Lollar Pickups Primer: The 3-Wire Tele Modification

teleactionA 4-way switch mod for Tele style guitars has always been a fun, “secret sauce” menu item for discerning guitar players. We don’t offer a pickup set that will work with it as a standard option but if you ask nicely we just might make one for you…

The standard three-way-switch gives you the three classic Tele position we all know and love. Neck pickup alone, neck + bridge in parallel, and bridge pickup alone – A tone formula that’s had the ladies swoonin’ and shakin’ since 1951. The 4-way Tele mod (TELE 4 WAY PDF) introduces a new position, the neck and bridge combo in series, which can give any Tele player a bit more versatility.

So what’s the different between series and parallel when running the bridge and neck together? Good question. In parallel, you get the classic, spanky Tele tone everyone expects to hear. With the added series option via 4-way switch, in addition to the classic Tele tones, you get an additional setting with a fatter, thicker tone with more output and drive.

One problem: A normal off-the-shelf Tele pickup (with just a ground and a hot lead) won’t work with a 4-way switch. The standard Tele bridge has a metal plate on the bottom that is grounded and is attached directly to the coil wire. This grounded metal plate provides your string ground – which is kind of important! Tele neck pickups have the metal pickup cover grounded and attached directly to one end of the coil, which provides shielding from 120 cycle noise.

This is a problem because normally (in parallel mode), one end of each of the pickup coils are grounded, but when you connect two coils in series (which is the new sound you want), the signal goes all the way through both pickups. (TELE SERIES VS PARALLEL PDF) What this does: the pickup closest to the lead wire used for the hot signal has its grounded metal part included in the signal, so if you touch the cover it’s like touching the end of a guitar cable plugged directly into an amp, with the volume up. Not good!

So what’s the solution? You can clip the wire on the underside of the neck pickup going from the eyelet to the cover in order to disconnect the cover from the “ground,” but this will make the pickup a little noisier because the cover no longer acts as a shield – in fact it acts like an antennae – if you get your hand close to the cover you will get more noise than usual. The best solution is to clip the jumper leading from the eyelet to the center tab of the cover and add a separate ground wire to the tab so that the coil is disconnected from the cover (see photo below) – this will allow your pickup to function properly in either series or parallel mode, and won’t affect tone at all. The danger in doing this is if you are not good at soldering you can short out the coil from overheating the cover or from allowing solder to flow down into the coil.

You can do this mod yourself (carefully – voided warranties suck), but we are more than happy to perform the job in-house. If you have an existing Lollar Tele neck you want modified, let us know and we’ll make it happen. Also, if you plan on ordering a new one, we can add that ground before your pickup even ships. Either way, call the shop at 206-463-9838, or email us at to talk pricing and ETA, or for more Tele tones and other secrets of the tonal universe.