Lollar Pickups Blog

Welcome to the Lollar Pickups Blog, where we discuss in detail the finer points of Lollar Pickups and share the latest news from the Workbench.

Lollar Pickups Primer: The 3-Wire Tele Modification

teleactionA 4-way switch mod for Tele style guitars has always been a fun, “secret sauce” menu item for discerning guitar players. We don’t offer a pickup set that will work with it as a standard option but if you ask nicely we just might make one for you…

The standard three-way-switch gives you the three classic Tele position we all know and love. Neck pickup alone, neck + bridge in parallel, and bridge pickup alone – A tone formula that’s had the ladies swoonin’ and shakin’ since 1951. The 4-way Tele mod (TELE 4 WAY PDF) introduces a new position, the neck and bridge combo in series, which can give any Tele player a bit more versatility.

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Small in Stature, Big in Tone

minihbfirebird

The Firebird and Mini-Humbucker might be the two of the most underrated and misunderstood pickups that are available today. These two designs are as versatile and complex as any of the pickups we make, and many discerning players are taking advantage of their unique capabilities in order to expand their tonal options.

Pickups in the “mini” family have a different tone than the larger PAF for various reasons; some apply to all the smaller ‘buckers and some are specific to each design. All of these secondary pickups share a smaller size, 2-5/8” X 1-1/8”. The narrower width of these pickups (1-1/8” compared to 1-1/2”) senses a shorter length of string vibration. This makes the pickup  sense higher harmonics generated by the string, which gives you a slightly brighter and more focused sound due to the smaller size.

The internal constructions of these little guys are also a huge part of the tone. A Mini-humbucker is made like a miniature PAF pickup, with one bar magnet positioned under each coil with adjustable pole pieces made out of a ferrous alloy and the other coil containing a ferrous metal bar that is not adjustable. This corresponds to a PAF with adjustable poles in one coil and a series of metal slugs in the other coil. A Firebird on the other hand, has a bar magnet in each coil. Each coil is wound around the bar magnet, one coil is south up and the other is north up. The inductance properties of steel and alnico magnet grades are very different. Also the magnetic field shape and strength are different between the Mini-Humbucker and the Firebird which gives them different characteristics.
Steel cores tend to have a higher inductance- you get more bass and more output verses an alnico magnet core. That gives Mini-Humbucker a smoother attack with more sustain and you’ll get more of a grind to the tone when you push your amp into distortion. Traditional Firebird pickups have a tighter, “spankier” tone that stays more defined when you really crank up your amp.

Not to be left out, Johnny Smith pickups are a hybrid of both the Mini-Humbucker and Firebird; they combine some of the clarity of a Firebird with the smoother attack of the mini. It’s actually quite a clever invention- one coil has a bar magnet in it like a Firebird but the pickup has a bottom plate made out of steel that is tapped and threaded to hold adjustable pole pieces for the second coil.  The magnetism travels from the bottom of the bar magnet along the steel plate to the adjustable pole pieces.

One thing to note if you’re thinking about Lollar-izing a guitar with these mini-marvels is our sizes are bit larger than the vintage specs. Our pickups covers for Mini-Humbuckers and Firebirds are slightly longer than vintage mini or firebird pickup covers. Vintage covers are 2.587” X 1.87” which translates to 2-19/32” X 1-3/32”. New covers are 2.687” X 1.87” which translates to fractions as 2-11/16” X 1-3/32”. New covers are 3/32” longer than vintage pickups but they will still fit in a vintage route with a new size ring mounts you can order from us.

These small humbuckers were never very popular when they were first introduced- they tended to be overly microphonic and too bright. Recently they have come back in to the spotlight. If they are made correctly they can be a very good pickup! You can mount a mini bucker or a Firebird into any guitar that currently has soapbar P-90 pickups installed. The conversion is very simple to do – it uses a special P-90 soapbar cover size adapter. We also take orders daily for players wanted use them as neck pickups in Teles for a nice spin on a classic style.

