Don't Cut Your Wires

When installing new pickups — any pickups, not just Stonewall Pickups — don’t cut the hookup wire to length. I would say that the only exception to this is Strat pickguards because the pickups and electronics are mounted to the pickguard. Humbuckers, P90s, single coils… four conductor wire, cloth wire, braided single conductor wire: if the wire is cut to length for one guitar, it might be too short if you need or want to move that pickup to a different guitar. Or if you want to sell it; a used pickup with short hookup wire is less likely to sell than a used pickup with full length of wire. Ideally, tuck the excess wire underneath the pickups, as long as it won’t interfere with the pickup height adjustments. 

Stonewall Pickups wire colors

Stonewall Pickups humbucker color codes: 
Black — hot (to switch/volume pot/output jack) 
Red & White — soldered together 
Green — ground 
bare wire — ground

The red & white wires get soldered together: that connects the two coils in series to make the pickup a humbucker. They either need to be protected with heat shrink tubing or electrical tape, otherwise that connection can touch the ground circuit by mistake which will turn off one of the coils; or the red & white connection can be wired to a mini switch or push/pull pot for coil splitting.

 

Cloth wires for single coil pickups:
Black is always ground; white is always hot; if you have a tapped single coil, the yellow wire is the tap. 

Orientation specific pickups

I use two different grades of steel for the polepiece screws in my humbuckers and P90s (and H90s, J90s, S90s, T90s) for a better string-to-string balance. Installing one of my right handed humbuckers in a lefty guitar will result in an unbalanced tone. For my Alternate Dimension P90s, Slutty Wolf H90s, and J90s (Alternate Dimension Signature Jazzmaster bridge pickup), install them with the cloth hookup wire under the treble side. For P90 construction pickups that aren’t rectangular (S90s and T90s — Strat and Tele sized P90s), there is a right-handed or left-handed option in the drop down menus. Since humbuckers are installed with the polepiece screws out and slug polepieces in, there is also a right-handed or left-handed option in the drop down menus for Alternate Dimension humbuckers. 

Setting Pickup Height / Balancing Pickups 

This process is done mostly by ear and a little by eye. Guitar manufacturers’ “setup instructions” might state how far to set the pickups from the strings, but that’s a terrible way to balance your pickups. It depends on how you set your string height (action), how hard or light your rhythm hand hits the strings, and even how light or heavy your strings are and what metals your strings are made of. There’s no measuring tool that can account for all those variables… which is good because the guitar is a musical instrument which is perceived by the ears. So, we balance our pickups by ear…

Humbuckers and P90s (and Slutty Wolf H90s): 
These are the easiest because the polepieces underneath the strings are steel and the magnet(s) are actually underneath the coil(s) so the magnetic fields aren’t pulling on the strings as much as pickups with rod magnets. Start by fretting the strings at the last fret and raising the bridge pickup close to the strings without touching the strings (about 1/16” to 1/8” away from the strings). Then plug into your amp and play, only on the bridge pickup. If the strings are hitting the pickup, lower it. Next, play a barre chord in the first position (F or G, you want to hear all six strings; open chords don’t work as well because the nut doesn’t have the same tone or density as the fretwire) and switch between the neck pickup and bridge pickup. Raise or lower the neck pickup so that it’s the same volume as the bridge pickup. That’s pretty much it but there’s one more step for guitars with the neck pickup in the wrong place (if your guitar has 24 frets or an SG made any year except 1990 and a few others): turn the volume off and listen for fret buzz as you play acoustically. If you’re hearing more than you did before you balanced the pickups, your neck pickup is pulling the strings down. Lower the neck pickup a bit and play, keep doing this until that buzz reduces. Then balance the bridge pickup to be the same volume as the neck pickup; it’s the same process in reverse but this keeps your pickups from causing fret buzz and killing your sustain.

