Guitar pickup 101

[Dino Segovis] is at it again!  For this week’s installment of his “Hack A Week” series [Dino] is holding a guitar pickup winding 101.  Professional guitar pickups can cost hundreds of dollars, but are all essentially a permanent magnet wrapped in a bunch of wire. Using some cheap headphones, magnet wire, and a spare bolt [Dino] produces his own pickup and throws it in a one string blues guitar. This is a great beginner’s project as it involves only a few very easy to find parts and touches on some interesting concepts such as inductance and magnetic flux.

The premise is really simple:  Sandwich the headphone magnet between two plastic discs to make a spindle, hot glue a 1/4″ bolt to the spindle, connect to a power drill, and wind a few thousand loops of magnet wire onto the thing.  Hook your coil up to an amp and lay down a jam.

We might be tempted to add a counter to the rig using a reed switch connected to the “=” key of a cheap pocket calculator, and a magnet glued to the bolt.  We have also seen a more complicated automated spool winder but [Dino] is keeping it nice and simple.

Check out the video after the jump to hear [Dino] go all Seasick Steve on us.

18 thoughts on “Guitar pickup 101

  1. I’m not sure where you guys might source this gauge of magnet wire easily, but I have only been able to find it in relatively high bulk (a pound or two) at around $30/lb. That’s not terrible for me, because I build guitars as a hobby, but if I were someone just dicking around, I would be apprehensive about getting that much wire.

    Also, it seems the video has been removed.

  2. I used to design a build pickups… been about 10 years. At that a group of guys from the pickup-building community started up a re-sale of magnets, bobbins, and magnet wire for hobbyist winders. I did some quick searches and can’t seem to find them around any more. There was a very informative forum at the time too… this might get some folks on the right path:

  3. I wound my own pickup for a 3 string cigar box guitar last year. I bought ~12k feet of 43 ga wire on ebay for something like $8.

    I used an electric drill, but no counter – just wound till the spool I made was full. Wrapped the wire in twine and dipped in wax to eliminate air. The permanent magnets were 3/16″ x 1/2″ neodymium.

  4. Why bother with any form of counter?

    If you know the diameter of the bolt that you are winding onto, you know the gauge of the wire and you know how many turns you want, then you easily can calculate what length of wire is required. Just cut a length slightly over size and wind till its almost all gone.


  5. Nice!

    AFAIK however, loudspeaker magnets concentrate as much energy as possible in the narrow gap where the voice coil hangs, and not so much outside. (making the flux pattern very different than the presented one)

    There’s obviously enough leakage for it to work nicely, but if you have some conventional magnets (like [brad]’s) hanging around, you might be better off using them rather than sacrificing a speaker.

    A lower efficiency pickup _is_ a good excuse to push your amp to 11 though :D


  6. That enamel wire is in so many products like old speakers and electric motors and such, surely you can find some junk that has a coil inside?
    Old computer fan maybe? Or old toy with an electric motor?

    @pff I see it more an more, I guess it’s how they call it when they teach kids with their first experiments in electromagnetism? even though it causes confusion since people think it’s some kind of special material.

  7. An electric “strum stick”. Just don’t use the term strum stick where the guy who has trade marked it hear you. He will get on your case. I wonder if using the coil from the speaker that magnet was scavenged from would function as a pickup coil?

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