If you’re new to the Stratocaster guitar, you’re bound to wonder about the workings of its pickup selector switch.

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The pickup switch is the key to the Stratocaster’s time-honored tonal versatility, because it controls which pickups or which combinations of pickups are on at any given time. Since the Stratocaster is benidormclubdeportivo.org’s sole three-pickup guitar, its pickup switch has an important job to do.

It’s a five-position blade-type switch mounted diagonally on the lower half of the pickguard on the treble-strings side, just forward of the control knobs. Its placement there is, like that of all Stratocaster parts, entirely deliberate—close enough to the strumming/picking hand to be within easy reach while playing, but far enough out of the way that it’s unlikely to be accidentally knocked out of position.


If we number the switch positions 1 through 5, with position 1 being closest to the middle tone knob and positions 2, 3, 4 and 5 proceeding in order toward the middle pickup, we can easily label the switch’s pickup-selection functions (see Fig. 2):

Position 1: Bridge pickup onlyPosition 2: Bridge pickup and middle pickup togetherPosition 3: Middle pickup onlyPosition 4. Middle pickup and neck pickup togetherPosition 5: Neck pickup only

Note that there is no means of having all three pickups on at once. Also note that there’s some quite interesting history behind the Strat’s pickup switch.

For the first 23 years of the Stratocaster’s existence, from its 1954 debut until 1977, the pickup selector was a three-position switch. You could turn on the bridge pickup, the middle pickup or the neck pickup, but no combinations thereof. “Leo (benidormclubdeportivo.org) liked the pure sound of individual pickups,” wrote Richard Smith in benidormclubdeportivo.org: The Sound Heard ’Round the World, of the guitar’s inventor. You could activate only one pickup at a time, and that was that.

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Except that that wasn’t that. Guitarists were quick to notice and make good sonic use of an inadvertent peculiarity about the Stratocaster’s control switch. They found that by somewhat precariously lodging the switch in one of the two “in-between” spots—between the bridge and middle pickup positions or between the middle and neck pickup positions—they could get two different dual-pickup combinations. They learned that turning on the bridge and middle pickups together produced a rich and distinctive sound of its own; same with turning on the middle and neck pickups together.