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.

Seymour Pup on DiMarzio Plate


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.


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.

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.



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



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?











Another short 8

In my last post I complained about the Ibanez RG 8, a 27 inch 8 string guitar that’s too short for drop E. Today I cut and paste those same complaints onto the ESP LTD SC-208.


Only the SC-208 is even shorter at 26 inches and the owner needs to go down to C#1!!! That’s the lowest C# on a standard 88 key piano, the second black key, with a string gauge around 0.2 inches and 55 inches long on a grand piano. So let’s see if we can make it work on this thing.


Someone was drunk on the LTD line that day. String through holes don’t line up with the bridge. Not a big problem for most of the strings but we’re stuffing a 0.090 and a 0.070 on the bottom two so you know what that means…



File out the tuner and the bridge plate. Fortunately the strings had normal ball ends and didn’t need a larger ferrule. Problem now is the intonation. That low string is too thick to be able to pull the saddle back far enough to be in tune at the 12th.


Anyway, what matters that it’s all set up and ready to roll. That C# might be an indecipherable thud but I’m just here to fix them.




The problem with the RG8

I have many problems. I wake up in strange clothes, I yell at children on the light rail, and my 401k won’t provide me a retirement in even the cheapest RV park. But this is the most common one I deal with…the Ibanez RG8. An affordable 8 string that was just born bad. Being a cool dude in the metal scene means I get to handle lots of new, cutting edge gear that goes chugga chugga. I do enjoy fondling other peoples property but anytime one of these lands in my sinkhole I put on my counselor gloves and probe why the player thought this purchase was a good idea. Let’s start with the original sin.


It’s too fucking short! 27 god damn inches is not long enough. I mean yea, it’s longer than any low energy old man 6 string but Ibanez knows everyone wants to be Tosin or Ihsahn or Thordendal. That means the F# just aint low enough! Everyone drops their panties and their string for that low E. At 27″ a standard 0.074 isn’t just a sloppy floppy wet noodle, it’s a signal of ones lack of virility and prowess. If them chugs aren’t tight no ones gonna get on your groove. The audience doesn’t want to swim through your muddy brown sound morass of flubba flubba. So how can we get that chugga chugga? Well, the thicker the better to ram that djent home. So let’s install an 0.080


Oh wait, it don’t fit and I’m out of lube. So the player just got suckered into this and they’re not leaving without that low E so let’s make it fit. First I ream out the ferrule


Then the tuner


Gotta file that nut slot


File the saddle…



Compensate for an intonation screw that’s too long and pinches the string before it’s intonated


And finally after all that it fits


So was that it? Is that all it takes? Don’t get your hopes up. The 0.080 is better but your really only draining the swamp of doody and replacing it with mud. Consider that a standard bass is 34 inches and uses a .105 gauge string for that E1. So not only is the Ibanez RG8 lacking in length but pumping it up to give it that extra girth can bust it apart at the seams. 27 and 0.080 aint enough change to ride the E1 line. Go buy a 30 incher.


The Guitar Gutter is Denver Colorado’s finest garden level guitar repair shop.

I’m Nick, your proprietor and private dancer. I’ve been a tech about town since 2008. I’ve seen some things. Some things I don’t want to talk about. Broken necks, cracked backs, crushed nuts, you name it. It’s always tough to see an older guitar in disrepair, neglected by previous owners. Down and out but still trying to play while choking on it’s notes. The streets can be tough. I can help. Let’s get that guitar out of the gutter.