Monday, January 21, 2013

Upgrading a Pickup on an Electric Guitar

Today’s post deals with upgrading a pickup in an electric guitar. I’m just performing this operation on a generic no-name guitar this time. No, wait, it’s NOT a no-name, it’s “Photo+Genic”! How’s that for a trustworthy brand?

Anyway, the basic process should be the same for most electric guitars, although on some models, accessing the pickup may require an additional step or two. I’ll try to make a point of mentioning that at the appropriate time.

This is the same guitar that I just upgraded the tuners on (you can see that blog post right here: http://diystrat.blogspot.com/2013/01/upgrading-electric-guitar-tuners.html)

Here is the patient:
And with the strings removed:
We'll need to access the pickup from the front and the wiring from the back.

Let’s deal with the wiring first so that we don’t have a pickup dangling from the front if we do that part first.

First we remove the back cover:
Inside we find a mess of wiring. In this case I can easily deduce which wires come from the pickup, but on something like a Les Paul, you may have to do a bit more working out.
It’s a bit tight getting a soldering iron in there, so I’ve decided to remove the volume control, loosening it from the front before pulling it out from the back. If you have something like a Gibson Les Paul, you shouldn’t have to do this, as there’s room enough to get a soldering iron in the control cavity there, but if it does get awkward, loosen all four controls from the front of the guitar and (carefully) pull the whole lot out together.
Here I de-solder the wires connecting to the pickup I want to replace. It’s a wise idea to snap a close-up photo before doing this just in case you forget where things go.
Now it’s time to remove the pickup from the front of the guitar. This one is held in with two screws only. For a Fender Stratocaster, you will need to remove the entire pickguard/scratchplate to access both the pickups and the electronics. For a Les Paul, remove the pickup surround rather then the pickup itself. You may still need to remove the pickup from the surround once it’s out, but you can’t really do this while it's still mounted on the guitar (and you’d have zero chance of getting the new one back in without removing the surrounds anyway).
The pickup comes out quite easily, but watch out for any little springs that might pop off the back of the pickup screws, although in the case of this guitar, it appears a bit of sponge rubber was used instead. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that.
The wire is then pulled through carefully and the pickup set aside.
Now this is where it gets interesting. If you are replacing a single coil pickup with another single coil pickup, then replacement is fairly straightforward. However, if you are going from single coil to humbucker (double coil), or even replacing a humbucker with another humbucker, you really have to watch how you wire it up. In this case, I’m putting a humbucker in to replace the single coil that was there before. I’m using one that is the same size as a single coil pickup, so I don’t need to think about routing out any wood, but instead of the two wires that the single coil had, I’m now faced with FIVE wires: two for the first coil, two for the second coil and one shielding wire.
Luckily for me, two of the wires were already soldered together, showing me that these are one end of the first coil joined to the other end of the second coil. I can more or less ignore these and simply connect the other two inner wires to where the previous pickup went. The shielding wire connects to one of these wires, and luckily for me, this has also already been done, making the wiring extremely simple. Usually when you buy a new pickup, you’ll get instructions to tell you which wire is which. You should make a point of reading this because different manufacturers use different standards for their wiring.

Here’s a handy chart courtesy of Seymour Duncan (as with all images, click to enlarge):
Anyway, on with the show. I add some rubber tubing I have handy to the pickup screws (if you prefer, you can add springs instead):
Carefully push the wires through the guitar:
And screw the pickup into place:
I solder the wires back to the contacts:
Then I insulate the two wires that were already connected together. If I wanted a coil tap, I would connect these two wires to the centre leg of a switch and connect the switch's other leg to ground, but I’m not going to do that on this guitar (a coil tap is when you use a switch to turn off one of the coils of a humbucker, effectively making it a single coil pickup).
The volume pot is then secured back in place and the knob is pushed back on:
The wiring is carefully pushed back into place:
And the back cover is closed:
Finally, the strings are put back on:
You can adjust the height of the pickup by adjusting the screws at both ends. It’s a good idea to measure the height of the old pickup before removing it to give you a good starting point for the replacement, although I didn’t do that here because the pickups are so different that it wouldn’t have been much use anyway. And that’s the pickup upgrade finished! A very simple procedure indeed.

1 comment:

Kashfiya said...

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