucker at the neck and a single-coil style Duckbucker* at the middle position to keep some quacky Strat tone available and turn my HSS guitar into a HSH configuration.

* Those of you that know your pickups may know that the Duckbucker is actually a humbucker type pickup and is voiced to sound like a single-coil but with humbucking noise cancellation. In this installation I have treated it exactly as a single-coil type pickup.

Neck: Lil’59 humbucker (mine is black)
Middle: single-coil style Duckbucker (mine is white)

Bridge: ’59 humbucker (mine is all black)

OK, so I fitted the pickups and they each had a great sound (the Lil’59’s output is very impressive and compares well to the full-sized ’59) but there was quite an imbalance between the two humbuckers and the quieter single-coil style Duckbucker, even after experimenting with the pickup heights. Not surprising really, given the specifications of the pickups. Also, I wanted to try coil-taps to get more versatility out of the humbuckers.

I decided I wanted to modify the wiring so that I could have either the two humbuckers on, switched like a Les Paul (HH) with the humbuckers in parallel for the middle position, or coil-tap the humbuckers and switch the resulting three single-coils like a Strat (SSS) with the guitar’s 5-way switch. Effectively the guitar would have two modes of operation:

Selected pickups
5-way selector position Humbucker mode (HH) Single-coil mode (SSS)
5 Neck Neck
4 Neck||Bridge Neck||Middle
3 Neck||Bridge Middle
2 Neck||Bridge Middle||Bridge
1 Bridge Bridge

Within each mode the pickups’ output levels are well matched to each other giving smooth transitions if you switch position on the 5-way switch mid-song. Note that the output levels in humbucker mode are much louder than in single-coil mode, which can also have its uses.

How?

When you search the web for guitar wiring information and modifications it seems that people have posted just about every conceivable wiring configuration. This idea seemed so obvious to me I thought it must be out there somewhere but, after a few hours of sifting through many websites, I gave up looking. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough? Whatever, I picked up a scrap of paper and started to think about how to make this happen…

In order to understand this modification, you need to be able to understand simple circuit diagrams. Again, the excellent GuitarNuts website can help you out here, this page is a good starting point. The 5-way selector switches used on guitars can take a bit of time to get your head around so check it out and make sure you know what switch you’ve got (Fender use a different type to just about every other manufacturer) and how it works.

Update – After a few e-mail queries, I’ve written a brief explanation of how the 5-way switch works.

This modification is achievable by adding one new switch to the guitar. You need a 4-pole changeover switch (also known as a 4-pole double throw, 4PDT, ON-ON), easily available from the likes of Maplin Electronics (I was able to walk into the Maplin shop in Cheltenham and get one on a Sunday afternoon – amazing). You also need to make sure you’ve got enough room on your guitar to fit such a switch. This should probably involve you taking off the pickguard or cavity cover and checking there’s enough room inside the guitar as well as space on the outside. I squeezed my switch in between the volume and tone controls:

The new switch sits between the volume and tone controls – note the knobs and switch cap are off and the pickguard assembly is unscrewed from the body in this photo.

An inside view of the new switch location – note the copper shielding I’ve added to the back of the pickguard and the control cavity. Not the neatest job in the world but who’s ever going to see it? Well, OK, maybe I’ll try harder next time…

Update – I’ve done it again on my new Strat and I did try harder! Check out the job I’ve done with adhesive copper tape here.

 

 

I’ve drawn out the schematic diagram here:

I’ve also drawn a wiring layout diagram here: HSH_wiring_layout_1

For a fairly complicated scheme like this, it should be easier to follow the schematic, the layout diagram is a little crowded. Hopefully having both diagrams here will enable those of you who don’t feel comfortable with schematics to compare the two and see that there isn’t really much difference between schematics and layout diagrams. In schematics, components are drawn in with clearer symbols, enabling you to follow the wiring route through switches, quite important in understanding what’s going on here. On the schematic, the original 5-way selector switch is labeled SW1 and the new switch is SW2. SW2 is drawn in the humbucker mode. The logic behind this took me some time to think through so grab a beer, look over the diagram and don’t stress too much (the hard part is when you come to actually solder this bad boy together – don’t try that under the influence, it’ll never work!).

A note on pickup choice – to perform the coil-taps on the humbuckers they each need to have 4 wires, not the older style 2-wire type that doesn’t let you tap the coils. If you’re thinking of buying new pickups check you’re getting the 4-wire type as some pickups are available in both 2-wire and 4-wire versions (this very nearly caught me out when I bought the pickups at the Music Live show in Birmingham, lucky I checked the box contents before I left!).

