How To Replace Telecaster Pickups

Replacing a Telecaster Pickup

So you bought a Telecaster or Telecaster-style guitar and you’ve played with it for a while, and you think it’s missing something. One of the easiest and most cost-effective things you can do to re-vamp the sound of your guitar is to buy (or make) yourself a set of new pickups and replace the ones your guitar came with. Here’s how to do that.

Materials Needed:

To complete this project, you will need a Telecaster or Telecaster knock-off guitar, and the pickups that you want to put in the guitar. Many companies sell replacement pickups, here are a few to get you started:

www.seymourduncan.com
www.dimarzio.com
www.fralinpickups.com
www.lollarguitars.com

Find a description of a pickup that matches your playing style, genre, and the sound you’re going for, and order away!

Tools Needed:

 

Here’s a list of the things that you probably should have on hand in order to accomplish this project:

  1. String Winder – You’ll need this so you can get the strings off quickly, so grab yourself a good string winder.
  2. #1 Phillips Head Screwdriver – You need this to loosen and tighten the pick up mounting/height adjusting screws.
  3. #2 Phillips Head Screwdriver – The screws that hold the bridge on are a little bigger, and therefore require a larger screwdriver.
  4. Wire Cutters – To cut wires…
  5. Wire Strippers – To make sure you have nicely stripped ends on your hook-up wires.
  6. Soldering Iron – A Cheap Radio Shack 40 watt one should suffice, but if you want to really get into this type of work, I’d suggest a Hakko Soldering Station. A little pricey, but you won’ regret it.
  7. Solder – I won’t go off on my lead free solder rant here, but suffice it to say, get some good 60/40 rosin core solder.
  8. GOOD Paper Towels – I know–it’s a strange thing to be a snob about, but the VIVA paper towels are oddly suited to guitar repair. They can polish laquer without scratching it, clean buffing wax off the guitar without scratching it, and shield the guitar while you’re soldering. You’ll see.

Now that you have gathered all the tools, it’s time to dig in!

Step One: Remove the Strings

The first thing we must do in order to change the pickups, is remove the strings…it’s ok…they probably needed to be changed anyway…

Removing the Strings
Removing the Strings
Removing the Strings

Step Two: Unscrew and Remove the Bridge

Since the Telecaster’s bridge pickup is mounted on the bridge, to get the pickup out, you need to remove the bridge.  In some cases, you might even have to remove the bridge saddles. In this case, I’m changing the pickups on a 1994 Fender American Standard Telecaster, so I can get the screwdriver through the saddles and remove the bridge plate just fine.

Detaching the bridge plate to remove the pickup
Detaching the bridge plate to remove the pickup
Detaching the bridge plate to remove the pickup

This example guitar is an American Standard Telecaster, so in the Bridge Pickup Cavity, there is a common ground lug where all the grounds in the guitar are soldered. This is a good time to carefully lift the bridge plate off of the guitar and find the wire that leads from the bridge pickup to the ground lug. Now would also be a good time to unsolder that lead.

Unsoldering the pickup ground wire
Pickup ground wire removedPickup ground wire removed

Step Three: Remove the Control Plate

At this point, I like to open the control plate and flip it over in the control cavity. This way, I can see which wires are going to which lugs on the switch. Also, I like to use those cool paper towels to mask the area around the control cavity.

Pickup ground wire removedPickup ground wire removed
Pickup ground wire removedPickup ground wire removed
Pickup ground wire removed
Control plate ready to be worked on

Step Four: Unsolder the Bridge Pickup Leads

Again, because the example guitar is an American Standard, only one wire is leading into the control cavity.  Find the wire that leads from the Bridge Pickup to the switch,  heat the lug with the soldering iron, and remove the wire form the lug.

Unsoldering the Pickup’s hot wire
Pickup’s hot wire removed

Next, pull the bridge completely off the guitar.

Step Five: Remove the Bridge Pickup from the Bridge Plate

Unscrew the pickup mounting screws and completely remove the pickup from the bridge.

Removing pickup from bridge plate
Pickup removed

Step Six: Mount Replacement Pickup in Bridge

Pretty self-explanitory.

Replacement Pickup mounted

Step Seven: Solder Leads From New Pickup to Correct Lugs

Feed the hot wire from the new pickup (normally the lead that is NOT black!), and feed it through the access hole to the control cavity. In this case, The replacement pickup I’m using has plastic shielding around multi-core wire. To make the work easier, I like to strip off about an eighth of an inch of shielding and tin the wire, meaning heating up the tip of the wire and melting a bit of solder in it.

Replacement Pickup mounted
Ground wire strippedGround wire stripped
Tinning the tip of the ground wireTinning the tip of the ground wire
Ground wire tinnedGround wire tinned

After the shielding has been stripped and the end of the wire tinned, find the lug on the switch that you de-soldered previously and solder your new pickup’s hot wire to that lug. Make sure you let the iron heat the solder enough to develop a good bond with  the lug. When you’re finished, it should be shiny and sliver!

