Wax potting pickups
With Lindy Fralin
Fralin operates a custom pickup-winding business in Richmond, Virginia,
offering replacements for many of the standard magnetic pickups used by
guitar builders (Strat®, Tele®, humbucker,
P-90, and Jazz Bass® styles). Besides making stock-output
reproduction pickups, Lindy and his small crew provide one of the world's
best rewinding/repair services for vintage pickups, and will custom-wind
new Fralin pickups to suit your needs.
Lindy was one of the key instructors at the Great Northwoods Seminar in
October '95. He writes:
to custom-wind pickups to give a customer the sound he's looking for. I
understand guitar sounds, and I'm a player. I always loved the Strat neck
and middle pickup, but thought the bridge pickup was too thin. That's the
reason I got into winding in the first place. Our assembly and winding is
done by hand from American-made materials, and it's the hand-winding which
gives our pickups the authentic vintage tone. We rewind and repair pickups,
along with making our own. What we can't do is change a pickup's string
spacing, or reproduce missing parts (we're not that type of manufacturer).
Except for Fender, most vintage pickups were not potted, or at least not
well-potted (we "pot" pickups to stop microphonic feedback and
to protect them from the elements). Some guitar makers pot by brushing on
wax, others wrap the coil with tape. All new Fralin pickups come potted,
and we pot rewinds that were originally potted. If we're asked, we will
pot Gibson and other pickups as long as we think it won't damage them.
In the photo of Lindy above, note the Tupperware spool holder sitting on
the chair behind him. That's how they feed the wire to the machine.
I pot with wax because it's non-toxic, easy to deal with, cheap, and you
can undo something if it goes wrong. I don't want to work on epoxy-potted
pickups because you can't get to the parts to rewind them, and epoxy only
coats the parts—it's too thick to penetrate the coil. Hot wax is thin
enough to penetrate completely into the coil, which is what you're after,
and it keeps everything from vibrating.
Microphonics is that squealing or knocking sound you hear when you tap on
a pickup. A good example of microphonics at its worst would be the Fender
Telecaster bridge pickup—not only do you have a coil of wire and magnets,
but you have a steel plate under it and a steel bridge around it. Fender
used to mount the steel plate after the pickup had been potted, and that's
why the Tele is so notoriously microphonic—the steel plate vibrates.
For that reason, I pot my Tele bridge pickups after the plate is mounted.
my Teles, I also pot the bridge itself! I melt a few drops of hot
wax (you could use a candle) onto the bottom of the bridge in the
area where it surrounds the pickup, spread the wax thin with a hot
soldering iron, and press it to the guitar body while it's still warm.
You can't see it once the bridge is remounted, and the thin layer
of wax acts as a shock absorber between the bridge and the body.
Fender potted most of their pickups in wax, but they also did a number of
them in lacquer. Lacquer is okay, but it doesn't penetrate as well as the
hot wax does, and it's harder to repair a pickup that's been lacquered because
you can't peel them for repair ("peeling" is unwinding the layers
of copper wire to find a break in the coil or a spot which is rusted or
corroded. Rusted steel, corroded copper, or a combination of both, are the
most common causes of dead pickups, or pickups which die a slow death.)
Wax-potted coils unwind nicely, unlike lacquer-potted coils which might
as well be glued together.
You can recognize lacquer by its thin, shiny, wet-looking coat, compared
to wax which is thicker and more dull-looking. Fender used wax more often
than not, but sometimes they only dipped the pickups—whereas I soak
mine. Today, most of the modern pickup makers like Seymour Duncan, Van Zandt,
myself and others, use wax for potting.
We only charge $10 plus shipping to pot pickups, so of course it's easier
for most people to just send them to us rather than doing it themselves.
You can pot your own pickups for a minimum investment, however—I tell
customers how to do it all the time—but you have to follow certain
safety precautions, and probably only the really serious professional shops
will set up to do it.
canning paraffin and 20% beeswax by heating them in a pot. Paraffin expands
and contracts with temperature changes, and the beeswax nullifies most of
that. The heating is the dangerous part—never try heating your wax
on the kitchen stove or in a microwave oven because hot paraffin, and especially
paraffin vapors, can ignite.
Our wax pots are the mid-sized, heavy-duty deep fryers used in some home
kitchens and small restaurants thirty years ago. We leave them at 150°F
all day long, and pickups can sit in there for an hour or more without problems
(ten or fifteen minutes is our normal potting time). At 150° you won't
harm a pickup, but use a kitchen meat thermometer to check the temperature.
Stewart-MacDonald's Electric Glue Pot makes a great single-pickup wax-pot
for a small shop; it's UL-approved, and is designed to run all day.
Experiment with potting by heating the wax outdoors, or maybe in the garage.
Once you find the 150° setting, and know what you're doing, then use
it in your shop. Provide adequate ventilation, too—we pot under an
exhaust hood which vents to the outdoors.
Note: Stewart-MacDonald's Electric Glue Pot
(item #0668) has a thermostat designed to heat hide glue
to about 145°. The pot, with glue or wax, is meant to be at least 2/3
or 3/4 full. It can operate with less liquid without damage, but it may
get too hot (always monitor your temperature with a thermometer).
Wax pickup potting guidelines
The wax-pot's metal walls may be hotter than the wax itself, so don't touch
the pickup to the walls of the pot; instead, use some sort of hanger to
suspend the pickup in the wax. Paul Reed Smith uses a layer of marbles in
the bottom of the pot.
the wax is smoking, it's too hot (but you should be checking the temperature
with a meat thermometer anyhow—150° or less). "Cook"
a pickup until all the air bubbles have stopped coming out, usually
in 10 to 20 minutes.
is messy, very flammable, and it'll burn you, too. So for safety's
sake, stay with the wax-pot and be sensible. It splashes too, so wear
safety glasses! Don't remove the tape from Gibson-style pickups. The
heat may cause the tape to unwrap, so stretch rubber bands around
the pickup to hold the tape in place, and only remove them after the
pickup has cooled.
the excess wax with a paper towel as soon as the pickups are cool
enough to touch.
To contact Lindy:
Lindy Fralin Pickups
3415 Floyd Ave
Richmond, VA 23221
Electric Glue Pot
Pickup Kit for Strat
Pickup Kit for Tele Neck
Pickup Kit for Tele Bridge
Humbucker Polepiece Slug
Strat Pickup Flatwork
Pickup Coil Tape
Enamel Coated Pickup Coil Wire
Poly-coated Pickup Coil Wire
Vintage Push-back Wire - 50 feet