Important PSA regarding pickup replacements!

Guitar owners looking to swap pickups should know a number of things before buying replacements. There are important specs like string spacing, magnet type, amount of conductor wires, and on and on and on. I’ll be focusing on one aspect here, mounting method as it pertains to humbuckers for modern metal guitars, mostly those Ibanez models that are direct mount.
It’s important to know the difference between pickups that are designed for Direct/Surface mounting and Ring/Pickguard mounting and know which type your guitar uses. Easiest way to think about this is wood screw for direct mount, machine screw for ring mount*. What’s being used to attach your existing pickups? What type does your potential replacement come with?
Should be simple but there is a lot of garbage marketing jargon out there, missing information, and misinformation.
Seymour Duncan

Seymour Duncan uses the terms “Passive Mount” and “Active Mount” but not universally across all models, needlessly confusing matters but it’s Seymour’s company, he do what he want. These terms are applied to certain seven and eight string models, refer to the shape of the route the pickups are intended for, and have nothing to do with whether the pickup itself is active or passive.

“Active Mount” Seymour pickups are in a rectangular soap-bar shape and need a larger route than most standard pickups. They take wood screws and are therefore direct mount. Why soap-bar? Because there was a time when guitar builders looking to install active seven string pickups as standard equipment only had one choice, a soap-bar shaped EMG. So there are a number of ugly guitars floating around with huge holes in them ready to get stuffed with after market replacements.

“Passive Mount” Seymour pickups are like any other Seymours that use machine screws (unless they are the active “Passive Mount” models**) for ring or guard mount but are labeled as such simply because they have an “Active Mount” variant.

So Passive “passive mount” are ring mount with machine screws, active “passive mount” are direct mount with wood screws, “active mount” are direct mount no matter passive or active and everything else may or may not be direct or ring mounted***.

Got it? You better cause Seymour doesn’t give a shit.
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Seymour Pup on DiMarzio Plate

DiMarzio

6 string humbuckers are ring mount, 7 strings are direct mount, 8 are whatever? You just have to look at the pictures. It’s a pain in the ass but at least they don’t intentionally spread confusing bullshit Although they, along with Ibanez, caused a lot of this initial confusion (leaving EVH out of this for now****) by producing OEM models for Ibanez to direct mount before most other large manufacturers were doing such things. So much like our gaping EMG hole problem discussed earlier, we have a bunch of guitars floating around that look pretty without rings that need aftermarket direct mount options.

Bare Knuckle
They don’t do direct mount. Guess your screwed, maybe.

EMG

6 strings are all direct mount, 7 and 8 strings have options for direct or ring but with direct you’re gonna get an ugly soap-bar. Sorry.

So what can be done when the pickup you want doesn’t have a direct mount variant for your direct mount guitar? 

Provided it fits (it may not) easiest thing to do is modify the screws. I first sharpen the provided machine screws to a point, then chuck them into my drill press and file a smooth shank just below the head. Since machine screw thread is finer than a wood screws I’ll often plug existing holes without pre-drilling new ones so the thread has something to grip, the sharp point aides in threading the screw into the wood. The flat shank is so the screw can thread all the way through the pickup base hole and “bottom out” at the head, allowing the screw to turn freely without stripping anything.

If the pickup doesn’t fit, rather than grind the mounting plates or routing the guitar I’ll try to retrofit the new bobbins on the existing plate. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t.

Last resort is some routing, maybe a pickup ring, maybe some other custom solution like cutting or grinding your nice new pickup, which we can discuss. Call me so we can talk.
Or call me so you can listen to me breathe.

*There are pickups that use self tapping screws, which look like wood screws, to attach to rings and guards. Not much functional difference between them in this use case. If it fits it fits and if he dies he dies.
**The 7 and 8 string blackouts and Jeff Loomis and Mick Thompson signatures don’t have machine screw inserts while the 6 string versions do because fuck you I guess.
***Don’t count on the spec sheets to tell you if the plate is tapped for machine screws on every model that needs a ring. Seymour is too rich to care.
**** Eddie Van Halen invented guitar in the 70s. It’s just fact. Everything that’s ever been done, he did it first. He direct mounted a pickup in his famous Frankenstein. So blame him.
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Les Paul push pull that’s not from the Page playbook

Most guitar players don’t get the most sounds out of what most humbuckers have to offer. Jimmy Page got around to it in the 80’s. Story is he had some engineer design a switching system for his Les Paul using four push pull pots that incorporated coil splitting, phase reversal, and one pickup running in series into the other.