Visit our website for a series of videos showing different ways to mount and install Mini-Humbuckers and Firebirds. http://www.lollarguitars.com/mini-humbucker-installation.shtml

Left-handed Guitar Pickups for Left-handed Guitar Players

This article is dedicated to all of our left handed guitar-playing customers. Although most players – right or left handed – will enjoy the technical information in this article because it applies to other questions that come up regarding the orientation of the pickup in the guitar.

In particular, this article will address our most frequently asked question from left handed players:

Do left handed players need “left handed” guitar pickups for their left handed guitars?

Generally speaking, the only time you will need a “left handed” guitar pickup is if you are ordering a pickup with staggered pole pieces. For example, a set of staggered Lollar strat style pickups or a Lollar AlNiCo 3 staggered tele bridge. Because there is 180 degrees difference between a right-handed guitar and a left-handed guitar, the magnet pattern needs to be reversed for left-handed players. But it is ONLY the magnet pattern that is affected by left versus right-handed instruments.

If you are ordering a flat pole Lollar pickup, you will not need a “left handed” guitar pickup. This applies to all of our Lollar single coil pickups and Lollar humbucking pickups.

Here’s why:

The magnet polarity and wind direction of the coil wire are the two variables we want to look at here. These two variables interact to affect phasing and hum-cancelling operations when pickups are combined. The interesting thing is that these two factors do not change when the pickup’s orientation changes. In other words, the pickup can be rotated in the guitar and the polarity and wind direction will stay the same.

First let’s start with polarity. As you know, pole piece magnets have one end that has a north polarity and one end that has a south polarity. So regardless of the orientation of the pickup in the guitar, assuming you orient the top of the pickup toward the strings, the same polarity of the magnet will always be facing outward toward the strings. In other words, if the magnet pole pieces are facing “north up” you can orient the pickup anywhere on the guitar, and it will remain “north up.” The pickup’s north poles will be facing toward the strings.

Next let’s talk about the wind direction of the coil wire. By this we mean the circular pathway the coil wire takes as it travels from hot to ground. In other words, the pathway the electricity takes as it “flows” from the hot lead, circles around the pickup pole pieces a few thousand times, and then passes to ground.

There are only two possibilities for wind direction: clockwise or counter-clockwise. In other words from the hot lead – then around the coil in a clockwise rotation – and then out to ground. Or, from the hot lead – then around the coil in a counter-clockwise rotation – and then out to ground.

A simple visual illustration will help you see that polarity and wind direction are not affected when a pickup is put in a right handed or a left handed guitar.

This Lollar strat style pickup is north up and has a counter-clockwise wind direction.

This Lollar strat style pickup is north up and has a counter-clockwise wind direction.

In this first photo we have the outline of a more familiar right handed strat pickguard, with a Lollar strat style middle pickup. We build all of our strats so that the colored cloth lead (either yellow or white) is hot, and the black is ground. As you can see the coil wire travels from the hot (yellow) lead – around the coil in a counter-clockwise path – and then out to ground.

Even though the pickup's orientation has changed for use in a left-handed guitar, its polarity and wind direction are still the same.

Even though the pickup's orientation has changed for use in a left-handed guitar, its polarity and wind direction are still the same.

Now take that same Lollar strat style middle pickup and rotate it for use in a left handed strat pickguard. As you can see, the coil wire STILL travels from the hot (yellow) lead – around the coil in a counter-clockwise path – and then out to ground.

Bottom line: It makes no difference if your flat pole pickup is in a left handed guitar or a right handed guitar. Your pickup’s polarity and wind direction will stay the same. 

For a related discussion take a look at this blog article, Guitar Pickup Phasing & Lead Wire Direction.

Our most popular pickups are flat pole pickups. So leftys that’s good news for you. Give us a call: what you’re looking for is likely in stock and ready to ship.

Common Questions About Gibson & Fender Pole Piece Spacing – part 2

This the second part of our series about some important considerations for Gibson and Fender pole piece spacing. Part one talked about things to consider for humbuckers. This section will cover things you’ll want to know when setting up instruments with single coil pickups.

