Published On: Wed, Mar 11th, 2009

Upgrade guitar: The pickups

See how to upgrade a cheap electric guitar to a semi-pro standard. Use our in-depth guide to upgrade and fix your budget guitar without resorting to expert guitar advice and attention.

The Pickups

We’ll remove the strings and scratchplate, making sure when taking the screws out to hold our fingers around the bottom of the screwdriver; this way, if we do slip, we’ll hit our fingers rather than the finish. I’ve removed the earth wire that goes to the spring plate on the tremolo and the wires to the jack plug so I can work on the pickups without anything being in the way. You’ll need at least a 25W iron to do most of these connections, especially the earth to the spring plate. Make a drawing of all the wiring; it pays to make sure it all goes back in the right place. Strip the outer cover of each of the wires you need to solder to show about 4mm of inner cable. To avoid the risk of dry joints, this should be ‘tinned’ by holding the iron on the end of the wire and melting some solder onto it before connecting it to the terminal.
Remove one pickup at a time and fit the new ones, working your way down to ensure you don’t end up with a load of terminals that aren’t connected to anything. You’re simply replacing one wire with another. Connect the hot wires only at this stage (generally white, but check this on the fitting instructions); the earths can be connected all at once when all three pickups are in. Try to make sure you cut the wires from the pickups so that they’re just a bit longer than you actually need, and route them neatly. They can be held together with tape to keep them all in place.
Once all of the hot connections have been soldered you can cut the earth wires from the pickups to length, and remove the sleeves to show about 13mm of inner cable. The inner cables then need to be wrapped around each other and tinned. Before you try to solder them to the back of the pot, scratch the back of the pot with a Stanley blade: this will make sure you’re soldering to the actual metal and not any kind of coating. Connections to pots always need a really good soldering iron. If the iron isn’t powerful enough you will end up slowly heating up the pot, and wrecking it.
The only mod I’m going to do concerns one of the tone pots. Normal Strats offer no control over the bridge pickup tone, but by finding this pickup’s blank terminal on the switch and making a little bridging wire from the neck pickup’s terminal, the middle pot can now bleed treble from both. Because the switch layout means that pickups 1 and 3 are never on at the same time, this is a nice, practical arrangement.You can see from the picture that we now have the rewired scratchplate already to refit, so the next thing to do is reconnect the jack plug. Make sure the earth (black) goes to the tag that connects to the main part of the jack plug, and the hot (white) goes to the tip of the jack plug. If you’re unsure, plug a jack into it and have a look. That just leaves us with the earth on the trem spring plate to resolder.

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