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 a pickup change in a guitar without a pick guard on it.
The pickups I will install are a DiMarzio BREED (DP166) in the bridge, a DiMarzio HS-2 (DP116) in the middle and a DiMarzio Pro Track (DP188) in the neck.
I will also change the volume pot to a 500 k Push/Pull potentiometer (EP1201PP) as a high pass filter when I pull it up.
The mini switch will be used for single-coil splitting of the neck and bridge humbuckers.
I will also put in a DiMarzio five way switch (EP1104) as a pickup selector.


The wiring I will use will give the following sounds:


Most parts of the job will be the same no matter what sort of wiring you want to do.
You just make different connections.
You can find different wiring diagrams on DiMarzio.com.
You can also find wiring diagrams for all Ibanez models here.


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. Let it freeze again undisturbed.


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, put on some great music in the stereo and go to work.

 

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1.
Here are the tools that I need to get the job done.
The dog is a Siberian Soldering dog and is by far the most important tool here; it just can't be done without one. He will help me out by stealing all my parts and will make strategic piercing holes in everything, when he gets a chance.

 

 

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2.
The first thing we need to do is to make sure that our soldering iron is in good shape. If you have an iron with a plated tip, just plug it in, warm it up, melt some solder on it, wipe it on a wet sponge, and you’re ready. If you have an iron with a solid copper tip that looks like the one in the picture, it needs a little work first. To make a good solder connection, you need a clean, shiny surface, not a dirty one. Don’t plug it in until you clean it.
We don't want to burn our guitar fingers.


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3.
Grab a metal file and work on the tip of the iron until it looks clean, flat and nice. Then plug in the iron and touch the solder to the tip. Hold it there until the iron heats up, and cover all the clean copper with fresh solder before it gets hot enough to tarnish. Wipe the tip on a wet sponge, then add a little more solder and you are ready to go to work.


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4.
This is the guitar that I will work on, an Ibanez RBM2NT.
The pickups in it now are great but I want to try something else.
I will put a DiMarzio BREED (DP166) in the bridge, a DiMarzio HS-2 (DP116) in the middle and a DiMarzio Pro Track (DP188) in the neck.
I will also change the volume pot to a 500 k Push/Pull potentiometer (EP1201PP) as a high pass filter when I turn the volume down.
The mini switch will be used for single-coil splitting of the neck and bridge humbuckers.
I will also put in a DiMarzio five way Strat-type switch (EP1104) as a pickup selector.


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5.
I need to remove the electronics cover plate on the guitar to get inside of it. So I remove all the screws holding it in place.


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6.
This is how it looks now. It might not look so bad in the picture but the inside of this guitar is the worst mess I have ever seen. There are loads of cables that are connected to nothing,
and big pieces of tape everywhere. I will just throw it all away.

Just clean it up as good as you can if you want to use the parts again.

 

 

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7.
I won’t keep any of the parts inside it so I'm not going to spend any time getting all the cables loose with the soldering iron. I'm just going to cut them all off. I’ll cut them as close to the hook up point as I can, so the pickup cables will stay as long as possible. I’ll start with all the cables that go to the switch.

If you are going to keep the switch and pots in your guitar, then take the soldering iron and gently heat up the soldering points until they let go of the wires.
But before you do anything, draw an easy diagram of where all the wires go before you start to loosen anything.


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8.
I have to make sure that I mark the wires coming from the output jack so I will know which one of them is the hot wire and which one is ground/earth. Hot is often the one going to the middle tap on the volume pot.

Make sure that there are no wires that come from the pickups that are still hooked up, and then flip the guitar over.

Go and see the guide about how to remove the tremolo (here) unless you want to cut your strings off.


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9.
I need to remove the volume and tone knobs if I have them.
I just pull them straight up (in the direction of the arrow). If they refuse to move, then help them on the way with an old pick or something, like I do in the picture.
Don't use something that will scratch the guitar.


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10.
Now I need to get the old pickups out of the guitar. Always start with the bridge one because the wires from that one are the easiest ones to get out first.
Loosen all the screws from the pickup mounting ring (green arrows) to get the bridge pickup loose.


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11.
I put a cover on the guitar (a piece of fabric will do fine) so I won’t scratch it, then I lay the pickup over to the side, like in the picture.

 

 

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12.
Then I slowly pull the cable out from the hole where the arrow is pointing.
If something stops it, turn the guitar over and see what it is. Don't just try to pull it out with force, or you might break the small wires inside the plastic jacket.


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13.
Then I remove the middle pickup the same way. Just unscrew the screws that the arrows are pointing at. Get the middle pickup out before you loosen the neck one so it won’t flop around and scratch the surface of the guitar.


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14.
Then I gently pull the cables out, the same way I did with the bridge pickup.
Everything has been taped up like mad inside this guitar so I need to remove all the tape before I can get the pickup out.


