5 Essential Guitar Pickup Luthier Tools

In this article, we want to talk about 5 essential tools luthiers can use when installing and diagnosing guitar pickups. These tools are tools we use all day, every day. The best part about them: they are all very simple to use (and inexpensive)!


1.) Magnetic Polarity Checker

A Magnetic Polarity Checker is pretty crucial. If you don’t have one, you’ll probably need one soon. This handy gadget is a tool which tells you which polarity a magnet is. You can tell if a magnet has North or South on top. This is important for luthiers when customers are ordering a single pickup. We need to know which magnetic orientation, as well as the coil direction, the pickup is. That way, we can send a new pickup that will match 100%.

To use it, hold the polarity checker on top of the pickup. The magnet inside will flip and attract to the magnetic field. Most magnets are marked White or Black, for North or South. Refer to the documentation for details.

Pro Tip: A Compass works just as well. You can find a cheap compass at most hobby stores or recreational stores.


2.) Neodymium Magnet

A Neodymium Magnet is pretty handy, especially if you work on a lot of Fender guitars and basses. A Neodymium magnet is a very (VERY) strong rod-style magnet which you can use to re-charge degaussed magnets. If you have two, you can even flip the entire magnetic direction of a pickup.

A Neodymium Magnet is a strong magnet used for charging or reversing the polarity of a pickup. Just keep it away from your Credit Cards!

To reverse the magnetic direction of a pickup, you’ll need to remove the pickup out of the guitar. If you have a Telecaster neck pickup with a cover, you’ll need to remove the cover. Find which magnetic direction repels (opposite), and force the Neodymium magnet until it attracts. Do the exact same thing to the same pole piece, now from the bottom. See the image below for clarification.

Two Neodymium Magnets used to reverse the phase of the pickup’s pole piece. Do this for all poles.

Above, this pole piece is flipped. Do this for all pole pieces, and voila! You’ve reversed your pickup’s magnetic orientation.


3.) Analog Multimeter

“Analog, you say? Isn’t that outdated?” Nope. A needle-style meter is very useful for checking a guitar’s phase. Take a look at our article on how to check the phase of a pickup here.

Sure, it’s great to have a digital meter, but many overlook the power of an Analog Meter. With an Analog Meter, you can quickly tell if a pickup “Meters Up” or “Meters Down”. “Metering” is fancy lingo for checking the phase of the pickup. You can do this with a digital meter, but it requires a little more care and time to do it right. An Analog Meter is my old stand-by in my office. Make sure you pick up one of each, as both serve different purposes!


4.) Some Paraffin Wax

You might not need a whole block, but having a few scrapes of Parafin Wax around is a great idea. If you see copper wire on the pickup that looks like it’s coming a bit loose, or, sticking up, glue it back down safely with Parafin Wax.

No, not drugs. Wax. C’mon people.

Lindy uses this all the time to hold down a loose wire. He adds a bit, and quickly melts it with his soldering pencil. Problem solved. Encasing a loose wire with wax will protect the pickup and the wire from damage, corrosion, and microphonics.

If you are more of a “One Stop Shop”, having a whole block will be very useful, especially if you plan on potting or re-potting pickups. You can get an inexpensive Crock Pot and melt the wax in it. Pay attention to temperature – too hot, and you can warp plastic. We keep our baths to around 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit.


5.) The Correct Solder

Choosing the correct solder makes a huge difference when installing pickups. We use 1mm 60/40 Rosin Core Leaded Solder. That’s 60% Tin, 40% Lead. If you choose unleaded solder, you’ll have a hard time making your solder joints look nice and pretty. It’s also a pain to work with.

Inside the 1mm diameter solder is a Rosin Core. The Rosin Core helps the solder flow more like liquid, and allows you to efficiently create solid and complete solder joints.


Well, that’s it for about now. What tools do you experienced luthiers use? Put them in the comment section below!

Tyler Delsack - Fralin Pickups

Tyler is an avid guitar player for over 20 years. He spends his days at the shop making Hum-Cancelling P-90s and Big Singles, as well as editing and maintaining the website. He loves hiking, cooking, and beer. At any given moment, somewhere, he's eating a bowl of Pho.

5 Comments

  1. How do I know if the pickup is made with alnico 3 magnets or if it is made with alnico 5 magnets?

    Thank you,

    Bob

  2. Bob,

    That’s really hard to tell. We normally just tell by feel as we’ve been doing it a long time. I suppose you can invest in a Gauss meter and test an Alnico 5 pickup against a suspected Alnico 3, and see if the Alnico 3 reads weaker.

    Tyler

  3. Hi Tyler,

    Thank you for responding to my question regarding magnets. I have many sets of Fralin Stratocaster pickups but one particular set is extremely bright on any of the position that I choose. They maybe real 54 or vintage hot.

    Thank you,

    Bob

  4. I installed split blade vintage output in my Strat with 500k pot.Am I better off with 250k or 300k pot.? Thanks Fino

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