Here I will try to explain how to change your pickups.
It is a hard subject to show in a format
like this because there are an infinite number of ways to do it.
So I will walk you through the steps of doing standard wiring on
a guitar with a DiMarzio five-way EP1104 Strat switch. The guitar
has humbuckers in the bridge and neck position and a single coil
in the middle.
The wiring I will use here will give us the following sounds:
1. Neck humbucker in series for max power.
2. Neck humbucker split together with middle single
3. Middle single coil alone.
4. Bridge humbucker split together with the middle
5. Bridge humbucker in series for max power.
This setup uses a reverse magnetic polarity single-coil, which gives
you pretty good hum canceling in positions 2 and 4. If you are using
a standard polarity pickup in the middle, you must reverse its black
and white wires to keep the pickup in phase with the humbuckers,
and it will not be hum canceling in positions 2 or 4. With either
polarity of middle pickup, positions 1 and 5 are always hum canceling,
and position 3 is not hum canceling.
There are loads of variations on this that we could do, combinations
with push/pull pots and mini switches or just hooking up the humbucker
in parallel for example.
I think this is a good way to wire up an H-S-H guitar, to get the
most useful sound combinations from it.
Most parts of the job will be the same no matter what sort of wiring
you want to do. You just solder the wires differently.
You can find different wiring diagrams on DiMarzio.com.
You can also find wiring diagrams for all Ibanez models here.
Changing pickups is a fast and easy job.
This whole process took about 30 minutes (excluding the time to
take all the photos).
The guitar I will work with has had its pickups changed many times
so it will look a little messy on the pots and the switch. I’m
not going to spend too much time on making the wiring and soldering
look super nice but I’ll just concentrate on making it work
You can spend a little more time on every step and make it look
really clean and nice if you want to.
I strongly recommend that you use the right
tools for the job.
You should use a 25 to 40 watt soldering iron, but a 25 watt iron
is best. Use only electronic grade rosin core solder, never acid core solder or acid flux.
You can easily destroy your switches and pots by using a high power
soldering iron or gun, which makes the parts too hot. You can even
cause damage with a 25 watt iron if you keep the connections hot
for too long.
Before you touch the soldering iron to the work, clean the soldering
tip on a wet piece of cloth or sponge and melt a very short length
of solder (5 mm or less) onto the tip. The fresh solder will help
carry the heat from the solder tip into the work quickly. Add a
little more solder to the connection if necessary to make a good,
smooth joint, and then remove the solder tip from the work and let
the melted solder freeze without disturbing it.
If your solder joints look bumpy, wrinkled or dull, or if you move
the wires while the solder is going from liquid to solid, this can
cause problems down the road with buzzes, crackling noises or intermittent
failure. If you make a bad joint, wait for it to cool down, then
re-heat it with a little new solder until it's smooth and shiny.
I also really recommend that you try to go through all the different
sounds that you can get from a humbucker pickup, series, parallel
and split, just to get an idea of what they sound like, so you can
find the ones you like the best. This will make it much easier to
decide which wiring diagram you should use.
So, lets put a great Allan CD in the stereo and lets go to work.
Here is the guitar that I will change pickups in. It’s an Ibanez RG1550.
I'm happy with the sound of the middle and neck pickups, so I will
only change the bridge one. But I will re-wire the whole guitar
and cut all the cables down so they won’t be longer then they
need to be, to make it look less like a bird’s nest inside
the guitar. Keeping the wires short also helps to reduce noise.
I will also flip the neck pickup around 180 degrees to get the coils
I want in the right place when the pickup is split.
See more about that in sections 18 and 28.
I do the wiring a little differently if I know that the pickups
will stay in the guitar or if I'm just trying something new. I have
already tried out what pickups this guitar sounds the best with,
so the wiring I will do now is permanent. These pickups will stay
I will have a DiMarzio PAF Joe in the neck, DiMarzio
FS-1 in the middle and a DiMarzio Air Zone in the bridge. The switch inside the guitar is a DiMarzio
five-way Strat switch (EP1104) and the pots are DiMarzio
500k custom taper potentiometers (EP1201).