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15.
This is not the way you want it to look inside your guitar. If you have to use tape, use only small bits, but small wire ties and heat shrinking tubing are better things to use. Tape just gets everything sticky and nasty when it’s been in there for awhile.


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16.
This is the way it looks with all the pickups removed.

 

 

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17.
Next step is to remove the little gold pick guard that is on my guitar. Just skip this step if you don't have one.
I need to loosen all the pots and switches (everything that the arrows are pointing at) to be able to remove the pick guard.


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18.
I use an adjustable wrench to loosen the nut that holds the volume pot (and tone if you have one) in place. And I do the same with the mini switch.


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19.
Then I just push the pot down inside the guitar.


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20.
Then I loosen the two screws that hold the pickup switch in place and push that down into the guitar too.


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21.
Here is everything removed, except for the mini switch. But I will have to remove that too. The mini switch is the only part that I will reuse in the guitar.


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22.
If you are going to replace the volume/tone pots with new ones, check that they are the same diameter.
Ibanez always uses pots that are smaller than the DiMarzio pots that I will use.
You can see the difference in the picture.
The lower one is the Ibanez and it is 7 mm, and the DiMarzio is 9.5 mm.


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23.
What I need to do is to make the hole a little bigger.
I mask around the hole with tape so I won’t scratch the guitar when I work with it. Then I take a small round file and make the hole a little bigger.

MAKE SURE THAT YOU ONLY FILE DOWN, IN THE DIRECTION OF THE ARROW. DON'T LET THE FILE WORK ON THE WAY UP. This is very important if you have any sort of paint or varnish on your guitar or you might make the finish break off from the guitar if you file upwards.

Try the new pot to be sure that you made the hole big enough.


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24.
Now it's time to put the new pickups on the guitar.
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.


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25.
I have to install the neck pickup first. I need to get the cable from it through the hole in the body, between the neck pickup hole and the middle pickup hole (where the arrow is pointing).


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26.
Then I push the cable through the hole between the middle and bridge pickup too.


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27.
Then we need to put the screws that hold the pickup onto the guitar body into the two holes where the arrows are pointing. I have put a bit of fabric under the pickup so I won’t scratch the guitar while I’m working with the pickup.


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28.
First I push the screw through the hole on the pickup, all the way in. Then I put the pickup spring (the spring that makes it possible to adjust the pickup height later on) onto the screw, the way it is in the picture.


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29.
I hold the pickup so the spring won't fall off from the screws when I put it in place. Then I gently turn the screws until I feel that they are threading down into the old holes. And then I screw it down far enough so the pickup stays there.


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30.
My middle pickup has five loose wires so I will put a little bit of heat shrink tubing over the end of all of them to hold them together. This will make it a lot easier to get them through the holes in the guitar body.


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31.
Something like this. (The stupid camera focused on the wrong place, but you get the picture anyway)..


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32.
I put the cable through the holes the same way as we did with the neck pickup.


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33.
Then I screw that pickup down into the wood the same way I did with the neck pickup (don't forget the springs).


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34.
I put the cables from both the neck and the middle pickup down into the last hole (where the arrow is pointing). I need to have the cables out of the way to be able to install the bridge pickup.


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35.
This is the way it should look. Compare that to picture 11-15 and you have to admit that this looks a lot nicer.


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36.
The cable from the neck and the bridge pickup will look exactly the same from the other side of the guitar. So I mark the bridge pickup cable with a yellow cable tie before I put it in the guitar. (Your guitar might explode if your cable tie is any color other than yellow). This is just to get the right pickup wired to the right place.


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37.
Then put that into the same hole as the other cables.


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38.
I just lay the pickup down in the hole when I have the whole cable in. It helps to pull on the cables from the back of the guitar


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39.
Okay, all the pickups are in place. I just have to screw the bridge pickup mounting ring back on and I’m ready to do some soldering.


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40.
Here you can see all the cables coming out in the back of the guitar. You can easily tell the neck pickup from the bridge one with help from the little cable tie.


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41.
Here is the wiring diagram that I will use in this guitar.

All the steps will be the same no mater what configuration you want to use. You just solder the wires to different places. Just follow the diagram you have chosen and do the soldering job the same way I do here.


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42.
I will start by soldering the switch, pot and mini switch together before I install them in the guitar, just because it's so much easier to work with the soldering iron outside of the guitar than it is inside the guitar.
I use a small vise to hold things when I solder them, just so I can have both of my hands free to work with.


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43.
I will start by soldering a hot (the wire that will be the split from my bridge and neck humbuckers) and a ground/earth wire to the mini switch.
The wire that goes to it has to be soldered to two places, as you can see in the picture. So I strip a little longer bit of the wire so it reaches both points.


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44.
This is the way I strip my cables. It would be a lot better and easier if I had a stripper that was made for it. But I don't own one, so this will do.
I gently hold the cable with pliers and strip the jacket with a wire cutter.


