Winding your own pickups


Junior Member
I was looking at Stew Mac and saw their pickup building kits.  For $22 a piece for a humbucker, it seemed like it might be a fun project to try for putting in my old beater guitar.  Anyone here wind your own? 
I know on this forum, TroubledTreble has wound his own single-coils (  I really wanted to try this but they don't have flat pole piece single-coil kits at StewMac.
Been there, done that, but when you factor in your TIME you don't really save any money, so it's really more a learning experience.
It took Lindy Fralin 5 years of experimenting winding pickups before he  wound one he liked the sound of.

That might tell you something, novel idea but...
I certainly wasn't expecting to come out with something as good as that, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. :laughing11:  I like building things, so it sounded like a fun experiment. 
Then I would say GO FOR IT !!  Then you could say, "been there, done that".

A build wouldn't be more "I did it completely from scratch" than that.

I certainly wish I had the time....
Yeah the time thing is a kicker... especially since I'm sure as hell not going to pay $300 for the winding machine they have.  I'm not THAT  interested... :-\
Someone somewhere else on this board talked about using a sewing machine, but I don't remember where I read it.  I think Alfang has done some pickup winding too, so maybe he will have some more insights for you...Personally I also think it would be interesting, but have never done it, I'll just have to rely on Seymour or Lindy or one of those guys...  :laughing7:
You can use an electric screwdriver for a winder - with minimal and non-permanent fixturing.  Its not really rocket surgery.
I have a sewing machine, oddly enough.  I wonder if I could use that as it is somehow...I'm gradually talking myself into it...
That's a good idea too.  I read on another thread here something about needing to magnetize the alnico.  Any info Treble?
The stewmac slug magnets need magnetizing - and their way of doing it is half assed at best.

However, if you do it "their way" the important thing is to NOT let the strong magnet touch the alnico slug - it will disrupt the magnetic field.

Which brings me to - how close to hold the magnet, and how to hold it that close.  This, dear fellows, is the subject of empirical debate.  At first thought, just "separation" of the two magnets seems fine to ones way of thinking.  And it stands to common reason that as close as possible without touching is the best.  Its not.  IOW, laying a sheet of .0005 mylar between the two is ineffective, and about as bad as touching the two.  So... how thick of a shim do you use?

Brothers of the strings, you'll also need the gauss meter.  You'll need to experiment - think in terms of between .025 and .100 gap between the magnets.  Could be more... reason is - we don't know the field shape and density of the fixed magnet. 

-CB- suggests using varying thin shims, gradually thickening them on successive passes.... and measuring each pass with the gauss meter until the magnetic strength does not increase.  I'm going WAAAAaaaay out on a limb here as my education on this stems back from the late 70s.... and heretofore fairly unused.  In the real world, those slugs are charged with an electric charger, whose field shape and density are known and whose charge can be "kicked" or pulsed - the kick actually does more than the strength of the electromagnet!

And finally - one should connect the lead wires together when charging the magnets - the potential for shocks exists otherwise.

Find a common everyday sprinkler valve, with a 24v AC coil.  Turn on the valve (don't get wet)  Hold onto the wire connections at the coil while someone disconnects the valve common wire at the timer.  Repeat for effect!  The solenoid is a duped electromagnet, as it takes AC and turns the eddy currents into a polarized magnetic force.  When its being run by 24vac, its creates and EM field, the magnetic force is created, in alternating fashion.  That force is concentrated at one end of the plunger tube with the addition of either a field shaper, or an iron slug (or both).  So, the AC magnet acts like a DC magnet.  When the 24vac is taken away, the field collapses and the plunger within the tube relaxes.  When that field collapses... watch out... as it will "generate" its own current (and with the magic of Ohms Law voltage as well)!.... about 2500vDC at milliamps.  If your holding the wires, its like holding onto a spark plug wire - for one pulse.

Interesting too, is that the medical MRI machine works on the same principle.  That is - the magnet makes all the hydrogen atoms electrons "line up" in one direction, when the magnetic field is released the field in effect collapses, the atoms spring back and the radio imaging can pick up the tiny tiny electrical pulses send off by them.  This pulse from the springing back is relative to the hydrogen contained in the various tissues at various amounts - so we get an internal 3d picture.  Neat.

Winding pickups is like loading yer own ammo... once you start it might become addictive.  Which is one reason I've NOT done it (but have done pickup repair)
Ok, I wind my own pups, I've done about 10 singles and 6 humbuckers so I am no expert, but I do get the overall picture, and each time i learn something new. My very first try worked better than expected, i was shocked with the tone and power, I tried it, it squeeled like a pig at higher volumes, then I potted it and it was fine.

My pickups sound better with each new effort.  It's not rocket science, and anyone here could have success winding pickups.

The cost savings for a few "sets" of pickups really will pay for a winder, or your time and effort to build one.

