Red Special Wiring Schematic Using Only 3 On-On-On Toggle switches – PTB Tone Control & Solo Switch
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 of knowledge or because the On-On-On toggle switch didn’t exist at that time? Whatever the reason was, Brian May used a 6 ON-ON slide switches to achieve it. Today, most people doing this wiring are doing it the old way.
The six-toggle switch wiring is more complicated to perform, costs more money, requires 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.
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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.
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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 pickup setting options.
Check out the video where I demo my version of the Red Special wiring
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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.
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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 sorts 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 bother paying extra money to get the same thing you can find on AliExpress or eBay?
>>> Guitar Pickups Humbuckers <<<
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 below. I’d be really happy to answer you the best I can.
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I am Hervé Senni, a pro musician and performer, Composer and arranger for quite some time. My main musical instrument is the electric guitar. I am also a bass player, mandolin, Ukulele player. I also invented string instruments.
Over the years, repairing and improving electric guitars that did not have to be upgraded converted me into a self-taught luthier.
This post is also available in: French
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.
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.