Cheap and Easy Guitar Pickups




About: 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 film winders and vacum easels for the ph...

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    140 Discussions


    Question 10 months ago on Step 3

    How about using a store bought plastic spool of 36 awg enameled wire, placing it over a speaker magnet, running 6 metal rods from the speaker magnet thought the hole in the wire spool and positioning under the guitar strings. Yes-No?


    4 years ago on Step 8

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 8

    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


    6 years ago on Step 9

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 6 years ago on Step 9

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


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    6 years ago on Step 9

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


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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! ;)

    1 reply

    12 years ago on Step 7

    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!

    1 reply

    Reply 12 years ago on Step 7

    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