Winding a new set for my Tele Special (SC + HB) *Pic Heavy*

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
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2,473
This is my 90s MIM Telecaster Special. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Before.jpeg


I bought it new off the rack in '96 from a place called Guitar Centre in Anchorage, AK. That's not Guitar Center mind you, it's Guitar Centre. It was a small shop owned and operated by one guy known around town as "The Fender Guy". I was 16 years old, and it's been with me for the entirety of my guitar-tech learning curve. As an example, about a year after buying it I adjusted the neck pickup a little too low and one side came off of the mounting screw. I thought I had broken my guitar. It was months before I worked up the nerve to remove the pickguard and have a look. It may seem a bit silly now, but discovering that I could fix that was a real confidence booster and kind of stoked my interest in the "nuts and bolts" side of guitars. It's been steadily spiraling out of control ever since.

This axe has had it's pickups changed more times than I can begin to recall, but the configuration you see here has been its longest running: Seymour Duncan Jerry Donahue bridge and Lollar Firebird neck. They are fantastic pickups both, and they play quite nicely together, but the urge to tinker some more with "Ol' Number 1" has been nearly overwhelming of late. So, time to wind me some pickups! I find this stuff very interesting and entertaining; I figured it would be a fun thing to post about for anyone else who is similarly interested. Many pictures to follow, and sound clips at the end.

The plan is a splittable PAF style humbucker and a moderately beefy Tele single coil bridge pickup with a lower output tap for combining with the split humbucker. They are both getting Alnico V magnets and 42AWG Plain Enamel wire.

Parts.jpeg


Starting with the neck 'bucker. I have no idea what the purpose of the square holes in the top flange of humbucker bobbins is, but I know I have no use for them. Where I would have a use for them is in the bottom flange, for the coil-start lead to come through, but alas there is not one.

Neck%201.jpeg
Neck%202.jpeg


We can fix that though. Drill and sandpaper.

Neck%203.jpeg


The screw coil is up first. The pole pieces require a 5-40 tap, which my collection of taps is currently lacking. Had to chase the threads using one of the pole pieces instead. Not a problem in the soft plastic so long as you keep it slow-and-steady.

Neck%204.jpeg


Joining the coil wire to the coil-start lead.

Neck%205.jpeg


Insulate the joint, thread it through the hole in the bottom flange of the bobbin and secure it...

Neck%206.jpeg


...and commence winding! Both coils in this pickup got a very traditional 5000 turns.

Neck%207.jpeg


Joining the end of the coil wire to the coil-finish lead.

Neck%208.jpeg


Insulate the joint, wrap it back into the coil and tape securely, and viola!

Neck%209.jpeg


Repeat for the slug coil.

Neck%2010.jpeg


The coil-finish lead on the screw coil ended up a little shorter than I'd intended, so I ran the slug coil's a good bit longer so I could get them to meet easily. Fun fact: both coils in a humbucker are wound the same direction, but joining them together finish-to-finish means they flow in opposite directions, satisfying the "reverse wind" part of the hum-canceling recipe.

The only "trick" I need this pickup to do is to split, no parallel or anything else, so I'm wiring it up using a two conductor cable with a third bare wire. The bare wire will serve as chassis and coil ground, while black and white will serve as hot and the series link respectively.

Here is the chassis ground:

Neck%2011.jpeg


And the coil ground (screw coil-start).

Neck%2012.jpeg


Here the screw and slug coil-finishes are joined to each other and to the white pickup lead. Connecting this lead to ground will cut to the slug coil; connecting it to hot will cut to the screw coil. Not connecting it to anything leaves both coils in series, the "normal" configuration for a humbucker.

Neck%2013.jpeg


Keeper bar (not visible), bar magnet and screw coil in place.

Neck%2014.jpeg


Wooden spacer (not visible) and slug coil in place. Joining the slug coil-start to the black pickup lead. This is the "hot" lead.

