Quick Pickup Swapping: The whys and wherefores
Having the ability to swap all the pickups of a guitar in seconds is a joy to behold. The player’s hands rule, but the next biggest drivers of sound personality are the pickups and pickup location. The normal tortuous path for swapping includes string-pickguard-pickup removal, wiring-soldering, possible routing of body and pickguard mods, etc. etc… Not fun. The pain in the ass is enough to discourage most folks from changing their pickups. Let’s get another guitar instead…
So, if it’s such a great idea why don’t all guitar manufactures do it? Well, it complicates the design both mechanically and electrically, raising costs. Companies have tried it over the years, Gibson did a Les Paul with removable pickups back in 2000 for dealers to demo pickups, lately more and more are joining the fray for production. Some, like Relish, have removeable single pickups from the rear, a neck and bridge fixed location. Gyrock has revolver-like selection in fixed locations. Another uses a rotary turntable of pickups. Others have entire pickup groups that remove from the rear or side. All without even re-tuning the strings.
We wanted to have the freedom of pickup type, location, number, and angle. Our goal is to have the sound quality be our #1 thing with easy pickup changes as a side benefit. We found that the large amount of real estate used with various odd pickup size/locations gave an “empty swimming pool” rectangular shape, that would normally be a structural support / sound problem using a wood body.
Fortunately, our choice of an aluminum body and complex shape gave us excess support, and the whole pickup group can be removed as a single module out the rear. All the while keeping the guitar stiff and responsive. No point in gaining flexibility if you lose sound quality. One might never want to change pickups after finding their holy grail.
The module is held in place with magnets and is easily removed by pressing from the front on the carbon fiber pickguard. Four optional screws can be used to secure the module and make firmer contact moving vibs between the neck and bridge. The module is mostly from Sitka Spruce, a wood used in piano sound boards. Our pickups are normally mounted to the spruce instead of the typical plastic pickguard mount. Thus, the vibs easily felt/heard from the spruce get direct to the pickups.
Electric issues with swapping
Besides guitar-body stiffness, electric compatibility is the next concern. Swapping similar pickups, no big deal. But swapping pickups that sound better with different tone and volume pot loads, having different wiring for optional tweaked tones; not so trivial. This compatibility hasn’t concerned most (all?) swapable pickup guitar manufacturers. Our single coils, humbuckers, and active pickups can have an entirely different wiring schemes for electrical loads and tweak settings.
We have a passive embedded pc board on the pickup module. Its main function is to make all the connections with the guitar body. It does this thru a 20-pin gold-plated spring-loaded connector. No soldering, connector unplugging, or other uglies.
The onboard switches let us, or the customer, reconfigure the appropriate loads and wiring for the particular choice of pickups on the module; singles/humbuckers HSS SSS HH SS HS etc.
- Some global functions also selectable on the module’s switches:
- Treble bleed and wiring
- Tone capacitor/pot loading and 50’s or 60’s tone wiring selection.
- Volume pot resistance
- Middle switch on guitar is used for the middle pickup or when using two pickups:
- Off / Dark1 / Dark2 global tone options
- For active pickups
- Onboard module battery on/off with guitar cable in/out
- Some tweak functions selectable onboard (besides normal):
- Single Coils
- HOOP (half out of phase), OOP(180deg out of phase), and coil tapped modes.
- Single Coil via adjustable tuned coil short, north/south selection
- Active Pickups (e.g., Fluence)
- Which voices get used for per pickup (2) and globally (2 more)
- Single Coil wiring connection
- Single Coils
OzGuitarWorks Modular Pickup Switching
- Solves most of the issues with removable pickups mechanically and electrically.
- Improves the sound with parallel vibration path, and pickup direct pickup attachment.
- Inexpensive spruce pickup carrier frame can be easily modded and replaced.
- Gives loads of freedom of pickup type, location, and angle
- On board passive switching lets the installation be tailored to the pickups used
- Open Source STL file available to print your own modules for quick checks
- Very wide pickups like Fender Jazz Master won’t fit
- Large pickup area might need stuffing in very high db applications, for feedback issues
- Swapping out a pickup on the module takes a few minutes not seconds
- One large switched out part (the module carrier) rather than two or three.
- Currently, switchable parallel mode on individual humbucker coils not supported