The main points to understand are described below:

Humbucker mode:

  • SW2 is drawn in the humbucker position
  • The hot outputs of the bridge and neck humbuckers are routed to the upper pole of SW1 as normal. From here the selected signal is passed to the guitars volume and tone controls not drawn on this diagram).
  • The lower pole of SW1 is used to ensure the neck and bridge outputs are only connected together when positions 2,3 or 4 are selected.
  • The 4th down (lowest) pole of SW2 ensures this only happens in humbucker mode (otherwise positions 2 and 4 of the single-coil mode would both be Neck||Middle||Bridge).
  • The 3rd down pole of SW2 routes this combined output of bridge and neck to the upper pole of SW1 (and then on to the guitar’s output) when in humbucker mode.

Single-coil mode:

  • With SW2 in the single-coil position, the upper two poles of SW2 perform the coil-tap on the two humbuckers, shorting half of each humbucker to ground. Now we have three single-coils!
  • The 3rd down pole of SW2 now brings the middle single-coil into the circuit and routes its output to the upper pole of SW1.
  • The 4th down pole (lowest) of SW2 is now broken and ensures that the neck pickup isn’t connected to the bridge pickup (the lower pole of SW1 is now redundant).

If you understand basic electronics, can hold a soldering iron the right way round and can figure out the contacts on your 5-way switch, this much information should be enough for you to carry out the mod.

So what…?

The ‘so what’ of this modification is that I now have a guitar that sounds like a Strat one minute and the next I kick in the humbucker switch and I get some full-on punch requiring a minimum safe distance of 5km. I’m really pleased with my pickup choice too. The ’59 at the bridge is really powerful, sends the neighbours running for cover, and when coil-tapped gives a very respectable single-coil sound. The Lil’59 at the neck is a real wonder, it really stands up to its bigger cousin at the bridge and, again, provides a good single coil sound when coil-tapped (though not as good as the full-sized ’59 in this respect). The Duckbucker in the middle gives a superb quacky Strat sound (as the name suggests!) and, when combined with the tapped ’59s in positions 2 and 4, gives the most awesome funky tones.

Of course this guitar doesn’t sound and feel exactly like a top notch Strat or Les Paul but that’s not the intention. The Godin SD is a great playing guitar in its own right. This modification expands its vocabulary so that I’ve got a broad range of tones that can cover just about anything I want to play.

Check it out!

To sort out the extra holes I was left with either side of the bridge humbucker I decided to make myself a new pickguard. I also took this opportunity to move the 5-way selector switch a little further away from the strings as I had a tendency to accidentally flick the switch with my right hand while playing – not good! That’s my only criticism of these great guitars. Still, sorted now, and I went for black for the new pickguard to give the guitar a bit of a face lift and a new mean look. Grrrrrrrrrr.

Hear it!!

OK, looks are all very well, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise… here’s what it sounds like!

As with Seymour Duncan’s website, in each set of recordings, I’ve played the same riff into the same amp settings (on my Line 6 PodXT recorded onto my PC) for direct comparison between the pickup selections.

OK, first up is a bluesy lick played into a clean amp setting (if you have a PodXT, download the tone here):

wav file icon Clean
5-way selector position Humbucker mode (HH) Single-coil mode (SSS)
5 Neck Neck
4 Neck||Bridge Neck||Middle
3 Neck||Bridge Middle
2 Neck||Bridge Middle||Bridge
1 Bridge Bridge

Now for something with a bit more drive. All I’ve done is add the Pod’s “Classic Distortion” stomp box in front of the previous amp settings (download the tonehere):

wav file icon Overdrive
5-way selector position Humbucker mode (HH) Single-coil mode (SSS)
5 Neck Neck
4 Neck||Bridge Neck||Middle
3 Neck||Bridge Middle
2 Neck||Bridge Middle||Bridge
1 Bridge Bridge

It’s obviously a lot easier to hear the difference between the pickup settings on the clean demo as there’s a lot of colour from the stomp box in the overdrive demo. But I think you can see from both, there’s a lot of fun to be had! So what are you waiting for? If anyone does find this page and carries out this mod, please drop me a line to tell me about what you’ve done.


Comments

HSH Wiring Mod to HH/SSS — 41 Comments

    • That’s a pretty easy one. You could use 2 DPDT switches as two halves of the 4PDT switch I use. I would wire one of them (call it switch A) as the top half of SW2 and the other switch (call it switch B) as the bottom half of SW2 as shown on the schematic. Switch A would control the coil taps to switch the humbuckers between humbucker and ssingle coil operation. Switch B would control which pickup is used when the 5-way selector switch is in the middle positions. You could switch both A and B at the same time to operate as per my design or use them independently but you might have something strange going on in the “2” and “4” positions when the humbuckers are active. Hope that helps.