Neck%2015.jpeg


Tuck everything away nice and neat, tape the coils and install the slugs and pole pieces. Looking very humbuckery!

Neck%2016.jpeg


Install the cover and bond it to the chassis.

Neck%2017.jpeg


One humbucker, ready for action!

Neck%2018.jpeg


On to the bridge. The pickup flatwork I use come with two eyelets pre-installed in the bottom flange, but for the tap I'm going to need a third. Using the top flange as a guide, I picked a spot that would be both out of the footprint of the coil and positioned to work with the lay of the wire.

Bridge%201.jpeg


Bridge%202.jpeg


With that done, it's time to press the rod magnets into the bottom flatwork.

Bridge%203.jpeg


And then press the top flatwork on. While you don't see it in the picture, I have a couple of wooden spacers that I use to get the height right and make sure that the top flatwork goes on level with the bottom. (Actually, I just noticed while proofreading that you can see them sitting behind the press in the previous picture.)

Bridge%204.jpeg


I apply thin CYA superglue around the magnets on the inside of the top and bottom flanges, then wrap them with coil tape to insulate the coil wire from them. Any irregularity or burr in the surface of the bobbin can grab the wire when winding, so everything gets sanded nice and smooth.

Bridge%206.jpeg


Time to wind. I want the bridge pickup to hum cancel with the split humbucker, so I had to do a bit of thinking. The pickup selector switch that I'm using cuts to the screw coil by connecting the series link to hot. The screw coil was wound TR/TG (top right/top going: the bobbin is mounted to the winder with the top flange facing right, and rotated such that the top traveled away) and the coil-start was ground. I want the coil-start of my bridge pickup to be ground as well, so in order to get a reverse wind I'll have to wind it TR/TC (top right/top coming).

Here is the low output tap, at 7800 turns. The wire runs from the coil to the eyelet, but if I let it run back to the coil as it would naturally lay it would be much too close to the screw hole in the bobbin. So I brought it back in an out-of-the-way fashion and used the small piece of coil tape to keep it in position until winding was resumed.

Bridge%207.jpeg


And done at 9200 turns.

Bridge%208.jpeg


Attached the leads. Next is to attach the base plate, in this case copper plated steel. I realized as I went to fit it up that, with the eyelet for the tap lead where it was, I'd be shorting the coil out on the base plate. So I used some electrical tape to insulate them from one another. Affixed the plate to the bobbin with double-stick tape. Used the mounting screws to hold things together.

Bridge%2010.jpeg


Bridge%2011.jpeg


(As it turned out it still shorted out. I checked with my multi-meter and I'm glad I did as it would have sucked to discover that later. I added some thick coil tape over the offending area and that did the trick. If I ever lose the bridge pickup during my big solo at Madison Square Garden, I'll know just where to look...)

I wax potted both pickups for about 90 seconds, just long enough to get the big voids filled and prevent the ugly uncontrollable squealing. I'll pot pickups more thoroughly if they are destined for crazy high-gain applications, but these will dwell in moderate-gain territory and a little bit will be plenty. Sorry, no pictures of that...

The bar magnet in the humbucker is already charged, but the rod magnets in the single coil must have charge applied. The humbucker's screw coil is North, so I charge the bridge pickup South using my block of neodymiums. Charging from the top of the pickup with the North pole of the neodymium will polarize the pickup magnets South.

Bridge%2012.jpeg


One bridge pickup ready for service.

Bridge%2013.jpeg


In fact, one Tele Special set ready for installation. I like the look of 'em.

Set.jpeg


Here she is with the new pickups installed. New pickguard too. Also a taller Bigsby spring, but that's not really relevant to this conversation...

After.jpeg


I have to say I'm really happy with how they turned out. I captured some audio clips, enjoy!

