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Old 06-15-2009, 12:54 AM   #1
Invader Jim
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Lightbulb Tutorial: Converting a 2-wire humbucker to 4-wire

EDIT: The astute observer will notice I made an error regarding the Gibson color coding. The actual coding is:

Red: North Start (signal wire)
White: North Finish
Green: South Finish (connect White and Green for standard humbucker wiring)
Black: South Start (ground wire)

And just for future reference, the slug coil is referred to as North and the screw coil as South, regardless of whether the pickup is for the neck or bridge position.

OK, back to the show...

Alrighty, so you have a stock Gibson (or other brand) pup that you love, but is only 2-conductor. You wanna get some fancy wiring going but can't or don't want to spend a small fortune on the 4-wire version of the same pickup. I can help!


Tools you'll need:
*Soldering iron and solder (a 100W gun to remove the cover, if the pickup has one, and a 15W pencil to solder the wires)
*A DMM (digital multimeter) to make sure the pickup still has continuity when you're done
*A small-diameter 4+shield cable, length to your preference (USB cables are perfect)
*A tapered reamer to enlarge the hole in the mounting bracket if it is too small for the cable
*A small file to remove the lip around the reamed hole to prevent it from cutting through the cable
*A screwdriver to remove the screws holding on the bobbins and (if it's a Gibson) the screw poles
*1/8" heat-shrink tubing to insulate the leads after you solder them to the cable
*3/16" heat-shrink tubing to protect the cable where it comes through the hole in the bracket

Disclaimer: Perform this procedure at your own risk. It's not that difficult and usually not the most delicate area of pickup surgery, but it's still very possible to ruin a nice pickup if you aren't careful. I have ruined alot of very nice pickups when I first started practicing. I am not responsible for ANY damages to your gear. PRACTICE ON DEAD OR JUNK PICKUPS. I recommend reading this entire post a few times to get an idea of the big picture before you go at it step-by-step.

OK first off, if the pickup has a cover you gotta remove it. A ~100W or soldering gun is good for this. Then you'll need to carefully remove the block of wax encasing the bobbins and scrape it away (keep the scraping implement away from the sides of the bobbins!). Holding it near a heat source (like a light bulb) will soften the wax making it easier to work with.

Next, remove the coil tape going around both bobbins, like so:


Remove the screws holding the pickup to the bracket. If it's a Gibson pickup, you also need to remove the screw pole pieces enough to clear the holes in the bracket; they threaded the screws through these holes for a tight fit to reduce feedback and vibration.

Desolder the bare wire from the bracket. Here's the 490R completely disassembled. Note that removing the screw poles entirely from the bobbin is not necessary.


Before you continue, get a pencil and a piece of paper and make a diagram showing what went where. It'd also help to mark the magnet. I marked it with a silver sharpie on the side facing the slug coil and a black sharpie on the high-E string side. Doing this helps to keep the polarity of the magnet the same if it isn't glued to the bracket. It would suck to get this thing put back together and wired up only to find out that your coil and magnet polarities are out-of-phase.


Now this pickup has nice long lead wires that are soldered together and taped; they're great to work with. Some pickups have very short wires that lead from inside one coil to inside the other. These are more difficult to work with.

If you have the latter variety, cut the series link in the middle and strip back some insulation by heating it with the iron. If it's the former, simply remove the tape and desolder the leads (see the disassembled pic) and the braided wire.

Now to prepare the new 4-wire cable. USB cables are perfect for this; they are long, foil and braid shielded, and have 4 conductors (red, white, green, black) that can be wired to many manufacturers' specs.

Strip about 3/4" off the outer insulation, seperate the bare braid, grab the strands and twist them together and tin the tip. This part will be soldered to the bracket. There may also be a foil shield; unwrap it and cut it off. Now remove about 1/8" off each of the 4 conductors, twist their strands together, and tin them.


Time for the fun part. Always remember that humbucker coils are wired in series. The signal goes to the START of the first coil. The FINISH of both coils are connected together. The START of the other coil is ground. Making a drawing and knowing this, it's easy to properly wire the pickup in phase. I wired this one to Gibson specs (red=North Start, Green White=North Finish, White Green=South Finish, Black=South Start). Remember to solder the bare wire to the bracket. Here is the first coil when connected. (This is wrong)


Now do the other coil and heat-shrink the solder joints to keep them from shorting to each other and re-assemble the pickup. Find a place to tuck the wires. I prefer to apply the heat-shrink after I've soldered the leads. This makes the short wires easier to work with and makes it possible to remove the heat-shrink tubing later without damage if repairs are needed.


