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. I have an Airline (Eastwood) solid body electric mandola, and have horsed around with it off an on for the last couple of years. The other day I started trying to record with it, and to try some slide riffs. I was really disappointed with the sound of it – it was distorted, muddy, sounding overdriven even at low levels. I was pretty convinced that this would be a major effort getting it fixed or replaced and sounding even useable.

    Boy was I wrong – just a simple height adjustment of the pickup made things sweet. The strings must have been physically hitting the pickup as they vibrated – the pickup seemed way too high and close to the strings. Measuring and adjusting was an easy and effective solution to what I tohught might be an arduous, expensive, and long-drawn-out task.

    Thanks for the suggestion and DIY how-to instructions here.

    1. Great to hear! If the pickups are too close, they can cause the strings to pull towards the pole pieces, giving you a warbled, distorted tone. I’m glad you figured it out and hope the article was useful!

  2. Curtissays

    My clone LpJrP90 the bridge pup is held by 2.3mm metric screws 32mm long
    There’s compression neoprene steadying p90 perch
    I drilled by pin vise these two mount holes perfect
    The alnico polepieces aligned magically perfect
    But wild excitement playing my strum hit that bobbin exposed
    And now the alnico poles are shifted wee bit from being whacked
    Rolling the 32mm length chrome screw on a glass mirror it wobbles are bit
    When I tried hand bending to correct wobble more wobbling ensued
    It’s like straightening a crooked arrow shafting you need to counter bend but you can overshoot causing compound helices
    So I just gave up ordering a bunch called metric sized precision bass pickup mount screws which are equivalent for metric p90 pups mine are after market oripure alnico slugged
    Any suggestions how to straighten? Use chuck?

    1. Hey Curtis, so if I understand you correctly, you strummed hard enough to knock an Alnico pole piece off its axis? If that’s the case, there’s no real easy fix for it – The pickup would have to be repaired by the original manufacturer.

  3. Just put 57/63 Pickups in my MIM Strat…..I don’t like it….now quite sure what Im looking for, but this aint it

    1. Hey Brad,

      Give us a call or contact us to help you find a set that you’ll love!

  4. Brian C.says

    After recently doing the 1/4” magnet swap on my Gretsch Blacktops (they come stock with 1/8” Alnico magnets) and being blown away by the improvement. 1/4” was the original magnet size in Filter’Trons. It got me to thinking: since I have two spare 1/8” magnets, why not add them into two of my existing humbuckers? Wouldn’t I achieve similar results? Has anybody tried this? Filter’Trons are the bees knees as far as I’m concerned. I have some P90s and really love them, but the FT’s are top of the heap.

  5. Hello There,
    I want to change one of my pickup in the guitar, it is a GrassRoot guitar and the setup for pickup is HSS. I am just wondering if it is possible to change, just one of the neck pick up and join the old wiring on the same point ? would that work or I have to change the pots and electronics too? Looking forward for your response.
    Cheers!

  6. John Simms55says

    I can’t do intonation it’s even hard with Babicz full Contact hardware it is the most frustrating thing I give up I know leather will change it and once I made my waylon telecaster I am just looking at it but not learning it cuz of intonation it’s still nice to look at

  7. Hi Tyler, in order to some checking, I took the pick guard off my unmodified Custom shop strat and then replaced it. Once I screwed it back down, I have found that the neck pickup is no longer working. The other two pickups still work fine. Whilst the pick guard was off the guitar, I didn’t touch any wiring or make any adjustments. I have since removed the guard again, but nothing looks out of place, and the solders are still solid. Any suggestions on the probable cause?

  8. Arnold William Dubysays

    Yes u put a Seymour Duncan black winter in Bridge and I left the Duncan design in the neck.. For some reason I got all kinds of noise and it sounds really muddy.. Like shit… Could it be the Duncan design in the neck that’s messing up the sound from the bridge pickup??? Can I disconnect the neck pickup?? I don’t use it anyways

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