Introduction: Make a Guitar Pickup

Picture of 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
- Wax
- Wire
- Solder
- Superglue

-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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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.


DildoC (author)2017-09-28

Great! One Question I Have Is What Do We Connect The Lead Wires To? Is It The Output Jack, And Where? Maybe Add Some Mire Steps For Help. :D

TylerS180 (author)2017-06-27

I think the most interesting thing about this build is that the magnets are one the bottom side of the pickup instead of the top. This is the only time I've ever seen it this way.

JanF2 (author)2015-04-24

How could I plug the pickup to amplifier? Is there any problem? Have I make preamplifier or anythink else?

Thanks very much

TylerS180 (author)JanF22017-06-27

Hello. While I haven't made the project yet, I understand the wiring of this type of thing. The easiest way to connect it is to connect the positive/negative of the pickup to 1/4" jack (standard for instruments and audiophile products). For testing here, it appears they had an instrument cable that they had cut and plugged directly into the amp.

I know this comment is 2 years late, but I hope it helps.

Cdn Sapper (author)2017-05-27

This is an amazing instructable! Right down to improvising a winding device out of a sewing machine hand wheel! Total McGyver!

charliewinters (author)2017-01-23

If you're using steel bolts/screws, you can smack them against a big magnet, such as a speaker magnet, and they will become somewhat magnetized. Doing so before you put them in the pickup might make the pickup work a little better? I haven't tried it, just a thought.

akiz007 (author)2016-11-01

my questions...
*** Why you haven't used a magnet? Screws are not magnet!!
*** Can I use steel screw or iron or aluminium rod?

AllanW32 (author)akiz0072016-11-16

Did you actually read the instructions?

"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)."

scrotumpole (author)2016-01-26

Is it possible to make a pickup smaller? like with only 2 bolts instead of 6? I'm planning to make a custom spring guitar and I need individual pickups that are smaller, sorry if this is a stupid question, haha

Yes, I believe you can wire smaller individual ones in series.

JosephS169 (author)scrotumpole2016-05-12

If by bolts you mean screws, 1 screw is for 1 string, 2 for 2 strings...

Gladys VictoriaY made it! (author)scrotumpole2016-04-27

two nails, a piece of neodimium, copper wire from a cellphone charger and plastic from the same charger.
I've just tested it over my guitar. It sounded very low but i can say it works.

PrP1 (author)2015-05-15

so you connect the pickup to a jack or what?

tweekout28 (author)PrP12016-01-01

It appears that way!

mich-endless (author)2015-09-11

wow this is great, inspiring. can you help me on how to construct a ten string acoustic guitar. thanks

vasilic.narlis (author)2015-06-26

Your tutorial is the best...
Simple, understandable, easy.
a big Thanks from me and a big Like !!!

paulmusic76 (author)2014-04-24

A humbucker pickup cancels the noise hum by having opposite polarity magnets. Can you just stick a magnet behind a single coil to get rid of excess noise? Anyone know? I know in a strat for example they reverse the polarity of each pickup to get rid of some of the hum. Why can't you just use a magnet?

StevieW (author)paulmusic762014-10-21

@paulmusic76: I know this is pretty late, but no, you can't just stick a magnet behind the coil.

The basic principle behind a humbucker is that you have 2 coils in close proximity, so they are subjected to roughly the same external electromagnetic fields that cause noise (60Hz power hum). By wiring them out-of-phase ("backwards") to one another, that noise is cancelled- the noise in one pickup is generating a positive signal, and the other is generating a negative signal. By flipping the magnets on them, the "signal" (music) is inverted again (once by backwards wiring, then again by flipped magnetic field). Flipping it twice (from heads to tails to heads) means the music signal is now back in phase, so the music signals from each pickup add together instead of cancel.

That's why a humbucker has two coils and two set of magnets. If you have another magnet, you can verify that one coil has the north pole pointing towards the strings, and the other has the south pole.

bob.surface (author)StevieW2015-05-07

Darn - should have read further up the thread.
You said a more technical version of what I said!


keme6206 (author)StevieW2014-11-02

Thanks, StevieW! Nice clarification of principles, which will help many experimenters to avoid some pitfalls.