I recently had a customer come in with his Les Paul for a pickup swap because his current tone wasn’t squeezing anyone’s lemon.  He also asked for phase switching and coil tapping without naming he who has two necks. Since I only rely on the internet in matters of love I didn’t scramble for existing wiring diagrams, instead opting for a pen, notepad, and an amount of free time only an underemployed guitar tech has in the middle of the day.

I pride myself on my switch skilz. Jimmy can afford to pay an engineer to draw out this complicated scheme. I imagine a degree in such things will get you the result much quicker than I did. Point is I did it without a single class in electrons. And here I offer you a class in electrons. Or guitar switches. Yea, forget electrons, you don’t need to know about those to understand basic guitar electronics.

Push Pull circuit

This is the mess we’re dealing with. Each push pull pot is a DPDT switch. Double pole double throw means that there are two independent sections that can be in two states. There are four switches total, each with two columns of  three tabs. The teal lines represent the switch wiring tabs. The center row is known as the common. The common tabs will be connected to either the top or bottom rows depending on the switch position. The green lines are the potentiometer tabs. These control the volume or tone or whatever else you wire them to do. I don’t know about those other symbols, I just think they look cool.

So how do you wire all this to two humbuckers with four leads each (five including ground wires) to coil tap and reverse phase keeping in mind the goal that each switch state should give a unique sound? First draw the above as your starting point, connect the wires where you think they should go, then draw a subsequent diagram for each switch state and follow the electrical path all the way through to ensure proper functionality. Basically it’s just trial and error. LOTS of error. So best do it on paper.

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Took several iterations but it’s better than burning up the switches trying to get it right. To explain the end result I’ll first explain our goal. It was not to copy the Jimmy Page wiring. While each humbucker does coil tap and the bridge reverses phase in relation to the neck, the neck reverses phase of one of its own coils while running them in parallel. Page opted to run one humbucker in series to the other. My tweak with the neck coil phase reverse gives you a very pinched, low output sound but with a bit of a boost can yield a great funk tone. Sonically as far as you can get from the wooly, slightly muffled tone the humbuckers in series with each other will give you. Here is the final drawing.

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The green and black leads had to be reversed on the neck circuit to get everything in phase with all the switches in the down position but the drawing gets us where we want to be. Let’s start with the bridge. Reversing phase is easy, this is done on the bottom left switch. The left common tab gets the black lead. This allows us to change its path to ground or hot. Hot goes to the pots input, ground is ground. You see the “X” pattern connecting the hot of the 1st tab going to the 4th tab and the grounded 3rd tab going to the 2nd tab. Connecting them in this way allows the poles of the switch to be on opposite sides of the circuit no matter the switch state. That is, when the commons are connected to the bottom row, with tab 2 being ground and tab 4 being hot, the left common is going to ground and the right common is going to hot. When the switch is in the second position with tab 1 being hot and tab 3 being ground this sends the left common to hot and right common to ground. It’s important to make clear again that the common tabs in the middle are connected to either the upper or lower tabs depending on the switch state.

This alone does not achieve phase reversal as the other pickup leads are connected to the second switch. By connecting the 2nd common of switch 1 to the 1st common of switch 2 we allow for the 2nd common of switch 2 to change states in sync with switch one. This means that regardless of the state of switch 2, the phase will still be determined by switch one. When in the down position (state 1) switch 2 common 2 is connecting the green lead on tab 2 to hot. The “R/W” is the red and white wires together connected to tab 1 of switch 2. When in the down position they are not connected to anything but themselves allowing current to flow from the green/red coil to the white/black coil.

Following the signal path while both switches are in the down position we start at ground, follow from tab 3 switch one to tab 2 of switch one, up to 1st common to black lead, through the first coil to the white lead then on to red lead, through second coil to green lead, up to switch 2 common 1, to switch 1 common 2 to tab 4 up to tab 1 to hot. Which looks like this:

Push Pull flow

Ignore the bad ms paint job. Use this approach to figure out how each switch state will allow current to flow. I’d make a diagram for each path but that would take as long as wiring the thing in the first place and I’ve spent enough time on this article already. Switch one reverses the whole pickups phase relation to the neck, which means you won’t hear a difference unless the 3 way pickup switch is in the middle position. Switch two is the coil tap for the bridge. Neck switch one reverses phase of one coil only. The second neck switch taps that coil.

