Replacing Pickups for Dummies
This is something that I've meant to do since I too these pics almost 2 years ago but I've always gotten sidetracked or just plain forgotten about it, but, it seems that as time goes on there's no shortage of people who want to know how to replace a pickup. So without further ado... here's the official Ponyone pictoral guide on how to replace your own pickups.
Q: how do you gain street cred among other guitarists for having a killer sounding guitar without selling your car or pimping your Mrs. to afford a Custom Shop Goldtop Les Paul?
A: start replacing crap on the guitar you have now.
Q: how do you actually improve the tone of your pawn shop special while not spending enough money to buy a guitar that sounds good out of the box?
A: start replacing crap on theat guitar.
Q: so you buy a nice, respectable guitar that sounds sweet but it just feels like it's not being all it can be. you know, like there's tone being restricted by it somewhere. how do you open it up?
A: start replacing crap on it.
The main reason it seems people want to change pickups is because they heard or read that [insert famous guitarist] uses said pickup or brand of pickups. So the guitar's stock pickups don't sound too hot, and you decide a pickup is the only route. Don't mistake me; new pickups usually help. But there are a few things to consider.
What type of guitar are you replacing the pickups on?
Before you pick up a pencil to make a drawing you need paper, and if you're planning to show it to everyone you know as an example of your artistic genius, it's probably better to go to an art store and buy some Bristol paper than to just scrawl it in your lined notebook. The same applies for your guitar; the guitar itself is the paper, and the electronics are the pencil. you can slap the best pickups and knobs in the world in your guitar but if it's a crap guitar then why bother?
If the guitar has an enormous amount of sentimental value, like it was your first electric, then it can be tempting to go ahead and do this. My first electric was a bolt-neck Epiphone SG Special that was made like crap. I put a Seymour Duncan in there in a bid to make it sound better and, well, it didn't work.
You need to look at the situation obectively; is the guitar really worth the effort? will it really matter if you put in a new, super-sweet pickup? Is it really necessary? Would it make more sense to buy a better guitar to start with?
Why do you want to put a new pickup in the guitar?
Again, a lot of people seem to have gone through Guitar World and discovered that Steve Vai uses DiMarzios, and maybe then they went to the DiMarzio webpage and discovered he has his own signature pickups available for purchase. Or they went online trying to figure out how their favorite guitarist gets that awesome tone out of his guitar on some of those live tracks, and found a webpage that states that s/he exclusively uses Seymour Duncan's.
One thing to keep in mind is that while the pickups are equally as important to the sound of an artist as the guitar itself, the guitar is equally as important as the effects it goes through and the amp all that goes to and first and foremost the guitarist playing it. Putting in a new pickup is not a solution to fixing all your tone woes, and the vast, vast bulk of the people we listen to on CD are running a $1500+ guitar through a $1500+ amp into a $10,000+ studio effects rig. So unless you have limitless cash to play with don't expect to nail it dead on.
You shouldn't be looking for other peoples' tone anyway, you tosser. You should be after your own.
Anyway, keep in mind that a lot of professional musicians use custom made instruments that only physically resemble their mass-made equivilant. These custom guitars have custom pickups that were handmade for that player to exacting standards; they probably went through five or six prototypes, too. the ones you end up buying yourself are only made to sound like that handmade custom pickup, and so they will not nail the tone head on, even if you end up using the "same" guitar and "same" amp and "same" effects. Again, what other artists use is awesome as a guide, but it's not a bible.
How does the guitar sound right now?
Sometimes part of the reason a guitar sounds so great is that it was made to nail a specific sound; artist models, custom shop instruments, etc. The pickups were used in conjunction with certain resistance pots and certain types of wood and construction to get a certain tone, and replacing the pickups could be the equivilant of throwing a wrench into a bike wheel. If you are already satisfied with the sound of your guitar it may be better to leave it alone.
Worst comes to worst, you'll get a pickup you won't like it, you can re-repalce it; say you've got this totally sweet custom shop Fender '52 Reissue Telecaster, and you decide that since you use it for mostly bluesy licks, it'll be a good idea to drop in a Rio Grande Tallboy into the bridge because they have a killer tone from all that you've read. You buy one, drop it in, and hit a few strings before gonig "this sounds like crap." Well, just take the pickup out and put the old one in and you're good as new. Find out what the return policy on the pickup is before you get it; or, if you liked the tone, you just wanted that particular Tele to sound the way it did... hold onto the pickup and get it installed in a different Tele.
anyway, here we go...