The switch in your guitar might look different and might have to
be hooked up differently, so if you feel unsure how your switch
is wired, you could get the same as mine and hook it up the same
way I do or you could figure out your switch based on the way it
is hooked up when you open the guitar.
This guitar has a pick guard so I need to remove the strings before
I can do any work inside the guitar. See the guide for how to remove
your tremolo without cutting your strings off.
If you have a guitar without pick guard, then you get to the inside
of the guitar by removing the plastic cover plate on the back of
the guitar, but you still need to get the strings off to be able
to change the pickups.
After you have the strings removed and out of the way, unscrew all
the screws holding the pick guard in place. There are 10
screws on all Ibanez RG shape guitars,
but it will be the same procedure on any guitar. An electric screwdriver
makes the job so much faster (am I lazy or just modern?).
Then you just lift the pick guard up from the guitar, but take it
easy so you don't pull any wires off or you won’t know where
they should go.
I want to get the whole pick guard away from the guitar so I wont
Turn the pick guard upside down, like this, so you can see where
all the wires go.
You can put a piece of fabric under the pick guard so you won’t
scratch the guitar.
Now take a paper and a pen and draw a picture of where all the little
wires go, and you could also download and print out a wiring diagram
There is no way that you can remember how it's all hooked up, so
make sure to draw a diagram before you go any further. It won’t
have to be anything fancy looking, just make sure that you understand
it yourself. You can also turn it into a modern art masterpiece
and put it on the wall.
The next step is to remove the pick guard from the guitar because
it makes it so much easier to work with and you won’t scratch
the guitar. So we need to remove the ground (earth) wires (green
arrows) and the output jack wires (blue arrows).
Here is another angle to show you the wires I mean.
Grab the wires with one hand and the cool end of the soldering iron
with the other and heat up the solder until the wire comes free.
Don’t pull it out, just let it slide off when it is warm enough.
Always make sure that no wires come in contact with the soldering
iron or it might make the plastic insulation melt.
Make sure that you read the part about using the right tools at
the start of this guide before you start soldering in your guitar.
Here is an angle showing where the input wire goes on the volume
White wire goes to “out” from the volume pot and silver
goes to ground (earth).
Remove them the same way you did with the ground (earth) wires.
Try to heat things up quickly, but cook the parts as little as possible,
just enough so the solder melts and lets go of the wires.
Now we can remove the pick guard from the guitar.
You can see in this picture that it sort of looks like a bird’s
nest inside this guitar. All the cables are way too long.
So I will change the bridge pickup and cut all the other cables
so I can remove the excess wire.
Again, if you’re not sure that the pickups will stay in the
guitar then don’t cut the cables short.
It will only make it hard to fit into another guitar if you make
the cables too short.
The first thing I do is remove the bridge pickup. So start by removing
all the wires from the pickup with the soldering iron. It should
be easy to follow what cables they are.
I also want to clean up the inside of this guitar, so I will remove
all the wires from all the other pickups too. But if you only want
to change one pickup and leave the others as they are, just jump
down to step 18.
Then we take the pickup away from the pick guard. So we can install
the new one.
You do that by unscrewing the two pickup height adjustments screws
that are holding the pickup in place (blue arrows).
This is the way it will look with all the pickup wires removed.
I have left all the wires that are hooked up to the switch, the
volume and tone knob as they are.
But you can remove and redo them to if you want to make it look
Now we have the old pickup loose and the new one in the box.
Take the new one out and put the old one in the box so it won’t
You will need the old pickup’s springs, so don’t put
them in the box.
This is a very hard step so make sure that you know what you’re
Here is what you find in the pickup box.
Hopefully the pickup, height adjustment screws, a pickup instruction
and a warranty card (I think this goes for all brands of pickups,
if not, then shame on them).
