Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tales From The Workbench: Mutant Guitar Pickup

I realize that a lot of my blog posts have been getting super technical lately.  So, in this one I'm going to speak very generally about a project I've recently working on.  (Okay, I'm going to try to.)

My project involved working on broken guitar pickups.  Now, I don't want to take credit for thinking up the idea for this.  I read about how to do this on the Seymour Duncan users forum.  What happened was that a forum member took apart a 59 model pickup and a Custom model pickup.  He took a coil from each of them, and put together a pickup combining one coil of the 59, and one coil of the Custom.  He then called this pickup, "The 59 Custom." 

So I happened to have a broken Seymour Duncan Custom pickup, and a Dimarzio FRED pickup.  However, I was lucky in that, I had a working slug side of the Custom.  The Dimarzio FRED has adjustable pole pieces on both sides, and one of the sides was still working.

So I decided to make a new pickup by combining both working coils.  This sounds easy, but there are a few steps.  First I had to figure out the start and stop of each coil.  Seymour Duncan and Dimarzio have different color codes so I had to keep them straight.

I'll go over this next part pretty quick, but I had to work with some very fine wires, and make sure I didn't burn up the coil windings.  I also used some heat shrink tubing to protect the where the wires came off the pickup and connected to outgoing wires.  That worked really well.  I also bought some cloth tape from Stew-Mac to wrap around the pickup.  That was one of my better purchases. 

I also changed the hex screws on the Dimarzio coil to Phillips head screws.  The hex screws were extremely rusted.  I also used a polished Alnico 2 bar magnet.  Here's what it looked like after I attached all the wires and put the pickup back together. 

I have blue tape over the slug side because I was about to put the cover on.  When the slug pole pieces touch a cover you can sometimes get microphonics/feedback.  Here's the view with the cover on.

Now, I haven't soldered the pickup to the cover for a reason.  I wanted to see how it sounded first.  But how do I do that without actually installing it in a guitar.  Well, there is a quick and hilarious way to do that.  First, I ran the wire directly to an output jack.

As you can see I then ran it to a cable that ran to my amplifier.  I then took one of my guitars and laid it down on my workbench.  Next I did this.

That's right, I held the pickup over the strings while strumming them.  That way I could move the pickup to the neck, middle, and bridge positions, and see how it sounded.  I have to say, it was pretty awesome.  I'll admit, I couldn't get a detailed or exact sound out of it.  But the fact that I managed to make this thing work made me do the happy dance. 

I know I said I wouldn't get technical, but I will list some specs just in case someone stumbles across this article, and wishes to know them.

Seymour Duncan Custom slug side DC resistance:  7.07K ohms.  (43 AWG wire.)
Dimarzio FRED screw side DC resistance:              5.65K ohms.  (43 AWG wire.)
Total DC resistance:                                                 12.72K ohms.
Polished Alnico 2 magnet from All-Star Magnetics.
Seymour Duncan nickel/silver baseplate.
Standard Seymour Duncan wiring schematic. 

I will soon actually install this in an Epiphone Les Paul.  I'm really excited to test this pickup out in a Les Paul.  I'm still ecstatic that I actually managed to get this pickup working.  Nevermind that I spent an hour and a half carefully dissecting and sewing two pickups into one.  Actually, for my first attempt, I don't think that's too long.  I kind of expected it to take longer. 

One important thing I do want to say is that, I did my homework before I took these pickups apart.  This chart from Guitar Electronics helped immensely. 

I had a custom diagram drawn out so that I would know which wire coming off the pickup was attached to which color coordinated wire that would go to the electronics.  That was extremely helpful so I didn't have to think about it every other second.  I just wrote it down so I could concentrate on being very careful with my soldering. 

I have to say, it's a lot of work, but it is rewarding.  I'm really interested in rewinding my own pickups.  I'd say this is a good start to that.  Again, I feel great about the way this turned out.  I hope to have some more projects like this in the future. 

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