Re-apply the coil tape.


If the pickup had a cover, just solder it back on. If you wanted, you could re-pot the inside of the cover to encase the pickup in wax like it originally was.

That's it. Now you can wire it any way you want. With some practice (on junk pups), this becomes a lot less intimidating. I've done this conversion for several people in the past (some were even UGers) and have repaired a number pickups with old worn-out cables or cables that were too short due to being installed into multiple guitars over time. It's a very useful skill to have.
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Last edited by Invader Jim : 12-18-2013 at 04:51 AM.
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Old 06-15-2009, 01:08 AM   #2
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i dont know if i would ever need this, but nice tut jim!
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Old 06-15-2009, 01:36 AM   #3
Unherolike
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Good Tut Jim I might do this with my BC's pup its only the standard two wire hookup.
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Old 06-15-2009, 01:40 AM   #4
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The Bill Lawrence?
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Old 06-15-2009, 01:44 AM   #5
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I you Jim, thank you so much!
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Old 06-15-2009, 01:45 AM   #6
Unherolike
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No Jim its just the crappy BC pup that came with my Bc the Lawrence is in the Sl i got from you.
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Old 06-15-2009, 04:25 AM   #7
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Awesome, I've got 490s in my SG and I've always wanted to do something cool with that thing. Its on the list.
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Old 06-15-2009, 08:35 AM   #8
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Great tutorial Jim! I ought to try this on the no-name 'buckers I banished from my LP copy.
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Old 06-15-2009, 09:52 AM   #9
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There was a really in depth one on here, but its probably buried somewhere in the depths of the archives, I couldnt find it when I searched. I guess it was about time for a new one then...
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Old 06-15-2009, 12:45 PM   #10
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This is pretty cool Jim, nice Tut as well.
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Old 06-15-2009, 10:55 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by livrockdie
There was a really in depth one on here, but its probably buried somewhere in the depths of the archives, I couldnt find it when I searched. I guess it was about time for a new one then...

There was another tut, but I couldn't find it. I had gotten a couple of questions and I searched for the link but never found it. May have ended up getting deleted. Anyway I was tired of saying the same thing over and over so I made this one anyway.
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Old 06-15-2009, 10:58 PM   #12
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Nice man.
Great tutorial
I might have to use this sometime
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Old 06-15-2009, 11:10 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Invader Jim
There was another tut, but I couldn't find it. I had gotten a couple of questions and I searched for the link but never found it. May have ended up getting deleted. Anyway I was tired of saying the same thing over and over so I made this one anyway.
Le Guru de Search found this:
Splitting 2 conductor p'up+wax potting tutorial---WITH LIKE 50 PICTURES!!!
but maybe that wasn't the same one you were thinking of...
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Old 06-15-2009, 11:27 PM   #14
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Meh.

Mine's more organized.
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Old 06-15-2009, 11:30 PM   #15
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Indeed it is, Jim.
Now all ya gotta do is trim down the bloody pics to 640px wide or less.
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Old 06-15-2009, 11:38 PM   #16
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Alright, you big baby.
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Old 07-15-2009, 03:34 PM   #17
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wow thanks for this tutorial
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Old 07-15-2009, 04:04 PM   #18
timbit2006
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This tutorial is awesome!
For the pup tape, You could also use thin cardboard. Works just as good as tape.
Now, If only there was a 4 Wire Humbie to 2 Wire Humbie tutorial.
My Humbuckers starting to piss me off...
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Old 07-15-2009, 05:20 PM   #19
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4 wire→2-wire is pretty self-explanatory. Just take the pup apart and connect the two coil finish wires internally and put the two remaining wires onto a 2+shield or vintage-style gibson cable.

How the hell is cardboard going to stick?
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Old 07-15-2009, 05:53 PM   #20
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^ All you have to do is solder the North Finish and South Start wires together then tape them off so they don't touch anything.
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