Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Balancing output with a humbucker

Using a simple resistor to match a single coil with a humbucker

It's a classic combination: a humbucker in the neck and a single coil in the bridge, but it can be a real challenge to keep that single coil from sounding too thin in comparison.  The problem arises for three reasons:

  1. humbuckers are naturally warmer and louder than single coils
  2. at the neck the string vibrates farther than at the bridge causing more bass and volume
  3. humbucker-equipped guitars usually come with 500K pots
The third reason is the one I'll be talking about first.  Typically humbuckers sound better with 500K pots and single coils sound better with 250K pots.  This is because single coils sound better with a little bit of the highs bled off to the ground, and humbuckers (being naturally dark) sound better wide open.  This Telecaster Custom (shown above) came with four 500K pots, one each for neck volume, neck tone, bridge volume and bridge tone.  This sounds fine for the humbucker but to give the bridge pickup a little more warmth we are going to use a resistor.  If you follow this link you'll find a wiring diagram for the American Telecaster HS.  Scroll down to the second page and you'll see two pots, a switch and a resistor leading from the hot lead of the bridge pickup to ground.  Scroll down to the third page and you'll see that these are 500K pots and a 270K resistor.  I didn't have a 270K resistor, so for the Telecaster Custom we are going to use a 220K in series with a 39K resistor to give us 259K.

I then covered the resistors with shrink tubing to prevent a short and soldered it between the ground and the first lug on the volume control where the hot lead for the bridge connects.  You can also see a high-pass filter soldered between the first and second lug of the volume control consisting of a .001 uF capacitor and a 150K resistor wired in parallel.

This gives you a more uniform blend of highs and lows when you turn down the volume control.  This trick works great on bridge and neck pickups and I use it on all of my guitars.

The final thing to do is adjust your pickup height.  You want your bridge pickup to be reasonably close to the strings without touching them.  Depress the first and sixth string at the last fret and raise the pickup until it is very close.  If the pickup sounds harsh and metallic then back off a touch.  The neck pickup should be adjusted all the way down to the pickguard and then raised until the volume of the two pickups is equal.