Replacing Pickups for Dummies


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PonyOne
pHj33r my v1r1l17y
Joined: 11/29/00
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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.

PREFACE
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:

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.
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# 0
PonyOne
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Posts: 3,772
3. ORIENT YOURSELF WITH WHAT'S WHAT AND WHERE EVERYTHING IS.

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.
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# 2
PonyOne
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6. GET THAT SOLDERING IRON OUT, AND PREPARE TO DO THE SWITCH!

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.
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# 3
PonyOne
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8. SCREW THE NEW PICKUP IN PLACE (make sure the wire is facing down, toward the bridge) AND RESTRING THE GUITAR.

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...
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# 4
PRSplaya
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That was great PonyOne! You make it sound so simple.
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# 5
Akira
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Awesome guide. xD
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# 6
jeffhx
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now pony is also my hero
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# 7
ericthecableguy
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Thanks for taking the time bud. I'll be doing this soon and this guide should help tons. Keep up the good work. :)
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# 8
PonyOne
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No prob, guys. I need to go through and revise some stuff... i noticed a few spelling errors and a couple pictures in the wrong place! D'oh! And after two years, too :(
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# 9
acapella
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Holy crap, has this really been on here for one and a half years? I never noticed it. Is that pickup still up for grabs (doubt it)? It's quite possible that I'll take it.
You go outside and practice screaming. We'll play music while you're gone.
# 10
PonyOne
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Yeah dude. If you're itnerested, lemme know...
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# 11
damaged
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Great guide :) Now all I need to do is get a guitar worth upgrading :( stupid Ltd f-50 (please no one buy one unless you like insanly high action to avoid fret buzz and muddy pups oh and towering pick frets lol i swear its like playing on a scalopped neck :confused: I dont even touch the Fret board when playing) Well I fixed the action and fret buzz now atleast.
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# 12
BostonRocker51
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Joined: 10/02/07
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Thanks so much for posting this. I have a 1990 Les Paul Junior I want to put a really vintage dog ear P-90 on - have any suggestions for a retarded neophyte?
# 13
ScottySLO
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Joined: 11/10/07
Posts: 1
Can I put a pair of antiquity humbuckers in my 72 RI tele custom deluxe or will the poles not match up?? I read that there is a "F" sizing for fender guitars and that the standard PAF Gibson sizing does not match up the string correctly over the poles. I really want those in my guitar, but is the trembucker the size I need cuz it's not a tremelo bridge its a fixed bridge or is it still fender "F" sizing?? And how is their sound compared to the antiquity? I have seen antiquity hums in telecasters before, but I'm confused??
Scott
# 14
ksmith1
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Joined: 11/27/08
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I am new so I am sorry if this is not posted in ther right area. Just wandering if it is possible to put pickup covers on a les paul classic antique? the guitar has uncovered pickups on it now and I like the way covered ones look. Will it affect the sound quality. Any help is appreiciated. Thank you
# 15
PonyOne
pHj33r my v1r1l17y
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Yep.

You buy them, take your strings off, and put them on over the pickups - they slide on. Make sure that the holes go over the screw magnets so those poke through.
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# 16
ksmith1
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Thank you bunches. Will they affect sound quality? Thank you.
# 17
weirdfish0507
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Joined: 05/26/08
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I'm also curious to find an answer to ScottySLO's question about putting non-Fender humbuckers in a Tele. I myself would like to build a 72 Deluxe Tele replica from Warmoth with Seymour Duncans and a Strat-style hardtail bridge. Do I need to get the trembucker mod to get the proper pole spacing?

P.S. This guide was really informative. Thanks!
# 18
Geoff.T.
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Joined: 04/22/09
Posts: 7
I was about to post a topic asking how to fit my D'Marzio super distortion pickups to my BC rich Warlock. Although the answer was obvious, this thread just gave me the confidence to start cutting the BC Rich humbuckers out. I just hope the wires are all the same colour. Now I can put the bc Rich ones into a cheapy Les Paul copy I have, but I need to lower the action, do I need to shave the frets to avoid that annoying fret buzz that comes with cheap guitars?
# 19
RickBlacker
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Originally Posted by: Geoff.T.but I need to lower the action, do I need to shave the frets to avoid that annoying fret buzz that comes with cheap guitars?


I would try not to. Also, I would not say that cheap guitars is the only guitar that causes fret buzz. If you lower your action too much, the strings are going to buzz. Also, you can check the contour of the neck. Before filing down your frets, check your neck.

Cheap guitars can be setup to be very nice playing guitars. I have a Kramer Striker I just bought. Out of the box, it wasn't bad, but spending some time setting things up on it has resulted in an awesome playing guitar.
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# 20