Read through the pickup instruction to get an idea of how your pickup
can be wired.
Now let’s put the new pickup onto the pick guard. Just hold
it the way I do in the picture and push the spring up on the screw
(in the direction of the arrow) with the pickup. Then try to get
the screw to grip in the pickup’s screw hole (No, you naughty
man. Not there!). This can be a little annoying until you figure
out how to do it.
It can end with you running around the room, trying to find the
little spring after it takes off on you.
Before we cut the cables to their right length, make sure to strap
(or tape) them together like I have done on the picture. This will
save your nerves when you try to put the pick guard back on the
guitar again. Look at the picture below to see what I mean. The
wires are supposed to follow the channels in the body so it really
helps to have them strapped in the right place.
But wait, before you strap it up. In this picture, the neck pickup
has to be turned around (180 degrees) in order for it to use the
coil closest to the middle pickup when we split the neck pickup
together with the middle pickup. Just loosen the screws and flip
the pickup around (so the cable that comes out from the pickup comes
from the other side of the pick guard, like the green line shows)
and put it back on again.
See section 28 for more about this.
Here you can clearly see where the cables should go. And that’s
why we want to strap them up; it will make getting it all back together
a whole lot easier.
Now it's time to cut the wires to the right length.
Again, if you’re not sure that the pickups you are installing
are the ones you will keep there, then don't cut the wires too short.
Leave them long so you can install the pickup somewhere else when
you take it out. It is very annoying to have pickups with wires
But I'm sure that these pickups will stay here, so I make the wires
just long enough to go where I want them to and there are two ways
you can do this.
Make them just long enough that they will reach everywhere you want
them inside the guitar. Then strip a little more of the plastic
jacket on the cable so it can reach both to the switch and the volume
The second way is to cut them so they just reach to the volume pot
and then extend the wires that go to the switch. That is what I
will do in this guitar.
Before we start to open the cables to get to the wires, let me just
show what the cable is and what you will find in there. So here
is a photo of a pickup cable.
First you have the plastic jacket around everything (blue arrow).
Under that is a thin metal film (red arrow) that works as a shield
from outside noise interference.
Under that are the silver ground wire (yellow arrow) and a plastic
film (green arrow) around the rest of the wires.
And finally, you have the actual lead wires (brown arrow) inside
the plastic on each wire.
You can read more about the different wires in the pickup instruction
paper. It will tell you what they are and what they do and how you
can achieve more sounds from wiring them in different ways.
Use a small, sharp knife to open the plastic jacket on the cable.
Be careful so you don’t cut too deep and into the wires underneath.
You can feel the resistance from the shield layer, so don't cut
Just make a small cut like this. Just so you can open the plastic
a little bit.
I have opened the shield layer too in this picture, it makes is
a little easier to remove.
Then you just pull the jacket off like this. I don't have to strip
it very far for the way I will do the wiring in this guitar.
I just stripped the jacket for 2.5 cm from the end.
Remove the shield layer and the thin plastic film too like I have
done in the picture.
This is the wiring diagram we will follow when we start to hook
Take a look at it so you get a picture in your head of where the
wires should go.
If you are having problems with reading the wiring diagram, then
here is how it should be wired up.
Red from bridge pickup to switch point 1.
Black from middle pickup to switch point 2.
Red from neck pickup to switch point 3.
Black & White from bridge pickup to switch point 6 (these are
the wires that will split the pickup).
Black & White from neck pickup to switch point 8. (these are
the wires that will split the pickup).
Switch point 7 should go to ground.
Look at the picture below to see what I mean by “switch point”
and what numbers they are.
Here is a close up of the switch. It shows you what switch points
I'm not going to go too deeply into the workings of the switch,
but it is a good idea to get a basic understanding of how it works
so you can come up with your own wirings and most of all, so you
can figure out how a switch that looks different from this one will
The switch will make contact with different switch points depending
on what position the switch is in. And for the wiring we will do
now, the switch points will do this:
The first position (with the switch all the way down) will be point
1 only. That gives us the bridge pickup in series.
