8 Common Guitar Pickup Rookie Mistakes!
Lindy Fralin Pickups has been around for over 25 years, and in that time, we’ve seen all levels of guitar and bass player. From the bedroom hobbyist to the full-blown touring pro, we’ve all had to start somewhere. We’ve also seen all levels of guitar players make these simple mistakes, time and time again. This is our list of the 8 common “rookie mistakes” that can be easily avoided:
ROOKIE MISTAKE #1:
Choosing The Wrong Lead:
Not choosing the correct lead is one of the most common rookie mistakes, and it’s easy to avoid. Choosing the right lead when ordering your pickups will solve many headaches down the road. It will make your installation more manageable, and allow you to reverse the phase if need be.
We get a lot of emails with the subject line of “Help!”, and see a customer having a hard time installing a Gibson Lead in a Fender Tele. This lead won’t work for many reasons. The most common mistake we see: Buying a Single Pickup with an irreversible lead. An example would be buying a single P-90 for your Telecaster, with a Gibson Lead. Doing this will give you many headaches down the road – choose a 2-Conductor lead when ordering, and you’ll be set!
Research the correct lead, and go for it. Here are some helpful rules of thumb:
- You Cannot Reverse Gibson Leads. Only get these when you’re buying a Set For A Gibson-style Instrument. These leads are designed to install in instruments where each pickup has its separate volume pot. Installing this lead in a Fender instrument will create all sorts of problems.
- 2-Conductor With Shield: The most overlooked, but essential lead. You can reverse the phase if need be, and since the lead is insulated, the shielding won’t short anything out in a cavity.
- 3 / 4 Conductor: For Humbuckers, these are super easy to install, and give you all sorts of options down the road. You can reverse the phase too!
ROOKIE MISTAKE #2:
CHOOSING THE WRONG POT VALUE
Not choosing the correct pot value is one of the most common rookie mistakes we see. Your Volume and Tone pots are the second most important aspect of guitar electronics – and for a good reason. Putting a Humbucker through a 250K pot will most likely sound like your amp has a “mud blanket” on it. A Telecaster with low-output single coils will sound pretty awful through 500K pots, too. Knowing which pot value your pickup needs is the best way to solve this. Don’t be a rookie: check out our article here to become a pot-selecting wizard!
3.) Not Going To A Luthier When Times Get Tough
I get it. I’m a “do-it-yourself-er” too. I love getting my hands dirty and doing the work myself. However, sometimes, you have to quit before you start getting over your head. We answer a lot of questions from customers who are just way over their head with the soldering pencil in their hand. We always recommend going to the professional the same way you’d go to a mechanic for your car. Luthiers are better equipped for the job, and most likely have the experience and specialized tools required to make your life easier!
4.) Killing Your Pickup Before You Install It
This one’s a heartbreaker: You just received your brand-new pickup. You unbox it, rip open your toolbox and start throwing the pickup into your guitar. You slip – and knick a coil wire.
Ouch. Your brand-new pickup is dead, and you’re left to purchase a new one. Pickups are super delicate and fragile. The coil is about as thin as a human hair and can easily be damaged. Even experienced luthiers have this happen from time-to-time, so be careful!
Furthermore, Guitars with an “extra fret” (where the fretboard hangs over the pickguard) require you to unbolt the neck before you can safely remove the pickguard and pickup.
5.) Choosing The Wrong Spacing
A guitar is like a bike. It’s intricate with a lot of adjustments that can really affect the way that it plays and behaves. Your pickups sound best when you take the time to choose the right spaced pickup. Checking your String Spacing is easy to do – all you need is a ruler. Click the image below for our article on how to do this.
Most bridge pickups are going to have wider string spacing than neck pickups, due to the way the guitar’s strings taper towards the headstock. Knowing this will help you choose the correct pickup, and have all the strings sing at equal volume without dead notes!
6.) Getting Too Custom
Getting too custom? That’s one of the more popular rookie mistakes we see. We’re a custom shop, so we get the appeal of having a pickup or set no one else has. More often than not, our “super-custom-customers” wind up buying a popular calibrated set instead. Why? Because the electric guitar has been around since the 1930s, and we’ve overturned many, many rocks on the way to great tone since then. More often than not, the best-sounding pickup set is the one that stands the test of time!
7.) Not Checking Your Polarity
This one is as heartbreaking as #4. You get your new pickup in, and it’s out of phase with your other pickups. You didn’t check your polarity! Polarity is SO important. We’re not going to go into it here, but check out this post here to get the scoop. In essence, take your time to find out your pickup polarity, and get multiple leads if need be.
8.) Not Setting Your Pickup Height Correctly
To close it out, this one is a common problem we hear all the time. It’s so easy to fix – and to diagnose. If the pickups are too high, you’ll get all sorts of unwanted tones caused by the magnetic field of the pickup. If they are too low, you’ll have a weak and underwhelming tone.
Here’s how to measure and check your pickup height. For starters, you always want to use your ears. Start by pressing the low E string on the highest fret, and measure the bass side of the pickup to the bottom of the string. Ideal starting point height should be about 1/8″. Now, do the same thing on the treble side – it should be 1/16″.
Measuring your pickup height will make sure that your pickups are sounding – and working – at their best!
Well, that does it, for now! Take your time when selecting your options, and you’ll spare many headaches down the road!