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Changing humbuckers to Gibson humbuckers


JefferySmith

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I have only one modified Epiphone. I had the local guitar guy replace my Dot's humbuckers with Seymour Duncan P90's. I have only two complaints:

 

He charged me a ton for the work (more than I paid for the Dot on ebay)

He took nearly two months to do the work

 

Eventually I would like to upgrade the pickups on my AlleyKat and my Sheraton II to Gibson humbuckers. Is this a pretty easy mod, or am I going to be sending the guitars back to my guitar guy (plus $1,000) to repair the mess I made? I was about to order the Stewart-MacDonald book(s) on guitar repairs/mods, but decided to throw the question out to the group here since 90% of you seem to change your pickups as often as I change my socks.

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It's not really that hard, but it does take a lot of patience, and time. I think my first attempt was on my Dot, about 8-10 hours. BUT, I had to re-do it a couple of times. Okay, more than a couple of times. When I did my Sheraton I only had to do it once.

 

1. I used a piece of plywood, drilled holes where the parts should be, mounted them and wired it up.

 

2. Then I fished the wire for the pickups though the pickup cavities and the f-hole and mounted the pickups. Then I wired the pickups to the harness. Then I wired the ground wire to the bridge.

 

A. Test it out before fishing everything through the f-hole to make sure it works.

 

B. I had a problem with ground hum becasue my ground wire to the bridge wasn't connected tot he bridge. That was easy to fix. I used a 10mm bolt, screwed it into the bushing and the bushing came right out. Then I ran another wire and made sure it was connected. I didnt' solder it, it fit pretty tight when I pressd the bushing back in and I haven't had any problems since, that was a year ago now.

 

3. Then after it was done I took it off the template and fished the parts through the f-hole. I didn't use shielded wire on my first attempt and I got a lot of ground hum. Use shielded wire. Stewmac sells dome good quality shielded wire, but you need to buy a bunch. I wished they sold it by the foot.

 

A. I tied fishing line to the pots, jack and switch so I could get them up thorugh the correct hole. Fish the line down through each hole and then tie them on the corresponding part.

 

B. I fished the 1/4" jack up first, then the volume pot for the bridge pickup, then the tone for the bridge, then the tone for the neck, then the volume for the neck, then finally the switch.

 

Use a long shaft 1/4" jack, the regular won't fit, it's too short, I know from experience. Another reason why it took me so long on my first attempt.

 

 

You can purchase pre-soldered harnesses, but I enjoy soldering so I just got all the parts I needed and did it my self.

 

If you use CST post, you will need to file the holes a little larger. I used Alpha pots and they dropped right in. I did have to open the holes up a little for the switch and 1/4" jack. I used Switchcraft, whick I recommend.

 

If you have to take it in because you didn't do something right, I can't imagine that it will cost that much. And if you have some patience, it is very doable and very rewarding when you finish a project like this.

 

I also put rags on the body when I was fishing stuff through, just incase something happened so I wouldn't scratch the finish. And I didnt' scratch the finish.

 

There are a bunch of guy/gals here than can help you out along the way, so I say go for it.

 

Good luck, let us know how it goes.

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It's not really that hard' date=' but it does take a lot of patience, and time. I think my first attempt was on my Dot, about 8-10 hours. BUT, I had to re-do it a couple of times. Okay, more than a couple of times. When I did my Sheraton I only had to do it once.

 

1. I used a piece of plywood, drilled holes where the parts should be, mounted them and wired it up.

 

[/quote']

 

That could be an all day job to those who haven't done it before. =D>

 

I think he was only concerned about changing out the p_ups themselves?

 

If that is the case, (where he doesn't need to change the controls), why not just

cut the p_up wire at the hole where the p_up fits into, and graft the new p_up wire to it?

 

We have discussed this method here before in previous threads.

 

Basically it's: cut back a bit of the insulation

- peel back the shield and solder the white/black/green/red to each other

- apply some heat shrink tubing to the bare soldered ends

- then using the tip of the iron, shrink down the heat shrink tubing.

 

Once that is done, carefully place the joined ends together,

- slip a larger piece of shrink wrap over these and then solder the shields together,

- wrap the shields with insulation tape...or even use some more shrink wrap to cover

up the shields.

 

The other method, I would use, is to use sockets/plugs (molex)

where you can solder the wires to the pin and install the pins into their respective

plug or socket. This way, you can change p_ups like changing your socks, ;-)

 

The only thing you would have to change to a new p_up afterwards

is: solder the 5 wires to the pins(red.white/blk/grn + shield) to a mating connector

on the new p_up only. You don't need to touch the connector that goes to

the controls again.

