Professional Audio Application

Non-sequential control gives vast tonal flexibility for electric guitars


AB Design



Scope of Service:

  • Product development
  • CAD
  • Prototyping
  • Testing
  • Parts Procurement
  • Assembly
  • Quality control

The situation

When a designer and guitar enthusiast from an independent company approached NSF Controls with this switch concept back in 2007, he believed it to be a viable proposition for further development and ultimately production.

He had designed a new type of control switch for the guitar market and NSF Controls, with its advanced approach to product development and integrated manufacturing and assembly skills, helped him bring his concept to market.

The challenge

Useful to know

Leading guitar manufacturers like Gibson had traditionally manufactured instruments with 3 pick-ups selected by means of a conventional 3-position lever switch. Guitar pick-ups give different sounds depending on their relative placement to the strings. 

Why other ideas weren’t quite right

Within the guitar industry, the idea of combining two or more pick-ups to provide more tonal options had already been tried with varying degrees of success. Several methods including a multi-position rotary switch and additional control switches had proved to be either impractical or not aesthetically pleasing. 

The new idea

The new, patented concept enabled multiple electrical settings from a 6- position, non-sequential lever switch in a 2x3-way format, while maintaining the appearance and accessibility of a conventional 3-way toggle switch. Drawings and specifications had been produced and assistance was needed to progress to manufacture.

The solution

The development stages

Working collaboratively with the client, NSF Controls designed the first switch using a spring-loaded electro-mechanical contact arrangement. The resulting switch movement was indistinct and there were too many components for it to be a viable manufactured product.

The second iteration moved the contact arrangement to a printed circuit board and incorporated a unique sliding moving contact arrangement. This generated the desired positive index feel and a slight reduction in component count, although increased assembly times had minimal effect on the final manufacturing costs.

Gaining market feedback and celebrity and professional collaboration

To gain market feedback a limited production facility was established, with etched components being used in lieu of fully tooled pressed frames and contacts.

Collaboration on the project continued when Gibson came on board with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. A dedicated Free-Way contact arrangement was developed to assign the three pick-ups selectively for the tonal variation the artist requested. This was used in the Gibson Jimmy Page Les Paul Custom Signature guitar model.

Success leads to further Free-Way upgrade solutions

Since this initial success, further design changes have been made to the Free-Way switch and new versions were launched in 2013. These models came about in response to observations made through user feedback forums, which identified two common concerns with the original design.

Firstly, there was a general reluctance by guitarists to make considerable modifications to the guitar body. These were necessary to accommodate the off-centre mounting bush in what was a fairly substantial rectangular shaped device. In addition to this, electrical noise was being generated from the mechanical joint between the PCB and solder lugs.

The re-design employs the same sliding contact arrangement but with space-saving, gold-plated solder pad connections on the PCB to eliminate electrical noise. Development of a unique positive in-line indexing arrangement meant a concentric mounting bush was made possible, which in turn permitted retro-fitting without the need for any additional routing of the instrument’s body.

The results and future

Extensive press coverage

The switch in all its variations has been well received by the music press and customers alike.

Expanding international sales network

Now with a significant supply network for the guitar enthusiast and retro market, it is sold internationally through suppliers based in:

  • UK
  • USA
  • Australia
  • France
  • Germany

Growing the product range and bespoke solutions

There are now two main circuit designs available providing infinite output configurations. Through the designer’s expertise, customer specific circuitry has been developed, providing bespoke solutions for the needs of numerous guitar enthusiasts.

New ‘Plug and Play’ prewired assembly for guitar manufacturer

Further advances continue to be made, including a custom solution for an original guitar manufacturer who requested a ‘Plug and Play’ prewired assembly for a new range of guitars.

To find out more about NSF Controls, click on the information below 

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The NSF Controls product experts are available to help you select the most suitable product to meet your specific requirements and, if required, will work with you to design and produce a customised solution. 

To find out more, please contact our specialist Design & Engineering Team +44 (0)1535 661144 or email 

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