8 Common Guitar Pickup Rookie Mistakes!

Last Updated: May 14th, 2021

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!

THE FIX:

Research the correct lead, and go for it. Here are some helpful rules of thumb:

  1. 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. 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. 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

Rookie Mistakes - not choosing the correct 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.

Fralin Pickups - Broken Coil

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.

Rookie Mistakes - not checking your string spacing

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

Rookie Mistake #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!

44 Comments

  1. PAUL NYAINDAsays

    Hi Tyler? I’m a newbie here and I find your blog very educative. Keep up the good work.

    So I have this particular problem. I bought an Ibanez RG170 (a licensed Chinese copy I should say) two years ago. Sometime this year, I was playing around with my humbuckers and ended up damaging both. So they now ended up acting as single coils instead of humbuckers.

    Two months ago I ordered some cheap Gibson style humbuckers online (Cheap Chinese knockoffs from China) and installed them. They sounded great, but they always go ‘dead’ when I try and switch the selector to both bridge middle or neck middle (mine is a five position selector). Sadly though, the stock single coil pup that was in the middle stopped functioning since that time.

    I ordered a set of single coil pickups to replace the ‘dead’ one and then installed it, but the problem is still there. Also, as additional info, I’m using 500K pots for both volume and tone, with a 223K cap in the tone pot and a 331pf cap in the volume pot.

    I’d appreciate it if you’d kindly advise me on where my problem might be. Thanks

    Paul,
    Nairobi, Kenya.

    1. Tyler Delsack - Fralin Pickupssays

      Hey Paul,

      You might have a bad switch. If you have a multimeter, try to check continuity between each side. For instance, find the “common” lug – usually A4 or B1 – and run the switch through all positions testing the continuity of each lug. If one reads “Open” when selected, you know you have a bad or damaged switch.

      Other than that, it could a be a few other things. I would check your wiring as well, making sure that you have everything wired correctly. There are a few different wiring diagrams out there. I would recommend taking it to a luthier nearby if you have that luxury.

      Tyler

      Tyler

  2. Davidsays

    Re : The caption above #4 killing your pickup photo with the severed wire is exactly what happened to my vintage Tele bridge pick up . Can you fix that? Will a rewind or partial unwind bring it back to life ?

    1. Tyler Delsack - Fralin Pickupssays

      Hey David,

      Good question! If it’s the outside wire (last turn of the pickup) we can peel a turn or two off and repair it. If it’s the inside wire (pictured), it will need a rewind and cannot be repaired.

      Tyler

  3. This is such a coincidence, earlier this evening I was experimenting with my 1980’s Jap Strat which is very bright to the point of being harsh, I decided to try a 2nf cap ( about 1/20 of the tone cap value on the tone pot) across the output jack terminals and it has taken some of the highs away to give a more rounded sound, its worth experimenting with different values, you might say why not turn the tone down but the bridge pup has no tone control in the circuit so this was an experiment that has made a surprising difference, not sure if this is common practice but anything’s worth a shot when your guitars just over bright, oh and just turning the amp EQ down didn’t sound the same as the cap fix, I guess the cap is filtering the higher harmonics rather than a broader range on the treble pot on the amp (Rivera 30/12), I’ll let you know if my opinion changes in the coming days but it sounded good tonight.
    Thanks for your great articles!
    Cheers

  4. Marcussays

    Are you sure it’s not just a weak signal lacking bottom end – and been mistaken for too treblely? I would go over the wiring again it sounds like somethings not connected right – if you have to dump treble on both The Guitar and me amp

    1. Tyler Delsack - Fralin Pickupssays

      I would take your guitar to a Luthier for a second opinion. There may be a quick fix.

  5. Randall Barrettsays

    Thanks for the tip # 8 , bought a loaded pickguard and never really thought about adjusting pickups. After measuring the string height I realized that it was too low, I thought my pickups had good tone but after adjusting them I can really tell a difference they really sing now. Love winning the the tone war/ battle… lol thanks Randall.

  6. Doug Nealsays

    Would be nice to see these kind of tips for basses also

  7. This is great! these little bits of information are taken for granted by so many people. They are even hard to find on YouTube. Tip: If you think it’s something everybody knows, So does every body else and so it never gets talked about.
    That’s what you want to tell us about. – the stuff that people feel to stupid to ask. 🙂

    Ernie
    [email protected]

  8. Excellent advice! Thank you.

  9. Doug Hsays

    Wow ! The guy that thought this article out and wrote it did a KILLER job. This is gold !

  10. Bob Bellisays

    Why do my Strat pickups put out to much treble? They are the vintage hot set. I run the trouble the whole way off on the amplifier and on the guitar itself. Do you have any suggestions.

    1. Tyler Delsack - Fralin Pickupssays

      Bob,

      See #2. Sounds like you might have 500K pots in your guitar. Vintage Hots sound sweet, not harsh.

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