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.
For identifying your magnetic polarity, we recommend buying one of these: Schatten Magnet Polarity Tester
IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO:
You just purchased a 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 its own, but when you combine the Bridge with the Middle pickup, it sounds like crap! It seems thin, hollow, and weak.
What happened? Your Bridge pickup 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.
WHAT IS PICKUP 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 be Clockwise or Counter-clockwise (more on this later).
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.
There are four important considerations when making a pickup. Let’s break them down:
- Magnetic Orientation: The top of the magnets could be South (South to Strings, in our jargon), or North to Strings.
- Coil Direction: Once again, there are two options: Counter-Clockwise and Clockwise.
DETERMINING MAGNET POLARITY:
Your pickups either have North or South aimed at your strings. If you have a compass, it’s easy to do: hold the compass on top of your pickup, on its side. This will allow you to observe which way the compass pulls.
If North pulls towards the pickup, your pickups are “South To Strings,” or“South Up” (Opposites attract). If South pulls towards your pickup, your pickup is North To Strings.
It’s essential to know your magnetic polarity, as some pickups can have their coil direction reversed easily. For instance, Our Steel Pole 42s and Steel Pole 43s can be reversed 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:
- 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.
- Use a Magnet marked North and South. Just like the compass, you’ll feel and see what orientation attracts your magnet.
Determining Coil Direction:
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:
Tricks to find Coil Direction:
The best thing to do here is to pull your pickup out and look at it.
- Send us a photo
Send us a picture of the pickup out of the guitar. If we can see the leads, we can denote the coil direction
- Check with the manufacturer or look online
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:
Let’s put all of the concepts of Pickup Polarity together with a common example: Stratocaster wiring. With Stratocaster pickups, positions 2 & 4 of the 5-way switch are both in-phase and hum-canceling. Here’s why:
When the Bridge and the Middle pickup combine, their coil directions and their magnetic orientations reverse. This cancels hum and keeps pickups in phase.
The same applies for virtually any instrument that uses Single Coil pickups: Telecasters, Jazz Basses, Mustangs, and Jazzmasters…the list goes on.
TRYING TO FIX IT YOURSELF:
If your pickups are out of phase, you might be able to fix it yourself. You can try to reverse the coil direction, for example. However, reversing only one “attribute” of a pickup can cause some unintended side-effects. Here are some potential problems, and how to diagnose them:
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 canceled out.
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
Both Pickups are the same coil direction and magnetic orientation.
These pickups will be in phase, however, they will not be hum-canceling.
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-canceling 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!
As you can see, Polarity can be a little confusing. We hope this helps break it down. If you have any questions, give us a call! We’ll do our best to help.
So I can get my head wrapped around these concepts, If I were to consider just a single pickup at the bridge, NO other pickups whatsoever, does north/south orientation, or coil wind direction effect the tone or amplitude at all?
Are the north/south poles and winding direction only have to do with connection to additional pickups for phase reasons?