How To Replace a Pickup's Four-Conductor Lead
The four conductor lead found on most humbuckers is a very handy thing. It enables us to get many tones from a single pickup (series, parallel, split, and more). If you want to make a wiring change, just cut the lead down a bit and wire up that pickup once more. But what do you do if, like me, you cut that lead back one too many times, or if you’d bought a used pickup that came pre-snipped? What if that lead won’t reach the controls any more? Basically, you have two options:
- Extend each of the four conductors and the shield with five separate wires
- Replace the four conductor lead
Of the two, I generally prefer the lead replacement. It’s a more permanent and solid solution than extensions, and it will make a big difference if you decide to sell that pickup. Of course, it’s not as simple as extensions, but it’s not terribly difficult either. I’ll walk you through the process step by step with plenty of pics.
DISCLAIMER: This procedure requires intermediate/advanced soldering skill, and also requires that you take the pickup itself apart. If you’re not comfortable with either of these things, please let a good tech do this, or contact Seymour Duncan Customer Support for assistance. Keep in mind that alterations can void the 21-day exchange policy. Honestly though, it’s not rocket science, and if you can install a pickup you can probably do this too.
You will need the following materials and tools:
The pickup, removed from the guitar
Your desired length of four-conductor lead (here’s plenty of it at Allparts)
A good soldering iron
Electrical tape or black paper tape
Optional, but recommended: “Helping Hands” – these aligator clamps on a stand are great at holding coils and wires while soldering.
Also optional and recommended: magnet polarity tester – these are cheap and can save you a lot of magnet-replacement-related headaches.
STEP 1: Carefully remove the tape that surrounds the outside of the humbucker. Save it for later unless you have any to use as a fresh replacement.
STEP 2: Remove the four screws that hold the coils to the baseplate.
STEP 3: Lift the baseplate off the coils. Make note of how the four-conductor lead sits inside the pickup assembly. You will notice that the shield of the four conductor is soldered to the baseplate. Use the soldering iron to re-flow the solder and disconnect the baseplate. Set it aside for later.
STEP 4: The metal rectangle in the center of the pickup is the magnet. Remove it and set it aside, but first take note of which side faces the screw coil, and which faces the stud coil. It’s important that the magnet be replaced in the correct orientation, so be certain you make note of it somehow. I stick a Post-It note to it with “stud” and “screw” written on it (hopefully this won’t create any misunderstandings in your household).
STEP 5: With the baseplate and magnet removed, the two coils should now be separated, as shown in the photo below. Remove the delicate orange tape from the ends of the conductors. You will not need to set this aside – we will replace it with electrical tape or paper tape.
STEP 6: Use the soldering iron to re-flow the solder connecting the coil leads to the four conductor lead, and disconnect the coils.
STEP 7: It’s now time to connect the new lead. Strip about 3/4 of an inch of outer shield off one end of the four conductor lead, then strip a few millimeters of shield off each colored conductor. Solder the four conductors to the coil leads, in the following sequence:
- GREEN: screw coil black
- RED: screw coil white
- WHITE: stud coil white
- BLACK: stud coil black
STEP 8: Wrap each connection with a small piece of electrical or paper tape. Use the smallest amount of tape required to cover the soldered ends – the less tape you use, the easier your re-assembly will be.
STEP 9: Now that the leads are connected, re-assembly of the pickup begins. Solder the four conductor lead’s shield wire to the baseplate where the original was connected.
STEP 10: Fold two of the conductor connections between the two coils. The remaining two can be spooled/bunched up beside the coils. Replace the magnet (be certain you have the orientation correct) and the baseplate. Make sure everything fits nicely together with no bulging or dangling leads.
STEP 11: If everything looks good, replace the four screws on the back, and re-tape the sides of the pickup.
You’re done! Look at how long and sturdy that new lead is!
If you have any questions – or any additional tips on how to perform this handy pickup surgery – please post in the comments.