    • hi
      i have a yamaha pacifica 812w hss configuration .
      and i want to upgrade with andy timmons set cruiser neck (it’s a humbucker in a single size)and at1 on bridge.
      th eprobleme is my switch is 2X12 pins written 54321001245
      i have 1 pot volume and 1 pot tone
      i want to keep the same conf like(neck,split neck and middle,middle,middle split bridge and bridge.
      i lookin for all the site and post all the forum in the world lol!!but i still to look my pickup on my desk:(
      my main problem is to connecte the cruiser on this switch to have split..

      thanx for your help(last chance….)

  1. Andy, I’ve decided to use Seymour Duncan Pickups for my H-S-H. Since I am building it for my 20 year old grandson, I want to give him as many tone options as possible. I’ve been thinking about splitting the coils or using a blender pot that I got from Lindy Fralin. I’m just not sure about the wiring. Also, since my pickguard is cut for three pots, I thought I might as well go with blender; or, I guess I could go with a master tone and two volume controls. I’d like your suggestions. Also, about the pots: I’ve purchased some ATC 500 and a couple of ATC 250. Any thoughts about which I should use and in what configuration or combinations? Many thanks, Jim Curtis

    • Hi Jim, sorry for not replying sooner. Pot-wise I think 500k is the way to go – for volume control it should make no difference and for tone control a 500k gives you all the tone range of a 250k plus a bit more. In terms of wiring I can only suggest trawling the web for a scheme you like the look of. Personally I think there are a lot of schemes out there that are quite confusing to the user, that’s why I tried to do something that mirrored two switching schemes we all know and love. Good luck!

  2. Hi Andy, great site and this is an excellent mod. However I was wondering if you could have more choices in the humbucking mode? For instance could you have neck, neck+bridge (series), neck+bridge (parallel), neck+bridge (tapped) and bridge for instance?

    Currently I have my HSH set with normal strat 5-way switching, with a coil tap on each humbucker. But I would like to be able to get N+B humbuckers together and add a phase switch. I think your system may be a better way.

    Cheers

    • Hi, thanks for the comments. Yes, there are plenty of schemes out there for lots of pickup combinations but I was going specifically for simplicity with this one. Have a browse around the guitar wiring forums and you should find something that takes your fancy. The Seymour Duncan website also has tons of wiring schemes on it. Hope that helps!

  3. Hi Andy!

    Your work looks and sounds awesome, however I am wondering if it is possible to switch from HH to SSS buy using a push/pull tone knob?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi, thanks for the comments Matthew. It could be possible if you can find a push/pull knob that has a 4PDT switch on it (most I’ve seen are DPDT switches) but I couldn’t find one when I was designing this so I had to go with a separate toggle switch.

  4. Hi, Andy. What about the Fender S-1 volume pots? Looks like they have a 4PDT push-push built in, and come in 250k and 500k flavours. I was looking to mod my Ibanez S470DXQM by replacing the stock INF1/2 HBs with some 4-wire HBs, and to add coil taps. I prefer your idea for SSS and HH switching, but don’t fancy drilling holes in the quilted maple!! The S-1 pots are for Start and Tele, and so have a shortish shaft to suit a pickguard, but they also do a long shaft version that will hopefully be long enough to fit through the body of my S470 (controls loaded through the back). The push-push button is contained within the top of the knob, and the Tele chrome knurled nut is similar to the ones on my guitar (like your Godin).

    • Hi Mel. I have a USA Deluxe Strat with an S1 switch and I think I had a look at the wiring once. I’m not sure about the push-button being a 4PDT but I don’t believe the 5-way switch is anything like the standard 5-way so I don’t think it’s a good basis for this mod.

      • Thanks for your reply, Andy. I had my hopes up and it looks like I’ll have to research a bit more. When I googled for ‘S-1 fender’, there were lots of references to it being 4pdt (e.g. http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2011/Apr/Mod_Garage_The_Fenders_1_Switching_System.aspx). And the 5-way switch in my guitar is the ‘import’ type you mention in your other article, and has 8 contacts, which I would have thought are the 2 poles?

        • Ahhhh, yes, actually I think you’re right. My memory was hazy and I was probably thinking of the 5-way switch in my AmDlx Strat, some kind of Fender “Super Switch” which made my head spin. I can never figure out which pickups are meant to be on when I use that S1 thing…! Yes, re-reading your posts you sound like you’ve got it sorted, 4PDT plus a standard 5-way switch (import or Fender) will do the business. Good luck! :-)

          • The Fender S1 switch works a treat. Very happy with the H-H and S-S-S options, thanks to your diagrams.

