In essence, what you are hearing is your signal turned on and off. But it’s not as simple as cutting the signal dead. If you were to do that, you’d get the typical hum that you hear when a jack is plugged into an amp without a connection to a guitar. You know, that ‘accidentally unplugged my guitar’ buzz.
Below you’ll see a diagram showing you what the wiring looks like internally. This will help you understand that you aren’t just ‘unplugging’ your signal but creating a short circuit instead:
Who uses a killswitch?
Eddie Van Halen is famous for paving the way with alternative guitar techniques. He wasn’t afraid of turning his guitar into a tool to create wild, out there guitar tones. And he was probably inspired by someone like Jimi Hendrix who did the same.
Tom Morello and Buckethead are just a few that have taken the mantle and used the killswitch to devastating effect. If the effect is cool enough for these guys, then it’s cool enough for anybody. It’s important to note that the killswitch effect is just that. An effect.
Whole songs can be built around the use of a killswitch (Know Your Enemy by RATM) but you probably wouldn’t play a whole set with a killswitch. So pull the technique into your arsenal and use it to create textures in your music. Even if that texture is a machine-gun scattering.
How do I use a killswitch?
If you have a guitar with 2 volume controls (like a Les Paul or a PRS 594), this is a very simple effect to achieve. All you do is turn the volume completely down on one control and completely up on the other. Make sure you have the gain turned up on your amp. By turning the gain up, you won’t need to ‘pick’ all the notes that you play.
You won’t be able to pick with your right hand because you’ll be moving the pickup selector up and down to achieve the effect.
By rapidly changing the pickup selector with your right hand and fretting the riff with your left hand, you’ll get the killswitch effect.
What if I don’t have 2 volume controls?
If you play a guitar like a Strat or Tele you won’t have 2 volume controls and will have to modify your guitar to have a killswitch on-board.
This is a relatively simple mod that can be done by any trained guitar tech. You could even do it yourself if you aren’t afraid of a little bit of DIY.
You can get a pushbutton installed onto your guitar in typical Buckethead fashion. He has arcade button style switches on his guitar for this purpose.
Or you could replace your current volume control with a killswitch pot that will stop your signal when pushed. It all depends on your playing style. Some players prefer the up-down motion of a pickup selector because it’s similar to the picking motion. But the arcade button switch is more accessible and easy to do on the fly.
Let us know in the comments below if you’ve ever used the killswitch effect, or installed one on your guitar!
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