The (In)famous Stratocaster Kill Switch
Hello and welcome back to “Mod Garage.”
Inspired by a recent press release, I’m going
to show you the basics of the so-called “kill
switch” for a Strat. I’m sure you’ve seen this
on You Tube: a cool, long-haired guitarist
reaches for the pickup selector switch on his
Les Paul (which is hanging at hip height), and
while playing he starts to wiggle it back and
forth to create a stuttering or staccato on/off
sound, the so-called “machine gun” sound—
naturally with tons of gain on it. How’s he
doing that? It’s easy on any guitar with individual volume controls for the pickups: turn
down the volume pot for the neck pickup,
play the bridge pickup and use the 3-way
selector toggle to flick between the now
quiet neck and the roaring bridge pickup.
Ever tried this with a standard Strat? If so, I’m
pretty sure you were disappointed with the
results. It’s time to have a closer look at the
kill switch and what it’s doing.
In a nutshell, a guitar kill switch is pretty
much the same as the well-known standby
switch on your tube amp. It’s doing what
you’d expect from the name: cutting the
signal. The difference is that a tube amp’s
standby switch cuts the signal while the rest
of your gear is engaged and waiting to be
played, while the kill switch is a momentary
interruption of the signal. So what’s the benefit of a kill switch?
There are at least two good reasons for having one in a guitar:
1. As we just discovered, you can use such
a switch to create the staccato effect called
the “machine-gun” sound. Some well-known
players to use this effect include Eddie Van
Halen and Buckethead. It’s commonly used
with lots of gain, but when you’re playing
clean, you can use the kill switch to make a
held chord sound as though the guitar were
2. When you play with lots of gain, you can
simply use the kill switch to shut down the
entire guitar during a break, without altering
50 PREMIER GUITAR DECEMBER 2009
your controls, saving your audience from
noise and hiss. This is also a really good
option when using your guitar in the studio.
Some companies offer a kill switch option
for their guitars. My friend Heiko from the
German company Basslab ( basslab.de) even
has this option as a standard in all of his guitars. Shadow Electronics (shadow-electronics.
com) released a special “Kill Pot” some time
ago, which is basically a normal pot with an
integrated momentary push switch.
Integrating a kill switch in a standard Strat
circuit is very easy, but there’s a catch. I’ve
seen countless forum threads on this subject,
and most go something like this: “all you
have to do is to interrupt the signal going to
the output jack, route it via a normal on/off
switch, and you’re done!” This must be one of
the basic mods from the popular Obnoxious
Modding Guide. If you do it this way, you will
get the annoying and all-too-familiar buzz and
noise of an accidentally unplugged guitar—
which is fine only if you’re trying to mimic the
sound of a UFO landing. Remember the first
basic rule we discussed several months ago:
never disconnect the signal! If you want to
shut down the signal, shorting it to ground is
the way to go; your rig will go quiet without
any buzzing noises. When playing clean, cutting the signal almost always results in a popping noise. However, if you’re distorting the
signal, it will clip it anyway, so this won’t be
nearly as noticeable. There’s nothing wrong
with the wiring, it’s just the physics of the
situation. This mod sounds best with a heavy,
overdriven signal anyway, so it works just fine
for most players.
Let’s Get Started
This month I’ll show you how to set up a
kill switch with a 2PDT (on/on) or push/pull
or push/push pot with an integrated 2PDT
switch. Next month, I’ll show you how to set
up a momentary kill switch on a Strat. This
requires a deeper look into the switching functions of such switches, but it’s worth the effort.
All we need to integrate a kill switch into
a standard Strat is a 2PDT (on/on) switching device. This can be an additional toggle
switch, a push/pull or push/push pot or a
momentary switch that when pressed shuts
down the signal to ground. When the button is pressed, no sound. As always, printing
out the standard Stratocaster wiring and
place it on your workbench is always a good
start. This way it’s much easier to see and
understand the differences compared to the
modded schematics. You can download the
standard wiring scheme directly from the
Seymour Duncan webpage.
Solder the two jumper connections on the
top and on the bottom of the switch as
shown in the diagram. Now solder the two
wires to the middle lug of the Strat’s master
volume control and to the tip (hot output)
of the output jack. Congratulations, that’s it.
Now you can machine-gun with your Strat.
Stay tuned for more next month.
Until then ... keep on modding!
Dirk Wacker lives in Germany and has been addicted to
all kinds of guitars since the age of five. He is fascinated
by anything that has something to do with old Fender
guitars and amps. He hates short scales and Telecaster
neck pickups, but loves twang. In his spare time he plays
country, rockabilly, surf and Nashville styles in two bands,
works as a studio musician for a local studio and writes
for several guitar mags. He is also a hardcore DIY guy
for guitars, amps and stompboxes and runs an extensive
webpage www.singlecoil.com about these things.