  5. Hi, Andy. I was reading that wiring a resistor in series with the tapped coil helps to beef up the ‘weak sound’ to make it more representative of a real single coil (PRS do it on some models, 1.1k on the neck, 2.2k on the bridge). Looking at your wiring diagram, am I right to think that the resistors would need to be inserted where the red/white wires join SW2? What do you reckon?

    • Interesting… but that wouldn’t quite work here. Placing a resistor in that location would indeed place it in series between the top coil and ground in the “tapped” mode… but the bottom coil would actually still be in play because it won’t have been shorted to ground, it will be in parallel with the new resistor. Not sure what it would sound like? I like your style Mel, you’re clearly able to follow the schematic!

  6. Having googled a little bit more about this, it seems that I need to put the resistors on the ground side of the SW2 switch so that it only comes into play when the HBs are tapped. Putting it the other side of the switch would be in the humbucker mode circuit (Doh!). As you correctly point out, this mod would indeed bring the untapped coil into play (but only a little bit), which some people say makes the tapped coil sound more like a ‘real’ single coil (??). The resistor values affect how much of the other coil is added, and the values given above are the ones PRS use on some of their custom guitars. I am going to give it a try, and compare with/without resistors and perhaps with some different value resistors. I read somewhere that you can use those small variable resistors (4.7k ohm variable resistor, sub-miniature fully enclosed carbon preset potentiometers, about 70p each) and then you can adjust it until it sounds best to your ears. p.s. Your schematics are easy to follow ;o)

  7. I know there’s no such thing as a stupid question, just stupid people…. But does this configuration give you the option of shs,hh,sss or just hh and sss?

      • Hi Jeff. If you did it this way you would also lose the taps which are normal on positions 2 and 4 so it would kind of work but you’d be paralleling your middle Single with either Humbucker… If you has a single coil pickup that had a high output that had a similar punch to a humbucker it might sound OK…?

        • I like the sound of the full humbuckers with the middle pickup better anyway. I never coil tap a humbucker anyway. I have a seymour duncan jazz neck, fender texas special middle, and a seymour duncan pearly gates trembucker bridge. The full HBs sound so good with the middle pu in positions 2 & 4. I just want to be able to eliminate the middle pickup at certain times so I’ll have a les paul too. gig with one guitar instead of 2. plus I have those same pickups in a les paul and the middle position sounds more like a gretsch than the typical les paul mid postion. I think I figured it out with a 3pdt switch. I also have the clapton mid boost circuit in there modified to sambora strat specs and a battery kill with an LED in there to tell me when the pickups are active or passive. If I could upload a pic on here I’d show you what I’ve came up with. I think it’ll work, but I’m not sure. Dont have the 3pdt switch to try it yet.

  8. This Problem was solved 1981 by Matsumoku (Westone, Aria Pro II, Washburn, custom fab of some famous guitar fabricates…etc.)
    from Japan.

    For example my Westone Spectrum GT has HSH with 3 way toggle and 3 push-pull-potis.
    volume = coil Split, Bass= middle PU on/off, Treble = Phase change.

    Thus you get all you want.
    schematics are available at westone.info

    • I do WAY too much pickup switching for just a 3 way toggle and have to worry about pullin up a push pull pot just to add the middle pickup. and all that does is make a way to have all 3 pickups goin at once. If thats what I wanted I’d have done it already cause its easy. I want 2 distinct guitars in one. A 3 pickup guitar made with the woods that a Les Paul is made of, and 2 distinct wiring options. I’ve figured out how to do it with a 5 way switch and the 3 way toggle. all I add in extra is a simple 3 way mini toggle.

  9. Thanks for writing this, I’ve used it for two years now and I’m very satisfied.

    I wonder: is it also possible in HB mode to have the HBs in parallel mode in positions 2 and 4 with only two switches, let’s say a super switch like WDE5XL and a 4PDT? I can’t find any schematic on the ‘Net about this. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the feedback Jostein. Um, you might be able to do something with those superswitches but I just went for the simplest thing that sprang to mind!

  10. sounds good. I am building an electric guitar for my kid. it going to have a 57 classis Gibson humbucker in bridge, mojo clone 59 jazzmaster single in neck, and a “Hotrod” Stratocaster single in mid. what type of switch do I need? 5way? and how should I wire it? Thanks, Eric

  11. Hi, thank you for your mod, i’m going to make a similar one…so i’m studying yours :).
    Just an aspect i do not get from your schemes: u wire the bridge pickup in the common pin of the second pole in sw1: that way how comes it does not connect on all the switch position in hh mode? I’m missing something….
    Thanx alot
    Giorgio

    • Thanks for checking it our Giorgio, sorry for the delay in response. If you follow SW1 through from that bridge pickup connection, you’ll see the common pin on the second pole only connects to the neck pickup in positions 2,3,4 in HH mode and at positions 1 and 5 it is left open.

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