Monday, December 30, 2013

Canceling Tele hum on the cheap

For more than 50 years, the Fender Telecaster has been manufactured pretty much the same way. It's trademark sound is one of raw, gutsy tone with sharp attack and great clarity. Because of it's simplicity and honesty, it is perhaps the best way to showcase a pair of single coil pickups. One of the drawbacks of true single coils is their hum which guitar makers have been trying to fix for decades. Since the Telecaster's design was perfected rather early on in electric guitar history (1950) it is one of the only dual pickup guitars that did not have hum-canceling capabilities, and it still doesn't today. Most of the time the two pickups are made reverse-wound/reverse-polarity so that when they are used in combination (the middle position of your pickup selector) they will cancel the hum. The telecaster design has been pretty much left alone because so many players love the trademark sound and especially the sound you get when the neck and bridge pickup are played together. For a lot of players that is more important than "bucking" the hum, but for you it might be more important to have a quiet setting on the guitar. Here I will show you how to cheaply and easily buck the hum on a standard Telecaster. 

As we just discussed, most Tele pickups are wound the same direction and charged with the same polarity facing up, making them non-humbucking, so all you need to do is switch the leads and reverse the polarity on one pickup. You can test the polarity by holding a compass up to the top of the pickup as shown below. Opposites attract, so this pickup is charged SOUTH UP (fig. 1).

fig. 1

Reversing the leads on a pickup is a simple operation with a soldering iron, but charging the magnets will be a little more tricky.  Especially since most vintage, and vintage-reissue Telecasters have a copper-plated steel baseplate on the bridge and a chrome cover on the neck pickup, which is soldered to the ground of the guitar.  

Modern American Standard bridge pickups, like the one shown below, do not have a baseplate, and are changed NORTH UP (fig. 2), so here I will remove the pickup and charge it SOUTH UP.

fig. 2

This can be done with a pair of 1" rare earth magnets from Steward-Macdonald ($8.57 each).  These are extremely strong magnets that will successfully charge Alnico polepieces like in my pickups here.  They will also successfully erase hard drives like in you iPhone or MacBook, so keep them away from all computerized equipment.  You can see the magnetic field you are dealing with by holding it to a compass .  It is attracting the NORTH needle, so this is the SOUTH pole of the magnet (fig. 3).

fig. 3

Charge the pickup polepieces by moving them back and fourth between the rare earth magnets.  The magnets will change magnetic fields of weaker magnets to what they are most attracted to, so a SOUTH pole with charge pickup polepieces to be NORTH.  Rare earth magnets will hold themselves to the jaws of a vice.  Label the side that will charge magnets to be North as I have done below (fig. 4).

fig. 4

Adjust the jaws so that the magnets are as close as possible to the polepieces but still allow the pickup to pass freely.  Move the pickup through the jaws of the vice a few times and it is fully charged.  Reinstall the pickup with the leads reversed.  Positive leads are usually white or yellow and in this case would be soldered to the ground (the back of the potentiometer), negative leads are usually black, blue or green and in this case would be soldered to your switch.  

If this pickup had a metal baseplate (fig.5) or a cover it would be a little more difficult to charge the magnets but sill possible.  It would require disconnecting the negative (ground) lead from the baseplate or cover and running a separate ground wire from the baseplate to the back of the potentiometer.  Then, special care must be taken to break the hold of the potting wax and remove the baseplate or cover without damaging the coil.  Then you can charge the magnets.  

fig. 5

Now you have a hum-canceling mode on your Tele without effecting the tone of the bridge or the neck pickup!

Monday, August 19, 2013

'62 Strat pickup repair

This morning I had in my shop a bridge pickup from a 1962 Fender Stratocaster.  The pickup was not producing any sound when installed in the guitar and when hooked up to a mulitmeter, showed no resistance.  This means that there is an open circuit somewhere between the positive and the negative lead wires.  It is important to be very careful when working on this type of vintage gear in order to preserve the original tones of the guitar, so a number of steps were taken to carefully diagnose the source of the problem.

First, upon removing the cover I could see that this pickup uses Formvar wire, a common wire of the period, which gives it that coppery look.  There is a thin layer of wax on the pickup meaning it was at some point wax potted.

I could see that the wire leading to the black, negative wire is leading to the center of the bobbin and the wire leading to the white, positive, wire is coming from the outside.  This means that the wire was wound onto the pickup in a clockwise direction. If you point your finger at the left eyelet where the black lead wire is connected and then follow the wire on a path around the magnetized poles about 8,000 times and then end at the right eyelet you can see that this pickup was indeed wound in a clockwise direction.

When I oriented a magnetometer over the poles I could see that this pickup is South up with an average of 27 gauss.  A bit too much magnetism for a bridge pickup for my taste, but in the interest of preserving originality I left the magnets alone.

Next I inspected the condition of the actual Formvar wire and I could see that there was no visible damage.  My next step was to heat up the solder on the eyelets and add a little bit more solder.  This connection can get dirty over the years and cause a bad connection.

Eureka!!  After doing that I tested the resistance again and sure enough this pickup is reading about 5.44 thousand ohms of resistance, just right.  I am done and the original tone of the pickup is preserved.

If heating up the eyelets had not worked my next step would have been to disconnect the finish and unwind a few coils to try to find a break.  As a last resort I would have removed all of the old wire and solder, rewound the pickup with vintage-spec wire and waxed it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What happened to Sklar Guitars?

Well, nothing really.  It's still the same company, it's just now called Schuyler Dean Pickups.  I thought this would more accurately describe what I do and who I am.  Having an alter ego is fun, but sometimes confusing, and that's what "Sklar" was, an alter ego, a nickname, which I may still use when naming specific pickups, who knows. 

Schuyler (pronounced sky-ler) is my given name and I am proud of it even though it trips people up with the pronunciation sometimes.  But it is much harder to explain that, "My name is Schuyler and it is pronounced Skyler and the name of my company is Sklar which is pronounced the way it is spelled." 

And I also dropped "guitars" from the name because most of what I do is having to do with the electronics, specifically the pickups.

But I am still making pickups and enjoying every minute of it and you can call or email to talk about what kind of sound you are going for in your setup, or you can stop by and visit my at my other job at Cole Hardware in San Francisco.