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Repair Tips


A photo tutorial on doing a headstock repair

A photo tutorial on doing a fret level and recrowning job

A photo tutorial on doing a refretting job

Installing a pickup in a finished body a how to photo essay on routing a finished body to accept a pickup, in this case a humbucker...

Repair/maintenance essays at Project guitar.com

Working on a hollowbody: attach dental floss or heavy thread to pots/switches/jack prior to pulling them out through pickup hole, Makes it much easier to get them back in place.

Nut slots too deep: Take a course file and file the top of the nut 1/2 the distance you want to raise the slots. Catch the filings on a piece of paper. Tape both sides of the nut with masking tape and then fill the slots with the filings. Soak the filings with thin superglue. Press into place with a toothpick. When dry, refile the slots. The slots should be made so the string sits in about 1/2 to 3/4 thier diameter. Slots should be wider, and taper downwards on tuner side. Square slots are acceptable.

Nut slotting feeler guages: Need an inexpensive and accurate way to cut nut slots? Get a set of feeler guages, clamp them together in a vise and file teeth into them. You can now use them as nut files w/ unlimuted width selection! Tip submitted by Harold Wyman (thanks!)

Cutting a nut: Theres a good photo essay on the guitar notes site (acoustic) on making a nut. see links page

Tuning Instabily: Problems with tuning stability are almost always cuased by improper tuning technique (always tune UP to the note) or a binding nut. (There are RARE occasions where the string isn't seating correctly at the bridge, and we're not considering problems with set up regarding a tremolo) Even the cheapest geared tuners don't "slip" as a rule. If a geared tuner is failing it will make a "poping" type of sound as the gear jumps teeth. If the gears are loose, it is possible to pull a string flat with extensive (excessive?) use of a tremolo. If notes are going sharp it is due to the nut binding. What happens is excessive tension builds up between the tuner and the nut in order to overcome the binding. Then as you play the vibration of the string allows it to wiggle through the slot equalizing the tension, and making the string sharp. See above for info on a binding nut. If a fretted note is sharp it is an indication that the nut slots are not deep enough (or excessive presure with high frets/ scalloped or worn fretboard). If a string is going flat, it is always bridge related. Either a problem with the string seating fully (common w/ trapeeze tailpieces and ball ends in vintage tremolos (the reason they came up w/ bullet ends)) or binding on a rough saddle/ the edge of the trem block. Again, it is possible to cause a tuner to back off with extream tremolo, but rare.

Shimming a neck: The best shims are one piece and the full size of the neck pocket. For this veneer from the hardware store works well. However, it is very hard to get an even taper on these. The next best option is to use masking tape. Masking tape is paper which is wood fiber so it's almost as good as a solid shim, and much better than the smaller shims which leave large gaps which impedes the transfer of vibration, and could cause problems later on. To make a tape shim, lay strips of tape side by side perpendicular to neck, and add layers to provide the taper. i.e. stripe 1- 1 layer, stripe 2- 2 layers, stripe 3- 3 layers. Place the neck in the pocket, mark outline of pocket, and trim just inside outline.

Stripped holes: small holes without much tension on them (i.e. pickguard screws) can be repaired with super glue (gel stuff). Put some glue in the hole and screw the screw in about 1/2 way. The glue will not stick to the plated screw, and will form threads. More severely stripped holes or holes w/ more tension on them (i.e. strap button screws) require pieces of toothpick be glued in w/ wood glue. Larger holes w/ alot of tension (i.e. neck mounting screws) require the hole be drilled out and a hardwood dowel glued in place.

Enlarging/ Drilling Holes: Often required to upgrade tuners, or occasionally to change control pots. Enlarging a hole in wood seems simple enough, and it is. But it's also an easy way to ruin the finish of the guitar and worse. The problem is because there is no wood in the center of the hole, the edges pull upwards instead of cutting. It often results in large ammounts of chipout or worse. The answer is to run the drill BACKWARDS. This will ream the hole out without the risk of chipping. If the hole needs to be made significantly larger, it is often best to use a bit one size up from the desired hole size and run it backwards till the drill has gone just below the surface. Now you can drill the desired size hole normally relatively safely. The washers or dress rings will hide the slightly larger starting bevel that remains. Whenever possible, drill half way through from both sides or clamp a "backer board" in place. Do NOT use much pressure on the drill, let it do the work, excess pressure is usually due to dull bits, and almost always results in some king of damage. If you must drill through the finish where there is no hole use the same method as described for significantly increasing the size of a hole, but apply masking tape over where the hole will be drilled prior to starting.

Shop Built Sanding Tube: Here's a simple sanding block to make for sanding inside curves. Cut two pieces of pvc pipe to the desired length. Take one piece and cut it lengthwise so it is slightly more than half round.

Now just wrap the paper around the 3/4 section, and snap it around the whole piece.

