This instructable will show you how to make a guitar pickup using neodymium magnets, a couple Popsicle sticks, and some wire. Total cost for this project will probably be less then $5 (depending on the materials you have available). The sound is surprisingly good and will serve you well. You can replace an existing pickup or add one to mix with your existing setup.

This instructable is specifically for bass, so there are four magnets required. For a guitar, obviously you will need six smaller ones. Also, it's good to have a bunch of extra magnets lying around as it will make the project go quicker.

Step 1: Materials

Materials Needed:

  • A spool of insulated copper wire. Different gauges will produce different sounds, but you want something very thin.
  • Two Popsicle sticks. These can be new or used.
  • 8 neodymium magnets (2 for each string). These should be less then the width of the Popsicle stick. Again, different sizes will produce a different sound. You can see the rough size of what we used here.
  • Gorilla Glue
  • Some Wax/beeswax or potting epoxy


I used 42 gauge wire. You need to strip the ends before soldering them to your electronics. You can do this with your finger nail. If you dont have this around, it will raise the cost of your pickup by about $25.
The magnets I used were .32 or .37 in diameter and .2 tall.
A stronger magnet = hotter output and more high frequencies (better for guitar)

Note 2

You can do the same thing for a guitar, cept you will need 6 rod magnets.

Step 2: Getting Started

Getting Started:

Start off by eating your two Popsicles. This is probably the most difficult part of the process. You may want to enlist the help of a friend. If they're the kind of Popsicles that have hidden messages on the stick or fortunes, go ahead and read them. Pat yourself on the back, you're done with step one.

Put the Popsicle stick up to the strings, and mark where each string hits. You can see the marks on the sticks in the picture below. This will be a guide for where you need to place the center of each magnet. You are now ready to begin construction

Step 3: Construction


You will need to glue the first four magnets to the Popsicle stick. This is not as easy as it sounds since all the magnets will just stick together until the glue is set. This is where the extra magnets come in handy. Place the other four magnets on the other side of the stick from the magnets being glued to hold them in place.

Once you've got your glue dried, just put the other 4 magnets on top of the 4 that are glued to the Popsicle stick. Then glue the other Popsicle stick to the top. Use the extra 4 to help hold the stick down, since gorilla glue expands (another reason why you only just use a small amount per magnet).

File away any excess glue before you continue.

It does not matter if you have negative or positive pole facing up, as long as you do EACH ONE THE SAME.

Step 4: Wrapping the Wire

Now to start wrapping the wire.

Leave a foot or two sticking out before you start wrapping. This is important, because you need to connect your electronics to two leads.

I found it helpful to stick the whole thing to the refrigerator while you wrap it. Get comfortable because you're going to be there a while. Keep wrapping until it gets barely big enough to fit inside the plastic of your old pickup (it isn't necessary to have an enclosure - it just looks nice). This will be several thousands of wraps, but I didn't really count. The normal number of wraps is between 5000 and 8000. It should look about like the completed picture below.

Note: More windings = hotter output. The more windings you do, however, will begin to roll off the top frequencies.

If the wire breaks while you are wrapping you will need to start over. So don't break the wire - it's very fragile.

Step 5: Potting

I dont have a picture of this step, but its pretty important.

What you will want to do is cover/pot the pickup in either natural scented wax or with a potting epoxy. Beeswax works great for this, and is what I used (my pickup does smell a bit like honey). You just need to get some from a craft store like Hobby Lobby, put the wax in a coffee can, and place the coffee can with the wax in a pot with warm water for a few minutes. I say warm because you dont want this to get too hot. If you burn through the insulation on the wire
it can cause a short... which means the pickup will either not work well, or not at all. If you are worried about this, you might just want to use a potting epoxy.

Potting a pickup (dipping in wax) reduces microphonics, preventing the wire from vibrating in the magnetic field. Increasing the turns of wire (5000 - 8000 are somewhat standard numbers) will roll off high frequencies the same way an inductor does in a low pass filter.

Step 6: Finished With Mp3

Now all you have to do is hook up the wires and you are good to go!

