Pickup test guitar

Please put your pickup/wiring discussions in the Electronics section; and put discussions about repair issues, including "disappearing" errors in new instruments, in the Repairs section.

Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:50 am

It has been a while since I've posted new builds here, but I have had things cooking all the time. All December and January I wound guitar and bass pickups, both single coils and humbuckers. I experimented a lot with different types of magnets and wound up with a heap of pickups I wanted to hear the sound of - but didn't have time to build a new instrument around each new pickup. So I decided to build test instruments, one 6-string guitar and one 4-string bass that I could use for testing the pickups. I have a nice 60 W hybrid half-stack guitar amp at the workshop, but the 20 W cheapo bass amp I have there is pretty awful, so I guess I'l take the test bass home and use my son's 150 W bass amp. My poor neighbours.

I didn't want these instruments to cost much and I used a lot of used or inexpensive parts in them and parts from discarded projects. The 629 mm/24.75" scale guitar neck is from an old rejected build and it has been lying in my closet for a year or so. Originally it was a set neck, I sawed it off when I dumped the build. The body became firewood. After a little modification and sanding the neck became really nice and comfortable bolt-on neck. The heel part is not pretty, but the neck serves its purpose. The 3-piece body is alder and pine, the middle block being alder and the wings pine, which makes it very lightweight and resonant. Both the neck and the body have been treated twice with Danish oil. The neck is attached with four 38 mm screws and recessed washers. These test instruments may appear crude, but their reason of existence is not being pretty, they'll just have to deliver what I need. And they do.

The idea was to build something I could attach any 6-string pickup in for testing it. So i built two electronics channels, one for single coils with 250 kΩ pots and another for humbuckers with 500 kΩ pots. The pickup lead wires can be screwed on to the selected channel. There in no selector switch, as changing pickups by switching wires is no big deal. So far I have tested a set of Tele pickups with neodymium button magnets and a set of Strat pickups with ceramic bar magnets. Both sets sound nice. I'll post threads on the pickups in the electronics section.

Here come the work-in-progress photos.

01-Sanding_body_sides.jpg
Sanding the sides of the body here. I drew the shape directly on the blank and cut it out with a bandsaw.


02-Sawing-_out_body-_template.jpg
I used the body as a template to make a plywood template. I like the body shape and will use it in upcoming projects. First I copied the outline with a pencil and then sawed it out with a bandsaw.


03-Trimming_body_template_flush.jpg
Then I trimmed the template flush with table router.
Markku Nyytäjä
 
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:59 am

05-Vulcana_body_template.jpg
Here's the template. It pretty much like flipped-over Firebird. Or something.
04-Drilling_neck_pocket.jpg
Prior to routing the neck pocket I removed the excess wood with a drill press and a forstner bit.
07-Vulcana_test_guitar_body.jpg
The body has a swimming pool type pickup cavity to accommodate any type of pickup. I modified a Strat pickguard to fit the guitar and made a couple new ones of 2 mm PVC sheet. The control cavity cover is also PVC.
Markku Nyytäjä
 
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:06 pm

08-Vulcana_test_guitar_body_back.jpg
There's an open cavity in the back of the body. That's where I connect the pickup lead wires to the electronics.
06-Headstock_with_tuners.jpg
The headstock with tuners. Nuthin' fancy.
09-Bridge_and_electronics.jpg
The guitar has a hardtail Strat bridge that is easy to adjust. The two signal channels with separate output jacks can be seen next door.
Markku Nyytäjä
 
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:35 pm

10-Vulcana_test_guitar_with_Austin_Powers_Tele_pickups.jpg
The first pickups I tested were my "Austin Powers" Texas Blues type Tele pickups, here attached to the pickguard. No strings attached yet.


11-Vulcana_test_guitar_with_Chicago_Twangster_Strat_pickups.jpg
The second set of pickups I tested were the "Chicago Twangsters", a Strat pu set with ceramic magnets.


Both sets of pickups met my expectations. Now that I can test all my new pickups in advance it will be easier for me to plan which pickups to use in different instruments. Parallel to this one I finished a test bass in which I used the neck and the bridge from my son's first bass, a cheapo Harley Benton leftie bass. I only had to make a new right-handed nut for the neck and a body, so it didn't take much time. Working simultaneously on 5 other projects I must have used a month or so on the test instruments. They will same me a lot of time in the future, so I think it was worth it to make them.

01-Pickupt_test_bass_with_NYDE_Molten_Lead_PB_pickup.jpg
The bass has a 34" scale harvested neck and 2-pickup controls. Both neck and bridge pickups can be tested at he same time. The first pickup I tested was an overwound Precision bass pu, the "Molten Lead Pb Pickup" with neodymium rod magnets and 10.5 kΩ DC resistance. I also tested a se of "Hot Jazz" pickups, with neodymium magnets as well. They all sounded clear and powerful. I'll post separate threads on the pickups later.



The other new projects will all be finished in their time. In the meantime I'll post threads with photos of my pickups, as soon as I have tested them and have some sound clips perhaps. That's all folks.
Markku Nyytäjä
 
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Jason Rodgers » Fri Mar 29, 2013 1:39 pm

I think it's cool that you took the time to build real guitars, so your pickups will have a real "environment" in which to test them. So, these are your own pickup recipes that you're testing?
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Sat Mar 30, 2013 9:56 am

Yes, Jason. Many of my pickups are my own design. I have not reinvented the wheel, I've seen many pickups similar to mine, but I have used unconventional magnets in some of these pickups. For instance using neodymium button magnets at the ends of steel slugs in humbuckers works nicely. When played as dual coil humbuckers they sound like powerful a little overwound humbuckers, even when they aren't overwound, due to the focused strong magnets. When split to single coils they don't sound like split humbuckers but like real Strat single coils.