 

slip those newly soldered pins into the molex connector housing,

connect both connectors together and install the p-up back on.

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I've posted this before, but it seems to come up all the time. Others use different techniques, but this is how I did it:

 

I got my '95 Sheraton II last summer and immediately decided it needed better pickups, so I ordered the Seymour Duncan "Silver" set (Jazz neck, JB bridge) from MF. Then I was confronted with the problem of installing them. My local tech turned down the job!

 

Apparently Sheratons are not all the same. Mine was made at the Samick factory in Korea, and has small f-holes and no access route through the pickup cavities. Gibson ES-335s and maybe some other Sheratons do, and that makes life easier.

 

Here's what I did: the Mojo Assemblies pots are too big to fit through the opening of the f-hole, which on mine is 1" x .75" at its largest. That part of the f-hole is any where from 2" to 8" away from the various components, so that has to be kept in mind when cutting the wiring to length.

 

I stole the idea from Mojo of using a template, which I made from a piece of cardboard and a set of leather punches. I measured the distances to all the controls, and punched holes for them in the same relative position on the cardboard as on the guitar top.

 

My Epi had one noisy pot and a noisy switch, so I ordered new "mini" pots from Stewart-McDonald (part # 3477) along with a three-way switch (#1217), an output jack (#4652) and two of their basic wiring packages (#4575), which include .020 and .050 caps for the tone controls. It took most of both wiring kits for the Epiphone, so don't scrimp.

 

The Seymour Duncans came with a wiring diagram, as did the three-way switch, and both offer different options. I chose to wire them up as conventional humbuckers and to wire the switch to allow using the volume controls to blend the pickups when using both -- don't worry, it's all in the diagrams.

 

I put the new pots, switch and jack in the template from the bottom so they'd lay out like the real ones from the top, and then wired them from the bottom side. I used a Sharpie to label the holes on the underside. Very easy to keep track of that way.

 

You'll probably need to roughen the surface of the pot body where you solder the grounds in order for the solder to stick. Another tip: turn the shafts on the pots all the counterclockwise (off) to avoid damaging them from heat.

 

The .020 cap goes on the bridge tone control and the .050 on the neck pot. This emulates Gibson wiring, which uses .022 and .047 values, respectively. Before you solder the cap leg to the pot body, put an alligator clip on to act as a heat sink so you don't fry it with the soldering iron.

 

Solder up everything but the wires from the pickups, and make sure all the parts share a ground by checking with a multimeter. Otherwise you'll put it together and get a nice hum and have to take it all apart again. Trust me -- I know.

 

Use the shielded wire between the switch and the output jack, and between the volume and tone pots. Since I actually disemboweled my Epi before I got this far, I used the sleeves provided in the original harness to dress all the wires before soldering. Always allow a bit of slack for the shield wire to reach to the back of the pot, where you'll be soldering it to ground.

 

The SD pickups have 5 wires coming out of them: red, white, green, black and silver (bare). Strip the ends of the red and white wires, twist them together and secure the join with solder, then put heat shrink tubing over the bare part to insulate them. The leads were a little too short for comfort, so I soldered the green and bare wires together (they both go to ground, you're not shorting out anything) and spliced in a 5" length of the white wire to them, covering all the joints with heat shrink. Then I spliced another 5" to the black wire and covered the joint with heat shrink; I repeated this operation for the second pickup.

 

Note that other brands have different color coding, but the principal doesn't change. In my experience, all pickup makers provide full wiring diagrams, and Stewart-McDonald has others at their website.

 

When I was done I had two leads from each pickup, a white to connect to ground and a black to connect to hot.

 

Time to work on the Sheraton: set her on a towel on your workbench with the peghead to your right (reverse for a lefty), loosen the strings enough to work the stop tailpiece off its studs, and lay it down on the other side of the neck from you. If you're going to restring anyway, just go ahead and take the strings off.

 

Take an ice cube tray (if your refrigerator doesn't have one, dollar stores do) and lay it behind the guitar where you won't be knocking it over. This is where you'll keep the screws and washers and springs and other little gubbinses organized.

 

Wrap a cloth under the edge of each knob and lift: it will pull right off. Occasionally you'll find one that needs more persuasion, but be wary of using screwdrivers or other tools, because it's really easy for it to slip and mar the top. When possible I put something between the tool and the top to minimize dings.

