Oil City ... The Weasel on pickups, repair, building and rewinding

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OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 5385
edited August 2013 in Making & Modding tFB Trader
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Most of you are used to seeing my pickup designs as fully completed ‘pickup porn’ like the above shot of my Tele ‘Twang 90’ … but I’ve intended for quite a while to do a series of posts about the nuts and bolts pickup design and repair. Not only because some of you nut-cases want to try your hand at winding pickups yourself, but also to give you a bit of confidence in performing the common pickup repair, maintenance and even improvement jobs that many of you think might  too difficult.

I’m going to kick off with how to improve your cheap, Chinese made humbuckers by 100% for under a tenner for the pair. It’ll be fun, and give you a real sense of achievement to be dabbling in the dark arts of pickup science. Most of us have this sort of pickup kicking around in a drawer somewhere … I’m going to make this one work for its money!

Today I plan to convert a cheap neck pickup into an acceptable PAF clone by removing the horrible, skinny hookup wire and putting in some vintage style braided cable (I will cover conversion to 4 conductor in another post) … and most important … binning that nasty ceramic magnet and putting in a nice alnico 4 … for some BK style PAF action. I could just as easily used alnico 2 for … er … Slashier tones … or alnico 5 for more cut.

Here’s the subject for our Frankenstein’s lab experiments.

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An Ibanez  (Artec) humbucker taken from one of my Artcore semi  acoustics.  It’s problems are sloppy construction and a nasty, cheap ceramic magnet that produces a coarse, grainy overdrive and either mud from the neck pickup, or ‘fingers on a blackboard’ screeching from the bridge pickup.

The first thing to do is open her up. For removing chrome covers some recommend using a Dremel or similar, equipped with a 1” cut-off wheel to ‘slice through the solder.  The theory being that if you use a soldering Iron, you need to use more heat to remove the solder than was used to apply it in the first place … so you risk damaging the pickup’s internals. Personally,I find that using a big, powerful soldering iron lets you put lots of heat into a small space really quickly and can actually minimise the risk of damage. I use an el-cheapo 100w beast from e bay that was £9.99 if I remember correctly. It’s a brute … but has removed and soldered dozens of covers and is still going strong. The other cover removal tool I use is an old 50s table knife … though a narrow stainless kitchen spatula would do.

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A swift heat of the solder blob … and the knife is slid in to ‘cut’ the molten solder. Make sure your iron is really hot and you have tinned the tip a little.

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 Carefully slide off the cover and voila … the guts revealed.

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First we’re going to remove that magnet. I loosen but I don’t usually remove the four bobbin screws, at this stage, instead I gently ‘wiggle’ the bobbins to break the seal of potting wax that’s holding in the offending part. I carefully push out the ceramic magnet and consign it to the bin …

A nice shiny alnico 4 magnet. There are several of suppliers of these on line … and even on e bay.

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One problem you may encounter is that ceramic magnets are physically thicker than alnicos … so the spacer that keeps the ‘slug’ side bobbin level when you tighten the bobbin screws, may now be too thick. No such problem here … the Artics are so cheap and cheerful they don’t even have spacers! Here I’ve cut a new spacer from some scrap maple (exactly what Gibson used).

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We have to make sure we replace the new magnet in the same polarity as the original … so here you will need a cheap compass … or as I’m using here, a Stew-Mac  polarity tester. The magnets north pole should point to the ‘screw’ pole pieces in a PAF design. 

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Right … now to sort out that wiring. A convention that often puzzles newbies to pickup work … is that according to first principals, to work properly a humbucker must have each coil of opposite polarity … and wound in the opposite direction. Yet most humbuckers are, in fact made with both coils wound in the same direction … just with one coil connected electrically the opposite way around. In a humbucker this makes no difference and makes manufacturing a bit easier!

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The old magnet didn’t succumb to wiggling in this case … and I had to take everything apart and slide a knife blade between the top of the magnet and the bobbin.

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We've  identified the ‘coil start’ and ‘coil finish’ leads for each bobbin … fairly easy … most of the time the coil start is the one that disappears under the bobbin and goes to its centre … the coil finish pops out from under the pickup tape.  We will be connecting the coils in series as normal … so the finish of one goes into the start of the other for normal hum cancelling operation. But as I’ve said one must be ‘backwards’ to the other to be humbucking … and as both coils are wound the same way … the way to do this is to connect the two finish wires together. This will then make the slug coil ‘start’ the pickup’s ‘hot’ connection, and the screw coil’s ‘start’ the  ‘ground’ connection.

Stand by for part two .....

Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

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  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 5385
    edited August 2013 tFB Trader

    I've temporarily detached all the wires to solder the braid of the hookup cable to the pickup base ‘lip’, leaving enough core wire to reach to the middle of the two bobbins and tuck neatly out of the way once soldered. Here I've used my 40w needle nosed soldering station iron ... rather than the 100w brute.

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    Oh, for those who don’t know … here’s the proper way to separate the centre wire from the braid on hookup cables … and no you don’t unpick it all!

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    Right connections made … and some cloth tape used to insulate the joins.

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     Ends will be tucked in neatly … and a little more cloth tape used to keep things neat. By the way my cloth tape is old fashioned motorbike ‘loom’ tape … exactly what Leo used in the old days.