sound file of the pickup
Can I melt candles for potting?
You say that different gauges of wire and different sizes of magnets make different sounds. How is the sound effected? Thinner wires make the sound more... what? Larger magnets do what to the sound? Thank you much.
It has to do with the resistance of the windings, primarily. Thicker wire (lower gauge) has a lower resistance than thinner wire (higher gauge), but using more windings will also increase the resistance. A higher output pickup has a higher DC resistance then a low-output pickup, and vice-versa. Also, stronger magnets lead to more high-frequency response. Lastly, the height and width of the coil(s) can affect the tone (taller coils are 'clearer' and have less bass...). Hope that helps.
If I wanted a hot pbass pickup , with stronger lows and mids but without a lot of high attack, should I use say thicker guage wire with stronger magnets?
<p>Holy cow, it worked! Thank you for the instructions! I made this Electric Upright Bass using your pickup design.</p><p>Rob McKennon</p>
<p>how long was your wire?</p>
<p>what type of wood did you use?</p>
<p>This one was my prototype, and it's just a pine 2x6 from Home Depot. Since this one actually worked, I had a friend get me a piece of dark mahogany, and I'm building another one. </p>
Can I use wire from old charger or adaptor? And old headphone magnets?
Can you do this with non insulated wire?
Nope Branche, you MUST use insulated wire, or it won't work. I didn' try this I'ble but have tried to make coils many times....
what do you do for the ground?
Could you use another material other than wood (popsicle sticks) something like metal or plastic?<br />
Yeah, you could, but I want an excuse for eating 2 fudgesicles
agreed on all accounts
HI! stupid question, do you just need the extra 1 foot of copper wire to solder to your controls? If not could you explain how to attach the other necessary wires? Thanks!
i prefer to use hot glue gun.
is it the ear-phone magnets?
were the maganets exposed or is that the wood in the holes of the pickup cover?
Those are some mad bass skills :D
So, in the end you have removed&nbsp; the magnets on the top?<br /> Thanks
The magnets on the to were just to hold the pairs in the centre in place while they were being glued, i.e. to stop them all just jumping out of place and sticking to one another.
You have to make something to hold your pickup at the end of your drill. keep the wire roll far away. The wire won't twist or break&nbsp; that way.&nbsp; Press the button, it wraps-up nicely... and fast !<br />
Do I&nbsp;have to keep the rows perfectly parallel when I&nbsp;wrap the wire<br />
what will happen if i use 34 guage wire at 5000 or 8000 turns <sub></sub>, or do i need less turns ..................... thanks<br/>
Would if you criss cross the wire Would it effect the pick up?
my local radio shack has it theres also this place called lightning joes that carries all the supplise to make your own guitar- including wire all the way up to 52 guage wire for pickups
52 is incredibly thin, the thinnest I've heard of anyone using was 44 (the higher the number, the thinner the wire).
WOW! That would sound mad, my local stores highest is only 32 gauge.
if it breaks you dont have to restart. just burn off the enamel off both ends and re-attach them with a inline splice and light to tea light so you can dip the splice in wax to seal it up
Did you use an entire spool when you made the pickup? 5000 to 8000 wraps? Are you sure, because I would and need 15,625 inches (1,302 ft) to wrap 1 pickup 5000 times for my 5 string. Just wondering
My bad My bad i mathed it wrong it would be double that 30 thoudsand inches like 10 dollars for a 6000 foot coil
What are the blue and white wires made of?
Would there be anything different you would have to do when you make a musicman bass pickup, or is it basically the same thing? Is there anything different you would have to do? Just curious, because I'm looking at buying a musicman style pickup and if I can make one, I would save myself a lot of money.
Musicman pickups are humbuckers which means you'd have to wind 2 coils. Look up more info on making humbuckers to see what I'm talking about.
To be completely honest, I dont know. However, my gut says that you shouldnt have to do anything different. Take out the old pickup and check the widths... meaning, see if you need to use a flat magnet or more, or use bar magnets.
Can I use hot glue instead of wax?
Wow man pretty cool idea, You should totally sell em on eBay or something. Might make a pair just to test them out and use <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.play-bass.com/online_bass_and_guitar_tuner.html">http://www.play-bass.com/online_bass_and_guitar_tuner.html</a> to tune up cause I am tight and can't afford a tuner too haha.<br/>
do you leave the four magnets on top? If so are the four magnets on the top glued down or just held down by other magnets?
Really awesome instructable. I admire your wire-winding patience, it inspires me. Please clarify something for me: Did you just use two magnets per string because of the size of what you had? If you had a taller cylinder magnet do you think that would be cool? (PS, sorry for the double comment, I share this computer.)
I'm tempted to give it a try, but i'll use neodymium magnets like these pups have:<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.q-tuner.com">http://www.q-tuner.com</a><br/>
Does the shape of the magnet have any effect on anything? Or, in other words, do the magnets have to be round or would I be able to effectively use square or block magnets.
If you used square magnets completely, be careful with your first 300 revolutions as you wind. You have to make it tight, but the edges of the squared magnets *could* cause it to break without you knowing. As well as there could be some tonal differences due to the shape and the wire, but that shouldnt be of a concern if you male sure you have the wire touching all possible sides of the magnets , especially at the ends.<br/>
How was the tone in the new pickup different than the old one?
What i used got be a bass that was able to hit the higher frequencies without getting tinny, but I wasnt hitting the lowest. If you see the comments below, I would use 32 guage next time. Compared to how it used to sound, I prefered the one that i made. it worked better with the amp. much clearer sound.
Hey nice instructables but i dont see the tops of the magnets in the pic do i put it on with the magnets facing down??
No, they were just covered by the old cover that were used.
where is the cheapest place to get said magnet-wire? I haven't seen any for 25$.... hey laminterious, where did you get yours?
Magnet-wire? Per the Materials... "A spool of insulated copper wire. Different gauges will produce different sounds, but you want something very thin" you just need insulated copper wire, available almost anywhere.
and i just found 22 gauge wire at $4 or so with a quick google search.

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