First, to review – the main focus of this series is to understand that there is a slight difference in the pole piece spacing between typical Gibson style pickups and Fender style pickups. By “pole piece spacing” we mean the amount of space in between the pole pieces of the pickups. This roughly relates to the spacing in between the strings of the guitar, but not entirely. More on this point later.

If you were to measure the distance between the high E string and the low E string you would get different measurements if you were measuring a Gibson style pickup versus a Fender style pickup. When measured from center to center of the two outside (E) strings, a standard Gibson style pole spacing is right around 50 millimeters. A standard Fender style pole spacing is between 52 and 53 millimeters, depending on the pickup.

Just like in part 1 of this series, the best way to proceed is to review the most common questions.

Question 1: A soapbar is traditionally a Gibson style pickup, is there any way to get one with Fender spacing (F-spacing) instead?

Yes. We actually make an F-spaced soapbar P-90. Currently we make them when ordered, so they are not on our web site. To order one you’ll need to call the shop and place your order by phone (206) 463-9838. The turnaround time for those is a week or two. We can build them in all of the different soapbar versions we make – standard wind, 50’s wind, and +5% overwound.

Question 2: I want to put a soapbar into the neck of my Tele; will I need an F-spaced pickup?

Probably not. Because the strings get closer together as you move from the bridge to the neck, in most cases a standard Gibson spacing will be fine in the neck position. (See question 4 for more detail).

Question 3: I’m installing a 3-piece set of soapbar pickups into my Strat; do I need an F-spaced bridge?

That would be a good idea. Read the discussion for question 4 for more detail.

Question 4: I notice that the strings on my Strat line up differently over the pole pieces, is something wrong?

This is an interesting question. We discussed it in the previous blog, using humbuckers as the example. But since it applies to almost all guitars, it’s worth discussing using a single coil example also. As you know, the string spacing is the widest right at the bridge and the narrowest at the nut. So in other words, as the strings span from the bridge saddles to the nut, they become closer and closer together. Put another way, they are never quite the same distance apart anywhere along the guitar. They are either getting closer together as you travel from the bridge to the nut, or getting further apart as you travel from the nut to the bridge. That means the strings will always relate to the pole piece spacing of the pickups a little differently, depending on the position along the guitar.

Notice how the strings and pole pieces line up a little differently at each different pickup position.

Notice how the strings and pole pieces line up a little differently at each different pickup position.

The Strat is a perfect example. Take a look at this photo. If you look closely, you can see that closest to the bridge – where the strings are their widest apart – they actually sit a little to the outside of the two E pole pieces. If you travel down the guitar and look at the relationship at the middle pickup, you’ll see that the strings sit nicely centered over the pickup’s pole pieces. And if you travel even further toward the nut – as the strings get even closer together – you’ll see that the strings actually sit a little to the inside of the two E pole pieces. Like we mentioned in last week’s discussion, this is true in most instances. If the string spacing at the bridge is wider than at the nut, the strings will always relate to the pickup pole piece spacing a little differently, depending on the location on the guitar.

Common Questions about Gibson & Fender Pole Piece Spacing

We get enough questions about Gibson pole spacing versus Fender pole spacing that it’s worthwhile writing about here in our weekly blog.

The best way to proceed is to review the most common questions.

But first, we’ll start with some basics…..like, what do you mean by Gibson spacing and Fender spacing?

That terminology is actually referring to the physical spacing between the pole pieces. This roughly corresponds to the distance between the strings themselves, but not entirely. (More on that point later). In general terms, the spacing between pole pieces is slightly wider on Fender style pickups, and slightly narrower on Gibson style pickups. The overall difference – when you measure from the centers of the 2 outside pole pieces – is roughly 2 to 3 millimeters. In other words, if you measure from the center of the high E pole piece to the center of the Low E pole piece, a Gibson spaced pickup will measure right around 50 millimeters. A pickup with Fender spacing will measure between 52 and 53 millimeters, depending on the pickup.

This week we’ll discuss how this applies to Humbuckers:

Question 1: How wide is the Fender pole spacing and how wide is the Gibson pole spacing on the Lollar Imperial humbuckers?

