Project: Shielding, re-wiring, and new pickups…

by Josh
The body cavity was completely unshielded, as you see here.

The body cavity was completely unshielded, as you see here.

Over the past week, John and I have worked on a new project: fixing up my 1999 Made in Mexico (MIM) 60′s re-issue Fender stratocaster.  The start of the issue was a persistent, irritating hum that emanated from the guitar when my hands were off the strings.  It was made perfectly clear that some hum is normal with single coil pickup guitars, but John was convinced that some improvement could be made.

Shielding

Shielding a guitar is the process of adding material to protect the wiring in the body of the guitar from offending radiated energy.  More information can be found at this handy page at Catalina Guitars.

The shielding tape is applied to the back of the pickguard.

The shielding tape is applied to the back of the pickguard.

John informed me that shielding my guitar would eliminate some of the hum, so I purchased some conductive shielding paint and conductive copper tape.  The process of shielding was the most simple that we undertook during this project.  Remove the strings of the guitar, take off the pickguard and remove all of the controls.  The shielding paint indicated that you needed to apply three coats to the interior cavities of the guitar, allowing 24 hours between each coat.

Shielding paint applied to the body cavity and the face of the guitar.

Shielding paint applied to the body cavity and the face of the guitar.

While the first coat of paint was drying, John applied the copper shielding tape to the back of the pickguard by cutting strips to fit the contours and smoothing it as he went.

Re-wiring

Upon removing the pickguard, John discovered that my guitar had cheaper, plastic coated wires hooking up the internals.  We got hold of some cloth wrapped, wax coated wiring from our local guitar shop.  The wax coating removes any internal air space surrounding the wire, which eliminates the chance of microphonic feedback.

We had originally planned on rewiring the guitar by following this guide that we found, however after a failed attempt on a guitar John was working on and some difficulty getting the materials to solder together properly we opted to cut our losses and rewire the guitar using Fender’s stock wiring diagram and the improved wiring that I mentioned above.

The new wiring installed, this was not the final configuration.

The new wiring installed, this was not the final configuration.

Neither John or I are experts at soldering, but we got everything attached back together without any major issues.

New Klein Pickups

The final step was installing the new S-5 Klein Scooped Mid Range Stratocaster pickups.  Using the above wiring diagram, we were able to install these pickups very quickly.  These pickups are also wax coated (referred to as wax-potting) in order to reduce vibration and microphonic feedback.  I intend to post more on this topic soon, both John and I were very impressed with the results.

The new S-5 Scooped Mid Klein Pickups installed.

The new S-5 Scooped Mid Klein Pickups installed.

One additional benefit of the Klein pickups (this particular set, anyway) is that the middle pickup is reverse wound.  This makes the neck/middle and middle/bridge switch settings act like a humbucker pickup, which totally eliminates hum in those two settings.

I don’t have much experience to draw from, but John does and he considered these pickups to be some of the lowest noise (hum/buzz) of any single coils he has heard.  That’s good enough for me!

Neck Modification

The sanded neck, leading to the headstock.  Notice the satin appearance.

The sanded neck, leading to the headstock. Notice the satin appearance.

I originally got this guitar used and there were some dings in the neck.  I showed this to John, and he quickly conjectured that going over it with fine grit sandpaper would even out that sticky gloss polyurethane finish and get rid of the irritating dings.  Some 400 grit sandpaper and some fine steel wool did the trick!  You can see in the before-and-after video below that it looks satiny and it does play much faster than it did before.

Testing and Final Results

Once we got all of the shielding paint dried, the newly rewired hardware installed to the shielded pickguard, and the guitar restrung it was time for testing.  We found that we had succeeded too far in our shielding efforts, and we had a small issue with the jack touching the shielded cavity and

grounding out.  After several attempts to fix it, we opted for the low-tech solution of applying some electrical tape at strategic locations in the jack cavity and the process was complete!  John donated some aged vintage pickup covers and knobs to my cause for no other reason than they looked cooler (I agree!).

We put together a before and after video, which John has graciously hosted on his YouTube account.  John is doing the side-by-side (including the nice riffs to illustrate things) and the pictures in the middle are from our build process:

In the end, I consider this project a wild success.  I learned a lot about the inner workings of my electric guitar, we both discovered the excellence that is Klein pickups, and my guitar is nearly hum free.

