In this article, we want to talk about five essential tools a luthier can use when installing and diagnosing 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 determine if a magnet has North or South on top. This tool is essential for a luthier 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%.
2.) Neodymium Magnet
A Neodymium Magnet is pretty handy, mainly 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.
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 same thing to the same pole piece, now from the bottom. See the image below for clarification.
Above, this procedure flips the pole piece. Do this for all magnets, 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 Isn’t that outdated?”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 handy 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 luthier 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 Paraffin Wax around is a great idea. If you see a copper wire on the pickup that looks like it’s coming a bit loose, or, sticking up, glue it back down safely with Paraffin Wax.
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 the plastic. We keep our baths to around 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit.
5.) The Correct Solder
Choosing the correct solder makes a considerable 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 solder is a Rosin Core. The Rosin Core helps the solder flow more like liquid and allows you to create solid and complete solder joints efficiently.
Well, that’s it for about now. As an experienced luthier, what tools do you use? Put them in the comment section below!