Definitive Guide to Pickup Wiring?


I'm not looking to be a guitar tech any time soon, but I'd certainly love to better understand wiring pickups. I've searched a ton on the web and find bits and pieces of info, but I can't see to find a good lesson on understanding wire diagrams. For example, while reviewing possible scenarios from for example a Dimarzio website, I'd like to be able to view a diagram and understand why the wires are going to where they go. Or the reverse, be able to wire the wires based on the solution I'm trying to accomplish.

Even searching for info on switches on what each lug does is hard so I'm hoping there is some basic theory stuff I can study to help pain the picture of how this all works.

Is is it just overly complicated I just need to spend a lifetime of tinkering or do I just need to better understand the basics of how it all works and plays together?

Can someone point me in the right direction?


Supporting Member
The right direction is to obtain proper schematics and learn how to read them.
That includes switching configurations.
Even finding a schematic of a 5 way switch is a chore.
This is the right type:

The guitar community needs to up their game, and it would actually be easier for everybody.
Take a course in Basic Electronics at your local community college.
Pickups are Inductors
treble-cut is accomplished with a Capacitor
Potentiometers (volume) act as Voltage dividers, while the treble-cut pot controls the low-pass filtering.
That's a little tricky, because the pot Resistance & Capacitor act as a high-pass filter, but it's used to shunt the highs to chassis ground.

Some (perhaps most) Electronics courses might have the prerequisite of Basic Electricity, which would make perfect sense.
You need to walk before you can run & how a switch works is Basic Electricity.

I often see requests for wiring "schematics", but TBH what they really want is a wiring diagram.
If you learn in a real Electronics course, you'll be able to read an actual schematic.

T.T. posted a schematic above. Here's one from RIC:


Stewmac has some good structured instructional material ...

This is close to definitive on most common guitar switch terminal definitions ...

Others ...

You will find lots of wiring diagrams. They are the 'join the dots' of guitar electronics. They show you how to wire a guitar, but they don't tell you how the circuit works. As @Tone_Terrific says, you need a schematic for that. Fender only publishes wiring diagrams.
Gibson has published their schematics ...
Start with something simple like a single pickup ES175 ...

To me, schematics are simple. They tell me how the guitar works. I can't recall how I learned to read them ... I suspect it was mostly just by looking at them and working them out. In the world of electronics, guitar schematics are kindergarten stuff - it's not hard. Wiring diagrams on the other hand just tell me where to solder the wires (pre-kinder !). They don't really tell you how the guitar works, or even if they are correct ... I have followed several wiring diagrams that turned out to be wrong, but I didn't realize that until I finished and the guitar didn't work. Nowadays, when I find a wiring diagram, I draw up the schematic from it, and that tells me how ... and if ... it will work.

Note that some people mistakenly use the term 'schematic' for a wiring diagram ... eg

And some people shouldn't be allowed to draw wiring diagrams. Like this one ... ;)

On the other hand this wiring diagram is a similar circuit but much easier to follow ....

Sometimes you have to read between the lines, like what to do with the ground ....
Last edited:

Trending Topics