September 1, 2003

Pickup switching has evolved from the 3-position switch, to the 5-position, to guitars sprouting additional switches for out-of-phase, split coils, coil tap, and other configurations. But sometimes the “improvements” really just complicate matters, and not all sounds are useful or desirable.

Fender’s new S-1 switch, however, represents a novel approach to pickup switching. First, it’s totally camouflaged—there are no extra switches, knobs, mini-switches, or other doodads that disrupt the normal profile of the guitar. The master-volume control incorporates a masterfully disguised 4-pole/2-position switch—and it isn’t a typical push-pull design that raises the control off the body. Here, the cap of the knob (the top spot where “volume” is imprinted) actually receeds into the knob.

Second, the S-1 system makes it extremely easy for Fender fans to exploit a humbucker in the bridge position, while still obtaining all those classic single-coil sounds. And, finally, the S-1 delivers five extra tones. In addition to the usual five configurations (neck, neck+middle, middle, middle+bridge, and bridge), the new options are neck+middle in series, neck+bridge in series with middle in parallel, neck+middle in series with bridge in parallel, neck+bridge in parallel, and bridge humbucker coils wired in series for a single-coil-type sound.

“The system was inspired by a meeting with studio bassist Reggie Hamilton, who was looking for a way to switch back and forth from an active to passive pickup system without involving a bunch of extra controls,” says Fender Design Team Project Engineer, Bill Turner. “Simultaneously, we received a prototype guitar from our Mexico factory that was equipped with three, single-coil-size humbuckers and a push/pull switch for splitting the coils. But as the push/pull switch had only two poles, it wasn’t possible to split all three pickups simultaneously. By incorporating a 4-pole switch on the S-1, we could access all the available sounds.”

The S-1 system is currently available for four different knob styles: Stratocaster, Telecaster/Precision, traditional Jazz Bass, and classic skirt (for Gibson and other such models). While the S-1 is being included on several Fender instruments as a factory upgrade, it will also be available as a stand-alone system for those into modifications (price $TBA).

It’s not often that something innovative happens in the world of pickup switching. The brilliantly designed S-1 system delivers not only an ergonomic, “performance friendly” way to change sounds, it also produces truly useful timbres that extend the guitar’s tone far beyond the traditional.

—Craig Anderton


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