As for the amount of time invested in making one pickup, less than half an hour, ready to install. I'm sure i could go faster if I had a dedicated space for it. I have used the stew mac kits, those are a good way to start, the problem i found is the bobbins are not large enough for the number of windings I like. So now I even make my own pickup parts.

The stew mac alnico needs to be "charged" not a big deal, i use rare earth magnets, and unlike CB's suggestion, i place the magnets directly onto each end of the pole piece. So far no problems. The pups sound great.

As far as the value of your time to make them, some people say that their time is money and not worth winding a pup.
I can go work for someone else for three hours to buy a $100 pup, or I can sit in my living room with a beer, watching "According to Jim" and wind my own pup. The only reason I still buy pups( and I do) is to reverse engineer them so i can make more.

One last note to all pup winders here, the term "scatter winding" means that you criss cross the windings quickly back and forth, the reason for this is to create an air gap throughout your windings, that will then be filled by potting wax. Theres no other reason for scatter winding than to allow the potting wax to penetrate well, and it really makes for a nice quiet coil. Electronically speaking, the electrons could not care less how the wire is wrapped.

Hey TT looking forward to some magnets and an IPA, oregon city mcminamins?
Alfang said:
Electronically speaking, the electrons could not care less how the wire is wrapped.

Actually, thats not true at all.  There are two basic principles involved in the explanation.  One is that for any given coil, not only the number of windings but the spacing and form factor of that coil matter.  Scatter winding will result in a form factor different - per impedance - than carefully laid windings.  Even more so, as we know, the spacing of the windings in a carefully laid coil is controlled by the thickness of the insulation.  The result is that scatter winding will have both a different Q and inductance for any given impedance, as compared to carefully laid windings. 

So, scatter winding throws the form factor, and the inductance of the coil all to hell... well... or maybe not, IF the result is one that sounds great.

Another "trick" in layered windings is where you put them in relation to the magnetic field.  That is - you can "stuff" the bobbin at the top, at the middle, or at the bottom, and the result also changes the way the coil behaves.

This is why its as much an art as it is a science.
Damn you CB, I feel like a soldier in war and your the sniper, I'm always on my toes wondering if your there.

Your nit picking, I know the best inductive coupling so to speak is from neatly laid wires in an organized and compact manner. but we're shooting shotguns here. My point was, theres a bennefit to random scatter winding.

And the electrons still don't care because they have no feelings or brainpower. \

All that said: glad you chimed in anyway, coulda been worse, you coulda ripped my whole theory to pieces.
Well think of it -

If you could just wind the coil to a certain impedance, with wire type N, and use bobbin X and magnet Y with a gauss of Z.... and it was that simple, but its not.

The minute details are what separates the men from the sheep.  The manner of scattering, the weighting of the winding (how its stuffed, as I call it), the tightness of the winding, the uniformity... there are those who prefer a tight winding at the core, laid down very precisely, gradually going looser and scatter as the coil has more layers.

All of that stuff, and more.... may not have huge effects on tone, but enough of an effect that we can say - we like this pickup vs that pickup.  Or this one has more presence, or that one has real balls, or this other one is sweet but still creamy, and that one over there is a harsh SOB.... etc etc.  Its all in our ears, and in the fingers guiding the wire...  it makes a difference.

Not to say that scatter winding is "the best", or laid down windings are better, or ANYTHING is better... or gives certain tonality, because any technique used has to work in conjunction with all the rest of the parts, the sum of which may just be some "mojo".

Not sniping.  No, I just call 'em like I see 'em.  Plenty of threads here where I've said I've learned something, or accept correction.  Sorta what community is all about... ya know?
CB- overall, I agree with you, and I think you know the point I was trying to make. And your right, N, X, Y, Z    lots of variables, some more influencial than others, and some not as easily controlled as others,   

So we Learn what we can, try to stay within certain boundries with the variables we can controll, and shoot from the hip.

The whole idea being, when we "Stumble" accross that awesome sounding result, we wanna be able to duplicate the results as close and consistant as we can.

And hopefully, understand it all enough to be able to design and wind a pickup with predictable outcome.

ive wound over 200 single to hum, just for fun, i reused the bobbins and frames, but just for fun, did a countless many of them.....found the best thing to use is a old wrecked turntable, and a pencil stached to the bottom of the bobbin in one side to make it shift up and down as it winds, and then a lose bob of coper wire next to it

i made and repaired soo many pickups this way

just have fun!
on another topic cb you shold concult the guy in botiqur p/u, who told me that even tho i would have wound the pickup and placed random and crossing winds but not in a even patern around, he said it didnt affect the magnetic characterisitc and would not affect tone, i was telling him, some small imperfections or mis winds are waht actually gave some characteristic to some pickups

bil lawrence