Today, we’re going to address one of the first issues many people have when they decide to take to modding their guitars on their never ending tone quest: How to replace pickups.

On your first time doing it, changing out your pickups may seem like a bit of a task, but in reality there’s only a handful of easy things you’ll need to do to make this process go over very quick and smooth. Before we start, I will list out a few things you may need to do this:

  • Safety goggles
  • Soldering Iron
  • Solder
  • Well-lit/Ventilated Area
  • Pickups of Choice
  • Optional: New Pots or Switch

(This also requires basic soldering knowledge. If you don’t have any experience in this I’d recommend reading our article called “Guitar Soldering for Beginners”.)

Once you have your supplies gathered, the first thing you’ll want to do is match up the measurements between your guitar and the pickups you want to put in them. Some guitars may be too thin or the pickups might be too wide or even just have odd shaped feet that won’t fit into a typical pickup route. So check to make sure your guitar is indeed routed deep enough for the new pickups.

While you’ve got the ruler out, you might as well double check your guitar’s pickup spacing. 90% of the time, non-trem equipped guitars will be 49-50mm at the neck and bridge, whereas most guitars with a whammy bar will require T(Trem) or F(Fender/Floyd) spaced pickups with a spacing of 53mm to account for the extra width between the strings. This isn’t the most important part as the only thing that happens if you don’t match the spacing is that it’s not perfectly aesthetically appealing.

It’s also a good idea to take a picture of how things are wired to begin with or to draw it out so that you have a reference to what the original scheme looked like before ripping the old pickups out.

After the measurements and determining if you need any extra supplies for the pickup swap, you can now actually begin the process of putting your new pickups inside of your guitar. This can be simple or frustrating depending on your wiring scheme. Most of the time, all you’re really going to need to do is determine which lead from the pickup is hot and which is the ground. Then, and simply replace each pickup’s wire in the circuit. 

If you have a guitar with a switch than that’s where you’ll likely be soldering the hot output of the pickup. If you have a 1 volume per pickup guitar, then you’ll be soldering the pickup’s hot wire to the outer/ungrounded lug on the pot and that potentiometer will then go to the switch.

If you’re new to this whole modding thing, then I would suggest just starting things off in a guitar you aren’t the most attached to in case things get confusing, but once you get comfortable, you can learn the harder parts of wiring with things like coil taps/splits.

Now on to the possible complications – if you’ve wired everything up and for some reason your guitar sounds very thin, chances are one of the pickups were installed with the polarity backwards so that when more than one pickup is selected they cancel each other out and create an out-of-phase sound. This is more prone to happening when you have 2 different pickup manufacturers in one guitar and one decides to have non-standard wiring scheme. The solution here is simple, switch the hot and ground wires around and that’s it.

On the other hand, if you wired everything up and hear absolutely nothing there’s a good chance you’ve accidentally grounded something in the circuit and will need to open the guitar again and remove whatever is shorting the circuit. This is where it’s nice to have a multimeter to figure out where the flow of current stops, but otherwise, just poking around until things work again is usually a workable alternative.

Another possible issue is burning something. If you held the soldering iron on some parts too long you may have burned out a pot or the switch in a worse case situation – the easiest way to tell here is too just connect the pickups directly to the output jack and go backwards from there.

That’s really all there is too it. Switching out pickups isn’t as complicated a task as some people might want to make it seem. Unless you’re rebuilding a crazy wiring scheme, all you’re going to do is look at where your current pickup’s wires are and replace them – and always remember most of electronics is trial and error system so don’t ever feel discouraged if you can’t figure it out.  Just always remember to be safe when using things like a soldering iron, wear safety goggles, have a fan.

Always remember, if you smell chicken, you’re holding the soldering iron the wrong way.

I hope this article was helpful, or at least interesting! If you enjoy modding, check out another guide of ours called 3 Easy Humbucker HacksIf you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some more. We upload articles, review, guides, and more every day!

If you’re looking for new pickups, we’re authorized Seymour Duncan dealers, so be sure to check out our shop!

This article was written  by Keegan Connor, our editor located in Canada.

About The Author