Bridge (Full)
https://www.dropbox.com/s/zpxoy9fvelfbfip/1%20Bridge%20%28Full%29.mp3?dl=0

Bridge (Tapped) + Neck (Split)
https://www.dropbox.com/s/njrtwa428o4vrxh/2%20Bridge%20%28Tapped%29%20%2B%20Neck%20%28Split%29.mp3?dl=0

Bridge (Full) + Neck (Full)
https://www.dropbox.com/s/zpmznm7tawhadl0/3%20Bridge%20%28Full%29%20%2B%20Neck%20%28Full%29.mp3?dl=0

Neck (Split)
https://www.dropbox.com/s/n2p3kjx4dgn0wa1/4%20Neck%20%28Split%29.mp3?dl=0

Neck (Full)
https://www.dropbox.com/s/qng2e4o27jlziro/5%20Neck%20%28Full%29.mp3?dl=0

I had thought that if the split humbucker on its own didn't grab me then I could drop that option and add in the tapped bridge pickup by itself, I'd kind of like to hear that, but I'm actually digging the split bucker for now. Maybe down the road...

That was a long post, thanks for making it all the way to the bottom!
 

Axkoa

Senior member
Messages
858
That's awesome VB. I love the sound of that split Humbucker as well.
 

Cagey

Senior member
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24,425
Nice work! You've clearly done this before - do you wind a lotta pickups?
 

Logrinn

Senior member
Messages
3,591
Verne Bunsen said:
That was a long post, thanks for making it all the way to the bottom!
Long post? I didn't notice. Very cool. And they sound stellar. :icon_thumright:
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Cagey said:
Nice work! You've clearly done this before - do you wind a lotta pickups?

Thanks Cagey! I wind pickups for most of my projects and have wound some for friends and family, I enjoy it. Except when things go pear shaped, then it's not so fun for a while, haha! I have "mule" Tele dedicated to quick pickup changes and I've wound some test batches to try and isolate different variables to capture the impact of different changes. Ultimately I'd like to assemble a library of audio clips of controlled tests like that to kind of "quantify" the variables, but I've got to get my technique nailed down so that I can be as consistent as possible with everything else. The two coils of this humbucker came out darn nearly identical on the resistance and inductance measurements, so that was exciting to me as an indication that I'm getting there. Most of what I've done has been single coils, this was only my second humbucker. And it was my first covered humbucker. I'm pretty tickled with it  :icon_biggrin:

Logrinn said:
Verne Bunsen said:
That was a long post, thanks for making it all the way to the bottom!
Long post? I didn't notice. Very cool. And they sound stellar. :icon_thumright:

Thank you sir!
 

Cagey

Senior member
Messages
24,425
I've never wound pickups, but I've unwound them. Back in the '70s when aftermarket pickups first started becoming a Thing, we used to be able to get discarded old Gibson humbuckers from the '50s/'60s that were left over after upgrading older (what we now call "vintage") guitars. Open them up, separate the coils and measure the DC resistance, then unwind the heavier one to match the lighter one. Put 'em back together and called 'em a love story. We thought we were doing a Good Thing, convinced that balancing the coils made them sound better. It's too long ago for me to remember now if they did or not - all I'm sure of is they sounded different - but I'm also sure most of what we were really doing was destroying the value of what would one day be some highly desirable parts. Not that they were really any better sounding than what you can get today, but the perception today is that they were. I've seen them go for thousands of dollars. Of course, there was no way of knowing that back then and if we hadn't played around with them, they would have probably just been pitched into the dumpster as old, kukka parts  :laughing7:
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
Cagey said:
I've never wound pickups, but I've unwound them. Back in the '70s when aftermarket pickups first started becoming a Thing, we used to be able to get discarded old Gibson humbuckers from the '50s/'60s that were left over after upgrading older (what we now call "vintage") guitars. Open them up, separate the coils and measure the DC resistance, then unwind the heavier one to match the lighter one. Put 'em back together and called 'em a love story. We thought we were doing a Good Thing, convinced that balancing the coils made them sound better. It's too long ago for me to remember now if they did or not - all I'm sure of is they sounded different...

