How to Reverse Pickup Polarity Part 2: Humbuckers
Note: this two-part article was originally one article, and I edited it into two parts for clarity and brevity. If you want to learn more about Polarity in general, read Part 1.
Reversing the polarity of a Humbucker is a relatively simple task when compared to a single-coil pickup like a Stratocaster or Telecaster pickup. When changing the phase of a single-coil pickup, you need to be mindful of two “attributes” of the pickup: the Magnetic Polarity and the Coil Direction.
Both the Magnetic Polarity and the Coil Direction can be challenging to reverse, and most of the time, you need to send the pickup in to get rewound or re-magnetized. Luckily, Humbuckers are a bit easier. Their design allows us, as guitarists, to get under the hood and flip the phase relatively quickly!
The design of the humbucker cancels all hum when playing. It’s a simple design that works beautifully. As mentioned in our previous article, to have hum cancelation, you need two coils, wound opposite and magnetized opposite from each other. We experience this in a Strat or Tele in the middle positions. In a Humbucker, everything is contained in one footprint. If you’d like to learn how humbuckers work, check out our article on the subject here.
Pure P.A.F.$160 – $320
P-92$165 – $330
Big Single®$165 – $330
REVERSING HUMBUCKER PHASE:
In our last article, we learned that to change the phase of a pickup, we need to flip one of the following attributes: Coil Direction or Magnetic Polarity. Luckily, with Humbuckers, both magnetic polarities are already contained in the pickup, so all we need to contend with is the coil direction!
Changing the humbucker’s coil direction is easy if you have a humbucker with multiple leads. To learn more about how to choose the correct lead when purchasing a new pickup, check out our article here. Here is a rundown of the different humbucker leads available:
2-Conductor, 3-Conductor, and 4-Conductor leads have a separate shield. This shield is separate from the coil and contains the chassis ground connection. When installing the pickup, we keep the shield grounded, while the remaining pickup wires are reversible. Let’s examine how to reverse the phase using a 2-Conductor Lead (the process is the same for all multi-conductor leads):
Here’s a basic step-by-step on how to reverse the phase of a humbucker by flipping the leads:
- Start with a Normal Installation. In a normal installation, White is Hot, Black is Ground, and Shield is Ground.
- See if both pickups are in Phase with each other. If your pickups are in phase, you’re good to go! If not, proceed to Step 3:
- Reverse Black And White. Keep the shield grounded while you reverse Black and White. The new wiring should have White is Ground, Black is Hot, and Shield is ground.
REVERSING THE HUMBUCKER MAGNET
If your humbucker came equipped with Gibson Braided Shield lead, you cannot reverse the phase of the humbucker by reversing the lead. Gibson Braided Shield lead has a ‘hard-soldered’ connection to the chassis ground. Your only option is to reverse the direction of the humbucker’s bar magnet.
Reversing the humbucker’s magnet is another relatively simple operation, but requires a bit of know-how and a few tools. Here’s an exploded view of a Humbucker:
FLIPPING THE HUMBUCKER MAGNET – STEP BY STEP:
Time needed: 1 hour.
Reversing the polarity of a humbucker by flipping the humbucker’s magnet:
- Remove the humbucker out of the guitar, and place on a flat, clean surface.
Work on a towel to protect the humbucker cover, if it has one.
- Remove the Humbucker Cover (if applicable)
Check out our article on how to do this below.
- Loosen 4 Brass Screws located underneath
You don’t need to remove them all the way, just back them out a bit. The coils should separate from the chassis. At this time, take a look and observe the magnet.
- Use a hair dryer or heat gun to loosen any wax, if necessary.
The Bar Magnet should loosen up and come free of the pickup.
- Remove Bar Magnet, flip 180?.
Flip the bar magnet either direction 180? and slide the magnet back into the humbucker housing.
- Tighten everything back up
This is a delicate process! Once the bar magnet seats properly, slowly and evenly tighten the brass screws until both coils seat properly and flush. Over-tightening the screws will cause the humbucker to look uneven.
- Use Heat Gun to re-flow wax, if necessary
If the pickup contains wax, re-flow the wax to prevent microphonics. Allow the humbucker to cool completely before installing in the guitar.
If your humbucker has a cover installed, follow our guide here to remove and re-install your cover!
I hope that helps you understand reversing the polarity of a humbucker! If you have any tips or questions, feel free to drop them below. Until next time.
How exactly do you “See if both pickups are in Phase with each other”? No instruction is given on how to do this. Furthermore, how does reversing the hot & ground on a humbucker that is already in-phase and humbucking do anything? Reversing the hot & ground of a humbucker is not going to put it out of phase and it will still sound the exactly the same when played alone. Now, if you run your 2 humbuckers with the 3-way toggle in middle position, you’ve got 2 humbuckers that are each in-phase and humbucking, so how does reversing the current flow on one of them change anything?
I’ve got two pickups: one bridge humbucker (4-wire + shield) and one middle single (2-wire + shield). I know magnet polarity of each other (I’ve got a magnet to check). And I don’t know coils direction. But I can connect coils leads to a voltmeter and touch a coil with a steel thing. (Let’s call a wire as “plus”-wire, if, while connected to plus connector of a voltmeter, voltmeter’s arrow goes positive, when I bring a steel thing closer to a coil.)
If I want to use one coil (with north-to-strings magnet) of the bridge humbucker (i.e. split mode) and the middle single (with south-to-strings magnet), which wires should I connect to hot? “Plus”-wires of both coils? Or “plus”-wire from a coil of bridge hum and “minus”-wire of single? Or..?
Thank you in advance!
I know this is for a humbucker, buy I need to know about stratocaster pickups. Which direction is a strat’s Bridge magnets? N-up or S-up? The Middle? The bridge? What can I expect?
Check out our part 1 article. How to Reverse Pickup Polarity, Part 1: Single Coil Pickups
hi. thanks for all the help. but, as always, there’s one in every crowd… what about the lovely P90…(bare with me, my computer crashes if i use the question mark. really. no, really.)
please tell me it is still just as simple as flipping the magnets in one of the pickups…
and while we are under the hood of the P90, what happens if you only flip one of the two magnets… or, what if you are trying to synch up a P90 with a split humbucker, or a regular single coil… thanks, steve
Thank you for this very helpful information.
Just to ask, is the out of phase sound the same using
either the magnet flip or the wiring modification?
Yes, agreed, totally awesome. I am doing some guitar maintenance, pickup-swaps and all sorts of fiddling and this is not the first time I am using information on your pages. Also, I am a technical writer. Your information is clear, well-organized, and to the point. The figures are better than most guides I have seen. Really professional. Thank you for just putting it out there for us for free.
Thanks for the kind words, Ákos!
Wow, these pages are GREAT! Thanks Tyler and Thanks Lindy!
Hey, thanks, Eric! Much appreciated.