 

The switch knob unscrews (you were wondering why it didn't pull right off!). Then undo the nuts on the various controls and push them down through the holes in the guitar top. Take out the screws holding the pickup rings and lift out the pickups from their cavities, clip the leads that go into the guitar interior (I enjoy that part), and disassemble the pickups from their rings, being careful not to lose the springs -- even though the new ones come with springs, it's easier than you might think to watch them arc up into the air and drop behind some unmovable object.

 

Using a thin, bent wire (a large paper clip that's been straightened out except for one loop is perfect) fish the wires inside the body out through the f-hole and pull the controls out. It might be imprudent at this point to start snipping wires, because you want everything to come out with a minimum of fuss.

 

Identify the wire coming from the tailpiece or bridge: this is the string ground, and you'll be soldering it into the circuit later.

 

Then attach the pickups to the rings. Note that the thin ring is the neck pickup, and the narrower end is against the fingerboard, and that the pole pieces on the pickups are also next to the neck. The thick ring is for the bridge, and the thicker end -- and the pole pieces -- are toward the bridge. Pickup springs are devils without any horns, let me tell you. What I do is put the pickup in the ring, and run the screw on one side to the flange on the side of the pickup where it screws in. That makes it easier to put the other screw in place, put its spring around it, and compress the whole assembly while screwing that side in. Then you repeat the fun for the other side, and maybe 2-3 hours later, you've got the

spring mounted nicely between the rings and the flanges. It's useful to make sure the floor underneath the workbench is clear of obstruction for the many times you'll be on your hands and knees, retrieving the springs. If somebody knows an easier way, feel free to chime in!

 

Finally, solder the pickup leads to the harness. You may have to remove the harness from the template for this step. If so, be sure to have a protective cover over the guitar top to avoid boogers in your finish.

 

Now we're at the fun and games stage of the whole catastrophe. Take a length of string long enough to reach from the wide part of the f-hole to the output jack, allow a few more inches, and tie one end so that you can pull it up into the hole. Using the bent paper clip, fish the string from inside the guitar up through the jack hole in the guitar body (mine required two steps: fishing to the neck tone hole, then from there to the output hole, because my paper clip wasn't long enough. That's the only time I had to do that). Pull the jack up into the hole (a thin jeweler's screwdriver is useful in persuading it to come up straight); grip the end of the jack securely with your fingers or needlenose pliers while you cut the string as far inside the jack as you can, then install the flat washer and nut. Damn, that sounds easy...but if it doesn't work right away, try, try again. Pretty soon -- after a day or so -- you'll get good at it!

 

Then do each pot in turn (I started with the one closest to the jack, and worked my way up), remembering to put a star washer on the shaft of the pot before you tie the string on. Patience, patience, patience. As soon as each pot is sticking its lovely little shaft straight up in its hole, untie the string and pull it out, never letting go of the pot. You will likely have to drop the pot down a fraction of an inch in order to pull out the end of the string, but maybe you'll get lucky, or have better knot-tying skills than I do: I always seem to end up with a bit of a tail past the knot.

 

The switch is the last to go in, and then you are done with that part. Take up the slack in the leads coming from the pickups and fold them into the pickup cavity. This is a chance to make it look perhaps a little more professional. Attach the pickups and string it up (or, replace the tailpiece and tune it up). Leave the knobs off until you've had a chance to test your work. I plug into a tuner and make sure the tuner recognizes the notes from each switch position...then I plug into an amp for the final test before I put the knobs back on.

 

Have fun and good luck...and avoid telephone hookup wire: it's solid core and the solder joints break easily while you're working everything into place. Guess how I know that?

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It simply takes patience. I got up and walked around and drove into town and whatnot when I got frustrated.

 

One thing I firmly believe: do it the "hard way" -- replacing the pots and switch when you replace the pickups -- or you'll end up doing the job over at least one more time when the pots and switch get noisy. By fitting it all out at once, you're forestalling potential problems without a significant increase in the trouble it'll take, and an important decrease in your unhappiness when, after saying with great satisfaction to yourself, "Well! That's done!' you discover that you have to pull everything out again.

 

One other thing: this is the only time I've done the job (and I did it only after the local tech told me -- in front of his boss -- that he wouldn't do it!), and I'm no electronics whiz, just a guy with no other option. So it's not rocket science.

 

And a final tip: use a multimeter to make sure all solder joints are conductive.

