The Hot Rod Humbucker Hack
I love electric guitars! However I’ve purchased brand new guitars and found the pickups to be a little lackluster. (This hack can be used for any pickup in any position.) As a result it my new axe gets very little use, unless I pony up $150 for a new set of pickups. I’m not ok with that. I want to squeeze every last bit of potential out of my axe without having to spend extra cash on pricey upgrades. It needs to be versatile and it can’t be versatile with an underpowered set of pickups.
Thinking about dropping $80 on a shiny new pickup? Wait just a minute. This axe hack will show you how to tweak your wimpy pickup and might just save you that $80.
I’ve read alot of articles all about adjusting your pickups. They are great. Sometimes a quick adjustment up or down with a phillips head screwdriver is all it needs. But, that is only scratching the surface when it comes to pickups.
I wanted more than a pickup height adjustment. So I came up with my own method of hotrodding my humbuckers with nothing more than some spare parts. What you need is:
Time to Complete: 30 minutes
(Longer if you change your strings.)
Hot Rod Humbucker Hack: Step by Step
Don’t freak out! If you don’t know where to obtain a pickup magnet. Its very easy. If you are anything like me, you either have an old beater guitar that you don’t use anymore, or you have an old set of pickups lying around from a previous pickup swap. If you don’t have either of those resources, do not fret. You can grab an alnico 5 bar magnet from eBay for less than $5.
The beauty of this hack, is its simplicity. While there are many mods you can do replacing the magnets within a pickup, this hack is not that. We are simply going to add an extra bar magnet to the backing plate of the pickups that we want to upgrade. If you are skeptical, just be patient and test the results.
First step is to detach the pickup we want to mod from the guitar body. You don’t want to pull it out of the guitar completely, just lift it out of the pickup wells so you can access the back of the pickup. Some guitars might require that you remove the strings first. However I have found it easier to just detune the strings to the point that I can slide the pickup out of the well.
If you have never actually taken apart a pickup do not worry. It is a fairly simple gadget. All you will need to do is remove the backing plate via 2-4 phillips head screws. The pickup was likely potted (dipped in wax at the factory). You’ll need to gently ply the backing plate off of the body. There you should find one or two rectangle bar magnets. They will probably be attached with wax.
Just take a flat head screwdriver and gently pry those badboys off of the pickup body. Congratulations, you have the materials you need.
Once you have access to the back of the pickup, all you need to do is take your salvaged magnet and slap that sucker right onto the backing plate. Yep, thats it. The magnet will stick to the backing plate under its own power. You will want to flip it over, turn it around, maybe even stand it up until you find the position that best suits your pickup. Remember, we want to add magnetic pull, so whichever position sticks the best is what you want.
I have found that changing the position of the magnet can greatly affect the tone of the pickup. You can experiment with different positions, different magnets, etc. It is a very fun project and easy to do. The results can be very surprising and satisfying. Testing the various positions does require that you put the pickup back in the guitar and retune, but I have found it totally worth the effort.
So thats the hack. When you are happy with the magnets position just set the pickup back in the guitar, reinstall the pickup ring screws, tune up and play your freshly hacked pickups. I have done this on many guitars and gotten very dramatic results to my tone. I have done it to humbuckers (neck and bridge) as well as single coil pickups. Its an easy way to upgrade your axe and requires very little money.
My favorite result was from my G&L Bluesboy. The neck humbucker was just so muddy and dark. So I did this exact hack and that pickup shines like the sun now. The middle position is absolutely stellar. I get compliments every week on that guitars clarity. It is now my go to axe for any type of gig.
Another benefit of this hack is that it is completely reversible and requires no permanent modification to your axe. If you decide you don’t like the new tone, just remove the magnet and perhaps try a different style of magnet. The possibilities are super rewarding and the downside is nonexistent. So please, give it a try. You might just save yourself $80.
The Axe Dr.
What is a Humbucker?
Humbucker (Dual Coil) Pickups are the response to need for quieter(hum cancelling) guitar pickups. They consist of two coils of copper wire wrapped around a magnet and pole pieces. When paired together, these two coils cancel out the hum created by the single coil. They produce a very strong and thick guitar tone. Lots of low and middle frequencies. They have a bit flatter EQ for clean playing, but really shine when it comes to heavier (high gain) guitar tone.
What is a "Single Coil Pickup"?
Single Coil Pickups are the first type of guitar pickup to be invented. They utilize one coil of copper wire wrapped around a magnet and pole pieces. They produce a very bright, crisp, and thin guitar tone. They sound particularly good for clean and low gain guitar parts.
What is an "Aftermarket" pickup?
An aftermarket pickup is a replacement for the stock pickup in your guitar. The most popular brands of aftermarket pickups are Seymour Duncan, Dimarzio, Bare Knuckle, and EMG.
Do I need new guitar pickups?
Here are some good reasons you may need new guitar pickups.
- Yours don't work anymore.
- You don't like the tone of your stock pickups.
- You want to upgrade a cheap guitar.