Electric Guitar and Bass Assembly Guide
Wiring and electronics
Wiring an electric
guitar can be very simple, or it can get quite complicated
dependent on the components used and the amount of custom
wiring you wish to do. There are literally hundreds of
ways to wire a somewhat traditional guitar depending upon
the pickups, switches, and other components used. The
player needs to determine what works. If you are unsure
of the options you want, a trip to a few large music stores
with a good variety of guitars is in order. This will
allow you to test many different options, setups, and
types of electric guitars and components to find what
works for you.
soldering, practice on scraps of wire and electronic
tidbits. This will give you a "feel" for
the soldering iron, its temperature, when a component
gets too hot, how much solder is enough, etc. Soldering
is 80% feel and technique, 20% materials and equipment.
You don't need to spend tons of money on soldering
equipment to successfully solder your guitar. The
higher priced soldering pencils are designed for
professionals who use them daily. An $8.00 Radio
Shack 40-watt soldering pencil can do the job just
The more experienced and comfortable you are with your
soldering pencil, the better your wiring project will
turn out. Below is a list of do's and don'ts. They're
designed to give you some insight into what can be one
of the most frustrating aspects of assembling an electric
Don't blow on a solder joint to cool it or make it harden
faster. This can cause air pockets within the solder joint
that will corrode or come loose with time (a "cold
Always use rosin-core solder! Standard 60/40 rosin-core
is the best. We like the smaller diameters (.032"
- .062") for guitar wiring.
Don't strip back too much of a wire's insulation—this
can be the root of a troubleshooting nightmare. Just expose
enough wire for soldering. Too much exposed wire can inadvertently
come into contact with ground or other wires.
Potentiometers (or pots) used in guitar wiring are generally
"audio-taper." A pot will work as a volume or
a tone control, since the use of a capacitor makes a pot
act as a tone control.
Generally, 500K-ohm pots are used with humbuckers and
250Ks are used with single-coil pickups. You can use any
value you like, but a 250K will have a slightly warmer
tone than a 500K pot. The 250K resistance between hot
and ground bleeds off (attenuates) more high frequencies
to ground, even at full volume!
"Tin" the wire and connection before soldering
them together. This doesn't mean applying a huge glob
of solder, but just a very thin pre-coating.
Always apply heat to the connection first. Then apply
the solder and let it flow over the joint. This also helps
to ensure that you don't get a cold solder joint.
When breaking-in a new soldering iron or tip, you must
tin the tip. This is done right away, as the tip gets
hot enough to melt the solder for the first time. Flow
the solder over the contact surfaces of the tip and let
it sit for 10 seconds or so. Wipe off the excess onto
a water-soaked sponge and apply more solder. Repeat this
procedure a few times and your soldering tip will be properly
Use a soldering iron stand (available at most electronic
supply houses). A soldering stand ensures the soldering
iron has a home (so you know where to find it and so you
don't burn yourself, the guitar, your clothes, or your
foot—you get the idea!). It usually has a sponge
for periodically cleaning old excess solder off the tip.
Plan the wiring ahead of time, so you don't end up soldering
beneath wires you have already run.
Give yourself plenty of wire—enough to tidy the wires
up and make the whole job clean and neat. Any wires between
the instrument and a pickguard or control plate should
be long enough for it to be removed for inspection without
having to unsolder the connection. A little forethought
always goes a long way in guitar wiring.
If you have more questions or interest in guitar wiring,
a good book is Donald Brosnac's Guitar Electronics
for Musicians #0548. It's a great source for learning
the basics, wiring diagrams, pickup information, how volume
and tone circuits work, and more advanced information.
If you use one of our wiring outfits, specific wiring
information is included to help you connect the components.
A special note on pickup height adjustment: Pickups shouldn't
be adjusted too close to the strings. Generally for single-coils,
there should be about an 1/8" gap between the top
of the low E polepiece and the bottom of the low E string
fretted at the last (21st or 22nd) fret, and 3/32"
for the high E. Humbuckers can be adjusted closer (3/32"
- 1/16"), since they don't have as much focused magnetic
pull as single-coils. Adjusting pickups any closer (especially
with single-coils) can cause false notes or "wolf-tones."
If you've ever played a Strat that seemed to produce two
notes from one string, usually the wound strings in the
upper registers (12th fret and up), you have witnessed
this anomaly. It is most often referred to as "Strat-itis"
and can cause a lot of head-scratching unless you know
what is happening.
Shielding eliminates virtually all unwanted interference
and hum. All of the shielding must be in contact with
ground. There are several ways to apply a ground to a
shielding network. When using copper shielding foil, the
ground wire can be soldered directly to it. If your volume
pot housing is in contact with the foil, a ground jumper
to the foil is not necessary. Shielding paint #0029 is
also good for shielding control cavities, pickup routs,
and drilled holes. The paint is very easy to apply in
small tight areas, unlike self-adhesive foils.
It's easy to apply ground to a painted cavity, or an aluminum
adhesive foil in a Strat-type guitar. Bring the paint
or foil over the top of the body in the area that would
be under the pickguard and around the pickguard screw
below the bottom tone pot. The foil on the pickguard should
surround this screw hole. When the pickguard is screwed
into place, the grounded foil on the pickguard will come
in contact with the cavity shielding paint. The same will
work for a Telecaster control plate/control cavity and
a Stratocaster jack plate/jack cavity.
Another method is the use of a solder lug screwed into
the cavity's side wall. Make the solder lug out of a scrap
of brass and use a small wood screw to affix it to the
side wall. Just solder a wire from the volume pot's casing
to this lug for a good ground.