 

What I left out of my description were the times I got everything together and had to pull it all apart again, so learn from my example. In fact, the description is boiled down from about three weeks of soldering, installation, pulling everything out and figuring out what I'd done wrong, then doing it again. The text leaves you with the erroneous impression that I just sat down at the bench and did it, which is poetic license on my part. I did try to point out the dead ends and false starts that looked promising, but the resulting procedure is based on what worked.

 

dbirchett says "everybody needs to do it once."

 

So do it once, and you'll brag on it for years to come.

 

And you'll really improve the sound of your guitar.

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I paid to get that all done with my Sheraton. You guys really know your stuff though. It must be nice to be mechanically inclined. I am envious. I have seriously cut myself with a screwdriver just trying to mount curtains. And there are other embarrasing tales of me and tools and calamity... My wife trys to talk me out of it everytime...Anyway, without a babysitter, I'd never think to try it on my guitar!

 

Bargainhunt the pickups and take them to a tech, the pots and such won't be that pricey even at the store. I learned the hard way on pickups though. Paid nearly the list price for my Pearly Gates having the tech order them. Could've saved bigtime online avoiding taxes and watching for sales.

 

You doityourselfers rock though, seriously. But there's no shame in having a pro do it, and it's good to support your local guitar techs too-unless they are anusholes. The guys around town here are all pretty cool though, you should all move to Ithaca. 8-[

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If you have cold feet, remember that we (the guys who feel comfortable doing these kind of mods) once had cold feet, too. We had to push through our fear, lack of experience, possible embarassment, etc., and dive in and do it. It doesn't matter how long it takes - the next time will definitely be faster.

 

Jeff, you have an advantage in having other guitars to play while you're working on one of them.

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If you have cold feet' date=' remember that we (the guys who feel comfortable doing these kind of mods) once had cold feet, too. We had to push through our fear, lack of experience, possible embarassment, etc., and dive in and do it. It doesnt't matter how long it takes - the next time will definitely be faster.

 

Jeff, you have an advantage in having other guitars to play while you're working on one of them.[/quote']

 

I couldn't agree with you more. It's the idea of working on something you cherish that makes you get the cold feet. I guess I should look at it as anything I screw up, can be fixed. As for time, I am in no rush once I start. I don't want to brag about how fast I did it, I want to brag about what a good job I did. I will leave the bragging about time for my second mod.

 

I tinker with cars and computers, tinkering with a guitar can't be anymore challenging. I'll just read through the information, decide on the brand of humbucker pups I want, and then have at it.

 

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go put on another and thicker pair of socks.

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Bargainhunt the pickups and take them to a tech' date=' the pots and such won't be that pricey even at the store. I learned the hard way on pickups though. Paid nearly the list price for my Pearly Gates having the tech order them. Could've saved bigtime online avoiding taxes and watching for sale.

 

 

[/quote']

 

That's good advice. Stores make a profit on the parts they install.

 

As I noted, my local tech turned the job down: the shop had just gotten in a late '60s ES-345. The owner plugged it in, and couldn't get the bridge pickup to work, so he and the tech pulled everything out. About then, the store manager came along and pointed out the "Stereo" legend on the truss rod cover. They spent the next couple of days coaxing everything back into place and verifying that the bridge pickup was, indeed, working -- as long as you used a stereo cord.

 

So a couple of days later I walked in with the Sheraton for the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

 

Understandably, they didn't want to tackle it.

 

Understandably, I didn't WANT them to tackle it, once I heard the whole story.

 

I was cruel enough to take the completed Epi in to show it off (of course, this was almost a month later).

 

If you have cold feet' date=' remember that we (the guys who feel comfortable doing these kind of mods) once had cold feet, too. We had to push through our fear, lack of experience, possible embarassment, etc., and dive in and do it. It doesnt't matter how long it takes - the next time will definitely be faster.[/quote']

 

That's about it. If you're really unmechanical, that's the way it is. I can't sing, and some of my musician friends think it's incredible that someone can't do something so simple (to them).

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The .020 cap goes on the bridge tone control and the .050 on the neck pot. This emulates Gibson wiring' date=' which uses .022 and .047 values, respectively. Before you solder the cap leg to the pot body, put an alligator clip on to act as a heat sink so you don't fry it with the soldering iron.

 

Solder up everything but the wires from the pickups, and make sure all the parts share a ground by checking with a multimeter. [b']Otherwise you'll put it together and get a nice hum and have to take it all apart again[/b]. Trust me -- I know.

