What’s The Deal With Pickup Polarity?

If you’re reading this article, you probably were trying to order a single pickup. Trust us – it’s not too difficult to find your pickup polarity, and it’s well worth the effort. Please read this article so we can make your pickup custom to your guitar.

Imagine this scenario:

You just purchased a single Strat Bridge pickup for your guitar. You’re excited to throw it in and rock out. You get it installed. You plug it in. It sounds GREAT on it’s own, but when you select the Bridge with the Middle, it sounds like crap! It sounds thin, hollow, and weak. What happened? Your Bridge is out of phase with the rest of your pickups.

Now you have to take the pickup out, send it back to us, and pay for shipping again to get the pickup back in phase with your other pickups. Not cool. At Fralin Pickups, we deal with polarity every day. What is Polarity? Why does it matter to you? Why does it matter to us?

Polarity:

Pickup polarity is the combination of Magnetic Direction and Coil Direction. Your Pickup can have either North or South pointing towards the strings, and the coil could have been wound Clockwise or Counterclockwise. This equates to a 25% chance that your pickup will work correctly if you just take a guess.

The ideal situation is to have your pickup In-Phase and Hum-Cancelling with other pickups. You’ve probably heard the term “Reverse Wound / Reverse Polarity” (RWRP) – well, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about an In-Phase and Hum-Cancelling set or pair of pickups.


WHOA.

You’re saying there’s a 25% Chance your single-coil pickup will work correctly in my guitar? Yes. Absolutely. There are 4 combinations that are used when making a pickup. Let’s break them down:

  1. Magnetic Orientation: The top of the magnets could be South (South to Strings, in our lingo), or North.
  2. Coil Direction: Once again, there are 2 options. We call this Bottom to Winder (Counter-Clockwise) and Top to Winder (Clockwise).

Determining your Magnetic Orientation:

Your pickups either have North or South aimed at your strings. It’s easy to find out which one if you have a compass. Simply hold the compass on top of your pickup, on it’s side. This will allow you to observe which way the compass is pulled. If North is pulled towards the pickup, your pickups are “South To Strings”, or “South Up” (Opposites attract). If South is pulled towards your strings, your pickup is North To Strings. 

It’s really important to know your magnetic orientation, as some pickups are able to have their coil direction reversed easily. For instance, a Steel Pole bobbin doesn’t have the wire touching directly on magnets, allowing you to reverse the coil direction easily. However, if you have a traditional Strat or Tele pickup, you’ll need to observe your coil direction as well:

Tricks to find Magnetic Direction:

  1. Use a compass! Opposites attract, so, if you hold a compass to the top of the pickup, it will pull the opposite towards it. You can get a cheap compass online or at a local hobby store.
  2. Use a Magnet marked North and South. Just like the compass, you’ll feel and see what orientation attracts your magnet.
Checking Magnet Direction With a Compass

Checking Magnet Direction With a Compass. This pickup is South to Strings. 

This pickup’s magnetic orientation is being checked by a Magnet marked North and South. This pickup is North to Strings.

 

 


Determining your Coil Direction:

String Polarity Diagram

Illustrated above is where the coil starts and ends. As you can see, the coil starts on the left on Bottom To Winder, and on the right with a Top to Winder pickup. The Start of the coil is always shown by our Black lead, and the last turn is denoted by our White lead. For a real world example, see below:

Lindy Fralin Coil Direction

In the Above Image, the Strat Pickup on the Left has a Counter Clockwise coil direction, from Ground (Black) to Hot (White). A Counter-Clockwise coil direction is the same as Bottom to Winder, in our lingo. The Tele Bridge on the Right has a Clockwise coil direction, from Ground to Hot. In our lingo, the Clockwise coil direction is Top to Winder.

Tricks to find Coil Direction:

  1. Observe! The best thing to do here is to pull your pickup out and look at it. Use the diagram above to let us know before we wind it. That way, we will match your polarity.
  2. Send us a picture of the pickup out of the guitar. If we can clearly see the leads, we can denote which way the coil was spun.
  3. Check with your manufacturer, or do a quick search on the internet for your exact model. This is not always the best case, because there is not a lot of consistency throughout the industry.

Putting it all together:

We all love the tone of a Strat®. With a 5-way switch, you can get Hum-Cancelling tones in positions 2 and 4. So, what’s going on under the hood? See the diagram below to see how reversing the Coil Direction and Magnetic Orientation between pickups can give you hum-cancelling tones that sound great:

Strat Polarity Diagram

 

By reversing both directions, magnetic and coil direction, we get hum-cancelling tones in positions 2 & 4 of your 5-way switch, and your pickups are in phase with each other. The same applies for virtually any instrument that uses Single Coil pickups: Telecasters, Jazz Basses, Mustangs and Jazzmasters…the list goes on.


Possible Situations:

Reversing only one “attribute” of a pickup will put the pickup out of phase with it’s neighbors. Only by reversing both Magnetic Direction and Coil Direction do we keep our pickup in phase, and hum-cancelling. Keep reading for some common outcomes of out-of-phase guitar pickups:

Possible Problem #1: Both Coils are in the same direction, but the magnet direction is opposite between pickups.

  • These pickups are out of phase, and when used together will sound weak, hollow, and thin. A lot of midrange is cancelled out.

Possible Problem #2: Coils in different directions, but the pickups are magnetized the same.

  • These pickups are out of phase, and when used together will sound weak, hollow, and thin. A lot of midrange is cancelled out.

Possible Problem #3: Both Pickups are the same coil direction and magnetic orientation.

  • These pickups will be in phase, however, they will not be hum-cancelling.

Part 2: Hum-Cancelling pickups

Hum-cancelling pickups are a little easier to identify, as one part of the puzzle is already given to us. A Humbucker (this can be our Hum-Cancelling P-90’s, Hum-Cancelling Jazzmasters, Split Blades, etc.) has both magnetic directions already. So, you don’t need to worry about Magnetic Orientation. What you do need to know is Coil Direction. This is really easy – just order your pickup with Multiple Leads!

Fralin Pickups 2-Conductor Lead

This 2-Conductor Lead has a White, Black, and Chassis Ground (Shield / Bare). Simply Ground the Shield. White and Black can be reversed if your pickup is out of phase.


As you can see, Polarity can be a little confusing. We hope this helps break it down. If you have questions, give us a call! We’ll do our best to help.

6 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m considering adding a dummy coil for hum cancelling to my rig. The wiring for this is apparently quite simple. My question is, I have an old pickup from a Mexican Strat that I want to use for the dummy coil. I have pulled off the bar magnets, and measured the resistance at 6.85 ohms. This appears to be a bit more than most vintage style pickups. I have a Callaham prewired pickguard assembly, with the H/SRV special wind Lindy Fralin pickups. Will this work, or will I need a lower resistance dummy coil? I have read that the dummy coil needs to be 50% to 80% of the pickups. Thanks in advance.

  2. I got this site from my buddy who shared with me concerning this site
    and now this time I am browsing this web site and reading very informative articles or reviews at this
    time.

  3. Excellent descriptions, Ty. And you used one of my favorite expressions, “pop the hood”! I just said it today!

  4. No No No. Wrong.
    A compass north always points to the North Pole. So the compass North will point to the north polarity of any magnet.
    Basic physics. The compasses north pointy end (usually red) has been magnetised as a south polarity, otherwise it wouldn’t point north.

  5. Apologies. Now I need to retract my previous comment, because:
    The north pole of a compass needle is a magnetic north pole. It is attracted to the geographic North Pole, which is a magnetic south pole (opposite magnetic poles attract).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *