Ibanez Five Position Switch Nightmare
I thought I would document a little of my frustrating (but ultimately rewarding) experiences yesterday and today, of changing my noisy guitar switch for an Ebay replacement. You may save some trouble if you are doing this yourself, by NOT making some of the mistakes I made.
The rewarding bit was finding out more about what model Ibanez I actually have – a Made In Japan RG360 or RG560 possibly? Not an RG230 or RG320 as I thought it was, sold as such on Ebay 10 years back or so. I cannot be 100% sure as there is no serial sticker, but the original older Edge Tremolo seems to confirm this, with the pickup combo and no scratch plate. I’ll get back to that research later. I always thought this played as well as – or better than – my first white, 1988 RG550 (should NOT have sold that one in 2001!) I bought in London when they were first out:
and Steve Vai was the best thing to happen to Ibanez since Sliced Sushi…
Anyway, my switch has been crackly for a long time and the plastic knob is loose also, so I finally decided to get it replaced. There is no point having lots of nice amps to play through if you are hassled by a bad selector.
I was shocked by the price of replacements at 20 quid or much more!
I found a used 5 way switch from Ireland for 6 Euros plus postage, from an Ibanez, so thought I would be fine, with a straight forward replacement wire for wire…Duh…
This approach did not work – no surprise there!
This is where you take a CLEAR photo of your old working switch connections BEFORE you take the old switch out. All I have is an old pic from an old Post that is not much help, as I did not do that:
As the old switch IS numbered, it may have helped me translate the positions for the new switch, once I used a multimeter to find out what connects to what.
Also, now I had de-soldered it all I had to check which wires were connected to which pickups also to get it all straight in my head.
This was not so bad, as the neck and middle pickups are single coil and have black and white wires visible in the pickup moulding, but the bridge pickups do not – they are red, white and an Earth screen INSIDE a black sleeve, as it is a Humbucker. I could verify this with the multimeter on the 20kOhm range, getting about 4K from red then white to screen, and 9k from red to white which is across both split pickups. The screen is therefore the midpoint of each Humbucker singles.
The black wires from each single coil are the cold wires, soldered to the volume pot casing along with the Humbucker braided screen. The middle coil hot, white wire had been marked with (factory?) red pen to differentiate it from the hot, white neck wire, but to still show it is HOT (i.e. not an earth), as had the white Humbucker single hot wire also.
For this H-S-S pickup arrangement, which is not so common for most Ibanez models (more Stratty), and a characteristic of the RG360/560s more so (another model ID helper), it means I have 4 hot wire options for variation (or confusion!).
I did not research the various types of switches or their many applications, which would have saved me time in understanding what I was trying to achieve from the many options, and why.
Not a big deal as I found out soon enough when I HAD to.
When I compared the old to the new, they were different but both 5 way types. Why exactly?
I found a page that explained the history of Fender 5 way switches, and how they are split into two A stages then these stages linked. This was informative but sent me down a wrong “contact A to A connection” alley for the Ibanez – which led to incorrect wiring and short circuited pins to the switch case. Why? Because I soldered the wires with the switch in the guitar, vertically, so the solder ran down the pins and connected with the metal case – which I couldn’t see!
Solder the wires with the switch FLAT! Or just be careful…It took me until the next day to discover this. I thought I had damaged the switch with too much solder heat, as I got pickup combos, or no sound out, that made no sense according to the multimeter checked connections diagram I did beforehand.
(I am crap at soldering and I have a crap iron that is too big for this work). I will get a decent solder station soon. A MUST for saving aggro, lots of anger, swearing and frustration.
The Fender switch article is here:
It did show me the physical differences between Fender parts and the enclosed, cheaper Far East type and the Megaswitch type like mine seemed to be:
“Far East 5-way Switch
EYB Megaswitch S
“The Megaswitch S, from the German company EYB, is a combination of open and closed switches, offering an open PCB-based construction. This switch offers an extra ground lug, marked with a red G in the diagram.”
