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Trade Secrets!

It's a crime to cut pickup leads this short!


Issue 100 November 12, 2009

Vintage humbucker

Here’s how I salvaged a valuable old pickup long after the crime had been committed.


This classic 1960s humbucker was knifed and left in a junk drawer! But with a bit of easy soldering, this freebie is again worth some real $$$.

Parts drawer
Knifed humbucker

I was looking through this parts drawer in Dan Erlewine’s shop; it’s a Pickup Graveyard, with discarded pickups dating back over forty years!

That’s where I found this 1960s Gibson humbucker. It’s not a holy-grail PAF (Patent Applied For) pickup, but it’s almost as good: a patent-number version made right after Gibson got the patent. I've seen these selling on eBay for $300-$400 bucks.

Long ago, somebody (I’ll bet it was Dan) yanked this out of a guitar by snipping the braided lead right next to the pickup. That made it easy to solder a new pickup to the old wiring harness, but it trashed this great old humbucker.

What a crime!

I'm going to restore it by giving it a full-length hookup lead again.

The connecting wires coming off the bobbins are really fragile, and with such a valuable old pickup the last thing I’d want to do is loosen one of them. I decided to leave the braided stub intact and splice a length of new shielded wire onto it.

Wires inside the humbucker

Step 1

Push back the braid and insulation on both the old and new leads to reveal the center wire.

Soldering part one

Step 2

Push those center wires together, end to end, and solder them.

Soldering part two

Step 3

Keep the solder joint small so you'll be able to slide the cloth insulator over it. If the joint makes a big lump, your braided lead wire is going to look like a snake that swallowed a rat.

Soldering snake

Carefully work the cloth insulation back over the solder joint until it’s completely covered up.

Cloth insulation
Cloth insulation repaired

Wrap the joint with paper pickup tape and carefully work the braided shields together to cover it.

Pickup tape
Pickup tape covering wires

Just pushing the outer braids together without solder creates electrical continuity according to the multimeter, but to be on the safe side a tiny dab of solder connects the two braided shields for sure.

Dab of solder
Soldered braided shield

Step 4

The solder alone will hold this repair together, but for added protection I put a small piece of heat shrink tubing over the repair.

Heat-shrink tubing

A quick check with a multimeter showed that this pickup’s output is great. Crime solved!

Don’t be a criminal!

When you replace a pickup, remove the old one with its leads intact. You might want it back someday when it's become vintage!

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