A standard Lollar Imperial humbucker has a pole spacing of 50mm

A standard Lollar Imperial humbucker has a pole spacing of about 50mm.

 

 

Our traditional Gibson style Lollar Imperial humbuckers have a pole spacing of about 50 mm, as measured from center to center of the two outside pole pieces.

The Fender spaced Lollar Imperial humbucker has a pole spacing of 53mm.

The Fender spaced Lollar Imperial humbucker has a pole spacing of about 53mm.

 

 

Our Fender spaced (F-spaced) Imperial humbuckers have a pole spacing of about 53 mm, as measured from center to center of the two outside pole pieces.

 

Question 2: Will I need a longer route if I install a Fender spaced humbucker?

The outer dimension of all of our (six string) full sized Lollar Imperial humbuckers is exactly the same. The difference between the two pickups is in the spacing of the poles as they’re positioned on the inside of the pickup. In other words, when a metal humbucker cover is machine stamped, the outer rectangle or “box” is the same size. But it’s the distance in between the individual pole pieces that is different. They are stamped through the metal box in slightly different positioning.

This Gibson spaced humbucker cover is 2.75" in length.

This Gibson spaced humbucker cover is 2.75" in length.

 

 

Take a look at these  two photos. You’ll see that the outer dimension of the two humbuckers is exactly the same, even though they each have a different pole spacing.

This Fender spaced humbucker cover is 2.75" in length.

This Fender spaced humbucker cover is 2.75" in length.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question 3: How do I know if I need Fender spacing or not?

This is one of those questions that – to a certain degree – needs to be answered on a “case-by-case basis.” But that being said, generally speaking, if you are purchasing full sized Lollar Imperial humbuckers for a standard Gibson style guitar, then it’s not an issue. You need standard Gibson style humbuckers. However, if you are installing humbuckers onto a guitar that could be considered a “Fender” style guitar, then you’ll want to evaluate the need for a Fender spaced bridge. The most direct approach is to start by measuring the string spacing, right at the bridge.

Question 4: I want to set up my strat with an S-S-H (single-single-humbucker) configuration. Do I need an F-spaced Imperial bridge?

Yes, in most cases. The only exception to this would be if – somehow – a Gibson style bridge had been installed onto a Strat style guitar. That would be more of a “fluke” than anything else. Say, for example, a home-made “Frankenstein” guitar made from parts you happened to have on hand. As far as we know, there are no Gibson style bridges being installed onto Fender style guitar modifications or “clones” of any sort.

Question 5: Do I need an F-spaced Lollar Imperial for my Tele neck?

Probably not. Most of our players, and builders, install a standard Gibson spaced Imperial humbucker in a tele neck. As you know, the string spacing itself becomes narrower as the strings span from the bridge saddles to the nut. Even though it’s a Fender style guitar, the string spacing at the neck position can usually accommodate a standard Gibson spaced neck pickup.

Question 6: My pole pieces don’t line up exactly under my strings, is that a problem?

This is actually completely common for standard guitars. If you think about it, the strings are never the same distance apart as they span from the bridge to the end of the neck. They are furthest apart at the saddles of the bridge, and closest together when sitting at the nut. In between, they sit at various distances apart. That means no two positions on the guitar will relate to a pickup’s pole piece spacing in exactly the same way.

Notice how the stings align a bit differently over the tops of the humbucker pole pieces.

Notice how the stings align a bit differently over the tops of the humbucker pole pieces.

Take a look at this photo. If you look closely, you’ll see that when the strings are closest to the bridge, they actually sit a little wider than the pole pieces of the humbucker pickup. Now take a look at the strings’ position further down the guitar, when they are sitting over the neck pickup. Notice how the strings sit a little more closely aligned with the humbucker pole pieces. This is true for all guitars: If the string spacing at the bridge is wider than the string spacing at the nut, the pole pieces and strings will line up a little differently at each pickup position.

To learn more about our various types of humbuckers, follow this link to the Lollar humbucker section of our web site.

Next week we’ll talk about how to apply these same ideas to projects with single coil pickups.

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