Red Special Wiring Plan – The Best and Easiest Wirework
The Red Special Wiring is a popular pattern. It has been popularized by Brian May on his famous Red Special handmade guitar. I don’t think he invented it, out of phase pickups were famous in the 50s, but he is the first one to have used it massively in rock. Well, at least the first well-known artist.
Is it because of a lack od knowledge or because the On-On-On toggle switch didn’t exist at that time? Whatever the reason was, Brian May used 6 ON-ON slide switch to achieve it. Because of that, today most people doing this wiring are doing it the old way.
The six toggle switch wiring is more complicated to perform, cost more money, require a heavier pickguard modification and is a PITA to run.
The switch needed to assemble the Red Special wiring using only three switches are 3, three positions double pole (DP3T) ON/ON/ON toggle switch.
Also, because I’m a gear geek, I am always trying to improve already advanced wiring. I decided to add a PTB tone control and a solo switch to the pattern. It might sound a lot, but coming from me it’s not. You’ll find out soon enough that my guitar wiring can be quite extreme.
To craft a PTB tone control you need two 500K tone pot (A or B type potentiometer doesn’t matter), one 0.022uF and one 0.0015uF capacitors.
For the solo switch, you only need a DPDT On-On toggle switch. You can also wire it on a push-pull potentiometer on any of the three pots, preferably the master volume. Personally, whenever i have the chance, I prefer to avoid push-pulls because I don’t like to have things performing two tasks at the time. It is confusing. Also, you can change the setup by accident when pulling on the potentiometer. I only use push-pull when I lack room. They are also more pricey than regular On-On switches and more fragile too.
Finally, you need a blank pickguard.
There are many things to keep in mind before performing this installation
Firstly, do you need that type of sound? Lots of people want to assemble this wiring diagram because of Brian May’s popularity and because they are Queen’s fans. If you don’t know what it sounds like, listen to my video where I’m performing all the possible pickups setting options.
Check out the video where I demo my version of the Red Special wiring
Out of phase is a strange outcome and a lot of people are not too crazy about this nasal sounding. To make it sound good requires lots of effects. You can’t have a good out-of-phase clean sound. It’s better with distortion or fuzz. If you want to use an out-of-phase clean sound, you must use a booster and lots of effects like a chorus, a flanger or a phaser along with delay to make it sound good. Otherwise, the sound is going to sound weak and really thin. You can also approach this sounding using a parametric EQ.
Pickups to use
Even if you can perform this wiring on mostly any pickups available, be it single coil or humbucker. The outcome is going to be much different from one type of pickup to another.
Burns pickups are excellent because they sound extremely fat for a single coil. They are also silent, because of the metal casing and the bare wire. It’s a three cable wire or one conductor and two grounds.
If you assemble it using regular single coils, it might sound way to nasal and the loss of volume is going to be dramatic.
My personal rule of thumb for out-of-phase pickups is; if the pickup sounds really bright in phase, and if the in-phase output is low, it won’t sound right out-of-phase. Even if the Burns Tri-sonics are excellent, you can hear the huge drop in volume when I’m playing with a clean sound at the end of the video.
Pickups/Brand to avoid
Also, some vintage pickup, wired differently are not going to work. I tried to make this pickguard using Brighton Rock Pickups from GFS, which is advertised as being the counterpart of the Tri-sonic Burns pickup, and it doesn’t work.
I tested all sort of wiring, including the traditional 6 switches one and it just doesn’t work. GFS have some good pickups ( made by Artec), but some of their vintage pickups ( like the gold foil humbuckers, or the lipsticks) are not compatible with advanced wirings such as out-of-phase or master series and what not.
I ordered lots of products from them, but I won’t order again. Many products were satisfying, but I was deceived many times too. Also, I find out that Artec makes their electronic, and the wood parts come from China. Why bothering paying extra money to get the same thing you can find on AliExpress or eBay?
Places to get the gears needed to assemble my version of the Red Special Wiring
I am Hervé Senni, a pro musician and performer for quite some time.
My main musical instrument is unquestionably the electric guitar. Nevertheless, I also perform bass guitar, mandolin, Ukulele, and invented string instruments. I am also a composer as well as an arranger. Over the years, repairing and trying to further improve electric guitars that a majority of times did not have to be upgraded converted me right into a self-taught luthier.