How To Build A DIY Guitar Killswitch/Stutter Pedal
Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello made the killswitch part of his signature sound. He wasn’t the first to use it and he definitely won’t be the last but he’s definitely influenced a number of other artists over the years to use this ‘effect’ with their sound.
What Is A Guitar Killswitch Pedal?
A guitar killswitch pedal is a device that kills your signal between the guitar and the amplifier.
With some guitars, like the Gibson Les Paul, you can do this straight from the guitar using the pickup selector switch and turning down the volume of one of the pickups. By rapidly flipping this switch, you can kill your guitar signal creating that stutter effect.
By putting this functionality at your feet, you free up your guitar to use both pickups as normal but also have a few different options available to you.
Different Types Of Killswitch Pedals
When it comes to DIY killswitch/stutter pedals, we have a few different options available to us and all of them have their uses.
Below are the two options available to us for engaging the killswitch pedal.
With standard effects pedals, we generally utilise latching switches. This means the status of the effect engages or disengages when you press on the pedal. It stays that way until you press it again to change its status. It latches (stays) in place.
Momentary killswitches are the opposite of latching and are quite possibly the most common type of killswitch you’ll come across. A momentary killswitch relies on you keeping your foot on the pedal to keep the effect engaged. It’s essentially engaged for the moment you press the pedal.
Once we know how we want to activate the effect, we can choose what the default status of the pedal is.
A normally closed footswitch is a type of switch that allows the signal to flow freely when it is not active (stepped on). This is the type of footswitch you’d use must killswitch/stutter pedals that you want to leave on your pedalboard. Essentially, the signal is only muted when you press on it.
A normally open footswitch is the opposite of a normally closed footswitch. The signal is prevented from flowing through unless the switch is active (stepped on). This will have a couple of use cases but will more than likely be less useful than a normally closed killswitch pedal.
Once you know what type of footswitch you need, we can move on to ordering the parts.
This is a very easy utility build with only 4 components and some lengths of wire. For this, I’m building a standard killswitch pedal where the guitar signal is active until you press on the switch, and reactivates once your foot is removed from the pedal:
2 ¼ Inch Mono Input Jacks
SPST Momentary Normally Open Footswitch
1590A Hammond Enclosure
This is normally where I’d be recommending a few different DIY guitar effects pedal kits. However, as this build is solely hardware, we don’t need a PCB and it’s easier to just build them from scratch.
Before we start, get your soldering iron turned on and up to temperature. As we’re soldering only hardware components, we don’t need to be as precious about the temperature. There’s nothing that should overheat and a hotter iron may help you get the solder in place a little easier.
Here’s a simple diagram of what we’re looking to build with DIY killswitch/stutter effects pedal. As you can see, there are 3 components and 4 connections making this a nice, quick build.
Drill The Enclosure
With most pedals, we would wire them up outside of the enclosure first to make sure the circuit is working properly as it’s much harder to error check a pedal once it’s all assembled. However, as we’re dealing with such a simple pedal, it makes sense to build this straight into the enclosure.
Below is a guide for how big each of these holes needs to be:
2 Input Jacks – 10mm
1 Footswitch – 12mm
With the enclosure drilled, we can mount the input jacks and the footswitch. Be sure to position these components with easy access to the connections.
Now that you have the 2 input jacks and footswitch secured in place, it’s time to solder the connection wires into place.
The benefit of building the pedal straight into the enclosure is that we can cut our wire connectors, more or less, to the correct size on the first run. Once you’ve ‘measured’ out the wire, strip the ends and tin them with a little solder. If you’re new to soldering, click here to check out my guide to soldering DIY guitar pedals.
With the connector wires tinned with solder, it’s time to tin the connections of the input jacks and the footswitch.
The sleeve of the input jack, the part that connects with the shaft of the guitar input cable, is our ground. Let’s first connect these two together. I would recommend using black wire for this as black wire is usually used to denote ground connections.
The tip of the input jack is the part that connects to the very end of the guitar input cable. This is our signal. Lets connect both of the tip connections together. It would be best to use a different colour wire for this to help make things easy to troubleshoot, should we need to.
Finally, connect the sleeve of one of your input jacks (already connected to the other input jack) to one of the terminals of your footswitch. Then, connect the tip of one of your input jacks to the other terminal.
On a normally closed footswitch, this will mean that the circuit is complete and our guitar signal will pass through as if nothing is in its place. However, when we press on the footswitch, we put a gap in that circuit disconnecting our signal between the guitar and the amp. Thus, creating the killswitch.
This is a really neat utility that has a place on most pedalboards. I personally use one with a latching normally closed footswitch as a mute switch. Great for changing guitars on stage or when you just need to mute your signal.
If you wanted, you could add in an LED light to show when the pedal is muted or not but as a momentary switch, I don’t think it’s really necessary.