How To Change Guitar Pickups

Changing the pickups on your guitar might seem daunting at first glance, but with the right tools it's quite straightforward.
How to change guitar pickups

If you think your guitar’s sound has been lackluster or off lately, consider changing the pickups to achieve a better tone and clearer sound. Changing pickups is a brilliant way to upgrade your guitar, making playing and listening more enjoyable.

If you’ve never changed pickups before, consider this your comprehensive guide! In this article, you’ll learn how to change guitar pickups without the help of a professional!

What Is A Guitar Pickup?

A pickup is a transducer that senses or captures the mechanical vibration produced by the guitar, or the guitar strings rather.

It converts these vibrations into electrical signals that embed in the body below the strings. These electrical signals go to an amplifier, making sound come out!

Without these pickups, your electric guitar and amplifier would not communicate, so no one would hear you playing. For more details on guitar pickups, check out our comprehensive guide.

What You Need

Below are the materials you need to change your guitar pickups.

  • The new pickups
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder 
  • Philips Head screwdriver
  • X-acto knife or any sharp blade
  • Wire cutters
  • A large cloth or rag
  • Wiring diagram

Tip: Do not buy used pickups or cheap pickups from questionable stores or websites. Go to a guitar or music shop your trust to purchase new pickups.

As stated above, you need new pickups to get started. But how do you choose the right ones? Some people say all pickups sound the same, but those people are wrong.

You need to buy a pickup that fits your guitar, is made for the correct location on your guitar (neck, bridge, etc.), and is the quality you want.

There are several types of pickups, such as single coil, humbucker, active, passive, high output, and moderate output, so ensure you research to select the perfect one for your guitar. We recommend doing the following when shopping:

  • Examine your preferences
  • Assess external tonal influences
  • Find pickups that fit
  • Test out a few before deciding

Step-by-Step Instructions For Changing Pickups

Before diving into how to change guitar pickups, it’s worth mentioning that you can always take your guitar and new pickups to a guitar tech. Techs have likely changed dozens of pickups, so they know what they’re doing. But, in our opinion, doing it yourself isn’t too hard! If you want to try changing guitar pickups by yourself, follow the details steps below.

1. Buy new pickups

Before you can do anything, you need to buy new pickups. As mentioned, this can be complex, so research pickup options and carefully choose the right ones!

2. Gather your supplies

Once you have your shiny new pickups, gather all the supplies mentioned in the section above. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared, so you can grab anything else you might need.

3. Find a good workspace

You need plenty of space to access both sides of your guitar and keep all the components organized, so you don’t lose anything. Not everyone has a garage, or a hobby room with a nice work bench, but try to find a comfortable place to lay out a towel and place your guitar where it won’t get dirty or damaged.

4. Take photos and notes

Once settled into your workspace with everything you need, we recommend taking lots of pictures and notes about your guitar’s layout and components. This step can help you reassemble the guitar later if you get confused or account for all the pieces.

5. Remove strings

First, you need to remove your guitar strings. Unwind them on the back of the guitar one at a time slowly. Do not rush this step, as it can lead to guitar or string damage. Loosen the tuning machines and unwrap the strings by hand or use a peg winder.

6. Clean the guitar (optional)

This step is optional, but once the strings are off, it’s an opportune time to clean your guitar thoroughly. But you can skip this if you want.

7. Unscrew control panel

If your guitar has a screwed-in control panel, gently remove the two screws on either side of the plate and life the panel free. This should expose the wires inside.

8. Remove the bridge and pickup screws

Removing the bridge is often not necessary, and only applies to some guitar models. But if your bridge plate is held on by screws, remove the screws carefully. We recommend photographing them before you remove them to ensure you achieve the same intonation when you put them back on.

Loosen the pickup screws, turning each screw on the pickup evenly, so they lift simultaneously. Unscrewing one while the other is still fixed can warp the guitar. Remove the bridge plate and screws, placing them safely to the side so they will not get misplaced.

9. De-solder pickup wiring

When you flip your guitar over and remove the cover for the electronics, you should see the points where the pickup wires connect. Using the soldering iron, remove the wires. Press against the wire connection point with the hot iron until it turns into liquid.

Aria Pro II by Daniil Ulanov. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

10. Remove the pickups

Once you successfully solder off all the pickup wires, you can remove the old pickups. We recommend keeping them safe until you know the new pickups work.

Aria Pro II by Daniil Ulanov. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

11. Mount the new pickups

Mount the new pickups by placing them on the old pickups ring, and sliding the wires from the back to the front of the pickup to hold them in place. Replace the pickup mounting screws.

12. Prepare the wiring

Now, for the sort of hard part. This is where the notes and photos can come in handy. You can rewire the pickups so they are the same as the old pickups, or you can work off color-coded diagrams. The wiring setup heavily depends on the pickups you choose and the guitar you have. Use the knife to strip the wire coverings at the end to expose the metal wires.

13. Determine what to solder

After stripping all the wires, you need to determine where to solder them onto the new pickups. The safest bet is to solder them how they were before, but a new wiring diagram can also show you where to solder them.

14. Solder the wiring

After deciding where to solder the wires, carefully and slowly apply the solder and set the wires so the guitar and pickups are properly connected. Let the solder dry for a few minutes, usually, ten or fifteen is plenty.

15. Test your guitar

We recommend restringing two of your guitar strings and plugging them into an amp to test that the pickups work and they sound okay.

16. Troubleshoot (if necessary)

If the pickups don’t work or sound wonky, review your diagrams, photos, and notes and assess your wires to see what could have gone wrong. You may need to restart at step five if you can’t determine where you went wrong.

17. Restring the guitar

If the guitar sounds great on the amp, you can restring all six strings.

18. Tune the guitar

Tune your guitar as you normally would.

19. Test guitar again

Test the guitar with the amplifier again, specifically checking for unpleasant feedback. If there is a problem, you may need to remove the new pickups and try again.

20. Enjoy your new pickups

And that’s it! Now, you can enjoy the beautiful new sound of your new pickups!

Final Thoughts

As mentioned, you can always take your instrument to a guitar tech for help. They’ve seen it all, so don’t be embarrassed to bring them your guitar with half-unscrewed pickups, as that is what they’re there for!

Hopefully, you can get the job done yourself with this helpful article. Remember, take your time and be gentle with your guitar!

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