A DIY Guitar Pickup Winder

Written by rob billeaud
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A DIY Guitar Pickup Winder
Billy Gibbons of the blues rock band ZZ Top attributes his unique sound, in part, to the use of custom scatterwound pickups. (John Shearer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Of the many projects open to the do-it-yourself (DIY) guitar builder, perhaps none is so rewarding as winding your own pickups. It can be a tedious process, as some pickups require over 10,000 turns of wire, but the tonal virtues of DIY scatterwound pickups over the more evenly wound commercially manufactured pickups have been extolled by discerning guitarists for years. Building your own pickup winder is a relatively simple project and requires only a few common items you may already have lying around the house.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Drill press or variable speed electric hand drill and bench-top drill press stand
  • 4-inch diameter circle of 1/2 inch hardboard
  • 3/8-inch drill bit
  • 5/8-inch spade bit
  • 3/8-by-3-inch stainless steel carriage bolt
  • 5-minute epoxy
  • Empty pickup bobbin
  • Pencil
  • (2) 6-by-6-inch squares Corian® counter top material
  • Ruler
  • Band saw or jigsaw
  • Hammer
  • (2) 3/8-inch T-nut
  • (2) 3/8-by-3-inch wing bolt
  • (3) 3/8-inch stainless steel washers
  • (2) 2-by-2-inch felt squares

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Drill a 1/4-inch deep hole in the exact centre of 4-inch diameter 1/2-inch hardboard circle with the 5/8-inch spade bit.

  2. 2

    In the exact centre of the 5/8-inch hole, drill a 3/8-inch hole all the way through the hardboard.

  3. 3

    Apply 5-minute epoxy to the underside of the bolt head, and thread the 3/8-by-3-inch carriage bolt through the hole in the hardboard going through the side with the 5/8-inch hole first. The larger hole will serve to countersink the head of the carriage bolt.

  4. 4

    Place a pickup bobbin as close to dead centre on the hardboard circle as possible and use a pencil to trace a line around it. This will indicate where to place the bobbin when winding a pickup.

  5. 5

    Cut one the Corian® squares down into one 2-by-5-inch rectangle and one 2-by-3-inch rectangle with a band saw or jigsaw. Cut the other square down to a 3-by-4-inch rectangle with a 1 1/2-inch square notch in one corner.

  6. 6

    Epoxy the 3-by-4-inch rectangle of Corian® vertically, with the notch at the top, facing outward to the 2-by-5-inch rectangle. Center the vertical piece from side to side and align the front edges. Looking at the piece from head on it should look like an upside down capital "T". Epoxy the 2-by-3-inch rectangle, lying flat, with the short edge against the inside of the notch in the vertical piece. The end result will be like a short shelf jutting out from the piece. The finished product will be the guide assembly.

  7. 7

    Drill two 7/16-inch holes in the guide assembly --- one, centred from side-to-side one inch from the edge of the far end of the base piece; and one, also centred from side-to-side, one inch from the edge of the shelf-like piece at the top. The bottom hole will accept a wing bolt coming up from the bottom to clamp it to the drill press table while the hole at the top will accept a wing bolt and washers that will act as a guide for the wire as it winds onto the bobbin.

  8. 8

    Apply epoxy to the underside of the flanges of both T-nuts. If the T-nuts are of the type that have barbs on the underside, first flatten the barbs with a hammer since they will not dig into the Corian®. Fit the T-nuts into the 7/16-inch holes. Insert the top nut from the bottom of the shelf piece and the bottom nut from the top of the base piece.

  9. 9

    Assemble the winder by threading a 3/8-inch wing bolt with a washer through one of the front slots in the drill press or stand table and up into the T-nut in the base of the guide assembly and tighten.

  10. 10

    Punch two 3/8-inch holes in the centre of each of the felt squares. In this order, thread a steel washer, the two felt squares and the remaining washer onto the other 3/8-inch wing bolt. Screw this wing bolt down into the T-nut at the top of the guide assembly and lightly tighten.

  11. 11

    Chuck the hardboard winding plate in the drill chuck and tighten.

Tips and warnings

  • To use the winder, set the drill press at its lowest setting. Place the spool of wire vertically under the winder, thread the end of the wire between the two felt "washers", screw the bobbin onto the winding plate using the pencil mark as a guide for placement and glue the wire to the bobbin core with a small dab of super glue. Turn the drill press or drill on to start the winding process.
  • The wire used to wind pickups has a thickness nearly as small as a human hair. Always wind at the lowest speed possible to prevent breakage.
  • In order to count the windings in the absence of a counter, you will need to know the rpm speed of the drill. With this number, you should be able to calculate how many minutes it takes to complete the winding process. For example, to complete 5000 winds at 300rpm will take 16 minutes and 40 seconds.

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