It taught me that the contacts relating to the A stage position’s varies between switch types, and as my old one has the markings stamped on it: 3 2 1 0 0 1 2 3:
but the new one did not, I had to get out the multimeter to find out what the common A contacts are, and draw a diagram of what contacts what for each of the 5 switch positions – bridge, bridge + middle, middle, neck + middle and neck. Some switch possibilities are:
The A to A Fender wire link mentioned in the history article is unnecessary in these types (my blind alley mentioned earlier, as I initially connected the As – no need).
Once I drew my own switch diagram showing how the pins connected, things started to make more sense:
A main piece of the puzzle, from the Fender history page was knowing that the stage 2 pin A goes straight to the Volume pot then to the output jack. Then I could see that the 5 switch positions connect the pickups either singly for the bridge (stage 2 pin 1) and neck (stage 2 pin 3) as the only pickups, or as parallel combinations of neck, middle and bridge if the middle hot wire was at stage 2 pin 2.
With this setup though, there is no middle pickup on its own in middle position 3, as stage 2, pin 2 does not connect to anything as on my diagram, but the neck pickup at stage2, pin 3 connects in parallel to the bridge pickup on stage 2, pin 1 instead. The reason seems to be here:
Quite a few Ibanez guitars will use a standard 5-way switch. It looks like this…
In order to have the switch work as it does with a standard middle single coil pickup, you need to replace the switch with Ibanez Part# 3PS1VLX91. It look like this…
I had not even noticed the tone difference of neck and bridge in parallel before; I thought it was the middle pickup I was playing anyway with switch position 3. The only way to be sure is to gently tap the pickup cores with a screwdriver or other metal object to hear the connected pickups thump.
What is just as good, is that the middle pickup IS connected in parallel with the bridge (pos 2) and neck (pos 4) to give the out of phase Strat sounds – there would be no point having the middle pickup if it didn’t eh!?
So I have all the sounds and positions I need, but this still left me with a black earth and the Humbucker single coil hot wire. I could have left it like this.
Out of curiosity, I found this page showing a bridge Humbucker with my switch type:
This showed me were the remaining earth could go – pin 2 from top right from the volume pot case. This made no difference to the current setup sounds so that was fine. Next, I also tried the remaining Humbucker single hot (yellow to pin 1 from top right) but this cancelled the dual Humbucker coils and only played the inside single coil. This gives a very Stratty lead pickup sound (good – but not for me on this guitar), and also only gave this single coil in parallel with the neck and middle pickups for slightly different thinner Strat tonal qualities at positions 2 and 4 – nice in their own way, but I didn’t want that as I lost the louder main lead Humbucker pickup sound.
To understand how and why Humbuckers work and are used:
What I thought was a relatively easy change turned into a major exercise – but as usual, I learned a lot of extra stuff, and am very happy with the results, as I have all the tones I had before with no errors or compromises (I nearly gave up at one point being left with a 3 position switch effectively due to those solder shorts!).
Most importantly – no more crackles!
I found out a lot about different Ibanez models, the idiosyncrasy of the 3PS1SC5 Ibanez switch, and maybe I have a more valuable, better guitar than I originally thought.
I also took the opportunity to set the pickup height of the Humbucker slightly lower than before so that the volume level is more consistent with the other positions, and lowered the higher side more so to reduce the treble strings signal too.
Bear in mind that there is a limit when altering the distance of pickups to the strings that a stronger signal sacrifices sustain, as the magnetic field has a dampening effect on the string the closer it is.
Just use your ear and trial and error to get the best compromise between the strongest signal out, against lost sustain for your style of playing and what gear you use.
I don’t know if it’s psychological, but the whole guitar seems to have a much nicer tone for every position, with a lovely harmonic clarity, through the Aston valve kit particularly, I didn’t seem to hear before.
If this is the case it could have been that the old switch did have bad high resistance contacts in general as well as the crackles on changing positions. It could also be the different wiring with the single Humbucker pickup left out from what the previous switch setup was?
The Ibanez RG model numbering system and features available is explained here:
Haha…Keith More – bottom right:
I will do a recording of each position at some point and upload them.
Ibanez Five Position Switch Nightmare