I used 1-1/2" pipe and wound up with a final size of 2-1/4"

Paint chips and cracked binding: Common on older instruments. Over time these openings will collect sweat, polish, and dirt, causing discoloration, lifting of the edges, and further deterioration. It is best to clean these spots w/ naptha (lighter fluid)or alchohol, remove any loose edges around the chips before cleaning (they will be holding polish and grime preventing the glue from working), then seal the chips and cracks with thin superglue. Super glue can be heated in the microwave for a few seconds (plastic bottles) to make it flow better. Drop Filling is a technique for filling chips with paint. This is covered at the ReRanch site.

Never clean a guitar with a solvent stronger than naptha or alcohol. Acetone will eat laquer in a matter of seconds!

Always use the smallest tool that fits the job (i.e. large tipped jewelers screwdriver -vs- small tipped large screwdriver) the smaller tools will help prevent you from applying too much pressure, stripping things. Never force anything!

Here's a cool tip: If you ever needed to compare sizes between two items, say tuner shafts and a drill bit, but don't have a micrometer, try this. Use a crescent wrench! adjust the jaws to fit the first item, and then see how the other piece fits! Also great for taking measurements of something round. Fit the wrench to the object, and then lay the tool on a ruler and measure the gap. It's much more accurate!

Another really cool tip: Follow this link for an instructional on making a very simple nut spacing ruler that works for all situations!

Inadvertantly turning down the volume: Make it a bit harder to turn by placing a felt washer (hardware store) between the knob and pickgueard.

Stripped pickup mounting holes: May be repairable just by applying a drop of super glue gel to the underside of the hole. If that doesn't work, take a smallish piece of med or heavy plastic pick and superglue it over the hole on the underside of the bobbin. Redrill an undersized hole and thread the screw in.

Determining the phase of pickups: attach pickup leads to an ohm meter, and then tap on the pickup with something metal, note direction the meter reading moves. Also note which wire is attached to the red test lead. Attach the nect pickup to the ohm meter, and tap on it. If ohm meter reading moves opposite of the direction it did for the first pickup, reverse the leads. When the meter reading moves the same direction, not which wire is attached to the red lead. it is the same as it was for the first regardless of it's color (i.e."hot" or "ground")

Hum cancelling: hum cancellation is caused by reverse polarity, reverse winding keeps a revrse polarity pickup in phase with a non reverse polarity pickup. To reverse the direction of the winding, simply swap wires, using hot as the ground and ground as the hot. Polarity can be changed on many pickups. If the pickup has bar magnets, simply flip them over. If the pickup uses alnico polepiece AND has the new plastic bobbins such as is common on Fenders, the polepieces can be pushed out with a screwdriver and reinserted "upside down". If the bobbin is fiber DO NOT attempt to flip the polepieces; the wire is wrapped directly around the polepieces and will almost certainly be damaged.

Hum: other than singlecoil hum, it is almost certainly caused by a ground issue, either a faulty string ground or ground connection, or a ground loop. I highly recommend going to Star Grounding. Shielding is also recommended. See the guitar nuts site for more information on these topics. Single coils are very succeptable to rf frequencies such as emitted by flourescent lights, tv's, computers, motors etc. Also note that high load or other appliances running on the same electrical circuit can cause noises through your amp.

Microphonic Pickups: Generally this is more of a problem with covered humbuckers, and more often than not it is caused by vibration of the cover itself. The easiest way to determine if this is the cause is to remove the cover. Typically there are two solder points which need to be de-soldered. If the microphonic condition goes away, you have four options. The first is to leave the cover off. This will affect the tone if the metal cover is magnetic, otherwise it will not. However, the cover does provide protection for the pickup and I'd advise leaving it, the pickup was designed to have a cover. Second is to have the pickup wax potted, this involves setting up a wax pot, and there is risk of damage to the pickup. Third is to apply a layer of silicoln inside the cover and seat the pickup in the cover before it dries making sure not to push it all out, but getting it up around the sides of the pickup. This is safe, easy and effective, but makes a mess of the pickup for future repair. (not a big concern IMO) The fourth option is to do a partial wax potting. Get some parafin from the grocery store. Boil a small pan of water then remove it from the heat. Place a chunk of wax in the cover press the wax into the holes to prevent water getting into the cover, and hold the cover on the surface of the water with a pair of tongs.As the wax softens spread it around and up the sides with a spoon. Resoften the wax until you can easily seat the pickup in the cover. This is much safer and easier than true wax potting.

If the microphonic problem is not due to the cover, or is with a singlecoil pickup you have two options. First is to wax pot the pickup. The second is to pot the pickup in something else. Laquer was once commonly used, but it can cause a problem with some types of insulation (disolving it) and prevents future repair (other than full rewind). I have found a great alternative to both. It is vinyl sanding sealer. (I'm using Sherwin williams wood classics interior sanding sealer) This stuff penetrates deeply, dries solidly, and allows for repairs same as wax does. It requires no special equipment or care. Just submerge the pickup wait till bubbles stop appearing, pull it out and set it on a paper towel to dry. Once the excess has run off (a minute or so) wipe off the top and bottom of the pickup with a rag and allow it to finish drying. In it's intended use it dries fully in an hour. I leave them overnight.