Swapping pickup covers on a rare lefty Lucille

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Issue 229 November 06, 2014

Making new pickups look old: Brand new pickups looked too shiny in this guitar that had seen a lot of gigs. So Dan Erlewine opened the old pickup and put its cover on the new one. This meant cutting the solder joint and resoldering.

About the guitar in this video: Frank, the owner of Blue Eagle Music is a left-handed guitarist. He was delighted to find this 1991 Gibson Lucille that someone had customized for a lefty.

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • Removing a humbucker cover with a super fine-cut saw
  • Melting wax into a humbucker cover to dampen vibration
  • Soldering the old cover on a Parsons Street Humbucker

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: Stewart-MacDonald Trade Secrets!]

Replacing humbucker covers

Dan Erlewine: Blue Eagle is our local music store here in Athens, Ohio. And it's owned by my friend, Frank McDermott [on-screen text reads: Dan Erlewine, Stewart-MacDonald], a great left-handed guitar player and a wise man when it comes to choosing what he puts in this store. Let's see this baby.

Frank McDermott: Yeah, let's take a look here.

Dan Erlewine: A while back, Frank bought himself a 1991 Gibson Lucille that someone had converted to a left-handed. I put a set of Parsons Street Humbuckers on it because he didn't like the sound of the original pickups. They were too dark and too loud.

Frank McDermott: I'm wondering if you might be able to put the covers from the old pickups on there so it'll match the rest of the hardware.

Dan Erlewine: I can put this one on the neck because the pole pieces will match. This one, I can't because on this model they have wider pole pieces on the bridge. But I can take a new covering agent to look pretty good. The Parsons Street humbuckers are made like the old PAFs in the fifties [on-screen text reads: Get that raw vintage sound - Golden Age Parsons Street Humbuckers by StewMac], and that's the sound that a lot of us are really into. And they have pole pieces that are the same spacing at the neck as they are at the bridge. Sometime in the eighties, I guess, Gibson made some overwound humbuckers. One of them is the 490T that came in this guitar. And the pole pieces at the bridge pickup are wider by about an eighth of an inch. And they actually underline underneath the string a little bit better.

I got to interview B.B. King in 1991 for Guitar Player Magazine, and he was playing his very first own model of Lucille. And I put it in the Guitar Player Repair Guide. When it was all done, he let me take Lucille and play it, and he played chords for me. He says, "Go ahead." And I was playing B.B. King licks, and I know a lot of them.

Removing a humbucker cover with a super fine-cut saw

I went ahead and switched the cover on the rear pickup and took the pole pieces out [on-screen text reads: New cover "aged" with a cloth wheel on a Dremel Tool] too and stuck them in there so it looks right. Now the neck. I'll take this cover off, those pole pieces out, and put them in here. I like to cut through that solder with a little thin Japanese saw [on-screen text reads: Japanese Super Fine-Cut Saw] that cuts on a reverse pole. I already did that other side, and here we go.

Melting wax into a humbucker cover

If you look at this, you'll see a lot of wax. That's because these newer pickups are wax potted. The old PAFs weren't. I'll just heat that old cover up and let some of that wax seal the joint.

[on-screen text reads: Wax dampens vibration that could cause microphonic feedback or howling]

I've got the old cover heating up here, so it's ready to pop onto this pickup. Here goes nothing. It's warm and juicy, and it will stay that way a little bit while I pop this baby on there and clamp it [on-screen text reads: Clamps can come in handy - Soundhole Clamps from StewMac]. Just low enough to seat down in there and that wax to set [Dan clamps the new cover on the humbucker pickup].

Soldering the old cover on a Parsons Street Humbucker

It's a little bit clumsy doing this with the pickup in the guitar, but I'm not going to unwire it just to do this. I've got a big spring clamp pressing the cover in on the side and a bridge clamp pushing the pickup down. And all I have to do is come in there with the iron [on-screen text reads: Solomon Soldering Station] as hot as it goes and just melt the old solder and give it a little bit of new. There we are. It's as good as old. I guess the good tip here is that you can switch covers without a problem. And this looks and sounds just like what Frank's after.

[electric guitar music plays]



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

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