I suppose I should throw some subtle errors in there so when you try this yourself using just my diagram you’ll screw it up and have to bring it to me but I’m too busy to fix your mistakes. (Nothing worse that trying to salvage burned up switches). Here’s the final product. Lots of tiny connections in a tight space. Basically I’ve just taken a thousand plus words to explain you don’t need an engineer to plot out complicated guitar circuits, just a tech with a functional understanding of basic switch operation.

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Evertune Certified

Have you ever woken up, wondered who these people are in your place and which one of them played your guitar last night? How could they have knocked it out of tune so badly? Why does peanut butter belong in tremolo springs? And on the day of your first recording session after receiving your advance from the record company. You could be screwed but you had the insight to install an Evertune in your back up. Pretty hard for your drunken party pals to pull that puppy out of perfect pitch.

I understand new things are confusing. Self driving cars, VR goggles, the zombie apocalypse, it’s all over whelming. That’s what I’m here for. I dig into the gritty details of perpetually tuned guitar bridges so you can succeed at guitar or whatever else you do, maybe botany? That’s why I’m excited, proud, and all around elated to announce the Guitar Gutter is now a certified Evertune installer. We’re also the only certified installer in the front range.

If you haven’t tried one I have one on hand. If you have questions just call. If you need additional advice outside the guitar realm I’ll do my best.

https://evertune.com/faq/resources/installer_list.php

Evertune Washburn

 

Guitar Gutter at The UMS!

It’s that time of year when South Broadway in Denver, CO is jammed up with tasty jams. The Underground Music Showcase features too many bands for me to count and twelve venues. The Guitar Gutter with Flipside music will have a booth at the main stage area in the abandoned Kmart parking lot. Don’t let the setting fool you, the only blue light special will come in pill form from the dude with a curled mustache and wide brimmed hat. For artists playing the event, we will be offering a 20% discount on emergency repair services on guitars and basses!!!! We’ll have parts and strings on hand, just look for our coupon in your artist packages!Come check us out! www.theums.com

Guitar Gutter teams up with Flipside Music

Big news! Guitar Gutter Group Incorporated LLC is teaming up with Flipside Music at 1673 South Acoma Street Denver CO, 80223 as their primary guitar repair service solution. This means easy drop off and pickup, easier transactions, and a selection of strings and accessories I neither have the space nor capital to provide, along with a butt load of pedals and other cool shit.

I will still handle existing customers out of the Gutter for setup and electronic work. All new customers and structural work will be handled at Flipside. I’ll also be able to focus on custom builds and mods there so my neighbors lungs are no longer my sole dust collection system.

For repair questions please call me, Nick, at 720-336-0140. For questions about Flipside Music please call Ike or Dylan at 1-888-598-2637

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Shopping Around: Montreal

Anytime I travel the second place I seek out is usually a guitar shop. Breweries come first but only because of the strict barley diet I’m on due to my gluten dependency. This is the first of what I intend to be an ongoing travelogue as I visit guitar techs, builders, and retail shops when I travel. Why not supplement one pipe dream (successful guitar tech) with another (writer). 

My one stop flight to the syrup city began with another airline PR disaster as the gate agent shook and gagged on her offer of $500 for a volunteer to take a later flight as our cartoon trainer jet had been overbooked and over stuffed.

Being sensitive to the plight of flight peddlars I heroicly stepped forward to take that $500. Tragedy struck however as a couple slow no shows didnt make it to the gate and I was dragged onto the plane kicking and screaming without my $500. No expensive duck poutine for me.

Day 1

Waking up in a foreign land dehydrated, confused, and without cell service isn’t as terrifying or exciting as I expected. Later today I’m meeting with Mike of Indian Hill Guitars to talk about his work, his shop, and the community of artisans Montreal has fostered. Until then I’ll be wandering around, sniffing out Wi-Fi signals, and listening for anything with six strings.

Walking down St. Catherine street it’s hard not to be in awe of the historic cathedrals nestled in between the majestic strip clubs. One block after another, XXX in neon beckons the pious observer. Oddly I don’t see a single parishioner enter any of these houses of worship. My only conclusion is that sex doesn’t sell here and the churches are all now nightclubs.

