Introduction: Pro Quality Guitar Pickup Winder - 3000+ RPM Pickup Winder With Tach, Counter and Autostop

Picture of Pro Quality Guitar Pickup Winder - 3000+ RPM Pickup Winder With Tach, Counter and Autostop

Why build this winder?

Cost vs performance for starters. Features for another. Want to push your decision over the edge? You can build this winder for $158.00 and have a whole lot of machine for very little investment.

One of the lowest cost and most popular "Pro" winders is $462.90 and it only has a counter; no tach and certainly no autostop. You'll also need to align and tape your pickup to the front of it with carpet tape. Check it out for yourself.

Basic idea and cost breakdown

Why a lathe based winder? Safety, speed and superior winds. The lathe provides an ideal turnkey winding platform with the addition of some industrial automation components and a little know-how.

The tail stock of the lathe positions the pickup precisely on the winding plate and holds it in place securely without the need for carpet tape. There are no worries of your pickup flying off the tape and embedding itself in your face.

I've wanted a new winder for awhile, and figured I could make better than I could buy, and do it for cheaper. I reused everything I could from the basic lathe and used off the shelf components to keep this simple and inexpensive. You just program the number of turns, press go and let it rip while you guide the wire. I don’t see the need for an auto traverse, so I didn't make one; I like scatter wound PUP’s.

I wound my first pickup in 1986 - this winder incorporates everything I've learned since then and has all of the things I wished all of the other winders had :-). What does that mean? ... it means that it's a stripped down gas can built for speed and it's meant to scatterwind pickups on a professional level. It will wind a pickup in 1/4 of the time of the store bought commercial rigs based on the Schatten design, and it will wind a truer pickup. It will also get away from you and make a clown wig of your expensive wire in that same amount of time as well. Start slow and work your way up to quicker winds. The payoff for your practice? Faster winds produce tighter coils with less microphonics and you can fit more wire on the bobbin if you need to.

I also added a forward and reverse switch for CW and CCW operation so you don’t have to flip the pickup over to do a reverse wind – you can even wind stacked humbuckers without removing the pickup to switch direction between the upper and lower coils.

Here's the cost break down...

Lathe $120 - 20% coupon, $104 after tax

Tach - $9.98

Programmable counter $33.00

DPDT center off switch - $5 (for adding forward and reverse)

Neon Lamp - $2

Opto interrupter - $5

Most parts can be sourced from Ebay or Amazon (Ebay turned out to be cheaper); just search these descriptions –

Lathe - Harbor Freight Item#95607

Tachometer - 0.56" DIGITAL Red LED Frequency and Tachometer Rotate Speed Meter DC 7-12V

Preset Counter C3E-R-220 - 110V 220V 6 Preset Digital counter 10KPCS Relay (get the 110v - 220v relay version, 12v - 24v version will require an additional 12v power supply)

From Radio Shack - DPDT center OFF switch

Radio Shack - Neon Lamp

The following parts are from

Photo Interrupter GP1A57HRJ00F Breakout Board

Photo Interrupter GP1A57HRJ00F

Resistor 330 Ohm 1/6th Watt


I laser cut a box, but I would have been better off using a large cigar box or re-purposing something else. I'll probably change it later down the road.

Opto Interrupter Disk

For those who would like to make the winder but might have trouble making the opto interrupter disk... here's the file in a format likes. Just upload it to them and they'll cut you one. The file mojoatomic_opto_interrupter.svg is attached below.

Their current pricing to make if for you is $5.33, so not bad at all. Make sure to specify these options -

Acrylic - Black

3.0 mm P1 - 181.0 mm long x 181.0 mm wide

Making: $1.83

Material: $3.50 Total: $5.33

Schematic and control circuit - control_circuit.pdf is attached below - this is the layout to use if you're using the Harbor Freight lathe (or similar) as your platform.

Step 1: Theory of Operation - Click for Animated Pic

Picture of Theory of Operation - Click for Animated Pic

Note:This is here for those that are interested in the how and why; it's not necessary to understand this section to build the winder. Also - this is rather conceptual in as much as the a low voltage relay is built into the counter already. You would only need to add an external relay like this one if you need to switch a large current load directly... a motor for example. Most controllers will use a low voltage trigger or inhibit line like the Harbor Freight lathe.

My design relies on a latching circuit for basic operation – so here’s how that works…

Here’s an animation I did to illustrate the basics of a latching circuit – you’ll find that this is directly relatable to the main control_circuit.pdf schematic posted above.

Step 2: Latching

Picture of Latching

S1 is a momentary action switch, so it returns to it's original position after you press it, but while pressed, this is what the circuit looks like... S1 is pressed and latches the upper portion of the relay, both armatures move as one and the lower armature circuit completes the circuit between the motor and it's power supply, and the motor begins to run.

Step 3: Latched

Picture of Latched

S1 is released, and through the nature of the circuit, the relay remains "Latched". The coil is still conducting and pulling both of the armatures into a closed condition and the motor and it's power supply are still bridged so the motor continues to run.

Step 4: At Rest

Picture of At Rest

The momentary switch labeled S2 in this schematic represents the "normally closed" outputs of the counter's relay. Imagine that you have the counter set to spin until it reaches 10,000 winds and it gets there. The Normally closed contacts on the counters relay open, thus breaking the electron flow through the coil, thereby releasing the armatures, severing the circuit between the motor and it's power supply and the motor stops spinning. The circuit is now in a rest state and "unlatched". The circuit is reset and made ready to run again when you press the reset key on the counter, thereby closing S2.

Step 5: Interfacing With the Harbor Freight Lathe –

Picture of Interfacing With the Harbor Freight Lathe –

This is the motor control board for the Harbor Freight 8x12 wood lathe and probably several others.....

Here's how everything works -

DC out - motor for the lathe

AC in - AC input from wall (mains)

Potentiometer - (controls lathe min-max speed)

The lathe ships with a starting speed of 750 RPM's, so I modified that. It now starts at 0 RPM and goes to 3400 RPM, here's how to do that...

Hi / Low pots - they do exactly what you might think; control the min and max speed of the lathe. Adjust the low speed pot so that the lathe is off (not rotating) when the speed knob in all the way off. Requires a little experimentation, but not hard to do.

Inhibit - what we're using to stop the motor at the specified number of turns. Most commercial DC motor controllers have some variation on this theme... some provide braking and others, like this one, kill the DC voltage going to the motor. Other variations of lathes use this input for a type of safety circuit or to make sure chip guards are in place.

Originally on this lathe, this line was attached to a momentary push button switch labeled "circuit breaker reset"; In this redesign, it's now connected to the "Normally Open" outputs on the counter module - when those outputs close when the preset count is reached, the motor controller shuts off.

Step 6: Opto Interrupter Disk and Opto Interrupter for Counting Winds

Picture of Opto Interrupter Disk and Opto Interrupter for Counting Winds

Here's a view of the left side of the lathe with the plastic bell housing removed showing the opto interrupter disk I cut and the assembly steps –

Spindle assembly ready for optical interrupter instillation (remove the plastic bell housing and the outer most jam nut) -

Step 7: Place Spacer on Spindle Shaft

Picture of Place Spacer on Spindle Shaft

I laser cut this spacer, but you could stack washers to achieve the same effect - make your spacer roughly 1/4" thick.

Step 8: ​Spindle Assembly Ready to Go With the New Opto Interrupter Disk and Outer Jam Nut Installed

Picture of ​Spindle Assembly Ready to Go With the New Opto Interrupter Disk and Outer Jam Nut Installed

Spindle assembly ready to go with the new opto interrupter disk and outer jam nut installed – you need 2 windows on the disk and it needs to be well balanced, 3000 RPM is unforgiving in this area.

Step 9: Under Power at 3200 RPM

Picture of Under Power at 3200 RPM

Smooth as silk.

Special note here... if you make your own opto interrupter disk, make sure it's well balanced. 3000 RPM is unforgiving.

Step 10: Opto Sensor and Winding Bar

Picture of Opto Sensor and Winding Bar

This photo shows the opto sensor on the top of the lathe – it just attaches with a magnet and hangs over the disk. I’ll take better pics of this area as soon as I get a chance.

The winding bar is made from 10mm stainless stock (what I had laying around). You just need a piece of round stock that will fit in the opening of the cross slide (included with the lathe).

Step 11: Magnetically Adjustable Wire Guides

Picture of Magnetically Adjustable Wire Guides

This innovation is kinda cool and works very, very well. The wire guides are 10mm ID ball bearings held in place and adjusted by magnets (way easier to adjust position then using set screws). Set screws are a pain, and not needed. It's super handy to be able to adjust the wire guides without fuss mid wind.

Buy ball bearings that fit your round winding bar from the previous step. McMaster Carr is a good source.

Step 12: Handwound Pickup Goodness...

Picture of Handwound Pickup Goodness...

This winder is capable of producing some truly spectacular pickups - if there's interest, I'll do a start to finish on pickup making, from making the flat work from scratch (just like the ones above) to potting the pickup in wax and all points in between.


jessyratfink (author)2014-07-16

Fantastic work and great documentation :D

mojoatomic (author)jessyratfink2014-07-16

Thank you! I've followed your 'ibles here for quite a few years, so that high praise coming from you!

neferkamichael (author)2017-08-18

When I open the file for the disk I get an image of it with no other information, I can't even download it to my computer. Sure I'm doing something wrong, any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks neferkamichael

TedJ18 made it! (author)2017-03-07

I had found this a while ago, and after finding a great deal on the lathe (it ended up being about $65), I decided to jump into it. This was quite fun and rewarding to make, largely due to such great instructions and a solid design. I had a slight issue with the supplied file for cutting the optical disc, but the nice folks at Ponoko helped me out (I think it's an issue of the stroke size or something - they fixed it on their end because it was easy and they could probably tell I didn't have a clue about modifying that type of file). It also took a little bit of effort to calibrate the tachometer, but a few minutes with a stopwatch and playing with the settings I managed to make it work just fine. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to build a quality, feature-rich winder for a fraction of the cost of a pre-made machine. Thanks so much for posting this!

mojoatomic (author)TedJ182017-06-22

Looks great! Have you wound at full speed yet? :-)

Hello gentlemen, I'm buying the lathe tomorrow for 67 buck and got a line on many of the other parts. I opened the file for the disk and it show me an image but no dimensions. I'm sure I'm doing something wrong, any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks neferkamichael

dkcookie (author)2017-07-07

"I'll do a start to finish on pickup making, from making the flat work from scratch (just like the ones above) to potting the pickup in wax and all points in between." Please, please do!

mwaits (author)2017-04-13

do you have any of these pre made so I can buy one off of you?

katsbls (author)2017-03-03

Just wondering if you could give a newbe some advice, i have been building Strats and Teleys for a couple of years and want to jump into building the pickups. I looked into StewMacs but I'm on disablity and can not afford theirs. I understand basic electronics (trained as an A & P). But need a little translation on opto disk? What is the purpose of and can you use any other type of small motor say as out of a drill etc.?
Thank you for a great instructable. Kathy
Only way to learn is to ask the "dumb" questions.

SammyW12 (author)2017-02-07

Thanks Mojoatomic...still wondering about the diode in the inhibit circuit...just garden variety (.7V drop) ??? No mention in the parts list.

mojoatomic (author)SammyW122017-02-07

Sammy, the diode I drew on the PDF is actually included on a wiring harness with the lathe. The lathe I have had a reset switch that led to the inhibit line and one leg of the switch had a diode in line with it. If your lathe has this diode, simply clip the switch off, leaving the diode and connect this assembly to your Sestos. If your lathe does not have the diode, there should be no need to add one.

SammyW12 (author)mojoatomic2017-03-01

Thanks so much. Still waiting for my Sestos to arrive. Should be here in a few days...on its way from Hong Kong. I'm wondering if the opto coupler disc could have the two cut-outs for balance but then black tape one over to leave the counting at 1 per revolution? I'm going to give it a try.

bvmurray (author)2017-02-12

The .svg file won't upload to Ponoko, I get an error that the line strokes are too thick, they need to be .01 mm. Any idea what I can do?

SammyW12 (author)2017-02-06

FYI....I found the reason for the 330 ohm resistor. It mounts on the opto-coupler breakout board...

mojoatomic (author)SammyW122017-02-06

Beat me to it - yep, it's for the opto board from Sparkfun

SammyW12 (author)2017-02-05

I'm building one of these winders, can't wait to get it running. Just ordered the counter and tach., picked up the lathe last week. Please explain the use of 330 ohm resistor??? I can't seem to find it mentioned anywhere other than in the parts list. Thanks

mojoatomic (author)SammyW122017-02-06

Hi, it's for the opto and board from Sparkfun, the parts are ordered a la carte instead of in a kit

fnegron (author)2017-01-09

Mojo, great work. I'm just starting a build, can I ask what the 330 Ohm resistor is for? I don't see it mentioned anywhere other than the parts list.

mojoatomic (author)fnegron2017-02-06

Hi, it's for the sparkfun opto board

SammyW12 (author)2017-02-05

I also see a diode on the control circuit pdf that isn't mentioned on the parts list. Any thoughts??

GordonS11 (author)2016-12-26

Just looking up all the parts, I had a Singer sewing machine given to me, so I am wondering how I might be able to make use of that. Being up here in Canada, getting some of the stuff may take a bit of scrounging to find. By the way, this is probably the best DIY winder system I have seen, including the fancy ones from StewMac. I'm looking forward to building this rig, thanks for the inspiration and all the great info. Yes, a start to finish build of a pickup would be great.

bklynghost718 (author)2016-06-14

This was amazing! Thank you so much for your hard work. The only issue that I'm having is that sometimes after a full stop when I try to slowly get it spinning again, the motor would jerk with 2-3 fast spins, which almost broke my wire. Do you think this could be adjusted?

mojoatomic (author)bklynghost7182016-08-17

Yes, that can be adjusted out for sure. Might take a bit of trial and error to get it right, but the startup on mine is as smooth as silk.

8legfreak (author)2016-04-27

Thanks for the instructions! I have built this and it's great! One question: I purchased the same digital tach that you have here, but I can't seem to figure out how to set it to properly display the rpms. My unit did not come with instructions. Could you help me out?

deafeningcolors (author)2016-04-13

Hey there! Sorry if these are dumb questions but...

1) What do you use in terms of distributing the wire from the spool? Is there any kind of stand you recommend for the spool itself?

2) Is there any way you could post a picture of a pickup mounted?

Thanks so much for this upload! It's fantastic!

AXington (author)2015-11-23

So, I'm finishing up a build of this and have a few questions. BTW, I used a cigar box as you suggested for my enclosure. That was a pretty darn good idea.

1. How are you mounting the opto-interruptor over the disc? I know you said you used a magnet, are you just kind of laying it over it, using the wires to kind of hold it up, or do you have some sort of wire or something?

1. I used your Optointerruptor file and had ponoko laser cut it for me. However, when I attached it to the spindle, it still spins uneven. I think this is because the bolt that holds it on uneven as it turns. Did you put a spacer on either side? If you did, how did you ensure that the disc doesn't turn freely so that at 3000 RPM it is spinning at the same rate as the bobbin?

2. I bought an inkbird counter which should be the same pinout as the Sestos. I'm having real trouble figuring out how to set it to count every other pulse or increase by one every pulse. The documentation is a bit... Engrishy... so I'm not sure how these counters typically handle this. (I attached the documentation in case you are nice enough to take a look). I'm considering adding external logic because the Tach I bought turns out to be a 3 pin instead of 5 so it will be double no matter what. I think if I do it externally, I'd need a capacitor followed by a resistor, no? A cap that discharges after storing the current from two pulses, then a resistor that cuts it to the right current for the pulse? I can live with the tach reading double, but if I had to basically wind each coil with more than 5k turns twice, now THAT would be annoying. ;)

3. Finally, do you use any kind of putty or tape to stick the bobbin/flatwork onto the turning plate of the lathe? I know that you're using the needle point on the other side to hold it in place, but are you using anything else to make sure it doesn't turn freely or loosely? IE, to make sure the bobbin turns exactly the amount of times the plate does, since when I mount the bobbins I have now, they can turn freely if I want. I'm thinking about using a removable mounting putty like this:

mojoatomic (author)AXington2015-11-24

To space the wheel off the body of the lathe I used washers, works great. As far as mounting the pickup, I have never needed anything but the live center to hold the bobbin to the faceplate. This works GREAT for bobbins with even numbers of magnets... if you wind a coil with an uneven number, like 3 magnets, you'll need to make a cleat with a hold in the center of it to space the bobbin in the centerline for winding.

AXington (author)AXington2015-11-23

I'm dumb, I figured it out after some trial and error. Man those counter instructions could be written 100 times better. From reading them, how would I have ever known to set the scale to .500 to get it to count one per two pulses? Anyways, I'm excited to get to winding tomorrow! Fantastic instructable. Thank you so much.

mojoatomic (author)AXington2015-11-24

Glad you figured it out, the instructions with the counters can be a little bit difficult to understand. As far as the opto mounting goes, I just glued a magnet to a small block of wood and that way I can position the opto on the body of the lathe. I position a small piece of wire in the block of wood and cradle the opto with that. I'm sure there's a lot of room for improvement there, so post what you come up with!

AXington made it! (author)2015-11-23

Gonna try to find a more reliable mount for the opto-interruptor, otherwise, very happy.

Chipmasterman (author)2015-10-12

Great feature and nicely explained! I'm making up a very basic non-lathe based winder using your schematic but just using a little DC motor and controlling it with a simple speed controller, the Sestos and infrared opto speed controller doesn't have an 'inhibit line' though to disconnect the DC power, is there another way to use the Sestos to cut the power to the controller?'s just DC in and out with a potentiometer? Also the opto interrupter doesn't seem to be on earth do you test these things when you can't see the beam!...there is 12v getting to it? At some point I'll get hold of a lathe and make another machine. Thanks for your help through this article so far...very useful and informative!

AXington (author)Chipmasterman2015-11-02

Did you ever get this built? If you don't mind me asking, where did you find your motor?

bassluthier (author)2015-09-28

I'd be very interested in seeing the end-to-end pickup winding process. I would like to re-wind all my Fender Rhodes Mk II pickups (the white-tape covered ones have a history of going out, and I've replaced 7 already in the last year). I'm trying to envision how I would attach the Rhodes pickups to the lathe for rewinding. Thanks!

meindertb (author)2015-09-05

Can anyone explain me the magnetic guide I really cot understand this part ....

jabguit (author)2015-06-23


why does the interrupter disc need 2 slots? does the Sesto require 2 pulses per turn?

mojoatomic (author)jabguit2015-06-25

jabguit, it needs both slots for balance purposes - 3k RPM is unforgiving. Both the Sestos and the tach must be set to read 2 pulses per rev, documentation is included with both units -

ThRaven (author)2015-04-27

Hi there that is one nice pickup winder you made. I have been trying to make one like yours but did not know that much about the Sestos. I'm going to make one but have been having problems downloading your Opto file can only get it as a pang file. Would there be a way to be able to download it? Thanks for posting your idea so others can make it.

rex123 (author)2014-11-29

Hi Mojoatomic! I have that same counter and I was wondering if it is possible to connect one of my AC motor's 110v cable directly to the NC relay so it opens when winds are complete therefore the motor stops? would that work?


mojoatomic (author)rex1232015-01-21

you'd need to interface an AC relay, which can be done - it just needs to be able to handle your full motor amperage. The built in relay is not capable of switching that load.

jesse.revel (author)2015-01-19

Mojo, please...what did you change on the circuit board to start the lathe at zero rpm's? I'm assuming that's what the 330r resistor is for but where's go???

mojoatomic (author)jesse.revel2015-01-21

Jesse, click on view all steps and go to step 5: Interfacing with the harbor freight lathe - check out the hi/ low trim pots in that pic. The low trim pot is used to adjust the starting speed of the lathe- adjust it until the lathe face plate doesn't move when the speed knob is at zero.

Superman185 (author)2014-11-09

Can you please show how your Magnetically adjustable wire guides work.

I can't quite figure how your wire guide moves back and forth.

logeman (author)2014-11-05

Great job. Your work is really quite inspiring. So much so, that I am motivated to try to build one myself. I've found a lathe (the same as yours) and i need to start assembling the other parts. I hesitate because I have no idea how to read circuit plans. Would it be possible to post a dumbed down version for myself? also a picture to show the relation of interrupter disk and photo interrupter would be very helpful as well.


deserter (author)2014-10-16

Hi there, great write up.

I'm also trying to build a pickup winder, and using a no name counter relay from ebay, the relay throws a 0.5second signal pulse when the counter reaches the desired number, and I've had a hell of a job trying to work out how to make the signal latch the motor off, hopefully your diagram will do the trick.

Did you ever get round to doing the instructable on making the flatworks etc?

mojoatomic (author)deserter2014-10-16

Thanks; good luck on your build. Which counter did you buy? I might be able to help if I could see the data sheet.

I never did the pickup making tutorial, didn't seem to be much interest. Guess I could though. Maybe some Strat and Tele style PUP's to start with?

deserter (author)mojoatomic2014-10-17

That's a vervain offer, and would deffinately be a big help if you could.
the counter I have is off eBay I can't link it on my phone but it's name is;

0.56inch Red LED 0~9999 4 Digital Up and Down Digital Counter Totalizer DC12V

Also I can't find the data sheet online anywhere, but will add a photo of it below. Apologies for the lack of decent info, butvim away from home at the moment and only have my phone available to reply.

mojoatomic (author)deserter2014-10-17

Forgot to add this to the other reply... The normally open relay output would go to the INHIBIT line on your controller.

mojoatomic (author)deserter2014-10-17

Ok, found it on Ebay - Looks like the top block with the green screw terminals is for input, optical like I described in the indestructible should work. Lower block with the header connector looks like power in to the device and relay out - bot normally open and normally closed. Looks like you can program it to count up to a number and then trigger the relay.

jibblesmgee (author)2014-08-02

I'm going to try to incorporate some of your design into my own winder. I am starting small, so I won't be getting a lathe for my first few pickups, but I'm going use the opto interrupter disk to create a wind counter that I can use with an Arduino microcontroller.

I want to wind some unique sounding single coils, so I'm going to use some 41 gauge enamel wire with slightly taller bobbins for my first set. Alnico 5 poles and all wooden bobbins.

I have a question: I think people stagger the magnets in order to compensate for string radius, but that doesn't make sense to me, because the magnetic field comes from the end of the pole piece, not the middle of it, so pushing the magnet up from the coil seems like it would make the string quieter to me, is my theory correct?

Also, do you think scatterwinding can be done to account for fretboard radius? I know that sounds silly, but if the windings are diagonal at close to the same angle as the G string is from the E string and the D from the other E, it seems like more flux would get converted into voltage in the pickup.

I'll try it when I get my magnets and wire in the mail in a few days... I'll let you know if I fail or succeed.

mojoatomic (author)jibblesmgee2014-08-04

Scatterwinding will not achieve the results you're after, but altering the pole piece height will. Best way to start out is to wind a known type of pickup, and then begin experimenting from there. Strat and tele types are't difficult to wind and are a perfect starting point. Once you have the basics, it's all variation on a theme. You will make clown wigs before you make pickups, believe me :-)

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