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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Removed pickup cover aka Pagicizing the Les Paul

Current mood: amused

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So as a guitar player my largest influence for picking up the guitar was Jimmy Page.  My mom had kids young, were talking 20 years old young so we were naturally always introduced to there favorite music.  This being stuff like Zeppelin, The Who, Eagles, Steppenwolf, Joe Cocker, Beatles, Santana, Clapton...I could go on but you get the point.  As a kid and to this day, I enjoy fantasy.  Wizards, dragons, elves and magic you know the typical shit, and it was probably my enjoyment for J.R.R Tolkien's works that drew me so deeply into Zeppelin; however I have digressed from the main point here. 

I recently purchased an Epiphone Les Paul Plustop PRO/FX, yeah I know its not really a Jimmyesque Les Paul but its features made it irresistible for the price.  After the initial guitar love had passed and the ideas of mod's starting becoming reality I immediately said "Well off comes the cover for the treble pickup" as many have seen on Page's #1 the treble pickup is generally missing the cover, its been on and off a few times but spent the majority of the time off.  Jimmy said this was to add a brighter more airy sound to his PAF.  Some people debate this actually does anything; however having Alnico II PAF replica pickups similar to what Jimmy would have had in his guitar after removing the cover I noticed an enjoyable increase in highs with the cover off.  With the cover on it was noticeably darker and muddier sounding in comparison.  Combined with the Ernie Ball Cobalt strings I am testing out I get real nice bite through the treble pickup.

The following was a step by step procedure on how I removed the cover off my pickup.  I wish I had of taken some pictures to document it along the way but its fairly straight forward. As always if you consider this mod be careful while handling your pickups as they are slightly fragile.

Step 1: Removing the Pick Up

This is where I was in a bind, I decided to remove my pick up cover two days after I put a fresh set of string on, being a cheap bastard I didn't want to replace the strings so I kinda cheated.

Being a Floyd equipped guitar I loosed off the locking nut and unwound the strings to the point of them being as slack as possible without falling off the tuning pegs.  This allowed me to slip the pickup out while gently pulling up on the strings.  In most cases people would do this mod during a string change rendering this pointless.

I proceeded to then loosen the pickup while it was still attached to the pickup ring, wait until the entire unit is out before removing the pickup ring from the pickup this will prevent the screws from possibly falling into the depths of your guitar body as not all pickup height screws are permanently attached to the pickup ring.

At this point I put the pickup on a old t-shirt I had covering the top of the guitar body, certainly wouldn't want to damage your finish!  Now that the pickup is out the REAL fun begins.

Step Two: Establishing how bad the solder is!

Ok this part seriously sucks, because you are going to get one of two things, first is a small blob of solder on each side which is an easy job.  Second is two large blobs of solder on each side which is a hard job.

On my Epiphone it was the latter, there was enough solder on there to solder a fuzz pedal circuit, my buddies Epiphone Les Paul Standard was the same way too, possibly a product of the offshore manufacturing.  But it doesn't make it impossible, either way the steps are the same one just takes a little more time and finesse.

If you have a soldering iron or soldering station preferably around 40+ watts this will be pretty easy otherwise hold on.

Step 3(a): The Soldering Iron Method

Tools Required; Soldering Iron, Solder Wick or Solder Sucker, Xacto Knife

Take your soldering iron and place it on the blob of solder, I like to spread the solder out a bit more if its in a large clump this generally makes it easier to remove especially if you are using solder wick.  For those of you who use solder wick you will understand this, those new to soldering I honestly would urge you to spend the $30 on a good solder sucker as wick is just too old school now.

For those that want to know anyways, solder wick is basically a thin metal weave that you lay on top of the solder then heat with the soldering iron, when the solder melts it gets trapped in the thin mesh which allows you to pull it off.

The solder sucker method, and my personal favorite is much simpler.  You following the same basic steps however instead of using wick you use a sucker which is exactly what it sounds like.  A little mechanical vacuum that sucks the molten solder away at the press of a button.  I think these are actually sold as a De-soldering pump, but throughout my electronics courses the teacher always called it a solder sucker so it stuck.  I am not endorsed by them but for all my soldering equipment needs I stick with Weller anyone serious about soldering will agree there stuff in top of line, but mostly for me its a Canadian company that I deal with through work so DISCOUNTS!

Once you have all the solder removed do not try to remove the pickup yet, they are generally potted in wax inside the cover so it will stick to the sides of the pick up.  Take your Xacto knife and carefully slide it in the space between the pickup and the cover and carefully cut along the long sides of the pickup.  Be extremely careful at this point as you can cut through the wire coils of the pickup and its garbage at that point.

Now you can remove the pickup and be shocked at how much wax is or isn't coating your pickup, more to come on this later in this posting.

Step 3(b): The Xacto method...

So if you dont have access to a soldering iron and really really want to do this mod you can do it with just an Xacto knife, I have done it before and it worked, just took a bit longer.

All you have to do is score (cut) the solder with the Xacto knife and keep on doing this till you are finally through all of the solder then you can follow the same steps as above to remove the pickup from the cover.

Step 4:  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaax!

So below you will find a picture of the actual pickup from this mod, when I removed it I was amazed at how much wax was on it so I snapped a picture with my iPhone.

To remove this wax I think the easiest way about it is to take a hair dryer and blast the pickup for a couple minutes at a time to melt the wax and it will slowly seep out and will eventually come out, this wont hurt your pickup.  Some people say the wax keeps the microphonics down but on a low output Alnico II pickup I haven't run across this, plus them holy grail original PAF pickups were not potted.

Step 5:  Fin!

If you have made it this far without and issues and hopefully you have, you are now home free.  All you have to do is put the pickup back into the cavity, just don't forget to put it in with the pole pieces facing the proper direction or it wont sound the same!

Here is the finished product of my mod...

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