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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Neck shave, heal carve, pickup swap

I’ve neglected the website but I have been busy in the shop. Just finished a cool job on a Jackson 7 string the involved thinning the neck, carving the heel, and a pickup swap.

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First: Neck shave. Plenty of ways to do it. I prefer my Veritas spoke shave for the bulk of the operation.

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I measured the neck thickness at the first fret to be 0.802″, 0.890″ at the 12th, and 0.920″ at the 15th. After taking a few passes to dial in a consistent cutting depth I go to town, measuring a shaving every ten passes to ensure my math will add up. I’m being conservative and only taking 0.030″ off since I don’t know how deep the rod channel is and want to avoid blowing into it. I suppose it’s possible to figure that out, or even call up Jackson and ask, but time constraints mean I gotta jump to it. https://youtu.be/jPj-5jp8adY

After shaping the contour and sanding the next step is oiling the neck. The previous poly finish was glossy and had a bit of drag, Danish oil will protect the wood while still giving the neck a bare/satin kind of feel.

 

 

 

Second: Carving the obnoxious heel. I’m doing a simple bevel. Went at it with a course rasp file. Cleaned it up with a scraper and a bit of sanding. Then stained and sealed it quick. You can see how thick the finish is. Took a few attempts to cut the line straight, it kept chipping out on me. Suppose it’s time for new exacto blades. Also had to countersink the screw hole, ditch the neck mounting ferrule, and cut down the screw.

 

Third: Pickup swap. These are actually DiMarzio 7 string PAF’s. The BN boxes are for show… Anyway the first problem was the PAF’s were attached to surface mounting back plates. Not gonna work. So I took the plates off the existing pickups and put the DiMarzio coils on those. Not a perfect fit but it worked. Next was wiring the 3way pickup switch so the inner coils are active in position 2, with the bridge and neck doing what they do on 1 and 3. Not a problem except that the hot and ground lead needed to be swapped and a magnet had to be flipped to ensure everything was in phase. I only realized this after putting the pickups in, stringing it up, and hearing the inner coils were out of phase. Anyway, fixed that, set it up, sent it home to its owner. He was happy. I was happy. Hope your happy. Schedule your appointment today.

 

 

Super sick strat series pickup wire options 

I recently had a customer slip into the Gutter with his American Strat (I greese the sidewalk to “attract” customers). At some point he had a push pull pot installed giving him three series modes. You can see the mod detailed here.

While in series mode these are the pickup switch combinations.

Position

  1. Bridge and neck in series
  2. Neck and mid in series and neck and bridge in series as parallel pair
  3. Neck and mid in series
  4. Neck
  5. Neck

As you can see position 4 is boring and redundant. The customer is an adventerous go getter and wanted another option for that switch position. The circuit doesn’t lend itself easily to other options.

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Fortunately the customer, we’ll call him Cus for short, also wants a master treble and a master bass cut. This frees up one half of the 5 way pickup selector…. Interesting. Thinking, head scratching. I could just google a solution but I prefer a novel approach.

Let’s look at that middle bastard and figure out why he’s too subborn to TURN THE FUCK ON when pup switch is at 4. So a litle about electricity. Like water (and myself at times) it has little will of its own so will follow the path of least resistance. Pickup coils are essentially just a long, winding, miserable, grueling path of resistance. When a pickup circuit is connected correctly from ground through the coil to positive the electrons have no choice but to rejoice when the strings excite the magnet mist. (Stay with me). Looking at the PP switch (it’s a technical term, look it up) we see that the middle negative can either be connected to the ground lead or the wire going to the 5th lug of the pickup switch which also happens to be connected to the positive lead of the neck pickup. Same with the bridge but we don’t care about that right now. When PP switch is down electricy can flow from ground through neck coil to postive out to the negative entry of the middle,through its coil and to the 4th switch lug creating the series connection. But you can see all that. (Nevermind that pickups induce an AC current, it’s just eaiser to think about it this way).

So now that we are all electrical engineers we can clearly see what the problem is. No? Since water, er, electricity is kinda lazy it doesn’t want to go through the middle even when it has a path because while in the 4th position there are two paths and one is much easier than the other, through the neck and out the jack.

Cutting to the chase since Cus needs his guitar back I decided to use the now free half of the pickup switch to change the middle pickups ground path while in the 4th. But there is a snag. For reasons I’m too tired to explain the 3rd and 2nd terminals cannot be connected on this half of the switch to work correctly. My hack solution was to cut the wiper in the switch that connects them. Only it’s a fender switch and they are a pain to disassmble. So I used an asian enclosed five way and opened it up. See below, go ahead, you can look, it’s asleep and won’t mind a peak at its insides.

 

open switch surgery

 

 

cut wiper

Long story short I wired it up so the neck and mid are in parallel in the 4th position. Cus already has that option when the series switch is disengaged and the strat functions as usual but fuck it, he’s happy with it.

 

modified switch

Next post we will discuss the treble bass cut portion of this.