Different guitar pickups can have a massive effect on the way your electric guitar sounds. After all, they’re possibly the most important piece of hardware on your guitar in terms of the sound it makes – nothing else on your guitar can possibly have anywhere the effect on your sound in the way that a different pickup can.
A pickup is the interface between your playing and the amplifier, and a good pickup can go a long way to making even a bad guitar sound great!
One of the great things about the electric guitar is how modular it is. Components can be changed and replaced with great ease – and, what’s more, doing something that makes such a huge change to your sound as changing a pickup can be done relatively easy at home!
All you’ll need is a few basic tools and a guide – luckily, we’re here to give you the latter!
Tools & Hardware
First of all, the obvious – you’re going to need a guitar, and a new pickup to replace the old one! That aside, the tools you’ll need are actually relatively simple. You’ll need a screwdriver, a soldering iron, some solder and flux – that’s it for tools!
That aside, a comfortable place to work is a good idea. You’ll want somewhere that you can rest the guitar while you’re working on it – a nice large, flat table is a great idea. A set of soldering helping hands could be very helpful too, but they’re not essential – just nice to have.
Some clean, soft cloths or towels are going to come in handy – you can use them to protect the neck and headstock of your guitar from bumps and strain while it’s on the workbench, and you can also use them to cover up your guitar while you’re soldering. After all, some of this work can’t be taken away from the guitar, so you should protect it!
If you’re doing a simple like for like replacement, you can likely skip this step – but it’ll be one of those things that it’s better to have and not need, than need and not have. A wiring diagram for your pickup will show you exactly how to connect it to the various potentiometers you have – i.e. the volume and tone knobs.
If you’re making some changes to the circuitry too – such as adding a coil tap, for instance – you’ll definitely want to be able to refer to the circuit diagram. Overall, it’s just a generally good idea to have one on hand, especially if this is your first time changing a pickup!
Removing Old Pickup
Right, time to start work! First, time to remove your strings. Sorry, but you can’t really do this with them in the way. If you’ve got a control cavity at the back of the guitar, you should open it up too. Take a photo if you can – it’ll give you something to refer to, and help you get things soldered to the right places.
If you’re working on a Strat, or another guitar that has the pickups mounted to a pickguard, then you’ll have to unscrew the pickguard and then carefully remove it from the guitar, taking care not to snap any wires. Otherwise, simply unscrew the pickup from its housing on the guitar – again, taking care not to break any of the wires coming from it.
From this point on, removing the old pickup is a pretty simple job! First, get your soldering iron heated up.
It’s always best to do any soldering work with a hot iron – it makes the job a lot easier, and means you’ll spend less time applying heat to components. Components tend not to like heat at all, but a short time with a very hot soldering iron is a lot better for them than a long time getting heated up with a cooler iron!
Simply find where the wire coming from the pickups is attached to the potentiometers on your guitar. Heat up the solder joint until the solder liquefies, and give the wire a gentle tug – with molten solder, it should come right off! Congratulations – you’re halfway there!
Installing New Pickup
Now for the exciting bit – fitting the new pickup! First of all, you should familiarize yourself with the wiring diagram. Many are available, and there are different ones for each potential way you could connect all the various components.
Getting a good understanding of the wiring diagram will help you understand just how all of the electrical hardware on your guitar connects together – which, if nothing else, makes you more confident with tinkering!
Remember that you’re not changing anything that can’t be reverted! Although the fear of getting it wrong is daunting, you’ll be able to do and redo this over again, with many different pickups and electrical hardware combinations.
Just ensure that you’re treating your hardware and tools with care!
For a simple like-for-like replacement, you can simply wire the new pickup in exactly the same way as the old one – it really is as simple as that!
And if you’re inclined to make more drastic changes to the circuitry of your guitar, there are lots of different wiring diagrams out there to help you achieve your goals!
There are so many ways you could wire your guitar up – so if you’re already changing the hardware, maybe there’s a different way you can wire your guitar to squeeze a little more out of it?
For instance, coil splitting – you could have your pickups wired so that one position on your toggle switch effectively turns one of your humbuckers into a single coil pickup!
Changing pickups is a daunting task the first time you do it – but it’s a fairly simple job, and with the right tools and a positive attitude, something that any guitarist should be able to do!
It’s a great way to learn a little more about how your guitar works too – and it’s going to be cheaper than paying somebody else to do it! Of course, if in doubt, seek professional help – it’s always better to be safe than sorry!