There is plenty of information about guitar repair on the internet, not all of it great (the article you are currently reading comes to mind). However, there are at least a few useful resources that will help you troubleshoot and provide a good overview of basic repairs.
The following “Instructable”, written by an enterprising 15-year-old, provides a fairly detailed, step-by-step approach to replacing pickups: Replacing the Pickups in Your Guitar
For a good troubleshooting guide, visit www.fretnotguitarrepair.com.
(If you know of any other good sites and/or videos, please share in the comment section below.)
I probably should have checked out some of this information before beginning my own repair efforts. However, I believe very strongly in learning from my mistakes. Hopefully I can help others avoid the same pitfalls. To recap: I’ve decided to replace my standard issue Epiphone Les Paul pickup with a used DiMarzio 159 and have totally wimped out on paying for a new set of tuners, opting to try my luck finding a replacement for the sole missing tuner (oriented to the bass side – Anyone? Anyone?)
Taking my thriftiness to an absurd level, I decide to use an ancient solder belonging to my grandfather (and likely his grandfather before him, by the looks of it). The tip is huge; probably used to solder components in big mainframe, room consuming computers, as depicted in movies from the Seventies and earlier. (See The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes). This should make things interesting. (Mistake #1?)
I decide to replace my neck pickup, since it’s already come loose due to a missing screw. This, even though I recall hearing the salesman say this particular DiMarzio is a bridge pickup. I guess there’s a difference? (Mistake #2?)
Cracking open the back panel of my guitar with a crowbar (just kidding…but it’s probably a bit believable at this point). I find that things are not as complicated as I had feared. There are two potentiometers (“pot”, from here out) for each pickup and a mass of wires leading off to the bridge selector switch. (This separation of powers, as opposed to those outlined in the U.S. Constitution, appears to be a good thing, as the wiring looks really messy up behind the selector switch panel.)
My old pickup has two wires: one soldered to the top of one pot, the other soldered to the base of the same. My new pickup, however, has four wires (see pic: black, red, green and white/black). At the risk of losing my momentum and motivation, I decide to throw caution to the wind and attach the black/white wires to the top pot and the green wire to the base and let the red and black hang loose. (Mistake #3?)
Halfway through the process, I realize that soldering is not too difficult and actually pretty fun. It would have been even more so, were it not for the bulkiness of my iron. I find myself having to work extra hard not to burn through other wires and still manage to singe a couple in the process. (Mistake #4?)
Moving on to my missing tuner, I channel my inner MacGyver, deciding to solder and glue together a few progressively smaller metal nuts. It certainly looks hardcore and kind-of, sort-of ends up working.
Before restringing the guitar, I decide to test out my new pickup as best I can. I plug the Epiphone into my dinky Crate practice amp and tap lightly on the DiMarzio with my screwdriver (one tip I did read in advance). Success! My tapping is answered by a satisfying thud from the amp. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for my old bridge pickup. Nothing.
Taking off the bridge pickup, I see that it is literally falling apart, perhaps having corroded somehow. I hope to make an easy switch out with my old neck pickup (mistake #5?), but notice that the wiring is a bit different this time. Instead of both wires connecting to the same pot, one pickup wire is attached to the volume pot and the other to the tone pot. Okay. Whatever. I decide to roll with it and mimic the same configuration.
Plugging the guitar back in, I still don’t get any response from the bridge, so I decide to just go ahead and put new strings on (mistake #6?).
Ready to shred with my new pickup, I plug in and strum an open E chord. I am met with lots of feedback, mixed with buzzing strings. Switching to the bridge pickup I get a whole lot of nothing, except buzzing strings. If I were in front of a live audience, I would definitely smash this guitar.
DIY Blues, Pt 4: Back to the drawing board
Will the folks at the Trading Musician tell me what I did wrong? Or will they just point and laugh? Right about now, I’m willing to take what I can get.