Soldering the pickup's hot wire to the switchSoldering the pickup’s hot wire to the switch

Do the same with the ground wire, connected in the bridge pickup cavity.

Soldering the ground wireSoldering the ground wire

Step Eight: Unsolder the Neck Pickup From the Switch

When you’re finished unsoldering the bridge pickup, you might as well unsolder the neck pickup. Follow the same process: touch the iron to the lug to melt the solder and gently pull the let out of the lug.

The largest wire contains the neck pickup wiresThe largest wire contains the neck pickup wires
Unsoldering the hot pickup wireUnsoldering the hot pickup wire
Hot wire removedHot wire removed

In this particular guitar, the ground is braided shielding that is soldered to the body of the switch. Heat it up, lift it off.

Unsoldering the ground wireUnsoldering the ground wire
Neck pickup wires removedNeck pickup wires removed

Step Nine: Remove the Pickguard

Now that the neck pickup is no longer attached to the switch, remove all of the screws holding the pickguard on.  Then gently lift the pickguard clear of the guitar.

Removing the pickguardRemoving the pickguard
Pickguard removedPickguard removed

Step Ten: Remove the Neck Pickup From the Pickguard

With the pickguard away from the guitar (dropping it on the guitar at this point would be really heartbreaking), unscrew the pickup and set it aside.

Removing the old pickupRemoving the old pickup

Step Eleven: Install Replacement Pickup in Pickguard

Screw the pickup into the pickguard, making sure it is facing the right direction.

Installing the new pickupInstalling the new pickup

Step Twelve:  Replace Pickguard

Feed the neck pickup’s lead wires through the access hole into the control cavity. Gently replace the pickguard, making sure the wires are not resting on the surface of the guitar, causing the pickguard to bulge.

When all is well, replace the pickguard mounting screws, making sure not to over tighten.

Reinstalling the pickguardReinstalling the pickguard
Pickguard in placePickguard in place

Step Thirteen: Solder the Neck Pickup Leads

Again, it is a good idea to strip and tin your leads before soldering.  After you have done this, find the lug you previously desoldered the how wire from and solder your replacement pickup’s hot wire to it.

Soldering the hot wire to the switch lugSoldering the hot wire to the switch lug

Since the new replacement pickup also has braided shielding, after you tin it, find the place on the body of the switch that the previous pickup’s ground was soldered to and solder it there.

Soldering the ground wire to the body of the switchSoldering the ground wire to the body of the switch

Snip any excess wire that might get in the way.

Cutting excess wires
Cutting excess wires

Step Fourteen:  Re-install the Control Plate and Bridge

When you have determined that all is well with the wiring, gently insert the control plate back into the control cavity and screw it back in. Then replace the bridge screws.

Reinstalling the control plate
Reinstalling the control plate
Reinstalling the control plateReinstalling the control plate
Reinstalling the bridge plateReinstalling the bridge plate
Reinstalling the bridge plateReinstalling the bridge plate
Reinstalling the bridge plateReinstalling the bridge plate
Ready for TestingReady for Testing

 

Step Fifteen: Test the Pickups

Right now is the best time to test the pickups. If something has gone horrifically wrong, it’s better to know BEFORE you put the strings back on. Screws come out easily. However, if you put the strings on and THEN find a problem, you might have to cut them off and start again.

Using the rubberized-grip-side of your wire cutters, put the switch in the bridge position and tap lightly on the pole pieces. If it makes noise, congratulate yourself. Continue through the switch positions, ensuring that when the switch is in the middle position, both pickups make noise, and

when the switch is in the neck position, the neck pickup makes noise.

Tap-testing the bridge pickupTap-testing the bridge pickup
Tap-testing the bridge pickupTap-testing the bridge pickup
Tap-testing the bridge pickupTap-testing the bridge pickup

If something goes wrong, trace your wires back to the pickups. Make sure the grounds are going to the right places. Make sure you didn’t accidentally short to lugs on the switch together when you were soldering on your leads. Then try again.

If you become so frustrated during the troubleshooting of your circuit, you rip the control plate from the guitar and mercilessly scatter parts around your home, have no fear: there are many online resources for guitar wiring diagrams. Here a couple you may want to check out:

Stewart-MacDonald

Also, If you need to clean any areas that may be obscured by the strings, it’s best to do that now, before you put the strings back on. When you’ve decided that it’s clean enough and the pickups are functioning correctly,  you’re ready to string it back up!

Step Sixteen: The End!

Now string the guitar back up and adjust the pickup height to taste, just make sure you don’t get the pickups too close to the strings, or you will cause strange noises and intonation problems.

Restringing the Guitar
Restringing the Guitar
Restringing the Guitar

  Tune it and enjoy! You are on your way to becoming a wiring master!

Tele Pickup Replacement Project Finished


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