Wiring A Hollow Body Guitar the Easy Way
Have you ever looked at a hollow or semi-hollow guitar on the wall at your local music store and wondered how the heck they get the electronics in there? The short answer: it’s do-able, but not easy. In fact, it’s widely considered to be one of the most difficult jobs in the wide world of guitar maintenance. My tech charges extra for doing electronics work in a hollow-body, and he’s definitely not the only one.
Fortunately I did some research, performed some trial and error experimentation on my own semi-hollow (a very nice Epiphone Dot) and found what I consider to be the best way to wire up a hollow body guitar. You won’t need any uncommon tools or equipment – just a wrench set (or an adjustable wrench), plenty of wire, a pair of needle-nose pliers, a soldering iron, and a bit of patience. I’ve included plenty of pics to help illustrate each step.
Let’s get started!
Start by removing the pickguard and putting it aside. Next, remove the knobs. I use a rag wrapped around the knob to pull them off without scratching the finish.
Once the knobs are off, you can use your wrench to remove the nuts from the pots, jack, and switch. The pots and switch will fall through into the cavity. That’s fine.
You should now be able to gently extract the pots and switch through the F hole. Start with the components closest to the center of the F hole (usually the switch) and work your way back, using the wires to pull components toward the F hole. The jack should come out last. I use a hand towel to protect the finish.
At this point you should have the pots, switch, and jack out of the guitar with the pickup wires still connected. You can either de-solder the pickup wires or use wire cutters to clip them off. If you’re replacing the pickups as part of your re-wiring, you can do this now (I did not in the example photographed here). Just feed the leads of the new pickups back through the holes in the pickup cavities.
Removal of the old components is now done. Set aside any components you want to re-use, get any new components ready to wire up, and heat up your soldering iron if you haven’t already done so.
It’s a good idea to make a template for your wiring on any guitar where the controls aren’t mounted to a pickguard (like a Strat) or a control plate (like a Tele). To make the template, put a piece of non-corrugated cardboard over the guitar, use finger pressure to find where the control holes are, and very carefully poke through the cardboard with a punch or a nail to make a hole for your template. You can enlarge the holes with a pencil or a round file until they are big enough for the controls to be mounted snugly. It’s also a good idea to write what is supposed to go where on the template with a marker.
Wire up your pots, switch, and jack on the template. Always use more wire than you think you will need. If your wiring is too tight, it will be very difficult to get it back into the guitar. You will not cause any problems by using a little too much wire, so don’t be afraid to make long connections.
If you need to know how to wire up the components, Seymour Duncan has plenty of good wiring diagrams to help you.
Once you’re satisfied with your wiring, solder your pickup leads to the controls. At this point, I strongly recommend testing your wiring before proceeding. It will be very difficult to troubleshoot problems once the controls are back in the body. Use a multimeter, circuit tester, or just plug the dangling jack into an amp and tap on the pickups.
It’s now time for the most challenging step: fitting everything back into the guitar. Don’t worry: if you did everything correctly up to this point, you shouldn’t have any problems getting it back together. You’ll be using extra wire to pull the electronic parts through the F hole and into their mounting holes on the body. It’s best to start with the component that’s furthest from the F hole, which is usually the jack.
Run a length of wire (approx two feet is usually plenty) through the jack mounting hole and down into the cavity. When you see the wire in the cavity pull it up through the F hole. Make sure the wire is long enough for one end to stick out the jack hole, and the other to stick out the F hole. Tape the jack hole end of the wire to the guitar with masking tape, or tie it to the strap button. This will ensure it doesn’t fall through the jack hole while you’re working on the other end.
Thread the F hole end of this wire through the jack, and tie it to a washer or a nut. Any washer or nut that is too big to fit through the jack will do. Give the wire a test tug to make sure it doesn’t come loose.
Feed a wire through each tone pot hole and out the F hole in a similar fashion. Instead of tying the other end to a washer, just tie the wire tightly around the shaft of the corresponding pot. You won’t need wires for the volume pots or the switch – they’re easier to install by hand.
Now comes the fun part. Put the jack and the tone pots into the F hole, and use the jack hole wire to feed the jack through the cavity. If the washer holds, the jack will pop up through the jack hole. Thread the wire through the jack washer and nut, and pull up on the wire to hold the jack in place while you tighten the nut. Once you’re sure the jack is firmly installed, clip the wire and let the washer end fall into the cavity. You can shake that out through the F hole later – just leave it for now.
Repeat the wire pull technique with the two tone pots, starting with the furthest one. You will probably have to feed the volume pots or even the switch into the F hole to make this work. Just be careful to not twist or tangle any wires on the way in.
You can also use the wire fishing technique to install the volume pots and the switch, but it’s usually easier to just use your fingers. Reach into the F hole and carefully ease them up through their respective holes.
Put the knobs back on the pots, shake the loose nut/wire end out of the cavity, and re-install the pickguard. Congratulations – you’ve just completed one of the most dreaded tasks in the guitar universe!
I’d love to know if you guys have any tips for installing wiring in hollow-bodies. Also, if you’ve got questions about this process, I’ll do my best to answer them. Either way, post a comment!