John and I are going to embark on more “Do It Yourself” style projects like this, so expect to see more of this as time goes on!


13 Responses to “Project: Shielding, re-wiring, and new pickups…”

  • Dave Vernon Says:

    w00t! That’s a major improvement. Hooray for you guys.

  • Nick W. Says:

    I don’t understand. The hum is obviously gone when in the 2/4 positions as the middle p/up is reverse wound (so the two p/ups together function similarly to a humbucker). You demonstrate how little hum there is in the 4 (combined mid. and bridge) position and then you switch to the bridge and it hums tons. A bad ground wouldn’t make sense as it should hum in the 2/4 as well…I don’t really understand why your bridge hums so much..

  • Josh Says:

    John walks through all of the switch positions in both the before and after, demonstrating that the hum is dramatically reduced in all positions after the shielding/rewiring/new pickups. We weren’t exactly following the scientific method of determining what was causing the issue since we made three significant changes all at once, but the net result is a quieter guitar. John may follow up with a further comment on how the guitar was affected by these changes as he knows more about it than I do.

    Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading!

  • John Says:

    There is no such thing as a silent single coil. Even Fender’s “noiseless” pickups still buzz a bit. Its the nature of the beast. After the shielding and new pickups it was 100% better. Still not dead quiet, but its as close as we could get without installing dummy coils and pouring weeks and weeks into the project. A few days work and the hum is virtually gone. Just a quick example… John Mayer has all the money in the world to pour into his guitars. He has over 200 guitars and his guitar tech is Rene Martinez who was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar tech. You hear a little hum from time to time on his live stuff. Moral of the story is not to aim to get your single coils dead quiet but how quiet you can possibly make them.

  • Nick W. Says:

    yeah, there’s always a trade-off. good job guys, sounds good!

  • Duil Says:

    Great demo and what a vase improvement on your strat. However, I do have some questions. I almost got a set of Gilmour pickups, (ssl-5 bridge, custom 69, fat 50′s neck). the 69 is not reverse wound. I do not want the hum. anything you know of that get’s close to the 69 sound but it reverse wound?? I was thinking a SC 54 but to me they sound a lot like the fat 50

  • Duil Says:

    Great demo and what a vase improvement on your strat. However, I do have some questions. I almost got a set of Gilmour pickups, (ssl-5 bridge, custom 69, fat 50′s neck). the 69 is not reverse wound. I do not want the hum. anything you know of that get’s close to the 69 sound but it reverse wound?? I was thinking a Cs 54 but to me they sound a lot like the fat 50.

  • John Says:

    The hum canceling 2 and 4 positions are very useful if you are playing in a club that has bad grounding issues or if your guitar isn’t shielded correctly. The biggest thing you want to look at is properly shielding the inside of your body cavity with copper foil or shielding paint and the underside of your pickguard with copper foil. These 2 things will cut the hum down to virtually zero. You can also buy self grounding power strips at your local hardware store. That way you always know that your amp is always properly grounded. I have had several guitars. Many have been without the reverse wound middle. If your guitar is shielded and your amp is grounded it doesnt make a difference if its reverse wound or not. Especially if you are running high gain pedals like a big muff or stacking overdrives. Then it will be noisy no matter what. But that is coming from the pedal and not the pickups. He middle pickup on Gilmour’s strat (I own one) is very neutral sounding. If you have to go with a rwrp middle pickup I would go with a 60′s voiced pickup. Something like a texas special or a middle pickup from a 62 reissue. You can find them on ebay. You best bet is to go to kleinpickups.com and get the middle pickups from his gilmour set. You can order it rwrp. But I would properly shield everything. The gilmour strat isnt rwrp and it isnt noisy at all.

  • Felipe Leiva Says:

    Congratulations for you both in this amazing improvement on your guitar, Also, thank you so much for publishing the procedure. This will help a lot of guitarist around (myself included) which may have doubts on how to get rid of the “hum” noise without the fingers on the guitar. Once again, thank you so much!

  • Josh Says:

    Felipe,
    Thank you for visiting the site, I’m glad this information helped you. We’ll be posting more articles of this nature in the future, so stay tuned.

    Josh

  • WARD Says:

    You gotta love humbuckers. You get both benefits, from being in the exact middle of the single coils and humbuckers. And they sounds so soft. Great Blog, I will be forwarding this. Also, is there any forum youd recommend me to join on this topic?

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