Strats, Teles, Jazzmasters, and other guitars with pickups that use rod magnets: 
Since these pickups use magnets in the core, the magnets are directly underneath the strings and can affect how the strings vibrate. Guitars with rod magnet pickups, as well as loaded Strat pickguards, are sent out from the manufacturers with the pickups set too high. (I used to repair guitars, which is important to know for this next part) I would get at least one call per month from someone who purchased a Strat, brought it to someone else for a setup, and the strings still buzz. I could always fix this problem over the phone: the tech left the pickups too high (didn’t finish the setup) and they’re pulling the strings down. The fix: lower the pickups until they’re flush with the pickguard, set the action to where you want it (if it isn’t already), then raise the neck & middle pickups gradually while playing unplugged, listening for fret buzz. Once you start hearing some fret buzz, back the pickups off a bit until the buzz goes away. Then finally plug in to you amp and lower the neck pickup and/or raise the middle pickup until they’re the same volume when playing open chords, then raise the bridge pickup until it’s the same volume as the neck & middle pickups. That’s the final step of setting up a Strat. It’s the same with Teles and Jazzmasters, just preset the neck pickup based on fret buzz and balance the bridge pickup to match the volume. I preset the pickup heights on my Strat pickguards to where they should be on the vast majority of Strats. But there’s so much that can effect where the pickups should be: height of the neck heel, if there’s an angle in the neck pocket, type of bridge, even the size of the strings or composition of the strings (pickups can be closer to the strings if you use heavier strings or if you use pure nickel strings). And of course playing style can affect the setup and pickup height as well. When you’ve set the Strat pickups to the right height, your Strat will actually be quieter than your humbucker equipped guitars, running through the same amp at the same settings but your guitar will absolutely be playing better. 

Polepiece Screw Height

Humbuckers (but not the Alternate Dimension Wide Range Humbuckers), P90s, H90s, S90s, T90s, J90s, and anything else that’s P90 construction uses adjustable steel polepiece screws. They are adjustable to balance the volume of each string. I typically preset the polepiece screw heights in humbuckers and S90s but I sometimes forget and typically forget to do it on the other P90s. But it’s pretty easy to do yourself… adjust the polepiece screws under the wound strings (that’s E, A, and D only for most of you) to follow the radius of the fingerboard: leave the E low, raise the A a bit, and raise the D a bit more than that. Then raise the G just a hair. That’s it. Both Es and the B are the lowest, the G just a hair higher, the A higher than that, and the D string polepiece screws should be the highest. If you play a set of strings with a wound G string, everything is the same except the G string polepieces should be even with the D string. The reason for all this is based on the diameter of the core of the strings and the wrapping of the wound strings. Plain strings are louder than the wound strings and thicker strings are louder than the thinner strings. If all polepiece screws are level, your D string (thinnest core of the wound strings) will be the quietest and your G and B strings will overpower in each chord.

Now that you’ve preset your polepiece screws, it’s time to fine tune them by ear. Plug in and play a barre chord (I typically play a G barre chord)… don’t play an open chord because the tone of the nut isn’t the same as the tone of the fretwire and you’ll set your polepiece screws incorrectly. I play the chord one string at a time in sets of three: E A D, A D G, D G B, G B E. To make a string louder, raise the polepiece screws closer to the string. This may take some training; you’re listening to the smallest differences in volume between each string which most people have never done before. After a couple years, it gets much easier. If when you’re done and the polepiece screws are nowhere near the shape of the preset heights, either you went too far and should go back to the preset and try again the next day (a nights rest resets your ears) or there’s something wrong with your bridge or saddles (one or two saddles are of a different material or the string slots in the saddles are impeding the string vibrations), in which case you may want to invest in a new bridge. 

In/Out of Phase

In phase is the correct sound, out of phase sounds like a mistake, even though some guitarists intentionally want an out of phase switch. In phase and out of phase is in regards to two pickups. Wind direction and magnetic polarity is not standardized across all pickup and guitar makers and manufacturers so when combining two different pickup companies within the same guitar, there’s always a risk that they may be out of phase. You can’t predict this by look at the pickups or measuring the pickups or even testing them in the guitar before stringing it up. You can only check if the pickups are in phase by ear when the guitar is strung up and the two pickups are balanced (see the previous section about pickup height). Once your pickups are balanced, play both pickups together. If it sounds normal, they’re in phase. If the volume drops considerably quieter than either of the pickups by themselves and the tone is thin, like someone is grabbing your neck right behind your ears, the pickups are out of phase. It’s not the end of the world, you can fix this in the wiring at the electronics:

If the pickups have cloth wire, solder the white wire as ground and the black wire as hot (aren’t you glad you didn’t cut those wires to length).

If the pickups have four conductor wires, keep the bare wire as ground and switch the hot and ground colored wires. For Stonewall Pickups, keep the bare wire as ground, switch the black wire to ground and the green wire as hot.

If the pickups have braided single conductor wire (that’s a silver braid on the outside then cloth inside that insulating the bare wire in the core), you have to send the pickup back to the manufacturer to have it wired the other direction. I don’t use braided single conductor wire on Stonewall Pickups unless someone specifically ask for a humbucker that way. 

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