For most electric guitars, you will find a volume control, tone control and a selector switch for multiple pickups. On higher end guitars with fancier wiring and a price tag to match, you may find coil taps, tone boosters or kill switches. Today the focus is on a kill switch.
So what is a kill switch?!? Simply it is a toggle switch or button that functions as an on / off. Similar to a light switch. Turn it one direction and the lights go on and the opposite and they go off. (totally crazy, right?!?)
Why install a kill switch? For me I had the idea to add my first kill switch to one of my Fernandes Vertigo’s some 3-5 years ago, ish. I had originally intended to coil split my Seymour Duncan Invader pick up but accidentally ordered the wrong switch from Stewart MacDonald guitar parts (www.stewmac.com). Being the fairly impatient person that I am I decided to install a kill switch instead. (years later I installed the coil split) The kill switch allows me to immediately cut signal from my guitar. So if you are playing live and want to quickly tune and not have the audience hear you and you are using a clip on tuner, hit the switch and tune away in peace. If you want to add a rhythmic stop or musical strobe effect, turning on and off the switch will give you that as well… Which can open the door to many ideas and ways of writing riffs.
So… how to install a switch…
Well, guitars don’t necessarily come with extra holes in the body for modification. You will need to drill in a spot for it within the cavity where the other potentiometers are located. With that, you will also need to find a spot below your strings and by the bridge that can be easily accessible when you are playing.
Below is a simple wiring guide downloaded from somewhere online.
The idea is simple, inline between the last potentiometer and the output jack is where one would typically install it. The tools needed are a drill, drill bit to match the diameter of the threaded shank of the switch, some extra guitar wire, a soldering iron, solder for electricity (NOT PLUMBING) and some flux.
Step 1… Drill a hole. I like to use masking tape over where I am drilling so I can use a pencil to mark the layout and to also help with preventing the finish from being chipped. If you are nervous about the drill bit skipping simply take a punch and make an indent where the hole will go and the bit will not skip out.
Step 2… Cut wires and make the connection. The black wires are for the output and carry the signal. The white wire is the ground wire which is grounded to the guitar. (Not every guitar has different colored wires. Look for the wire soldered to the top of the pot to find the ground) If you look at the picture closely below, you will notice that on the bottom terminal I did not bridge the two terminals together… OOPS! it created an open ground where the guitar would only make terrible noise and unless I physically touched the metal on my instrument cable, would hiss, crackle and pop. So don’t forget this step. It took me a few minutes to figure this one out…
Step 3… Tighten the switch and put everything back together again. There are a few things you want to keep in mind when you do this. (not taking consideration of the thickness of the body where the holes are drilled). One, position the switch so that it is comfortable to operate while playing. Mine are at a 45 degree angle or so. In the down position it is off. Two, we all know that things should be really tight and there is always the annoyance when things get loose. If you over tighten the nuts you will rip the shafts out of the switch and have to order in another one and do it all over again. (take my word for it, don’t ask)
Step 4… Plug it in, make sure everything works and play your heart out. The strobe effect you can create with echo, delay and other modulators can be quite fun.
So thank you for checking out my blog post on installing a kill switch. Please note, I am not a professionally trained luthier and like to jump into projects. If you have critiques please be gentle 🙂
Dingus (pre-steampunking) with a kill switch.