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When to rewind or rebuild a guitar pickup and when to replace it

by vaughn skow March 08, 2022 3 min read

Hey again fellow guitar geeks, I love ya each and every one!  So over the years I have re-wound a great many guitar pickups, and I pride myself on being the guy who can rewind ANYTHING!  Speedbumps, Filter'Trons, Hi-Li'Trons, Goldfoils, one-off Japanese made weird pickups from the 70's, yep!  Sure I do the typical Strat, Tele, Humbucker, and P-90 rebuilds too, but I ain't afraid of any pickup.  Hadn't met one that I couldn't fix yet.

So, you might expect me to advise you always rebuild a pickup rather than replace it, but that's not at all my recommendation.

Vintage 1959 Les Paul Junior P-90 to be rewound rebuilt

Here are the things you MUST fully determine when making this decision:

  • Is this a valuable vintage instrument?
  • Semi-valuable?
  • Prone to BECOME a valuable vintage instrument?
  • Did I actually LIKE the tone of the stock pickup (or pickup model if it was already shot when you bought the guitar)?
  • Would I like something totally different and new tonally?
  • Did the stock pickup just plain suck?

You see where I'm going here right?  It's like one of those mechanics flow charts that determines the best course of action. 

Generally you will fall into these camps:

It's a top-shelf vintage instrument.

In this case you use a VERY reputable pickup shop to rebuild the pickup to vintage perfection.  A good shop will be SO good that even an expert will never guess the pickup is not 100% original, right down to the last grain of dust.  It does not matter whether you actually LIKED the sound of the pickup or not, you must retain the originality of the instrument to the best of your ability.  That's not a guitar, it's an investment.  You are not going to take a guitar as valuable as a god house to play out anyway ... or at least I certainly would not recommend it!!!

It's a players-grade vintage instrument that you really want to be a well broken-in road warrior on tour and in the studio with you.

In this case, have a very reputable tech carefully remove the inoperative pickup, and keep it safe in case you sell the guitar down the road, and put whatever the heck you WANT in it!

It's a inexpensive guitar.

Throw the pickup away and put the best replacement you can afford in it.

It's an inexpensive guitar that has always rocked your world.

Shoot man, have that original pickup rewound and keep your world rocking!

It's a sorta-vintage instrument.

Here there is no totally easy answer.  Say, for instance it's a CBS era Fender from the 70's.  As a general rule, the pickups in these guitars totally sucked,because CBS had literally cut down the amount of wire wrapped on the coils and lowered the grade of magnet material, all to save a buck or so per guitar.  Yep, they TRASHED the tone of a Strat (or Tele, etc) over a buck or so.  So burn those baby's in the landfill, right?  Not so fast ... because ... As much as I personally don't get it, even the CBS era Fenders and Norlin era Gibsons are rising in value ... significantly!  So ya got a delema on your hand.  Do ya want to keep it original because it's starting to get valuable, or finally make that piece of crap rock?  here's what to do:
If you LOVE the guitar, and WANT to play her, remove and store the original pickup(s) and put in whatcha WANT.  That way you're covered no matter what.  If ya ain't in love with her, have the pickup professionally rebuilt with historic accuracy,sell that guitar and buy whatcha WANT!

Oh, and for God's sake, if you decide to have the pickup rebuilt, do it right!

ONLY have a VERY reputable shop rebuild it.

If possible, bring the entire GUITAR to the shop, that';s what we prefer and it's the only way we can guarantee 100% perfection in fit, finish, and functionality.

If you can't, then have a GREAT guitar shop remove the pickup and send it to be rebuilt and then re-install it when it returns.

If you are VERY good with a soldering iron, or the guitar isn't all that valuable, then, sure, yank it out yourself and sent it off!

And, NEVER send off only PART of the pickup for repair. I had someone ask me (on a loudspeaker help forum no less) if I rewound Hi-Lo'Trons, I said yes, and THIS showed up in my mailbox a few months later.  I can re-wind the coil, and even recharge the magnet, but there is absolutely no way I can guarantee that pickup will ever be "right" again!

Hi-Lo Tron to be rewound

THIS Pickup was pulled from a 1959 Les Paul Junior by a GOOD tech, and you notice, he not only send me the intact pickup, but all the wiring, pots, and cap still attached, to.  Bravo!

Vintage 1959 Les Paul Junior P-90 to be rewound rebuilt

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