That is funny, these days many winders will intentionally mis-match the coils as a bit of "secret sauce". There is a lot of "Holy Grail" type talk about the concept. As you say, it is certain to sound different....

vid1900 said:
That's a sweet winding machine!

Thanks! It has done quite well for me. It is a kit from Stew Mac, pretty easy to assemble and the price is reasonable.

http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Electronics_and_Pickups/Pickup_building/Build-Your-Own_Pickup_Winder_110-volt.html

I had the privilege of winding on Jason Lollar's home-made sewing machine winder at a class he put on, that thing was like a Lamborghini. I'd like to build one like that at some point. The plans are in his book, which I have, I just need to dedicate the time to do it. I suppose it will probably prioritize itself about the time this one gives up the ghost, haha!

BigSteve22 said:
Verne, thanks for posting this thread. Very informative!

:icon_thumright:

Yes sir! I've benefitted my share from the collective knowledge and experience of this forum, always happy when I can contribute something myself!
 

BigSteve22

Senior member
Messages
2,798
Verne Bunsen said:
"I had the privilege of winding on Jason Lollar's home-made sewing machine winder at a class he put on......"

You took pickup winding lessons from Jason Lollar? Now I AM jealous!

:toothy11:
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
Messages
2,473
BigSteve22 said:
Verne Bunsen said:
"I had the privilege of winding on Jason Lollar's home-made sewing machine winder at a class he put on......"

You took pickup winding lessons from Jason Lollar? Now I AM jealous!

:toothy11:

It was every bit as cool as it sounds, it really was  :toothy10:  He (Jason Lollar) is an alumnus of Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, and every so often he comes back to put on a pickup winding course. Phoenix is just a hop, skip and jump from where I'm at in Tucson, so when the stars lined up and I had the opportunity a couple of years ago I jumped on it. It was awesome.

http://www.roberto-venn.com/courses/pickup-winding/

Side note: I almost attended Roberto-Venn's "Guitar Making and Repair" course myself twenty years ago, went and toured the facility and everything, but ultimately didn't go due to some considerations that must have seemed awfully important at the time. One of the very few decisions I actually regret.....
 

stratamania

Senior member
Messages
9,445
Very interesting.

How many pickups do you estimate you need to wind before you recover the costs of the equipment ?
 

Axkoa

Senior member
Messages
858
stratamania said:
Very interesting.

How many pickups do you estimate you need to wind before you recover the costs of the equipment ?

So say $300 US for the machine. $90 for a SD pickup. Say it costs around $40 dollars to manufacture a pickup, which I took for this http://www.stewmac.com/Pickups_and_Electronics/Pickup_Kits_and_Parts/Humbucker_Pickup_Kits_and_Parts/?facet=%7cELECTRO%3aPICKUPKIT link. So that's $50 dollars you save to wind your own pickup to whatever specs you want. That isn't assuming you bought parts in bulk and that you only ever buy $90 dollar pickups. That's only 6 pickups you would have to wind to make up the money that you would spend on aftermarket pickups. That's assuming you like the pickups that you wind  :laughing7:
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
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2,473
stratamania said:
Very interesting.

How many pickups do you estimate you need to wind before you recover the costs of the equipment ?

I think Axkoa's assessment is probably right on target, I'll put a few more data points here for consideration. I'm kind of working it out as I type, so bear with me as I line it all out math-homework style...

I don't use kits as in Axkoa's Stew-Mac link, rather I buy all of the materials separately from MojoTone and WD. My cost for the materials in this bridge pickup was about $28, and for the humbucker (including the cover) it was about $37. So call it $65 for the pair, maybe round up a couple bucks for the incidentals I forgot to include, but we'll go with that.

