How to fit a Les Paul pickup ring to the curved top

youtube qBusI7wEjOc

Issue 192 June 06, 2013

Don't ruin your pickup rings by skipping this step! Dan Erlewine nibbles, files, scrapes and sands to create a curve that matches the top of his Les Paul.

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • Your Les Paul's top is curved, but it's not radiused
  • Hot Tip! The half-pencil trick comes in handy again!
  • Low-tack tape from a sign shop protects your finish
  • Making a wooden holder for shaping the plastic

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: Dan Erlewine - Stewart MacDonald]

Dan Erlewine: When you install mounting rings on a Les Paul or other archtop guitar, you have to fit them to the curve of the top. That's because mounting rings come flat on the bottom and if you just screwed them down, they'd warp and they'd wrinkle. They do come tapered from back to front and that's good because that keeps the face of the pickup in the lie of the strings and the fret board. The only part you have to do is shape the curve to the top.

Creating a curve that matches the top

To rough fit it to the top, I hold it in place with two screws, just to keep it from twisting, press lightly in the center and use a half pencil with a little tape on the bottom and follow the shape that way. This gives me a line to work towards. I use Double-Stick Tape on a flat board to keep the mounting ring in position and hold it rigid while I work. I start the cutting with Fret Pullers. They're small end-nippers with jaws that aren't so wide, so you can cut right into the plastic and start biting. It's up to you whether you cut all the way to the pencil line, or just use it as a visual mark. If you're trying to lower the pickup in height, you'd cut more plastic away.

Once I've nipped from end to end I'm switching to a scraper just to smooth out the nip marks and get it basically smooth, then I'll use files. I like the Razor Sharptooth File for the corners because that's thick plastic in the casting and it cuts it real fast. And then I'll switch to finer files, these are like Nut and Saddle Files, smooth it out and jump onto a scraper at any time. Now I'm going to sand this to the curve of the top, lap it into the top, by papering off the top, putting some double-stick sandpaper down and using short strokes back and forth till it fits.

I can't go that direction because this really isn't a radius top. It does have radiuses, but in the center it's flat like a violin, it's got this flat spot. I use Sign Painters Tape, because it's extremely low tack and we use it for all sorts of finishing applications and protection. I'm starting with 80 grit, that might do me fine right there. You can see where I wish I could go this direction. It would be more stable. Now I'm going to switch to 120. You can see right away where the high spots are. I think I'll quit at 120.

There's a burr. I don't know if you can see that out there.

[Dan scraps the bottom of the pickup ring with a straightedge to remove the burrs]

That's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good. And it's quick.



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

Related items