    I’ve dunked the pickup cover in boiling water to remove any excess wax,  and filed off any excess solder that might stop the sides of the cover from sitting neatly into place.  I will also back out the pole screws a little to guide the cover neatly into the right place. You may notice, the  tape on the screw bobbin is new … I couldn’t resist opening the coil up and taking a couple of hundred turns off the bobbin to unbalance the coils. This gives a more open, sparkling tone … and doesn’t noticeably affect the hum cancelling performance.

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     … back on with the cover … in this case the original cheap brass one … but I could gave fitted a nice pure nickel one from stock.

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    Clamped into place a swift blob of solder from out 100w gun … and the pickup’s all ready for potting

    if you want …. I’ll wax lyrical about  that next time (erggggguuuhhh)

    Future episodes: A potting we will go and ….. The toughest rewind in history?

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    Or a VERY sick Rick!

     Ash

    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

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  • TTonyTTony Frets: 21312

    I’m going to kick off with how to improve your cheap, Chinese made humbuckers by 100% for under a tenner for the pair

    That is tempting ...

    Thanks Ash for taking the time to document that.

    T(empted)Tony.

    Having trouble posting images here?  This might help.
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  • Adam_MDAdam_MD Frets: 3418
    Excellent thanks Ash I'm definitely having a go at this.  I've got two epiphone victims... er volunteers all ready to go.
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  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 5385
    tFB Trader
    If anybody wants odds and sods of hookup wire etc  PM me, I can arrange to be far cheaper than buying a whole roll :)
    Careful and methodical are the watchwords ... I been doing quite a bit of repair and rewind work of late ... and with vintage pickups you literally can't afford slip ups!
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

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  • Adam_MDAdam_MD Frets: 3418
    I'll probably be in touch soon to take you up on that.  I have some bits and bobs to sell to fund some new pickups so expect a pm soon.
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  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 5385
    tFB Trader
    With others of the pro building fraternity on here sharing their workshop related chat I thought I'd resurrect this thread ... actually the first ever 'making and modding' thread ... and keep it as a regular bulletin from Oily Towers :)
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

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  • ddloopingddlooping Frets: 322
    Nice one, Ash, very informative. :)
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  • WezVWezV Frets: 12414
    Cool, i have just sent my cousin to you to get a set of buckers to replace the EMG's in his ESP
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  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 5385
    tFB Trader
    That's cool, thanks Wez.
    I'm photographing the build of a set of humbucking pickups for a forumite over the next few days to go on here ... and hopefully I'll be cataloging the scratch build of a very unusual pickup shortly. :)
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

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  • DrBobDrBob Frets: 2613
    Ash, sorry for the thread derail (great thread btw, thanks for taking the time to post it) but what's a Tele Twang 90,I can't find it over on your site
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  • Excellent stuff thanks
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  • axisusaxisus Frets: 20793
    AWESOME THREAD!!!!!!

    Just gotta say it again ....... AWESOME THREAD!!!!!!
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  • WezVWezV Frets: 12414
    DrBob said:
    Ash, sorry for the thread derail (great thread btw, thanks for taking the time to post it) but what's a Tele Twang 90,I can't find it over on your site
    it looks like a tele pickup with adjustable poles and a P-90 magnet structure/alignment
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  • Zodiac51Zodiac51 Frets: 340
    Have some wisdoms on me GW :)
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  • thermionicthermionic Frets: 7082
    I have a great guitar book from the 80s, and in the bit about pickups there's a mention of a kit of replacement powerful ceramic magnets to replace wimpy alnicos. What goes around, comes around. 

    Great thread.
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  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 5385
    tFB Trader
    The Twang 90 is new ... it is indeed a Tele sized pickup with a very big lump of P90 ... adjustable poles ... twin opposed alnico 5 magnets. It's not on my site yet because I haven't had time to sort out the final spec and get it on there :) It sounds like a sweeter, slightly more throaty Tele pickup ... or a P90 with more clang and a bit more detail. It's not really 100% either but is rather fun.

    I have been ridiculously busy over the last few weeks so many of my development projects have had to be put on the back burner. Hopefully it ... and some new humbuckers and Strat options will be ready for broadcasting a bit wider soon!


    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

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  • Excellent and very informative thread thanks (also proud owner of a number of Oil City pickups) - I too have cocked up a HB in the past trying to remove the cover with a low powered iron and force.
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  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 5385
    tFB Trader
    Here's a pic of a pickup I rewound recently for a customer. He bought the Jazz bass with one non functioning pickup (for a very good price I believe) then was shocked to discover this: 

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    The moral being, don't use a screwdriver, Stanley knife, machete or medieval broadsword to remove your pickup covers!
    And yes I made it all better with a complete rewind ... and to a slightly more growly spec. 
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

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  • Absolutely fantastic article, thank you.
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  • Adam_MDAdam_MD Frets: 3418
    I love reading pickup winding threads.  :D

    I've also got a tele pup with adjustable p90 pole pieces, it's a really interesting pickup wound by Marc at Mojo pickups.  It still sounds like a tele bridge pup but also kinda like a p90, awesome for playing who and ac/dc tracks 
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