 

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Goth night every night

It’s difficult ignoring all these tempting attractions but I hear the faint wails of what can only be a guitar store. Archambault, my first expérience de guitare foreign. At ground level it looks like an old timey cd and movie shop so I walk past, assuming the random guitar plunking to be leftover PTSD from my days in retail though as I turn back I see a Fender banner beckoning me inside. Above the plastic circle floor is the stuff used to make the noise on all those plastic circles. Guitare et plus guitar. Quite a fine selection of Fender, Godin, Fender, and more Godin. Some practice amps, great string selection, even had Fender bass VI in stock. This is not a comprehensive review, only my fragmented and distracted impression, I’m really just looking for a bathroom. So as I look for a place to déposer un ou deux I round the corner to the acoustic room. The Quebecois appreciate 000 and OM styles more than big fat dumb Americans with our Jumbos and Dreadnaughts. Plenty of Martin and Bourgeois, nes pas toucher!

 

Further down St. Catherine two famous concert clubs are being scrubbed of puke and piss. The Metropolis and Club Soda.

 

Ok, eager to get on with it after getting lost in the subway I find myself at the first meeting place, Mile End Guitar Co-Op.

 

They’re a in big fucking building. Used to be a factory making useful things now it’s carved up into artisan spaces, co-working computer labs, and I dunno maybe web cam parlors or something. The co-op is occupied by nine Luthiers all doing their own thing, scraping wood and scraping livings together. Very impressive work here by my gracious host Mike of Indian Hill Guitars (click the link already). I was surprised and impressed to see this number of people working together to create a space where they can all thrive and learn from each other. I imagine places like this exist in the states somewhere, definitely not Denver what with rent and yea yea yea. I believe Mike is showing at the La Conner guitar festival this weekend if you are in that area. I wish I could say more about these handcrafted instruments and their builders but we mostly talked shop, our way through this strange “career”, and hated on all the retired engineers crowding us young guys out. Just relax and enjoy the pictures.

 

Day 2

Kind of a blur, went to a metal fest, met cool people, drank beer, normal stuff.

 

Day 3

Can’t vouch for the accuracy of this timeline, just imagine it’s a Jordorowski film or mushrooms and don’t fight it. Walked enough this day to begin to feel my age, back stiff, feet sore, fuck this. Nah it’s cool though, more guitars and buildings!

Steve’s in old port is the best of the retail shops I visited (keep reading anyway for a big surprise at the end). It’s one of those old, cramped, bad ass shops that we all love. Tons of pedals, nearly every brand and size of string, big amps, used shred guitars, new shred guitars, synths for days. I’d be happy to work in a place like this. The repair tech looked rather happy. Wanted to chew his ears but he appeared to be deep into and explanation of string theory and vibration calculus. Possibly, it was all in French so could have been talking about his latest trip to his mama’s. STFU pics or it didn’t happen!

 

Day 4

Omitted

 

Day 5

More guitar builders! Today we meet Gab of Markott Lutherie. Actually I met Gab earlier in the trip, runs in the same circle, we became pals, he’s my pal now. Gab works out of an even larger co-op, in another former factory, with nearly twenty builders. Again, talked shop, talked future projects, talked about our wood collection. Gab also does R&D for Godin! I think that stands for Rat Delousing. It’s interesting to note that these co-ops are organized as non profit entities and each new member must bring a communal machine to join. Bench fee’s are quite low and some of these lucky fools have gotten grants from the government to further their businesses. The roads may suck but I’ll walk everywhere if it means more support for the arts, music, and the people making culture more interesting. Check out L’Atelier de la Corde to see what sweet lumber comes out of that place.

 

Day 5

Wrapping up the trip I had to see Moog Audio. A friend here in Denver recently visited the place since they sell the synths she builds and I couldn’t quite believe a place like this exists IRL. They sell synths. Lot’s of synths of all styles with the draw being modular eurorack modules with the plugs and cables and knobs and voltages and strange farty sounds. They had a bunch of guitar pedals too. I was kicked out for setting a wobbly bass drop on infinite repeat, the building may not be there anymore.

 

Day 6

Final day. What have I learned? I like Canadians. I already knew that but now I like all kinds of Canadians. I may like the French kind better, at least until I’m invited to Vancouver, we’ll wait and see. There seems to be more guitar builders here than most other cities on the continent. No shit, not kidding. I couldn’t list everyone I met in this business because I was drinking and don’t speak the language. So trust me. Or google it, whatever. So, 5 am flight, a pat on the head, a pat on the butt, and off I go. Here are some more random shots of the trip if you wish to live through me. Who doesn’t really?

 

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