Review: Free-Way Pickup Switches
26.04.2022

Review: Free-Way Pickup Switches

free-way switch review
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

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There’s something really satisfying about products that build on an existing design. We often take things at face value, and accept them for what they are, or at least what we’re told they are, without question or intervention. We work within the limitations of our gear, and while there’s something to be said about thinking your way out of the box, sometimes more options can be both a blessing and the missing piece of your musical puzzle, and that’s exactly what Free-Way offer you.

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Traditionally, electric guitars have two or three pickups, with three or five selections available for different combinations of those two or three pickups. Obviously, this provides limitations to the full capability of each pickup and more importantly so, combinations thereof. Free-Way Switches aims to break down these barriers with an intuitive re-design of traditional switchers, making them a, for lack of a better word, plug-n-play modification to your guitar.

Free-Way take the five-way switch traditionally found in a Strat and the different types of three-way switches found in Telecasters, Les Pauls, and other guitars, and they double the contact points, offering 5+5 for 10 routing options on a Stratocaster, and 3+3 making for six points on your Tele or Les Paul. The latter are probably more likely to feature humbuckers, so those coils can be split and rearranged and you’ll still have space for full humbucker tones as well.

Stratocasters are known for their tones concocted from combinations of their three pickups. The Free-Way 5+5 switcher allows all of these traditional sounds as well as an extra five positions in between the classics. The phase relationship of these pickups is what makes the tones unique, the overlapping frequencies cancel each other while multiplying and emphasising others. What makes the 5+5 unique is the ability to bring in extra sounds that’ll augment or mask other frequencies, creating a unique combo previously unheard from a Strat.

Bright, sparkling, and snappy Strat tones can be darkened and warmed up with the addition of the neck pickup, which is oftentimes missing from traditional Strat tones. Strats are often modified with sustain-style pickups or piezo additions, and all of these can now be added without compromising the traditional pickup combinations. Strats are also increasingly popular with humbuckers, and the 5+5 allows coil splits, as well as a switch allocated to each of the coils individually for a totally unique split!

While we’re on the subject of humbuckers, it’s difficult to move past a Les Paul. Historically, Les Pauls are known for big fat humbucking tones and were widely used for the progression of rock throughout the ’60s and ’70s. While the bulky, heavy, and harmonically rich mahogany is a great option of big wide chords and leads, the combination of the tonewood with a single coil is something special. Splitting the coils has been possible for some time, but splitting the coil and selecting the exact coil you want to use presents a new opportunity for guitarists to refine and create new sounds, thanks to the 3+3 from Free-Way, allowing six different steps for pickup wiring. Triple humbucker Les Pauls are a classic option, famously used by Peter Frampton, but have been severely limited by a three-way switch. The 3+3 switch from Free-Way allows traditional three-humbucker wiring, as well as an extra three spots for any combination of the ‘buckers, separate coil, or both!

Telecasters are no stranger to unique wiring. The early Broadcasters before the Nocasters and then Telecasters have been produced with a myriad of wiring options over the years. They’ve come with different caps or no resistance on the pots at all, some Esquires coming stock with a switching option that wires the single pickup direct to the output. The Pickup Blade 3+3 resembles a standard three-way blade featured in a Telecaster so there’s no modification besides wiring for some of the most unique soundin’ Tele twangin’ y’all ever did hear.

Free-Way are a company giving the power back to the player. It’s difficult to find a guitar that has everything you need, and with one simple little innovation, they’ve doubled your tone routing and wiring options, allowing more tones in between the existing traditional wiring on your electric guitar. Sometimes we need a little more of this or a bit more of that, and now we can find a good middle ground between our tones for a truly unique voice. The limitations are non-existent, once you start to wonder about different capacitors, or lack thereof, as well as the option to separately wire the different coils of humbuckers and have them all available at any time.

Free-Way have taken something we all understand and augmented it, pushed it to another level that requires no modification to your guitar besides re-wiring based on your preference. Free-Way haven’t re-invented the wheel, nor have they attempted to. They’ve simply refined it.

Head to Free-Way for more information. For local enquiries, reach out to Gsus4.