Single-pickup guitars are some of the most fun instruments you can play, but they’re also some of the simplest and easiest to upgrade, fix, and actually build.
For this guide I’m using an Epiphone Coronet Reissue out of the box that I’m reviewing for Reef guitarist Jesse Wood and eventually this guitar will have a total top to bottom overhaul, fret arrangement and everything else to get it ready for the rigors of touring night after night.
We’re going to start by replacing the wiring, though, and that’s where you can apply what we’re going to do to your own single-pickup instrument, or indeed if you’re building one from scratch, this will work just as well.
Step 1 – Set the Scene
For an existing guitar rewiring job, the first step is to open the back control cavity and check which wires go where, take a picture on your phone, or if you’re feeling technical, grab a pen and pencil and draw the circuit. . and where everything goes.
With this guitar, I’m dealing with a unique Gibson-style P-90 with a volume knob and a tone knob. Just like the unsung heroes of the electric guitar, the Les Paul Juniors of the world.
Step 2 – Remove Existing Wiring
You’ll notice I’ve removed all the wiring here and I’m going to replace it with a better quality capacitor, solder, and wire. There’s nothing really wrong with the original Epiphone wiring, in fact they’ve improved it in a number of ways recently, but as this guitar is destined to be a road warrior we need to make sure everything is as good as possible.
You’ll notice with the solder that it takes a little longer to melt than normal, that’s because it’s lead-free and ROHS compliant. This also makes it legal to get your hands on it, so be thankful. A small amount of new solder on the existing joint can make the process a bit quicker here.
Once the solder has melted use a solder sucker (invest in a good one of these if you don’t already have one) once most of the solder has been removed allow the components to cool.
Step 3 – Raise the Shields
So with all the components ripped out and the entire guitar being refurbished, I decided to protect the internal cavity as single coil guitars can be a noisy affair when lighting equipment is added. Using copper tape, the guitar is now protected and ready to take on its new wiring.
Step 4 – Retrace your steps
Epi’s circuit is quite primitive, so it’s quite easy to recreate, the best way to do it is to mount the components in the same formation on an old egg crate; this is especially useful if you’re not sure your hand is steady, as it means you won’t risk burning your guitar’s finish.
Step 5 – Make the Earth Move
With this guitar, the pickup was loosened from its socket, trimmed, and reconnected to the volume pot per the original specifications for these guitars. The Epiphone pickup used for this guitar is a hot P-90 that measures slightly higher output than my 87′ Gibson Les Paul DC Junior.
I also removed the ground from the bridge post by pulling it up and adding a thicker fabric covered cable in its place. I tapped on the bridge post again. If you are going to do this, make sure the wire inside the ground hole is open allowing more contact with the tailpiece stud.
Once the plug is removed the pickup is grounded through the cable’s braided sleeve, the fabric sleeve is extended and pulled back to allow the live wire to connect with the first tab on the volume pot, this tab it takes two cables, the second being the live connection of the input jack.
Step 6 – Turn up the volume
The volume pot has the last tab soldered to itself as does the tone on the first tab. The capacitor is to be soldered to the middle tab of each potentiometer and the two are wired to work together with the same pickup. I used an upgraded 220nf oil paper capacitor for this guitar which in my opinion makes a big difference to a cheaper guitar.
With the volume potentiometer closest to the bridge post ground, the threaded wire is soldered to the top of the potentiometer. The volume pot acts as a good place to solder the ground wires from the pickup and bridge post.
Step 7 – Plug It In
From the input jack, I ran an old white cloth cable from the same lug that the live pickup cable is connected to and gently pushed it into the lug hole while keeping a steady hand.
Taking a ground wire from the ground tab on the input connector (the tab that is connected to the same part of the connector that the wire touches) I have soldered it to the top of the tone pot.
Step 8 – Check it out for yourself
Once all of these joints are solid with no loose connections, check the photos or your previous drawings and refer to them; if you notice a discrepancy, it’s better to correct it now than when you’ve put the guitar back together…
Step 9 – Test!
Plugging in the guitar, verify that the volume and tone pots are working by touching the magnet with a small metal implement. If you hear the sound coming from your amp, you’re well on your way to enjoying a single P-90.
If you have more problems, check your joints and refer to the photos in this article or the photos you took of the circuit as it was originally. By doing this method, you will always have a plan to fall back on in case your weld result fails.
Step 10 – When in doubt, ask a professional
Electronics isn’t the easiest thing for everyone to understand, so if you’ve followed these steps and still don’t enjoy it, it might be time to call in a professional. The temptation will be to get angry and swat, but in the long run it’s much better (and cheaper!) to take it to a reputable guitar shop who can fix or advise on the best options.
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