Just thought I would elaborate a bit on the subject, now that it's brought up. (Bear in mind that I'm just a player, "jack of the trade" when it comes to electronics.)

There are "split coil" pickups with
single coil footprint and sound, reportedly maintaining nearly as good noise
cancellation as a regular humbucker with parallel coils. I believe some
Fender basses even come with that kind of pickup in the standard setup.

split coil pickup designs I have seen use one coil and one magnet (or
set of magnets) for each half set of strings, with the reversal of
magnet polarity and coil winding direction like on a regular humbucker.

(Split coil pickup should not be confused with the "coil split" feature available on some
guitars, which disables one coil in a humbucker, effectively
transforming it to a regular "noisy" single coil. Also, do not confuse
it with the coil tap feature, where you have the option to use only part
of the coil to achieve a different sound. Be aware that there is a confusion of terms, so make sure you know specifically what is addressed when you do research for your own project.)

I suppose you could make a
pickup with individual coil for each string, alternating magnet polarity
and coil wind direction along the pickup. Sounds like a lot of work,
and balancing the output of the individual coils may turn out to be a
problem. Also, to get the sufficient number of windings on each coil,
you may need even thinner wire, which makes the job harder and also
increases the risk of pickup failure. I don't know whether such a pickup
is commercially available, but I wouldn't be surprised. In any case, it
would be an interesting experiment.

bob.surface (author)paulmusic762015-05-07

What they're doing here is using the opposite phase of the other pickup to essentially double the strength of the "signal" without doubling the noise.

Just sticking a magnet on will possible strengthen the magnetic field - increasing your "signal", but also the "noise". It will pick up noise from low-frequency external signals even more strongly and be louder.

You've got to make sure the windings on the two pickup coils are opposite directions...

FurtherThanTesla (author)2010-09-05

I dont understand the magnets. Im building an electric violin, and i know my way around electriciy, but i cant see why adding magnets would change anything. could someone please explain?

Guy with Physics degree here - plus guitar player!


Moving a ferro-magnetic metal object into a magnetic field (i.e. nickel/steel etc) creates current - the same way that applying electric current to a ferro-magnetic object in a magnetic field creates a motive force (an attempt to move, in layman's terms)

OR - wiggle a object which can become magnetic in a magnetic field and it generates electricity.
The frequency of the current (it's direction if you like and velocity) is directly relative to the change in the magnetic field - or how much and how fast you wiggle the object.

In this case: the guitar string.

It's a lot more complex than that, but who wants complex at this stage?

Wiggle in a magnetic field - makes alternating current (which is how microphones, pickups and generators work.)
Alternating current in a magnetic field - makes motion (which is how motors and traditional speakers work)

By the way: this means a small speaker makes a (very poor) microphone. A traditional (i.e. magnetic old-school) microphone also makes a (very poor) speaker.

Try it with an old set of in-ear headphones - they WILL pick up sound!
(and it will sound pretty awful, but it's hardly optimised for microphone use of course :) )

What DK69 said is right, the bobin core must be magnetizad to sense the strings movement. you are probably confused if you know that a bobin whith an iron core works as a magnet, but it needs a AC to generate the magnetic field. in this case what you are doing is generate that AC by changing the magnetic field of the magnet by the vibration of a string.
and i would like to know haw it worked out to place a magnetic pickup on a violin, because i play the cello and i've heard that pick ups don't work well in this kind of instruments, but i have never seen one.

on violins, violas and cellos using non magnetic strings you need to use a transducer style or piezo style pickup, magnetic pups wont work. with that said transducer and piezo pups are available for those instrument and it would just be better to buy one than attempt to make one ( not even sure if it is possible to DIY a piezo pup

Magnetic coil pick-ups only work with steel strings, or any string made with a ferric material (iron based metal). With nylon, plastic or cat gut strings, lol, you open up a whole nother world. A little history, Les Paul once electrified a guitar using a phonograph cartridge.

