Introduction: Make a Guitar Pickup
How to make a single coil guitar pickup!
This will show you how to make your own guitar pickup. It won't look or sound exactly like a regular pickup, but its a fun and interesting project.
What You'll Need:
- 42 or 43 gauge copper wire (very thin)
- Six steel machine screws and nuts
- Neodymium (super strong) magnets or one long bar magnet
- Thin plastic (like that on a cd case) or Thin pieces of wood
-Dremel and dremel accessories
-Sewing machine (optional)
You can go out and buy all these things, but you can probably find most of them within old crap you already possess. For example, I found the copper wire in a pair of broken dog clippers. And if you don't have some of the equipment you can always improvise.
Here are some links I found useful while learning how to make my pickups:
Stew Mac--Pickup Building (especially "Single Coil Pickup Kits")
A guy who made a humbucker.
GuitarAttack Look at Winding pickups "Guerilla Style" to see more about the sewing machine pickup winder idea.
Step 1: Make Your Pattern
There are just a few parts to a pickup, and the bobbin(the thing that holds the coil) is the first thing you need put together.
To do this, you'll need to do is make up some kind of pattern for your bobbin. You need one piece for the top and one for the bottom. Look at the pictures and factory made single coils to get the general idea. You can make it in the traditional shape, with rounded ends, or you can be lazy like me and use a more squarish design. Either way will work.
Then you'll need to transfer this pattern onto the material you're using for your bobbin. You can use plastic (from a cd case, for example) or thin pieces of wood. Wood works well because it's easy to work with and has a unique look, but I decided to use plastic for this pickup.
Last of all, cut out your bobbin pieces.
Step 2: Drill Holes
Now you need to drill the holes for your post pieces. Before you drill mark where the holes will be, as this isn't exactly something you want to do freehand. Usually the strings on a guitar are about 1cm apart, but check the spacing of the strings to be sure. Also, you'll need to mark two holes on the bottom piece of the bobbin (see last pic). These are for wrapping the beginning and ends of your copper wire around when winding.
MMkay, since I'm not exactly the Dremel whiz, I drilled some holes in a piece of wood and used this as a guide. It also helped me to sort of shallowly drill the holes a little bit so the dremel didn't go all crizazy on me.
Step 3: Assemble the Bobbin
After your bobbin pieces are drilled, you're ready to assemble. First, screw the screws part of the way into the top piece of the bobbin. Then sandwich a spacer of some kind between the top and bottom pieces, as shown in the picture below. I prefer to get the two outside screws and a middle one in first, just to be extra sure they're all even.
If you used screws that were too long, like I did, you'll need to cut off the excess. Just be sure to leave enough so that you can put the nuts on later and they'll be secure.
Step 4: Riggin' Up a Pickup Winder
There are a lot of things you can use as a pickup winder. You could use your hands, obviously, but that can be kind of slow and inaccurate. You could also use a drill or electric screwdriver.
I chose to use a sewing machine, mainly because it's really easy to rig up and use. On the side of all sewing machines there is a wheel type thing that spins around. This is where you want to secure your bobbin. I'm not sure about other sewing machines, but on the one I used there was a small, short screw on this wheel. I removed this and stuck a longer screw through one of the holes on the bottom piece of my bobbin and secured it in the wheel.
Step 5: Winding
Pickups are made using very thin copper wire, 42 or 43 gauge. I would recommend buying your wire in a spool to make the winding easier, but you can find this kind of wire in other objects if you want. For example, I found mine in a pair of old dog clippers. However, just a slight warning, the winding will go more slowly if you don't have a nice round spool.
To start winding, wrap a few inches of the copper wire around and through the left hand hole on the bottom piece of the bobbin (the other hole is used to secure the bobbin to the sewing machine in step 4).
Wrap the wire around the bobbin at least ten times by hand. Then, starting slowly, press down the sewing machine pedal as you let out wire from the spool. It's very important to remember that if the wire breaks, you'll have to start your winding over. That's why you need to get the tension just right. You don't want to hold the wire too tight or it will break, and if you hold it to loose it will tangle.
I've read many different opinions on how many winds a pickup should have. I usually put on as many winds as the bobbin will hold and it seems to work. My opinion is that if it looks right, it's probably close.
Step 6: Soldering
Once you're done winding your coil, you need to solder the lead wires.
Before you can solder though, you need to scrape the reddish coating off of the wire that is wrapped around the two holes on the bottom piece of the bobbin. You can use very fine sandpaper, your fingernail, or the end of a little screwdriver (see pic) to do this.
Usually the beginning of the coil is soldered to black wire and the end is soldered to white wire. I couldn't find any white wire so I used red instead.
Step 7: Potting the Pickup
Potting or saturating a pickup with wax is done to help keep the wires in the coil in place and prevent the pickup from becoming microphonic.
I used Gulf Wax (candle wax) to saturate my pickup because it was available, but you could also use a mixture of 80% candle wax and 20% beeswax.
Melting the wax directly on top of a heat source, in a saucepan on the stove, for example, can overheat the wax and cause it to become highly flammable. And we do not want to lose our eyebrows while making guitar pickups do we? NO! So, to melt the wax, I filled a big container about half full of almost boiling water and placed a smaller container inside. A tin can works transfers the heat from the water to the wax more effectively, so use one if you have one handy. Gulf wax comes in blocks, which don't melt very quickly, so I used a knife to break the wax into smaller pieces. Then I put this wax in the smaller container.
When the wax is completely melted, hold your pickup by the lead wires and submerse it in the wax. You will see bubbles coming out of the coil and you need to leave the pickup in the wax until the bubbles stop. For me this seemed to be about 5-10 minutes, but for you it could be longer.
Take the pickup out of the wax and wipe of the excess while it's still in a liquid form.
Step 8: Finishing Touches
There are just a couple more things left to do!
After your pickup has totally cooled from the potting process, you can put the magnets on your pickup. The magnets you need are called neodymium magnets(they are also known as power magnets, or super strong magnets).
When you put them on you have to make sure their poles are all facing the same direction. You can check their direction using another magnet, of course. Super glue them in place when you're ready. This is easier said than done, though. Super strong magnets seem to go everywhere except the place you want them.
When you finish doing this, it's a good idea to wrap something around the coil to protect the fine wires. I like to use thread seal tape/ teflon tape because it's easy to remove if you need to fix your pickup.
And that's it! You're done!
Step 9: It Is Time!
This is the crude rig I use to test my pickups since I don't have a spare guitar to ruin.
Also on this page is a picture of another pickup I made.