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Red Special Wiring Schematic Using Only 3 On-On-On Toggle switches – PTB Tone Control & Solo Switch

red special wiringRed 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.

 three positions double pole (DP3T) ON/ON/ON toggle switch

three positions double pole (DP3T) ON/ON/ON toggle switch

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

Red-Special-Wiring-On-On-On-Toggle-Switch-solo-switch copy

Click on the pic to get the full size PDF file

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

  • Burns pickups @ AliExpress
  • Blank Stratocaster Pickguard @ AliExpress

As usual, if you have any questions to ask or any info to add to this article, please use the comment form bellow. I’d be really happy to answer you the best I can.


This post is also available in: French

25 Responses to Red Special Wiring Schematic Using Only 3 On-On-On Toggle switches – PTB Tone Control & Solo Switch

  • Hey man. If you don’t mind, I’m going to steal your schematic for my project guitar. I would like to use the tri-switch setup with high gain singles but with onky master tone and master volume. The second tone pot i plan to have a 4pdt switch installed for a master series/parallel switch. Is it possible to do while keeping the solo switch, but not having PTB wiring?

    Hope you can get back to me.

    • sure. ptb is just advanced tone pot. just wire you tone pot and volume pot in one of the solo switch and you’re good to go. post your schematic here if you have problems, or better if you do it your way and it works.

  • Hi Hervé, I’m in the process of getting a Brian May scratch plate & wiring for my strat and would like to get the burns tri sonic mini’s.

    I’m a completely new to wiring and was wondering where to solder the ground wire for the metal casing on the burns pickups, would i just solder them together on top of the volume pot?

    My current pickups only have 2 wire as they have plastic casing.

  • Bonjour Hervé,
    La position centrale étant dévolue à mettre les micros hors circuit, peut-on utiliser des switches on/off/on pour faire cette modification

  • Herve,
    I just finished my first test go at the May wiring and it sounds fantastic clean. I used some Non Staggered Alnico pickups I just had laying around. Could have been from MIM Strat originally.

    Plus I had such low expectations, I used CAT5e strands to do some of the wiring because it was easier to get in the tight spots than thicker guage wires. Out of phase sounds are almost as loud as in phase. And all the sounds are unique. Sure wish I knew for sure the model of my pickups. I can wait to wire up my “real” guitar. Not sure I need Burns. Thanks again

    • thx for the kind words. Burns pickups are not mendatory. They are just the pickups Brian May used. Just use the one you like. Keep in mind that some pickups sound better than others. To get the best result you must have them, fat, medium to high gain output (preferably high gain) and silent.

  • Herve,
    Are you still liking the PTB in this config? After seeing your BCU videos, I was wondering about using it. Any thoughts on using the BCU in this configuration instead of the PTB?

    Kudos again and a creative simplification to the BM wiring.


    • Grant. You are right; the PTB was an experiment. I’m not using this pickguard anymore today. I’m planning on installing it on my next custom strat and sell it on eBay. I planned to remove the PTB and to replace it with a regular tone pot and a BCU. Of course, the BCU after the solo switch to have access to it in both mode. I’ll make a post and video about it whenever I complete it.

      • Cool thanks. I’m thinking of putting a humbucker in the bridge with a series/parallel/split switch in front of the bridge phase ON-On-On switch. Then I’ll use the BCU as you’ve described above.

        • or you can put the series/parallel/split switch where I placed the solo switch and wire the solo switch on a pushpull. Like that you don’t have too many switches

  • Burns produce a mini tri sonic pickup that is supposes to be a better fit for Stratocasters. Do you have any thoughts on these

  • Hello! I want to know how the solo switch works, because to my understanding, when the solo swith is up, the volume knob is not connected in any line that goes towards the output, and when the switch is down, that’s the only time the volume is connected along with the PTB knobs. I may be wrong so can you please demonstrate the behavior of the switch? I am building this wiring soon and will pretty much like it to work 100%. Thank you!

    • Just follow the diagram. When the switch is in solo mode, it bypasses every pots. The signal goes directly to the output jack. You have to understand the schematic. It’s extremely simple.

  • Hi Hervé,

    since I’m just trying to do a “Red Special Strat” myself – how did you come up with the pickup positions? Are they calculated, experimentally derived, or just … well, “looks good to me”?

    Thank you!

    • well, i tried to keep the same distance between the 3 pups than a normal strat. Also, because they are much bigger than regular single coils, I did my best.

  • Hi! The kind of project I was looking for!! Excellent job!
    But in my case, My single coils only have 2 wire (these are handwound by Alexander Pribora). Any suggestions about the wiring I should do? Should I just ignore the ground connection?

  • Wow, that was quick! Thanks for the answer – this provides me from a few nights of useless trying. That’s great to know.

  • Hi Hervé This is what I’ve been searching for. I’ve already bought the same kind of on-on-on-switches. I’ve tested them and they work like yours. Is it possible to have the “off” in position 1 ; “out of phase” in pos. 2; “in phase” in position 3 ? For me this would be easier to handle. What would the wiring diagram look like? Thanks a lot Urs

  • Excellent Work!!! Great take on something I have been wondering about a long time; “There must be a better way …” But I do have a challenge for you. I found a very interesting option to “Stratocast” the wiring from this site:

    Is there a way to do this mod with your 3 on-on-on?

    Best regards

    • This is exactly what I did. My wiring offers the same exact function as the Brian May’s Red Special wiring using only three on-on-on toggle switch.
      Be careful; the On-On-On toggle switch has a sense. You must test them to find out the right alignment otherwise, it won’t work.

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