Automated Guitar Pickup Winding

[Robert Pickering] shares his automated guitar pickup winder with us. He built it for his senior project at Old Dominion University. Two stepper motors are used to wind the magnet wire around the pickup hardware. The unit is PIC based and about six minutes into the video (embedded after the break) you can see that he used wire wrapping for this build. Curious, one of the comments on our latest Hackaday Links mentioned that wire wrapping was rarely used anymore, but here it is anyway.

We especially like the limiting switches he’s using on the traverse mechanism. There are momentary push buttons on either side of a carriage which are depressed when a drywall screw in the sides of that carriage hits them. This makes for very easy calibration because the screw can be raised or lowered with just a bit of screwdriver work. Well built and documented, we’re sure he’ll get some high marks on this one.


[Thanks Juan]

21 thoughts on “Automated Guitar Pickup Winding

  1. I’m in the process of finishing up a very similar build. Using the laser carriage from a cd/dvd drive as the traverse mechanism (as you put it). Mine uses an Arduino brain. Got interested in winding coils after my Make mag inspired CBG build. Good stuff here.

  2. What about wire tension? Wire tension is INCREDIBLY important when winding pickups. I wish the user explained that aspect of the project.

    I wind pickups on an old sewing machine right now, but would love to go to something more automated if I could get the wire tension figured out.

  3. I’ve built a few of these commercially [how about a 20 lb traverse wire guide head moving at up to 6 inches a second to a positionial accuracy of .001 inches], and for this scale project, the only criticism I have is that the traverse mechanism should be almost on top ot the coil being wound.

  4. Yes, Tension is VERY important especially when using the more commonly used 52ga wire. I suspect he was using 42ga so there was less of a change of it breaking.

    I wind pickups with a lathe that has a VFD so I can control the speed, and an optical switch hooked up to a counter. Tension is controlled by how much wax I put on my fingers as I manually feed the wire.

    I’ve been thinking of doing something more automated like this, now I have some inspiration to get started.

    I don’t want to diminish what this guy did. It’s a good start, but could be improved. Mainly by adding control over the winding pattern (linear or scattered), tension control, and better speed.

  5. @hoooooooooooorj:

    If you’re winding your pickup on a sewing machine, you could probably reroute your wire through the main thread tensioner on the machine (usually a numbered dial), which is quite adjustable. I’m not sure if the tension discs in the machine would damage your wire’s insulation, but I doubt it. Circles of felt, or teflon washers, could fix any problems you might have with the tensioner possibly damaging your insulation.

  6. You can use a stepper motor with a rubber wheel and make a loop of the wire on the wheel to manage the tension of the thread. To test the tension you can use a wheel with some weigth attached to a linear pot.

  7. I’ve seen a few people make machines much more simple than this (think hand powered drill and simple magnetic counter, supposedly you could also use this to wind transformers, right?

  8. But a coil winding is completely different topic than wire wrapping as mentioned in the comments as hackaday links. An important detail, because the beginners in the hobby aren’t going to know the difference.

  9. It might be worthwhile to have the reset button display the number of turns completed before the reset button was hit. That would allow a user to resume after a reset. Another feature that might be nice would be a “turns done from this spool” count, which would let a user determine how many turns they get per spool and approximate how many turns are left.

  10. Not only is the project really cool, but the comments are downright HEARTENING!!

    @ Smokingman: Suggesting improvements is the opposite of diminishing!! :D

    Well done! Everybody!

  11. Just bookmarked this post for the comments alone. Cheers to the builder and the commenters for the excellent feedback. Can’t wait to finish my Arduino powered winder and get flamed to hell. ;)

  12. If I did something like that, my setup would be very similar as far as the microcontroller-stepper motor controller-spooler went, however I would also have a tension meter and adjust the speed based on that.
    Here’s how my tension meter would work:
    1. Have the spool along a track that points towards the pickup. (the spool would also spin to un-wind, less harmful to the wire than what this guy did)
    2. Have a spring connected somehow to the spool
    3. Have the above-mentioned linear pot attached to the spool

    If I didn’t use a stepper motor, I would use some type of optoelectronics to count revs (read: dead computer mouse encoders)

  13. Wire-wrap not used any more? You must be Joking!

    I use wire-wrap almost every day. Rant…

    You can take a bunch of leaded components, resistors, caps, transistors, even DIP IC’s and DIRECTLY wire-wrap the parts together quickly to make a circuit “blob” WITHOUT a soldering iron anywhere in-sight!

    This is space-wired stuff, no perforated proto-board (strip-board, Vero-board) needed. Changing/adding/removing components only means wrapping/un-wrapping. NO soldering.

    If you need to hold the leaded components (yes you can solder leads on SMT parts too) on a substrate but don’t have a perforated board handy, just push them through a piece of cardboard and then wrap the circuit directly on the leads. This has been done for ages – nothing new (I’m old enough to know).

    I would be dead in terms of FAST prototype without my wire-wrap/unwrap/strip tool (around $5 USD) with my thousand-foot spool of good wire-wrap wire bought long ago (surplus, Singapore, less than $20 USD).

    0.1″ perf-board is cheap, wire-wrap tools are cheap, wire-wrap wire is cheap (hunt), wire-wrap sockets/headers are cheap. Wire-wrap should be one of your first considerations when prototyping!

    At high frequencies a leaded-part wire-wrap “blob” will often out-perform anything on a PCB unless the PCB is very carefully designed. (Ground planes, layered ground planes, Parasitics!) When you wire-wrap a board just keep the wires at 90-degree angles, cross-talk solved. Use a strip-board with a single grounding point land. Don’t think wire-wrap is only for low-frequency low-speed prototyping.

    Rgds, Drone

  14. Squirrel: This is how wire is unwound from the spool on just about any pickup winding machine ever built. The tension necessary to make the spool spin is FAR more tension than the wire can handle.

    If you motorize the unrolling spool, I guess it could work, but there is no gain from this. Once it is all said and done, you should soak the pickup in melted wax or lacquer anyway, to prevent the magnet wire from ever moving again.

  15. I actually made one like this in 9th grade, but simpler, out of a Lego NXT kit.
    It’s at the bottom of the page… excuse the large slow load time, I made the page in 9th grade.
    It was for a class project, we were making electric guitars and we were having a hard time winding out magnet-and-cardboard pickups.
    I hooked the microcontroller up to a 9-volt adapter and plugged it into the wall so that the batteries wouldn’t die constantly.
    It also had a winding guide that distributed the wire across the face of the magnet.

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