Many guitars come equipped with two pickups; these are easily managed with a simple 3-way switch as only three possible combinations exist - bridge, neck, and bridge + neck. The situation with one-pickup guitars (although they’re rare) is even simpler, as you could simply turn the pickup on or off with a 2-way switch.

So where do 5-way switches come in? 

In this article, we’ll explain what the 5-way double pole switch on Stratocasters is, how it works, and why this is an ideal combination of hardware for this particular type of guitar. 

What is a 5-way Guitar Switch?

Let’s start with the basics. A 5-way guitar switch is a slightly longer selector that governs five possible combinations of three pickups. Assuming that the pickup placement is the classic “bridge, neck, and middle”, the five usual ways of coupling them include:

  • Standalone bridge; neck and middle off
  • Standalone middle; neck and bridge off;
  • Standalone neck; bridge and middle off;
  • Bridge + middle; neck off;
  • Bridge + neck; middle off;

A 5-way switch is used to access any of these combinations instantly. These selectors function the same way as 3-way switches; the only difference is that you’ll typically be able to move them one extra space up and down. 

What is a Double Pole?

Before explaining how 5-way double pole pickups work, let’s quickly explain how the latter functions. 

A double pole governs two circuits simultaneously. In other words, it can instantly either open or close two circuits at once, eliminating the need to make manual adjustments. This is especially important for guitarists, as closing/opening individual channels that would allow or prevent desired pickups from working on demand would be both complex and time-consuming. 

Double or 2-pole switches relate to the way the switch is wired. Essentially, you’ll have to connect slots in a vertical parallel so that whenever you slide the selector, you’ll be opening or closing two circuits simultaneously. 

How Does a 5-way Double Pole Switch Work?

Numerous viable wiring diagrams for 3-pickup Strats with 5-way double pole switches exist. To illustrate how they work, we’ll cover the simplest and most commonly used diagram where the magnets are linked to two tone pots and one volume pot.

The double-pole switch wiring enables you to open or close two circuits; provided that six slots are available at all times on any circuit, two will always be open regardless of the position of your selector switch. 

Normally, we’d wire neck and bridge, as the most popular pickup positions to the top two slots, and middle and ground to the bottom two. Although double-pole wiring leaves slightly less room for experimentation, it is possible to organize your pickups (and their selection) however you please. 

If you don’t have the DIY skills to personally rewire traditional pots, you can either purchase pre-wired double-pole on-on, on-off, or on-off-on switches; alternatively, you can take your favorite pots to an expert for a rewiring if you’re satisfied with the way they sound and don’t want to risk damaging the internal components.