I made a prototype set of these "Scumbuckers" last year for a guitar I was going to enter in the $100 Local Materials Challenge. I missed the deadline, but I finished the instrument. To keep the cost low I made the pickups from scratch, making the bobbins of forbon flatwork sheet and 5 mm steel bar slugs. The base plates were copper (a bit too soft). I wound the pickups to 8 kΩ (neck) and 9 kΩ. My guitar instructor bought the guitar and he loves the pickups. I have since then wound several sets of these pickups using standard humbucker bobbins and base plates. They sound pretty much the same as the prototypes but look nicer.

I've used neodymium magnets in several pickup models, both single and twin coils, both guitar and bass pickups. The first ones were a set of Jazz Bass pickups for a leftie bass I built for my son. Mostly I've used 3 mm thick 5 mm diameter buttons but also 12,5 mm long 5 mm rods in bass pickups. The magnetic pull of the rod magnets is so strong that it might dampen the vibration of thin guitar strings, but bass strings have enough mass to resist that. These rare earth magnets give the sound excellent clarity and definition combined with high output. I do like traditional AlNiCo magnets too, but discovering neodymiums has been quite enlightening for me.
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Jason Rodgers » Sat Mar 30, 2013 11:22 am

Do you put the neo magnets on the top or bottom of the rods?

Right now, getting into pickup construction is about a dozen projects down the list, but my stubborn DIY streak tells me that it will be done at some point. Your simple winding setup has shown me that it's not all rocket science, but you do need to acccount for a few parameters. My wife just had a sewing machine die, and she's given me permission to harvest the motor, so I'm officially putting pickup winder on the project list!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Sat Mar 30, 2013 12:58 pm

I put the magnets at the bottom ends of the rods and usually secure them with a couple of drops of CA glue. I also have an old sewing machine in the storage room waiting to be turned into a pickup winder. I bought it at a flea market for 5 €. I just don't know when I'll start the winder project. I have a long summer vacation, but I'm also building five electrics at the moment and planning to build my first acoustic steel string guitar next summer - or at least start the build.

I warmly recommend winding at least some of your own pickups. It's not that difficult at all once you get the hang of the correct winding speed and wire tension. It took me a while and some bad coils to get the routine, but it's like riding a bicycle. When you've learnt it, you're there. And it's fun noticing how good your pickups sound, knowing you've wound them yourself. When you wind by hand, each coil is automatically scatter wound and offers a better high end than even machine wound coils.

NYDE-Las-Tejanitas-01.jpg
These are my Texas Blues style high output Strat pickups "Las Tejanitas". You can see the neodymium button magnets at the bottom of one of the pickups. They make the pickup taller than AlNiCo rods would but no more than a ceramic bar magnet does. I make my Tejanita coils a bit taller than standard on purpose to room more windings.


Maybe we should move this discussion to the electronics section. What started out as a guitar build topic has steered itself to pickups. ;)
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Ben Castellana » Sat Mar 30, 2013 1:12 pm

Are you using a connector (Like what EMG offers on their pickups) for the wiring? I've always thought it would be a good way to quickly switch out pickups without having to mess with the control cavity. I haven't found a connector that I like, though.
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Mark Swanson » Sat Mar 30, 2013 1:24 pm

Neo magnets do work well but you have to watch it- it's easy to get magnets that are too powerful. I find it's best to try and match the same magnetic pull at the strings that you would get from an alnico magnet. I experimented with a jig that would hold a paper clip which was tied to a string near a magnet, and I would measure how much alnico magnet strength it would take to "float" the paper clip before it fell away. Then I'd match the two types of magnets. If you are going to test this way you would need to make sure that you use the metal rod too.
It is also important not to use TOO much metal in the coil. This affects the inductance. I made a pickup once with 1/4" rods, and it hummed like mad and it was simply because there was too much iron in the coil.
Also, you need to make sure each button magnet is glued to the rod with the correct polarity!
    Mark Swanson, guitarist, MIMForum Staff
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Sat Mar 30, 2013 3:45 pm

Mark, what you say is true. It's easy to go over the top from great to disastrous. I use small button magnets that, attached to 18 mm long 5 mm diameter steel slugs, have approximately the same magnetic pull as AlNiCo5 slugs. The output they produce is just slightly higher than what AlNiCo5 magnets give. With the same number of windings the sound is rather similar and I have had no hum issues different from those with traditional types of magnets. Grounding and shielding the pickups properly when installing them makes a lot of difference too.

I guess I've had a lot of luck with my experiments. The pickups I've wound with neodymium magnets have turned out good, but I have tried to stay in the middle of the road and not go to extremes. I also check the polarity with a compass (several times to be sure) and mark the magnets with red and blue markers for South and North. Common sense gets you pretty far even if you're not an expert in the field.
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Re: Pickup test guitar

Postby Markku Nyytäjä » Wed Apr 03, 2013 5:26 am

Ben, excuse me for not replying sooner. I don't have any connectors in my pickups. They come with traditional lead wires - single coils with two wires, humbuckers with four. Before I start winding any pickup I solder the AWG42 magnet wire to a thicker lead wire. I then put some nail polish on the solder joint to insulate it and leave it under the windings. What sticks out is the lead wire. I have tucked off so many spool start wires by mistake that this is the only way to secure that I don't. A thicker wire is also easier so solder to signal lead wires or eylets than the thin magnet wire.
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