The next position will be switch points 1, 2 & 6. 1 gives the
bridge pickup, 2 gives the middle pickup and 6 are the wires that
will split the bridge pickup, so we only get one of the coils from
it (in this case the one closest to the middle pickup).
The next position will be switch point 2 only. That gives us the
middle pickup alone.
The next position will be switch points 3, 4 & 8. 3 gives the
middle pickup, 4 gives the neck pickup and 8 is the split for the
neck pickup. You can choose which coil you want, the one closet
to the middle pickup or the one closest to the neck by turning the
pickup around. So turn the pickup around (180 degrees) from the
way it is in picture 18 to get the coil that it is closest to the
The last position (switch all the way up) will be switch point 4
only. That gives the neck pickup in series.
It's hard to explain without writing a book, but I hope you get
the picture of how it works.
I will extend the wires that need to reach the switch by soldering
them together with a piece of the wire we cut off before. Cover
the extension with heat shrink tubing. It will be something like
what you can see on the picture. The black and white wires are soldered
together with a wire and covered with heat shrink tubing.
We don’t want the connections to come in contact with anything
inside the guitar or it might short circuit the guitar. It’s
not dangerous, but it will be totally silent.
Here is how I do it. I soldered the black & white together with
an extra piece of wire.
Then I cover the exposed part of the wire with heat shrink tubing
and heat it up with the soldering iron. I could also cover it with
plastic tape, but I think tubing works better.
The reason we do this, like I said before, is so we won't allow
any of the metal from the wires to come in contact with anything
inside the guitar (except for on the switch, where we want it to
We do this with all the wires that need to be extended: the black
& white and the red one from both neck and bridge pickup. You
can also see in the picture that I have soldered all the pickup
grounds together (blue arrow).
Now we start to actually solder it to the guitar.
A good trick to hold the ground wires in place while you solder
them is to hold them down with a screwdriver, like I do in the picture.
That will make sure that the wires don’t move when you take
the soldering iron away.
Then we hook up all the wires that should go to the switch.
Look at the wiring diagram so you get it right. It’s annoying
to have to redo it because you soldered the wires to the wrong place.
I don't solder anything until I'm sure that all the wires will be
the right length.
So I just put the wires through the holes in the switch and bend
them around it so they stay there (blue arrow).
When you know that everything will fit, solder them all down. Make
sure they only connect where they should, or the guitar might give
you some unexpected sounds or just be dead when you put the strings
A close up of the soldering. A small little bit of solder will do
Don’t overheat it so you set the switch on fire. You can save
that sort of stunt for your live shows.
Here is how the switch looks from the other side when all the wires
are in place.
So the last soldering job is to get the wires from the output jack
and the ground back again. Just solder them to the place that you
removed them from.
Then just put the pick guard back on the guitar. If you don't trust
yourself that you got it all soldered to the right place, then plug
the guitar into an amp and see if everything works before you put
the strings back on. Just tap gently on the pickups to see if they
work when you flip the switch to all of its positions.
The last thing to do before you are ready to go out and play with
your new pickups is to adjust the pickup height. There are no rules
that say you have to have your pickups 22.3 miles away from your
strings, or it will sound like shit.
But it makes a big difference in what sound you get from the guitar,
so try to play around with it until you find where it sounds best
You might find that you get string pull from the magnets if you
get the pickup too close to the strings. Magnetic string pull will
make notes sound off key and kill the sustain in the guitar.
The thing you normally want to achieve is an even balance between
the neck and the bridge pickup, so they are even in volume when
you flip the selector switch. But it could also be set up for as
much volume difference as you want if you always use one pickup
for lead and the other one for rhythm playing.
Just play around with it until you find something that will work
The picture shows roughly how close to the strings my pickups are.
It will have to be fine tuned when I actually start to play the
guitar, but they will be around this distance.