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4. Pickup Replacement

Most guitarists enjoy tinkering with different guitars, amps and pedals, and in recent years, pickups have also joined the fray. Such is their importance to a guitar’s sound, that cheap instruments can nearly always be improved greatly, simply by upgrading the pickups. Regardless of the price of your guitar, single coils can be substituted for humbuckers and vice versa, and certain ‘vintage’ pickups, for example 1957 Gibson PAF humbuckers, change hands for huge sums – the idea being that their addition to a modern instrument will impart a vintage sound. A great deal of research and development has also gone into producing modern ‘re-issues’ of vintage pickups.

Tips

For obvious reasons, it is usually easiest to replace a pickup with one of the same physical size – this avoids having to cut a larger hole in the scratchplate, or even more daunting, rout a larger cavity in the body. Fortunately, there are two innovative solutions which permit the replacement of a single coil pickup with a humbucker without resorting to such major surgery. The first is the so-called ‘stacked’ humbucker which has two coils placed one over the other, and thus looks exactly like a single coil pickup.

The other solution is the mini-humbucker, which is a standard humbucker in every respect except that it fits in a single coil space.

The ‘Reverse Wound/Reverse Polarity’ design (RWRP) is a further variant of the standard single coil, which was originally designed for use as the middle pickup in a three-pickup configuration such as that of a Stratocaster. Its coils are wound the other way round to regular pickups, and the polarity of the magnets is also reversed - when selected in series with one of the other pickups, the two signals are out of phase, resulting in the characteristic ‘hollow’ Strat sound beloved of so many players. (The original Stratocaster’s 3-position selector had to be carefully wedged between its official positions in order to achieve this.) The reverse phase relationship also means that the two pickups effectively become a humbucker, giving a substantial reduction in noise. Even in a two-pickup guitar such as a Telecaster, one pickup can be replaced with an RWRP, giving a choice between a humbucker sound in mid-position, or a standard single coil sound if either pickup is selected individually.

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