 

 

You guys should write a book about it. 8-[

Yes, it can be fairly easy when you know how to solder, have the right type of

soldering iron (I prefer a Weller small tip temperature controlledsoldering station and 63/37 electronic solder)

, and know which "way" to solder the caps on, so the tone pots work in the correct direction,

and have some experience/or know what you're doing...BUT for a novice,

there are a few (possible) pitfalls you may run into.

 

1. Stripping the wires..you need the correct type of stripper for fine guage wires..nick them and they will break

off, sooner or later as copper does.

 

2. Making a good mechanical connection between the wire ends and the pot (or other wire end).

 

3. Applying the "right amount of heat" to the joint being soldered and the joint is not overcooked melting the

insulation back or worse of all..a cold solder joint trying to stick a shield wire to a pot case.

 

4. Test tapping the p_ups while moving the 3-way and the pots to make sure everything works before

you go through all the hassle of fishing the wire harness back inside the guitar.

This is done with a guitar cord plugged into the loose jack.

 

5. Pulling all the pots/switches and jacks inside in the correct order so that the wired don't get tangled.

 

6. Testing to see that everything works and nothing got shorted out installing the harness.

 

else..(this applies to archtops where you have to fish everything back in), try and troubleshoot "the problem"

with limited access to the controls/ wire connections... which are inside the guitar at that point =;

.OR..rats!... pull the wiring harness out with the pots and 3-way....and start over again. 8-[

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Carverman, all good points. I make the assumption that a person who takes on the job can solder and can check for continuity etc as they go. It's a self-correcting system: if you don't test before you commit, you'll soon learn tha the NEXT time you work all those little gubbinses back through the f-hole you MUST do so.

 

There is another, hidden assumption, that anyone without such skills will take his or her guitar to a shop.

 

The fact is, it's fun. I learned a whole new set of skills in dealing with inaccessible bits and pieces, and, as you may have noted, I really had something to prove. I had replaced pots in my '63 Chet Atkins Country Gent, working through a little oval opening in the center of the back (painted-on f-holes, remember, and the pickups mounted on the top -- the pickups were not adjustable! -- yet one more peculiarity of the Gretsch mind-set), but I was younger then and perhaps what I lacked in patience I made up for in dexterity.

 

The other fact is, just about anyone can do it, and, while they should be aware of the difficulties, it's a skill set that pays dividends for those of us addicted to electric guitars and the modification thereof.

 

So I got a $140 job done for the price of some of my time? Note that I have a sum total of $400US invested in a Sheraton II with a hard Epi case, and I'm pretty satisfied.

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I personally have no interest in doing this work myself. But, I have access to about 5 different techs in this area who would do the project for $50 while I wait. You might want to look around and find a better tech. Or if you're out in the boondocks, make an appointment with a good tech in the nearest city and see if he/she will do it while you wait.

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I personally have no interest in doing this work myself. But' date=' I have access to about 5 different techs in this area who would do the project for $50 while I wait. You might want to look around and find a better tech. Or if you're out in the boondocks, make an appointment with a good tech in the nearest city and see if he/she will do it while you wait.[/quote']

One another annoying thing about my guitar guy is that he pockets all of the equipment that he takes off the guitar. I tell him that I want the old pickups and tuners, but when I go to pick up the guitar two months later, nobody can find my original equipment. I'm pretty much the only game in town (though there are two upscale luthiers down here...their instruments are very high end and the would not be interested in modding a Sheraton II).

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One another annoying thing about my guitar guy is that he pockets all of the equipment that he takes off the guitar. I tell him that I want the old pickups and tuners' date=' but when I go to pick up the guitar two months later, nobody can find my original equipment. I'm pretty much the only game in town (though there are two upscale luthiers down here...their instruments are very high end and the would not be interested in modding a Sheraton II).[/quote']

 

Unless Katrina chased them all away, you should have guitar techs all over the place in New Orleans. And, you'd be surprised as to how much respect a top notch luthier will have for a Sheraton II.

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Unless Katrina chased them all away' date=' you should have guitar techs all over the place in New Orleans. And, you'd be surprised as to how much respect a top notch luthier will have for a Sheraton II.[/quote']

One place I haven't tried (which is within walking distance...not that I'd walk through my 'hood with a guitar in hand) is New Orleans Music Exchange, down on the corner of Louisiana Ave. and Magazine St. A humble-looking place for sure, but they may have a setup guy who isn't a flake.

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