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Winding Guitar Pickups

Passive guitar pickups are simple in concept.  They have six magnetized pieces around which are wound thousands of turns of thin copper magnet wire.  I have a Fender Stratocaster guitar that came with Tex Mex pickups.  I liked the feel of the guitar but I didn't like the sound so much.  (Hear my Ex Tex Mex song here.) After some internet research, I decided to rewind the original pickups using fewer turns of wire.  I wanted to completely unwind the thin copper wire and "scatter wind" it back onto the original flat work, as this is supposed to give the pickup more character.

Pickup Unwinding

Here a Tex Mex pickup is screwed to a lazy suzan which is attached to a wooden base.   A take-up reel is taped to the turntable ready to unwind the pickup.

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I quickly found that I couldn't simply unwind the pickup.  Its oblong shape caused variable tension in the wire, causing it to snap frequently.  I rigged up a tensioning arm made from erector set pieces, fishing line, and a 1/4" phone plug as tensioning weight.  It took me most of one pickup to figure out the right combinations of length of tensioning arm, position of weight.  You can barely see an erector set pulley around which the wire travels in this picture.

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The pulley is seen better here.  You also see the inertial weights (1/4-20 nuts) added to the lazy suzan platform.  These kept the platform spinning when tension slacked in the wire.

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See a short Real Video of the working unwinder by clicking on the picture below. 

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I had to replace the pulley with a nail because the pickup wire randomly slipped off the pulley, usually causing it to break.

Pickup Winding

Winding the pickup was the reverse of unwinding.  I attached the pickup to the turntable and taped the spool of pickup wire to the lazy susan.  Winding went a little smoother :-)

See these pickups housed in mahogany pickup covers on my Guitar Page.

July 2003

Pickup Winding Revisited

The pole pieces on the neck pickup for my homemade guitar were too widely spaced. To make my own custom pickup, I needed custom flatwork, magnetic pole pieces and 42 gauge magnet wire. It has taken me over a year, but I have collected the parts I need, as detailed below.

Stew-Mac now offers pickup wire so I got a half pound spool for about $20. I got Alnico magnetic pole pieces from Master Magnetics, Inc. I got several sizes since they have a minimum order of $30. The ones I used for the following pickup were 0.75" long, 3/16" in diameter, about 80 cents each.

I made the flatwork from mahogany. First I cut a mahogany base and drilled 3/16" holes in it to match the string spacing on the guitar. I sanded and beveled the base so pickup wire wouldn't catch on it as it was winding. I pushed the pole pieces into the base. Then I cut and drilled a top piece to complete the flatwork.

This site has lots of information about guitar pickups:

Vintage Fender Guitar Pickup Spec Info