Shop Talk: Pickup Lines

IHAVE A VINTAGE ORIGINAL 1973 FENDER TELECASTER Thinline (humbuckers) and I’m thinking about coil-tapping one or both of the pickups. I’m hoping this will make the guitar more versatile and maybe more Telecaster-sounding when the pickups are tapped. Will this significantly increase the versatility of my guitar and will it devalue the guitar significantly? In short, is it advisable or worth it to do this? Thanks. —Jesse, via email
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Adding coil-splits to that guitar will certainly increase its versatility and tonal variety. And, if you give each pickup its own split-switch (push/pull pots are the easiest, least invasive way to go), you will get a whole slew of new pickup combinations: both pickups split, one split with one full-humbucking, and individual single-coils. The tallest hurdle will be that most of those original Fender humbuckers were made with vintage, single-conductor, braided lead wire. This means that the two coils are internally hardwired in series (standard humbucking operation), and cannot be split without first having the pickups’ lead wires swapped for the standard 4-conductor type. In the case of vintage pickups, we recommend that people send them to our custom shop and have Seymour, or his Custom Shop manager MJ, change them. This leads us to the question of the guitar’s value. At this point, you have a 35- year-old instrument, and that qualifies as vintage. Any changes made to the original condition of a vintage instrument will certainly devalue it. Check with an appraiser for a specific estimate, but that model/year tends to sell from $2,000 to $8,000 depending on the condition. In this case, you would be changing the original wiring harness by adding push/pulls, and making internal changes to the pickups’ hook-up wires. You may want to consider the long-term value of the instrument before embarking upon a wiring mod that you don’t get to hear beforehand. Bottom line: Yes, it will add versatility, but my professional recommendation is to find a replacement pickguard that you can load with new pots & pickups, and go haywire with the wiring mods on that one. That way, you can store the original pickups, pickguard, and harness intact and keep them in original condition. —Scott Miller, Seymour Duncan.

I read the Back Page of the June issue of GP entitled “Humbuckers of the Holy.” The diagram doesn’t show a completed ground circuit, the volume and tone pots, 3-way switch, and output jack are not grounded to each other. All of my guitars (about two dozen) have all their metal parts grounded to each other. Was this just an oversight in your diagram or was there a reason for the lack of grounding? —Dave, via email

Great observation. You are correct that all potentiometers must be grounded. The reason those wires are not represented in the diagram is because it already looks like a big bowl of spaghetti, and adding the ground wires for the pots would take it from being a cool, usable wiring diagram, to being an overwhelming nightmare. Your comments are right on, however, and I will add a footnote to the diagram in the future. —Scott Miller, Seymour Duncan

In the June ’08 issue you detailed how to mod a Les Paul to split the humbuckers as well as put the pickups out of phase and in series. I was stoked to get my Ibanez SZ done up because I recently installed a set of Seymour Duncans, and I love the single-coil sound from the middle position. However, after my immediate joy I realized that I only have one tone pot on my guitar and not two, like a standard Les Paul. So my question is this: Is possible split both humbuckers and put the pickups out of phase with only one tone pot? If not, can I at least still split my humbuckers? —Derek Hay, Hepworth ON, Canada

No worries. You can still take advantage of the Jimmy Page mod with only three pots. What you will need to do is combine the two coil splits onto one push/pull. This is easy to accomplish as, in the standard fourpot version, each coil split only uses one side of its push/pull. Check out the diagram below for a quick visual of how it’s done. You will be removing the “coil-split” wires from the stock 3-way selector toggle in this case, which means the center position will now simply select both pickups, and the push/pull will determine whether they are full humbucking or split. —Scott Miller, Seymour Duncang