I recently installed two P-Rails pickups as well as two Triple Shot mounting rings in my guitar. The particular axe I chose for this install is an odd choice, but it is sonically ‘neutral’- a maple and graphite Steinberger ZT3. I chose it for this because I know that in this particular guitar, the pickups have a much broader influence because it isn’t made out of traditional tonewoods.
A brief summary: P-Rails are a special pickup design that incorporates two different pickup types: a P-90 and a rail single coil. The Triple Shot Mounting Ring incorporates two 2-position switches per ring, that allows either the P-90 alone, the single coil alone, both coils in parallel and both pickups in series, like a traditional humbucker. Combined with a 3-way pickup switch, that’s a lot of sounds!
Here is the guitar before the pickups were installed:
What we’re seeing is a Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro set, one of my absolutely favorite pickup sets. I knew really well how these pickups sounded in this guitar, so I had something good to base the new sound of the P-Rails on. This guitar has volume and tone controls and 3-way switch, with a push-pull on the tone to cut one coil of each pickup. I was going to keep the layout the same, but just substitute a regular 500k tone pot for the push-pull, since the Triple Shots would take care of the internal P-Rails switching.
The pickups come in the standard SD packaging with a wiring diagram, screws and springs. The Triple Shots are available in two types: for an archtop, or flat (like I have). They’re simple rings with a circuit board and two small mini switches on the bass side of each ring. They’re pretty low-profile, and unless someone points them out, they’re easy mistaken for stock pickup rings.
First thing I did was watch this video about the installation. The concept here is that the P-Rails connect to the Triple Shots, and then you just have two wires per pickup to the control cavity rather than four per pickup. So I took the original pickups out.
I unboxed the P-Rails, stripped the wires and soldered them to the correct tabs on the Triple Shot circuit board. This is easy, since it’s clearly labeled and nearly impossible to mess this step up. The pickup wire gets wrapped around the legs of the pickup and the Triple Shot wire gets sent to the control cavity.
But wait, look at those pickup cavities! These cavities are pretty shallow, and the Alnico II Pros I took out barely fit! I hate to cut pickup wires short as they can be a pain to extend, but it seemed it was going to have to happen this time.
I did manage to get the neck pickup wire to coil around the legs of the pickup, but there was no helping the bridge pickup. I had to cut the wire, as the excess wire was pushing up on the pickup and not allowing it to lie flat. However, this isn’t as painful as it sounds, because as I later found out, the Triple Shots seem made for the P-Rails (but will work with any humbucker). It allows switching in a very elegant, non-invasive manner. I tend to think of the P-Rails and the Triple Shot as one unit anyway.
Once I had the pickups in place, it was time to test them. With a screwdriver lightly tapping on the poles of the pickup, I realized the neck pickup’s split coils were backwards. So out it came, and yes, I wired it correctly. Hmmm… oh yes, at the bottom of the instructions, it will tell you to reverse two pairs of wires if the split coils are backwards.
It took more time to coil the excess pickup wire than to reverse the wiring, but it then worked correctly. Success! To be fair, most pickup cavities are not this tiny, and excess wire fits in most cavities with no problems.
I’ll talk about the most important thing – the sound – in the next installment. It was an easy (and fun) upgrade if you’re looking for versatility without having to drill holes for the myriad of switches you’d need to get there.