How to swap the magnet of your humbucker
Hello there. Here we are here for another guitarism article about modifying your electric twanger. First of all, if you havent enough information about the terms like “pole piece”, “alnico II”, “heavy formvar insulation”, “d.c.resistance” or “resonance peak”, you’d beter take a look for the basics first. Seymour Duncan is such a cool guy that on his web blog he has a glossary of tone (click here) and dictionary of tone terms (click here). For more information you can also get a quick search from google and voila! You’ve got anything you need, maybe even much more, anyway. But if you are familiar about basic pickup construction, lets roll then.
Warning: If your guitar is under guarantee from the manufacturer, you may lose by swapping or modifying its pickups. Moreover you may need to use a soldering iron which may be dangereous for your safety. So that if you are willing to do something on your guitar you MUST prepare everything for the protection and safety and must be very very very careful.
The magnets are one of the most important components of the magnetic pickups. Pickups act like a transducer that get the mechanical vibrations from strings and convert to an electrical signal and the magnets are the heart of those pickups. There are several type of grades, materials and other forms (like production methods etc.) Let’s list the most popular pickup magnets and their overall sounds from Seymour Duncan ( )
Alnico II is a lower output magnet that is smooth and usually has just a bit of warmth.
Alnico V has more scooped mids and tighter in the low end. Provides some bite and sparkle.
Alnico VIII is generally between Ceramic and Alnico V, with quite a bit of magnetic pull, punchy with upper mids but a little more warmth than ceramic.
Ceramic is quite strong and gives a very bright tone. It retains articulation and clarity even with heavy distortion which makes it suited for heavy distorted styles.
You may need to swap the magnet of your humbucker for four reasons; the fail of your magnet because of heating over the Curie temperature, strong magnetic fields, time etc., altering your tone by changing the same grade of magnet but different charge (i mean using stronger or weaker magnets), altering your tone by the tonal difference of the magnets and finally just to satisfy your curiosity. Or sometimes you may just need to change the polarity of the humbucker.
Whatever the reason is, our job in here is to tell how it is done. In this article, my “so called wall flower” is Hantug Titania custom made for me by Hantug Custom Guitars. It has (actually “had”) Seymour Duncan PATB-3 on its bridge position. Definitely my favourite bridge humbucker, truely amazing humbucker and, yep, i am a fan :)
Wound in 10K, a PAF with muscles. But dont expect the muscles of “Hulk”, actually it has the muscles of Captain America :) As you can understand easily, i was pretty happy with its sound but, you know, i really wonder how it sounds with A4 within, so this is why and what i did…
1 1) Preparation: Buy everything you will need at the fist place. I really hate to find myself in need of something in the middle of work. For the magnets you may search ebay. There are two easy to reach sellers on ebay; “philaluthiertools” and “addiction-fx”. I prefer Philaluthiertools everytime because i pay just a few bucks to shipping where Addiction-fx wants me to pay aprrox. $60 just for the shipping. Yes, $2,5 for 1 piece of alnico 5 and $60 for the shipping that i can buy a new Seymour Duncan JB within an alnico V free :) But if you live in US, no problem for you. The damnation is on all of us non-US guitar consumers ;) Anyway, just be careful about what you buy; you may buy an alnico 5 bar magnet but it may be sand cast, magnetised, non-magnetised etc.
2) Preparation of the Humbucker: Unstring your guitar first. Mind not to get any scratch your guitar. Especially the screws of humbuckers can easily scratch the thin nitrocellulose finishes. Well, since i have locking tuners i didnt unstring the guitar but got them very loose enough to do everything i need to do. Lie the humbucker down on a soft cotton cloth, sponge, cardboard or anything like that on the photo in order protect the guitar and work on the humbucker safely.
3) And the Surgery Begins: You will see the screws underneath the humbucker. Get them out and put them somewhere fine.
4) Take the Tape Off: Every humbucker has a tape over the wire of bobbins. It may be cloth or paper. Modern humbuckers generally have cloth where vintage ones have paper in order to achieve more vintage vibe as good ole PAFs. Take that tape off properly. Because you will need it again.
5) Glimpse of the Magnet: Now take the baseplate off very carefully. Don’t need to overpower. And Voila! Now face what you are into! The magnet is over there. Okay, the exaggerated use of wax or fixed magnets because of glueing may cause some minor trouble here but generally, especially with Duncans you dont have to worry. You can easily get that lil’ devil out and swap. Anyway, look what we’ve got here;
The black block made of plastic is spacer. If it would be a PAF clone, you would see a wooden spacer (maple, mostly). Before taking the magnet out get your notes on it with and take photos in case of need sometime. Especially notes or signs for the poles. Best and easy way to determine the poles is to use a compass.
6) Taking the Magnet Out: It is relatively easy to handle it with Duncans than Dimarzios which have glued magnet. Just use a thin and narrow tool like a knive of a chisel, move it and get it out gently. If you have issues, you may think of using some heat. But REMEMBER! Magnetic materials have a critic temperature named Curie Temperature. The material heated over that temperature level will lose its magnetic properties.
7) Placing the New Magnet: The most critic thing in here is taking care of the poles, if you dont want to change them for a purpose. Use a compass to determine the poles of new magnet and place properly.
I prefer to determine its poles before all of those work to gain time.
This is the alnico 5 from the PATB-3. My humbucker has its new alnico 4 magnet. You can see the alnico 5 from the PATB-3 still has some wax over the surface.
8) End of the Operation: Now it is time to pack everything together in opposite order. Just be mindful of that: If you leave something in the humbucker that can move freely, it may bring you feedback noise. Thats why after placing the new magnet and screws are about to be done i use heat in order to melt some wax a little bit and then pack the humbucker up. Check if everything operates well; the wiring, the noise, the switching etc. All okay? Then string your guitar, tune it, plug and rock’n roll!!!
Control your switching again. If your guitar has HSH configuration you may have a problem because of magnet polarity (same polarity with the middle single) or pickup winding/current direction which you can fix by changing the cables of middle single pickup).
That my guitar and humbuckers final. I hope my humble article help anyone who needs modest alteration in details.