Trade Secrets!

Save time and money with Dan's pickup wiring tips

Issue 58 April 03, 2008

Save time and money
This pickup replacement had to be done fast to keep the cost low.
Time-saving means money-making, so here’s how I moved quicker by avoiding unnecessary steps...

Dan Erlewine signature Dan Erlewine, April 3, 2008
Photo: Dan Erlewine
Korean-made 335 copy
My customer loves his 1996 Korean-made copy of a Gibson 335. He wants to upgrade it, but he’s on a no-frills budget: every dollar spent has to pay back in better sound. To get the biggest bang for the buck, I’m replacing the factory pickups with Golden Age humbuckers.

Golden Age Humbucking pickups
Golden Age Humbuckers
Every Golden Age humbucker comes with enough lead wire to reach the controls, but I’m not using it. Getting the electronics in or out of a semi-hollowbody is tricky as heck — it could take all afternoon!

It wasn’t easy for the factory, either: years ago at Gibson I watched 335 models being wired up. Connections were soldered by reaching through the F-holes — try to do that without damaging the guitar! Every bench had touch-up lacquer and brushes to repair occasional dings and nicks. Start looking very closely at the F-holes on semi-hollowbodies, and you’ll sometimes discover these finish repairs from the factory.

Cut the pickup wire close to the pickup
So don't even think about unwiring the control pots. Just clip the wire at the pickup, and reuse the leads that the factory put in there. Make the cut right next to the pickup, to leave as much slack as you can for wiring in the new pickups.

Fret pullers for cutting small wires
Strip the leads of the pickup wire

Golden Age Humbucking pickup installation
I use my fret pullers to cut these delicate wires. They make a clean sharp cut without crushing the wires.

Gain a little slack for working by pulling the wire out through the F-hole to strip away the insulation, then thread it back into place. The felt pads you see here are something I use all day long to protect guitars from parts and tools.

Golden Age humbuckers have a stranded ground wire and two hot leads. The hot lead is red; and the white wire is the series link between the two coils — used if you want a coil cut. I didn't, so I bent the white lead back and held it in place with heat-shrink tubing. Then I bundled up the unused length of shielded wire with a piece of heat-shrink, too. I left this excess wire under the pickup in case the customer ever wants to wire this pickup into another guitar.
Guitar Repair Magnet
Fret Pullers

Guitar Repair Magnet
Protective Felt

“Coil cut” means wiring the two humbucker coils to give you the option of switching to just one coil independently for a single-coil sound. (Not what we’re doing on this job.)
Testing with a digital multimeter See if your pickups are up to spec. Plug a cord in the guitar and test with a multimeter at the other end of the cord. The DC resistance of these old humbuckers was 7.81K ohm.
Digital multimeter
Measuring the pickup mounting ring
Wait! Don’t throw out the old pickup mounting rings! No sooner had I placed the bridge pickup into the cavity than I saw that the mounting rings wouldn't cover the mark left by the factory pickups. The mounting rings on the guitar were non-standard. Measuring with my caliper, the new mounting rings measured  3.178" between the holes, but the guitar’s screwholes measured 3.274". That’s a whopping mismatch of .096", or over 3/32".

I could plug the holes in the body and re-drill, but even then the new mounting rings wouldn't cover the imprint in the lacquer from the original rings. And this is a short-order-cooking job anyhow, so I mounted the new pickups in the old rings. Another time-saving shortcut.

Luthier’s Digital Caliper
Luthier’s Digital Caliper
Guitar repair magnet on a screwdriver
The last step was to tighten things up and take the new pickups for a test drive. One more tip for speeding up installation: put a guitar repair magnet on the shaft, and your screwdriver becomes magnetized. Handling small screws is simpler this way.

Dan Erlewine signature

Guitar Repair Magnet
Guitar Repair Magnet

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