Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reverse Evolution

Converting a '90s Music Man StingRay Bass to a Precision Bass.

This is one of the more involved projects I've tackled in a while, but one I was rather excited to try. My friend, Tom, had a Music Man bass he wanted me to tinker with. He was happy with the action and playability of it but felt that the active pickup wasn't really the sound he was going for. He owned a Fender Precision Bass (P-Bass) and loved the sound of the split-single coil. I couldn't agree more, I've always thought that active pickups in a bass have kind of a funky Victor Wooten sound that I'm not really a fan of, I would much rather hear a split-coil pickup in that beautiful guitar. Plus, I hadn't yet had the chance to build a split-coil pickup, so I jumped at the chance.

Tom's bass was a perfect starting point for a great sounding guitar: ash body, bird's eye maple neck, good hardware, good tuners, it just needed a little work in the electronics department. I noticed that there was a large space in the pickguard where a P-Bass pickup could go.

I ordered a P-Bass router template and pickup kit from that included all of the parts for the pickup including Alnico V magnets, flatwork, covers, eyelets, and leads. I would also need a couple of 250k pots, a capacitor, and an output jack to convert the electronics from active to passive.
I tested the harmonics of the guitar by tuning to concert pitch (E-A-D-G) and gently running my finger up and down the string while plucking it and listening for harmonics. Then I placed the template so that both sides of the split coils would be directly under a couple of harmonic "sweet spots."

I used some double sided tape to attach the template to the pickguard (measuring and re-measuring many times to make sure I had it on straght) and then used a table router to make this totally custom pickguard.

By attaching the new pickguard to the body, I can trace the lines where the pickup rout will go, this ensures the holes in the body line up with the holes in the pickguard.

Using the same template attached with poster tape, I routed the pickup holes in the body.

Some black shielding paint will help keep interference away from the electronics.

Copper shielding tape on the back of the pickguard.

Winding the new pickup. I found that the kit was fairly priced ($16, not including coil wire) but leaves a couple details to be ironed out: the top flatwork didn't fit firmly enough to keep the bobbin together (had to use super glue) and the plastic covers didn't fit over the polepieces (had to use a Dremel).

Out like the 1990's: active electronics. It's out with the new and in with the old here at Schuyler Dean Guitars.

Here you can see I wired up a simple 1 volume 1 tone (250k pots) circuit for the split-coil. The two pots on the right are dummy pots to fill the place of where the active EQ used to be.

Once I had everything put back together I plugged it in and turned it on. We now have a unique-sounding bass with a little P-Bass growl. The pickup gives it lots of lows, a nice growl and crystal clear details. You can hear an MP3 sample that I recorded here or hit the play button on the player at the bottom of this post.

MP3 Sample

Friday, March 12, 2010

How to install Stratocaster pickups

So you've decided to upgrade your tone, great! One of the most exciting and satisfying modifications you can make to your Stratocaster is replacing the pickups. In this post I'll show you how it's done, you'll be surprised how easy it is.

Required tools:
soldering iron
wire cutters
wire strippers
phillips head screwdriver

Recommended tools:
tuning peg winder
electric tuner
electric drill driver

First, detach the strings from the tuners and lay them over the back of the guitar as shown.

Next, take all 11 screws out that hold the pickguard to the body, a drill driver makes this go much quicker.

You'll find there are 4 wires attached to the body (2 grounds and two leads to the input jack), leave these attached and rotate the pickguard back over the bridge as shown, this will make it easy to work on.

Working on one pickup at a time, carefully unsolder both leads from the pickup and remove from the pickguard by unscrewing the phillips head screws. Use the old leads to judge how long you need the new leads to be. Do all of your cutting and wire stripping before installing the new pickups. Carefully solder the new pickups to their appropriate places, if you get confused, you can find wiring diagrams here.

Once everything is wired up, reinstall the pickguard and the strings.

Plug in to your amp and play on a good clean channel in all 5 positions to make sure there are no phase issues. If you notice a big drop in lows and a weak tone in positions 2 or 4 you have phase issues and probably wired the middle pickup backwards. If you notice a volume difference in the three pickups, simply adjust the height of the pickups using the phillips head screws, the closer the pickup is to the string the louder it will be.

I hope this helps, if there are any other questions feel free to email me at