Believe it or not installing Fender pickups is not as daunting as it may seem. Fender has several kits available to allow you to simply remove the pick guard of your current axe and replace it with one that has Fender pickups. This article will point you in the right direction of researching and installing Fender pickups in your guitar. For this article, we are going to use the Fender Stratocaster American Standard Guitar as our Fender instrument.
Buy a complete pickup kit with pickguards. Many companies offer full kits of complete pre-wired pickup assemblies with pickguards. What is terrific about these kits is that you can find the type of Fender sound you want based on the year of production. For example at Acme Guitarworks out of Vero Beach you can find a wide range of assemblies with different wiring options for the type of sound you want. They not only offer modern pickup assemblies but vintage style pickup configurations as well. More important, they sell assemblies with real factory Fender pickups. Regardless of where you purchase your assembly from, it is important that you speak to a costumier service rep to help you determine which assembly is right for your guitar as certain configurations fit certain years. For example if you own a late 1990’s start, a 1962 Strat configuration may not work because the hole configurations are different.
Download and study the wiring diagram before you begin work. Again, this is your first time so get the big picture from the pros! My personal favourite site is Fender's website--see Resources. They not only offer info on their product lines but also list PDF documents of wiring diagrams for many of their instruments past and present. Below is a diagram downloaded from the Fender site so you can see exactly how they look. It is best that you print this out and keep it with you at all times. In addition, the seller of your assembly should have a diagram available for you, if not a diagram from the Fender site will suffice.
Stabilise your guitar. A workbench would be ideal, but if this is not available to you, a solid kitchen table will work just as well. You will want to lay a towel on the table to protect both table and instrument. Be sure to support the neck to reduce tension. A low=cost solution is to roll a towel and place it so that it will fit snugly under the neck.
Remove the strings from the guitar if you have not done so already. I know that there are those you can replace their kits without doing this, but for your first time it would be best to remove them.
Remove the current assembly, if it has not been done so already. This is done by simply unscrewing the screws and gently removing the pickguard assembly off of the guitar. You will see that the guitar is currently wired. TAKE A PICTURE OF THIS CONFIGURATION BEFORE YOU DISCONNECT THE WIRING. Believe it or not, in addition to the wiring diagram you have downloaded, you will want to use this as reference.
Look at the diagram. You are ready to remove the three “ground wires.” You may want to use a solder remover. Some prefer to use a solder gun and heat the solder that is in place. Gently heat the solder on the wires connecting the central ground wire and disconnect that wire. After that, use the gun to disconnect the wires leading to the bridge and then tonal pot terminals. What is great about this, is now that you know how to disconnect the wiring you will know how to connect the wiring to your new assembly.
Lay the kit assembly onto the guitar and line up the holes to make sure that you do indeed have the correct assembly. Assuming that you do, you are ready to solder the wiring in the reverse order in which you removed them. Again, consult the diagram. Remember the three “ground wires?” Start with the middle one which is to be grounded to the body cavity. That particular wire has a small teardrop shaped metal gamete attached. Solder it to the body cavity. Next, your left wire is to be grounded to your bridge. The right wire is to be grounded to your input jack, the connection for this is the inner connection, which if looking at it directly in the 2 o’clock position, is in the 10 position. Next, take the “ hot wire” and solder that to the jack.
Plug the guitar into a practice amp and test the magnetic connection before you lay the assembly onto the guitar. Even without strings you will be able to tell if you correctly wired the assembly by plugging in the guitar and testing for a magnetic connection. You should hear a slight hum. Also, test the pickup toggle switches and volume and tonal pots. Once you are certain that there is a magnetic connection, unplug the guitar, and then lay the assembly into the guitar and screw it into place.
Re-string your guitar and test to see if it sounds as you want it. Before you start jamming, test all of the pots and volume controls. If satisfied, then you are ready to rock. If not, go back to Step 5 and see if you missed something along the way.
Although your assembly will be grounded it is best if your tone pots are grounded to either the pickguard or the body cavity. Once that is complete, install the pickguard, screwing the screws into the holes.
NOT ALL COMPANIES SELL COMPLETE ASSEMBLIES WITH FENDER PICKUPS SO MAKE SURE THAT THE PICKUPS ARE TRUE FENDER PICKUP. If you buy a used or new Fender assembly on eBay, make sure that the seller is going to guarantee the product, especially for more retro gear.