HOW TO REPLACE YOUR PICKUPS
1. STUFF TO HAVE ON HAND:
Wire cutters (needlesnose is best), a new pack of strings, Phillips head screwdriver, soldering iron (far left), solder. If you plan on being an electric guitarist for a long time it's a good idea to keep a soldering iron somewhere in your home. I got that one for $3.99 at Radio Shack. Most of the electronic repairs you'll ever need to do will require one. A tube of solder costs about two bucks; I've only needed to buy one tube for every six guitars I've done.
A desoldering bulb is a nice thing to have too, but not 100% necessary.
Keep the pickup you're dropping by handy at all times to, for reference.
2. UNSCREW BACKPLATE AND PICKUP or, if you're replacing it on a Strat, Tele or similar guitar, REMOVE PICKUP.
First, destring the guitar; it's near impossible to do this with your strings on (though to my credit, once I replaced all the pots on a Strat without destringing it first... but... it was a royal arse-pain). If you're doing a rear-routed guitar like a Gibson, PRS, most Ibanez, Epiphone, etc then you want to remove the big plastic plate on the back. If you're doing a top mounted guitar like a Strat, Tele, or any other guitar where the pickups are mounted in the pickguard, then remove the entire pickguard. Make sure to keep all the screws separate according to where they came from; screws from pickup in one pile, screws to backplate in another, etc.
3. ORIENT YOURSELF WITH WHAT'S WHAT AND WHERE EVERYTHING IS.
Figure out which pot is which, where the selector is, where the jack is, and look at how the wires go from one part to another. To make it easier, do as I've done in this pic and use the needlesnose pliers to gently pull all the wires out a bit so it's easier to see and work in there. DO NOT PULL ANY WIRES COMPLETELY OUT, you will not only screw up the wire, but, you'll also screw up the components inside.
4. TAKE YOUR NEW PICKUP AND PULL EACH COLOR WIRE OUT AS SHOWN.
NOTE: do not strip all the black wire coming out of the pickup off; just strip off about an inch or so. Then pull out each indiviual wire so they are obviously apart from one another.
5. FEED YOUR NEW PICKUP'S WIRES INTO THE CAVITY (not necessary on top-routed guitars)
There should be enough space to fit the wiring from the new pickup into the hole routed through the body into the electronics cavity. Push it into the cavity and then use the pliers to pull them out so they're easy to get to.
6. GET THAT SOLDERING IRON OUT, AND PREPARE TO DO THE SWITCH!
Make sure your soldering iron is heated; plug it in and let it sit for about 5-10 mins. DON'T TOUCH THE DAMN THING TO SEE IF IT'S HOT, FARM BOY! Either splash a little water on it and see if it sizzles, or, better yet, hold it to a piece of solder over some scrap wood or cardboard. If the solder melts, you're good to go.
Look at where the wires from the pickup that is in the guitar now are soldered to, and choose one, then desolder it by putting the tip of the soldering iron to to point where it's soldered onto the jack/pot/switch. make sure you're doing the correct pickup. Tug on the wire from the pickup you're removing to make sure it's actually the right one.
Use the needlenose pliers to move pull the wire out of the liquified solder. If you have a desoldering bulb, now's the time to suck up the excess solder. If not, then take the same colored wire from the new pickup and solder it to the same place the old one was. If the place you're supposed to solder it to has a little hole in it, then loop it through there. Put the solder up to that point and then touch it with the soldering iron to get a little bit of solder on there to secure it down.
Do this to each position.
7. TAKE THE OLD PICKUP OUT, PLUG YOUR GUITAR INTO YOUR AMP, TURN IT UP HIGH, TAKE THE PICKUP YOU JUST SOLDERED IN (the one you're putting in) AND TOUCH THE SCREWS/MAGNETS WITH A SCREWDRIVER.
If you hear a popping noise coming out of the amp every time you tap one of the screws or little metal dots (called "pole pieces") on the top of the pickup, then you've successfully soldered in the new pickup.
8. SCREW THE NEW PICKUP IN PLACE (make sure the wire is facing down, toward the bridge) AND RESTRING THE GUITAR.
You're basically done. Start wailing with your new pickup.
the guitar I did this on was a Kramer Baretta FX-404 neck-through hardtail, and the pickup was a DiMarzio Tone Zone. Excellent combination, I must say. I'd had the guitar for all of 8 hours when I swtiched the pickup; the pickup had arrived one day earlier than the guitar. The stock pickups on it didn't suit my personal style, but have gobs of output. I put the old bridge p/u in a friend's Fender Jazzmaster that had been modded to take humbuckers and had a pickup die; the other one is up for grabs, $20, after I get a new neck pickup.
All in all, this install took about 10 minutes, including taking pictures, telling my girlfriend to shut up and stop laughing at me, and sipping a Diet Coke while doing everything.
Feedback/suggestions are welcome and encouraged...
That was great PonyOne! You make it sound so simple.
Awesome guide. xD
now pony is also my hero
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