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45.
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 parts you are working with, clean the soldering tip on a wet piece of cloth or sponge.


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46.
Then 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.


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47.
Here I have soldered the wire in place. The left solder joint looks a little rough so after it cools, I will melt a little more solder onto it to make a smooth and nice connection.
But these mini switches don’t like the heat from the iron too much so heat it as little as possible.


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48.
Then I solder the split wire onto two of the other points too.
I also cut the extra wire that was sticking out so it’s the right length.
Make sure that the solder joints are okay and that everything has contact only where it should.


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49.
All the wires that go to the mini switch are done and now I will hook up the main switch.
I have put the switch in the vise and I will solder all the wires that should be hooked up to it. The only things that I will connect later, inside the guitar, are the pickup wires.


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50.
This is just a close up picture on the soldering at the switch. You don't need any more solder than that.
I push the wire through the hole on the switch and bend it around it so it stays there, which gives me both hands free to do the soldering.


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51.
Here are all the cables connected to the switch. So now I will hook that and the mini switch up to the push/pull pot.


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52.
The order in which you connect things won’t make a difference, but I start with the ground/earth wire that goes from the third terminal on the pot to the ground point as the white wire goes in the picture.

Everything inside the guitar has to be hooked up to a common ground, which I have decided will be the chassis on the volume pot. I hook ground/earth from the output jack and from the bridge to the same point.


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53.
When you roll the volume knob down on a guitar you will notice that a little bit of the treble in your sound is lost. I will use the switch of the push/pull pot to make a high pass filter when I lift it up.
I do this by installing a 330 pF capacitor so it connects when I pull the push/pull pot out.
It will still be normal sound when the push/pull pot is down.
Different values on the cap (capacitor) will change how much or how little treble you will have.


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54.
Here is how it will look when it is soldered in place. Then I gently cut the excess wire off the cap. I 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 make the guitar go totally silent.


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55.
Okay, all the pot and switches are hooked up and ready to be installed in the guitar.
The arrow shows that I'm using the side of the push/pull pot as a ground/earth point where I hook up the ground/earth from the two switches.


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56.
I gently put it down inside the guitar. Just handle it carefully so you won’t break any of the wires.


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57.
I put the big 5-way pickup selector switch in first. I hold it in place with my fingers while I screw it down, holding the guitar on its side.


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58.
Then I do the same thing with the mini switch.


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59.
There is one wire missing from the push/pull pot that I will install now.
The reason is that one of the connections is going to be together with the hot wire from the output jack. The hot wire is going to be connected to two places on the pot (where the arrows point) so I will take a short bit of wire and connect the two points with it.
I have soldered it down on the first connection point in the picture.


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60.
Then I twist it together with the hot wire from the output jack and solder it down to the second solder point.


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61.
Then I install the pot in the guitar.
Make sure that you use the toothed washer that the arrow is pointing at. That will keep the pot from moving when you turn the volume knob later on.


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62.
Everything is screwed down in place, and the only thing left is to hook up the pickups to the switch and to ground/earth. Then we are done!


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63.
I will twist all the grounds from all the pickups together to one big connection. The green arrow is pointing at it, where I have twisted the bridge and output jack ground/earth together.
So I will just add all the pickups’ ground/earth and green wires to that as I move along.


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64.
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/earth 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.


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65.
This is the way I strip off the plastic jacket to get to the wires inside.
I use a sharp little knife. You can feel the resistance from the metal film inside and try to not cut through that. We just want to open the plastic and we only need a small little cut in it.


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66.
Then you just pull the jacket off like this. Strip it enough so the wires will reach both to the volume pot and the switch (3-4 cm should be okay).


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67.
I will install all the wires from one pickup (except for the ground/earth and the green wire that I will twist up to all the other ground/earth wires) before I start with the next pickup.
Make sure to check with the wiring diagram that you get everything to the right place.


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68.
Here are all the wires that should go to ground/earth soldered together to one big soldering point. I will just solder that down onto the chassis of the volume pot.
This way I will only have one common ground instead of having loads of different soldering points.


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69.
Here it is soldered down in place.
This was the last soldering we had to do, and the work is done. Now I just put all the wires down in the guitar, and I make sure that nothing touches anything that it shouldn’t.

Then just put the cover plate back on and put the volume knob back on the pot.
If you don't trust yourself that you’ve got it all soldered to the right place, just 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.


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70.
Okay, the finished guitar. The tremolo is back on and the guitar is ready to rock. Everything is working just the way I intended it to and I'm happy with the sound.

Now I will just adjust the pickup heights until I get an even volume between the neck and the bridge pickup. Pickup height is a matter of taste. There are no specific rules to follow.
Try to screw them up and down and see what difference it makes in the sound you get.

Just make sure that you don’t get them too close to the strings or you might get problems with magnetic string pull that will make the guitar sound out of tune and kill the sustain.


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