DK69 (author)FurtherThanTesla2010-10-02

the magnets set up a stable magnetic field through the windings, the screws concentrate the flux lines beneath the individual strings, the strings(must be metal!) vibrate causing vibrations in the magnetic flux which is transferred to the coil of wire giving a voltage output, but this must go to a high impedance input(amplifier). Too low an impedance, like resistance will load the coil and reduce output, its all similiar to hor a generator works

Slipperywhendry (author)2015-03-28

Is there any way that we could get a demo of the sound??

Finrod Felagund (author)2015-01-28

So the magnets go on the bottom of the pickup?

gotokoz (author)Finrod Felagund2015-02-04


Elswaiyr (author)2014-12-10

Can I use metal for the bobbin plates? I work in a fabrication shop and have access to all types of metal. Or does it have to be non-conductive

Bensnived (author)2014-07-27

What are the dimensions of the pickup?

VGR101 (author)2013-08-14

will t work if i use 37 gauge copper wire??pls help...

usafbrat (author)VGR1012013-09-03


VGR101 (author)usafbrat2013-09-04

how many winds should i do??37 gauge wire

svaillancourt2 (author)VGR1012014-07-17

8000 to 10000

svaillancourt2 (author)2014-07-17

a good coil is from 8000 to 10000 rolls. have fun !!!

stevegossett (author)2014-07-12

150 degrees is best temperature when potting. I have not used potting method on my last few pickups but did use tape, wrapped in twine and then waxed the twine to keep it from undoing. Those worked great. Potting would be the normal routine though when making DIY pickups.

kuro-hirochi (author)2014-01-15

does the amount of copper wire matter very much

paulmusic76 (author)kuro-hirochi2014-04-24

Yes, Too few and you will get low output and a week sound. Too much is the better. In the 60's some pickups ended up over and under wound. If you get and over wound one it could lead to a unique sound and some specialty companies sell them that way. Shoot for the middle though. I think 6 string single coil pickups have about 8,000 winds. A counter would be good but if you don't have one, ebay sells wire with 8,000 winds on it. Hope that helped.

The AntiGenius (author)2014-03-09

Before you go through all the trouble to make this and short out your coil to the screws, wrap some tape around the screws just like you wind the wire (around ALL screws, not each).

pwnageoldstyle (author)2014-02-07

you need to have glazed wire for this to work

driftman (author)2014-01-18

Here's a link for some cheap neodymium magnets:

hibbly (author)2013-09-12

Where did you get everything from ? How much did it cost? Could please make an able on hooking them up.

instructable person 9 (author)2013-08-06

You could mount this in a cigar box guitar

sai krishna123 (author)2013-05-30

can i use bar magnets instead of these super strong magnets?????

Yard Sale Dale (author)2013-05-24

If you're going to use screws, you can make spacers out of bic pens. Just remove the ink pen tube and cut down the white plastic tubes with a hacksaw.

Yard Sale Dale (author)2013-05-24

I'm planning to make my own pickup for fun. I wonder if you can just use a variable speed drill mounted in a vise, if you're pulling the wire from a spool. Nobody I know has a sewing machine. Be careful though, wires can slice! Maybe put a stick or big screwdriver through the spool of wire to keep your hands clear.

Phoghat (author)2013-05-18

What I've learned from experience and through some research:
The more windings you put on, the stronger the signal output, but higher frequencies will suffer.
Thinner wire cuts highs more than thicker
Tall skinny coils give a cleaner sound and shorter fat coils sound more "dirty"
More wire = greater resistance measured by multimeter
3-6 K ohms = clearer tone
9-13 K ohms = loud heavy tone
Just a word to the wise. You can customize, and experiment to get exactly the sound you want

cdoggy (author)2013-04-23

Hah wow never thought of that

About This Instructable




More by Leperello Mikesiah:Peach Pineapple Hand PiesMake A Guitar Pickup
Add instructable to: