Introduction: Cheap and Easy Guitar Pickups

Picture of Cheap and Easy Guitar Pickups

here is a little tutorial about improvised guitar pickups
made from easy to find junk

Step 1: Pickup Basics

simply a guitar pickup is just a coil of insulated copper wire with a magnet in the center.
most things that seem simple dont always turn out this way but here is an exception(sort of).
now im not recomending that you rip the pickups out of your strat and replace them with the herein mentioned contraptions. but if your building a diddly bow or a frankenstein guitar or just looking to make a new noise then thise is for you

Step 2: First a Real Pickup

Picture of First a Real Pickup

here are 3 pictures of a very broken ( and very crappy before it was broken) fake humbucker pick up. it came out of a 1 dollar yard sale guitar nuff said.
if you look closely you can see the basic parts a copper coil of #43 magnet wire wrapped around a plastic bobbin with a steel bar that slides up inside it and a bar magnet that attaches to that.
when a steel guitar string is vibrated near the poles { screws that screw into the steel bar} it generates a very small electric current in the copper coil {similar principle to how a generator/ motor works... hmmm i wonder if you can use a motor...heh heh ill have to try that one later} this small current is what is fed into your amplifier and pumped out the other end greatly amplified.

Step 3: Experiments Ive Tried and Rough Results

Picture of Experiments Ive Tried and Rough Results

now before we start none of the following pickups have as good {loud} an output as even a mediocre real guitar pickup but some of them are surprisingly good.
now pictured here is the solenoid pickup i made for the 3 string slide guitar thats been featured on this site a while back.( i didnt remove it for a closer look as its hotglued in place and i dont want to break it)but it is a coil that was found in the filter paddles of an old one hour photo printer{i know thats not common junk but copper coils are everywhere} a magnet from an old car stereo speaker has been positioned in the centre{wrapped with a bit of vinyl tape to make a nice tight fit}
the two leads from it run through the back of the guitar to a 1/8 phono jack near the end .
plug it into your amp and get it within about half an inch of a vibrating guitar string and you will hear it .
its a little quieter than a real pickup but it works

Step 4: Circuit Breaker Coil

Picture of Circuit Breaker Coil

this one came out of a old circuit breaker from a large 220 volt machine
the coil as you can see is covered with a hard plastic{bakelite} casing and screw on contacts for the wires.
when in use an iron core fits into it as you see in picture 2.
flip it over and add a hard drive magnet in the center and it acts as a pickup not as good as the first one but it does work.
it also looks like you could fit it into a regular guitar easier too {not that you want too of course}

Step 5: Water Valve Solenoid

Picture of Water Valve Solenoid

this coil is another plastic covered one and it comes from a solenoid that opens a water valve{ washing machines and dishwashers maybe likely sources}.
in it i have glued a section of a steel bolt because i didnt have a magnet of the proper diameter to put in it but to magnetize it i just slapped a hard drive magnet onto the bottom end(it doesnt matter which one but then it becomes bottom}.
your getting the idea now plug it into the amp and twang away.

Step 6: Buzzer Coil

Picture of Buzzer Coil

this coil came from a ordinary buzzer such as you might find on a dryer or washing machine or used as an alarm on industrial equipment.
as you can see i have it wired to a cord to test and yes it did work but only one way.
again the magnet is from a hard drive{gotta love 40 meg drives}
the third picture here is of a coil that did work but very faint and thats because theres just not enough copper wire in it.
length of the wire is the deciding factor a suitable coil can be made from any thickness wire but the bigger the wire the larger the coil needs to be{house wire pickup would be is as big as a volkswagen}.

Step 7: Yet Another Solenoid

Picture of Yet Another Solenoid

if you notice most of the coils i have tried have come from solenoids.while im not sure where this one comes from it works too but its kind of tall for use as a guitar pick up
you would have to have one of this type centered beneath each string because its so narrow
the wider fat coils like the first one i showed covers two or three string easily
but you can wire multiples together to form a pickup to cover most any arrangement of strings. reversing the coil directions between one coil and the next is how a humburcker works .

Step 8: Last But Not Least

Picture of Last But Not Least

this little number is the guts of one of those old snooper coils that you used to be able to get at radio shack in the 70s . the idea was to attach this to the earpiece of your phone with a suction cup and you could record the conversation on an ordinary tape recorder . it wasn`t a mic that used sound waves it was a coil and magnet and picked up the signal from the wires and coils in the receiver.

Step 9: End

i hope you all have fun trying out different coils and please be careful to use junk only and dont spoil your moms washing machine lookin for coils an stuff
any questions just ask away


gareth.whittock.3 (author)2015-01-25

Very interesting stuff. Thanks for posting. I wonder if you could help me. I would like to design a large pickup about 3.5 inches square, (there's a good reason trust me). Are there any design considerations I need to be aware of or should I just get a square magnet and go ahead? Thank you.

lennyb (author)gareth.whittock.32015-02-01

if the pickup needs to be a square instead of a bar (like most are) then there are two ways to cover it one would be to wire 2 normal pickups together to get the shape (series or parralel depending on whether you want a humbucker style pickup or not)

or just wrap a single coil around your magnet .

if i were trying this i`d wrap it around a steel block and then put a powerful magnet like a hard drive magnet on the bottom afterwards. if it gets too large you may have to do more windings

gareth.whittock.3 (author)lennyb2015-02-01

Thanks for the advice. I'll let you know how I get on. Cheers, G

crazyman75 (author)2012-10-11

I found your article interesting, but I am wondering how to build these pickups from scratch. The application I am trying to use these for is part of a home made radio controller for robots, so what I need to know is how to build a pick up with a diode or transistor that will connect to an antenna to send signals through the air to the robot's antennas at a max. range of 20 feet away. Do you possibly have information that could be of help to me.

StingyB (author)crazyman752014-08-26

check out an older cordless phone. all the parts you need are in there, like a pre assembled mic/pick up in the mouth end. Try two blue tooth enabled devices....if your savvy enough (like two cell phones). Or you could try a mic/pick up and a wireless jack, which transmits and receives, so your controller and robot take the place of the guitar and amp.

lennyb (author)crazyman752012-10-12

sorry bud thats all over my head.too much math.
if i see anything related to it ill pass it on though

Extremofile (author)2014-04-13

The Q-tuner guitar and bass pickup company uses N50 neodymium bar magnets: They do it for 25 years now, so it must be OK.

acdc126 (author)2010-05-22

spark light (author)acdc1262012-03-31

LiftAndLove (author)spark light2013-06-09


rahmawadi (author)2012-12-27

friends may not ask about - about how to make a pick-up coil electric guitar / acoustic

labernache (author)2012-10-08

As to the question of polarity of magnets used in Humbuckets, those are bar-type magnets with the North/South poles along the two opposite long Side, not on the Ends , as is the case with a common bar-type magnet.
Since the two coils innermost windings are placed adjacent to each other, those windings are over the opposite poles of this special side-pole bar magnet.
According to laws set down many years ago by Scottish scientist Michael Faraday,
a coil of wire passing through a magnetic field will have an induced current that follows the right-hand rule of current flow created .
It is probably more easily demonstrated by looking up Faraday's Laws regarding magnetically induced current flow. This is the same principal that makes everything from huge generators (think Boulder Dam!), to dynamic microphones, to earbuds, to kitchen mixers, etc... work.
Faraday was an interesting person and greatly influential to modern electronics.
I hope this proves somewhat enlightening and not too wordy! ;)

lennyb (author)labernache2012-10-08

that makes more sense than my own theories.
thank you for the clarification.

abadfart (author)2011-02-08

try i lipstick pick up like in a old telie

freeza36 (author)abadfart2012-03-31

tele you mean

abadfart (author)freeza362012-03-31

ya sorry auto correct strikes again

freeza36 (author)abadfart2012-03-31

nah its good

pfred1 (author)2006-12-14

I thought humbuckers had coils wound in different directions over each other? Although that is just something I have read several times, I have never had the occasion to actually dissassemble a guitar pickup yet. I'll have to keep my eyes open at garage sales for some dollar instruments I guess. I've changed some pickups, and rewired some guitars, just never bothered ripping a pickup apart yet. Humbuckers do have 3 wires coming out of them though as I can recall. It is good to leave one of the wires detached, in case you ever forget the words!

lennyb (author)pfred12006-12-14

most humbuckers have the two coils side by side but wound in different directions . some are stacked one coil on top of the other{although that may be just something i heard . ive never seen one like that} the coils need to be separated a little bit so they dont counteract each other. im not sure if those makeshift pickups would work as a humbuckers but its worth a crack if you try it and it works let us know. if i try it ill post it later

lesgibbs (author)lennyb2012-02-14

a humbuckers got two single coil pickups wound in the same direction but sharing a magnet there for using opposite poles to cancel out the humm.

lennyb (author)lesgibbs2012-02-14

ahh so thats how it works.
my apologies to anyone i might have confused.

jphoton (author)2011-07-08

do not mess with coils from tv picture tubes!! tv's can store THOUSANDS of volts even after being unplugged for YEARS!! there's far better safer sources!! ;)

Kiteman (author)jphoton2011-10-13

The coils don't store the charge, capacitors do, but it's still good advice to wear gloves and then use an old screwdriver to short things out before you play.

lennyb (author)Kiteman2011-10-13

crt tubes themselves can also hold a charge for a long time.i got a good zap from one 30 years ago my arm was numb for hours.
lucky it didnt kill me
always wear insulating gloves when handling them.
once the tube has been safely discharged you can handle it then

DrThousand (author)2008-03-05

I like coils from old TV sets, The older the better. If you find an old tube set in the alley, grab it before I do. There are a lot of coils in the old sets, but my favorites are on the neck of the picture tube. The adjustment (convergence) coils are the ones I'm after. They come in 3 sets of 2, 3 sets 'cos they use 3 colors. This gives you one pickup per string, which is exactly what you want for MIDI guitar. If you want hexaphonic fuzz (1 fuzz per string so the strings don't interfere with each other), this is the way. Note that the coils are mounted on ferrite cores, which are very hard, or should I say brittle. Ferrite is a kind of ceramic which will yield to a determined person with a cut off wheel in their Dremel. Just put the whole thing on a piece of magnet. I like the ceramic ones on the back of dead speakers or inside microwaves. More ceramic shaping, but at least you'll learn a new skill.

Gergory (author)DrThousand2010-12-31

A quick note:


The cathode ray tube can carry enough voltage to kill you even years after the TV has been unplugged. I strongly advise heavy research before you pop open an old TV or, best of all, avoidance of it altogether. (This doesn't apply to newer, LCD, plasma, etc. sets but I would still take caution.)

lennyb (author)Gergory2011-01-01

indeed the CRT can hold a charge of thousands of volts for years.
i learned this myself the hard way many years ago.
take all precautions while hunting for useful coils {insulated gloves come to mind} do not touch the neck and side contacts {cathode and anode} at the same time, thats how i got zapped.

chrisreeve (author)lennyb2011-01-27

Surely if you are taking the tv apart anyway, you could just throw a bucket of water over it. I'd think that should short out and ground any voltage left?

water, not advisable, you could still shock yourself.

the best way to disharge a CRT is to take a lead with an alligator clip and a 1 ohm resistor arrangement and short it out on a ground strap from the cup attached to the picture tube. You should hear a loud pop and perhaps see some arcing when this occurs. You could repeat the procedure to be absolutely sure no charge remains. the problem of CRT's are that it has capacitors with high values, once these loose their charge, it should be plain sailing. Also of hazard is mercury in the tube that could leak if the tube is old or compromise is some way.

Lazy Ape (author)DrThousand2009-07-30

do you have any instructables?

crankflip (author)DrThousand2009-05-29

Well, I found one out in the woods! how cool is that! :P

DjProToJeeX (author)DrThousand2008-04-11

i beat you to it last week for that teebee

mzpo (author)2011-02-06


Jack HUmmer (author)2010-12-04

nice crack man... i cant wait ti try these for myself... keep rocking....long live!!!! =D

mateolegba (author)2010-09-02

Great!!! Looking for a coil!!! Buenisimo, felicitaciones!!!! Gracias!

rowdy_riemer (author)2008-03-07

If your pickups seem to be a bit quiet, it may because they have a higher impedance than typical pickups(I'm kinda guessing here). Try building a fet buffer amp to put between the output of your homemade pickups and the input of your amp and see if that helps.

lennyb (author)rowdy_riemer2008-03-07

actually the resistance is much lower than a commercial pickup (2k ohms as oppossed to 8 k}because my coils wire is shorter . the idea is to induce a current in the wire by coiling it around a magnet and vibrating a ferrous metal string in the magnetic feild to generate the current. the more wire the higher the current is. if a heavier wire is used the same effect can be acheived but will require a longer wire again. using a more powerfull magnet can also boost the signal but may dampen the vibrations of the strrings.

Rishnai (author)lennyb2008-06-05

So I've never had a clue what I was doing when it came to electricity, so correct me if I'm wrong here. If your pickup has 2k ohms and the pickups from the factory have 8k, putting in 6k of resisotors somewhere along the line would fix the volume issue? Or would it make things worse?

rowdy_riemer (author)Rishnai2008-06-05

It would make things worse. If the pickup impedance is lower than the input impedance of your amplifier, it shouldn't be too big a deal. Of course, there is maximum transfer of power when the impedance of the pickup matches the input impedance of the amplifier(doesn't matter though with voltage controlled devices like FET's and Vacuum tubes), but adding resistors to compensate doesn't really compensate at all. I think the key is to add more windings of wire. Or better yet, maybe use a booster amp between the pickup and your amplifier's input.

Rishnai (author)rowdy_riemer2008-06-05

Okay, that makes sense.

acdc126 (author)Rishnai2010-05-22

Hi!! nice work! you have good idea but miss some knowledge. A resistor will make things worse, dont forget its not the same thing at all, coil is made for inductance its not a resistor. The resistor will never take any sound its not an inductor and i think not to be near the strings anyway, in contrary it will reduce the signal because of resistance. Make a little search on google to find some schematic about pickups and you will find how to build your project with maximum results.Also see how lace build their pickups its not totaly different but enough and it work very fine. the use of the polarity of your magnet (and maybe metalic parts with it) and the way you use your coil will change the output signal, some possibilities can give you more gain.

thanks it worked way better after doing that i don't know why i did not think of that

johnnyx9 (author)2010-02-22

Do you know if a newdymium n50 magnet would be too strong?

lennyb (author)johnnyx92010-02-23

im not familiar with the size and strength of that magnet.
but it should still work.
though if the magnet is hugely strong it may dampen down the vibration of the strings some .
let us know if you try it and how it works.

musicman (author)2006-11-26

hi michael here iv got the pickups made but i dont know how to wire then in to the guitar and everything else.can you please healp me.

lennyb (author)musicman2006-11-26

sure micjael all you need to do is install a 1/4 inch guitar jack and wire it to the ends of wire coming from the pickup i will email to you a diagram that shows the usual configuration. and while those are more complicated than you need it will tell you exactly howit is done.

beatlemack (author)lennyb2010-01-11

Mack here. Could you also send me the diagram or post it online?

ckurcon (author)2009-08-20

so could i just get any magnet and wrap some copper wire around it and use it as a pickup? im trying to make a diddley bow and just need something really cheap to use as a pickup

drummer_on_fire (author)2009-05-13

What did you put the pick up on? is it a homemade electric stick guitar or stick bass?

About This Instructable




Bio: i am a photolab technician and an incurable packrat. i have made swords ,chainmail, crossbows.cameras,bike trailers,kayaks,guitars{slide and electric},knives,various ... More »
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