On the other side, if I had bought pickups instead of winding them, that cost would obviously vary depending on what I ended up buying. To put a couple of brackets on it:

If I were putting Seymour Duncans in it, it would have been the SH-2 Jazz in the neck (my favorite of their humbuckers by a very large margin) at $79 and the Jerry Donahue Lead in the bridge (it's what was already in there....), also at $79. So $158 for the set. So say I saved $93 bucks there.

If I were putting Lollars in, it would have been the Low Wind Imperial in the neck at $175 and the Special T in the bridge at $115. So $290 for the set. In that scenario, I saved myself $225.

Taking the average of those two points, we'll say that, building this particular set of pickups, I saved an estimated $159 versus commercial aftermarket replacements.

On to the equipment costs. The mandatory equipment, in my opinion, is the winder, a wire tensioning device and a strong magnet for charging the rod magnets. There is some stuff that is nice to have, a press and a small vice for instance, but I wouldn't necessarily call them mission-critical nor are they specific to pickup winding so I won't include them in these numbers. I think a multi-meter that can measure DC resistance is invaluable for evaluating your coil, one that can measure inductance is a plus, but if you're doing this kind of thing the chances are good that there is already one in your toolbox. I won't include that here. Also, wax potting is not strictly mandatory, but if you are inclined to do it you can put together a home brew setup for next to nothing or spring for something dedicated. I use a glue pot from Stew-Mac which cost me $131. I won't include that in this total either, but it's something to consider if you're doing the math. The winder I have was $285 at Stew-Mac. My wire tensioner is fashioned from some spare lumber, some felt from my son's craft bin and a hand clamp. I'm making this number up but call it $5, mostly for the clamp... I bought a pair of strong neodymium bars online for $37. So that total comes to $327.

So if we go with our average number of $159 saved per set and an equipment cost of $327, the savings pay for the equipment in a little over two Tele Special sets. Give or take. That number will vary depending on the specifics of what you're winding and what you would have been buying obviously, but the short answer is: it pays for itself pretty quick if you intend to do more than just a couple.

There is the learning curve to consider. Bobbins flying off the winder at high speeds, shorted coils, distorted bobbins and pickups that just end up "meh" are all part of it. But they happen less and less as you go.

All-in-all, just a long winded way of saying, "What Axkoa said"  :toothy12:
 

stratamania

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Messages
9,445
Thanks Axkoa and Verne, of course what is not calculated is the time put in. But if we are calculating from an enthusiast perspective we generally don't count that.  I guess the big makers have to be getting parts in for less in order for any profit to be made along the way.

For some reason it sort of reminds me of fishing flies, its a lot of fun catching trout on one you tied yourself.  And there is another use for copper wire that is too short for pickups :)
 

Verne Bunsen

Senior member
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2,473
Sorry for the self-necro-post, but I felt I had to redeem myself here...

I dug this thread up to reference it elsewhere and upon looking at it was taken aback by how awful looking the string/saddle alignment was in that first picture! It ain't like that any more.... There is a story behind it:

I guess it was back in about '63 when eating my own cooking got the best of me so... wait, wrong story. Way back in whatever year the Bigsby went on this guitar, I didn't trust myself to do the install. "What if it ends up off-center?!" I said to myself I said. So I had a pro do it and, lo and behold, when it came back, it was off-center. And so it forever yanked the saddles caddy-wompus as seen in that picture, and I spent a long time band-aiding and just putting up with it. About a year or so ago it occurred to me that, in the time since, my skill set has grown, and that I could probably go ahead and fix this dang thing. So I pulled it off, drilled out and dowelled the old holes, drilled some new ones, and installed that baby smack in the middle where she goes. And you can't even see her scars. So to redeem myself, here she is now (along with some nice new RS Guitar Works compensated brass saddles):
Photo_Sep_07_7_18_21_AM_1028x.jpg

 

Logrinn

Senior member
Messages
3,591
Looks good!  :icon_thumright:

Now, you were saying about your cooking ..? :icon_jokercolor:
 
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