The mod mood hit me the other day. I was thinking about the various pickups and other parts that I had in my inventory and the thought occurred to me – why not put a P90 pickup in the neck position of my Tele partscaster?
The P90 is an intriguing pickup. It is a single-coil pickup but differs from Strat and Tele pickups in that the coil is not as tall, but is wider. It has a distinctive sound that has appealed to players for the 70 years of its existence.
I hade a P90 in the neck position of a Tele-style guitar a few years ago, but that guitar was sold long ago. I recalled that it was a good choice for that neck position.
In my inventory was a P90 that came from the shop of Buddha Pickups, a U.S. manufacturer of hand-wound guitar pickups. I got it in a trade with Tim, the owner of Buddha. He had rewound it. I measured it at a powerful 8.5K, a little hotter than a typical P90. I like hot pickups!
So, the next step was to get a pickguard. Guitarfetish.com sells a couple of P90 pickups for Tele-style guitars. I picked one with a white finish and ordered it.
However, any project runs into bumps in the road. After starting on the project, I discovered that I had neglected to get a cover for the P90.
I also noticed that one of the pickup mounting screws was bent. This led me to place an order with Stewart MacDonald for a pickup cover and new screws. Often, when I buy relatively inexpensive items such as this, I buy extras. I bought an extra cover and, more importantly, an extra set of P90 mounting screws for an additional $.90. I also got some other miscellaneous parts, such as potentiometer mounting nuts, which I tend to run out of.
I tend to lose screws and springs, despite my best efforts to organize and track them. So, spares are nice. Also, I might need a P90 cover in the future, so this would save me from having to order one.
The cover fit fine, so it was time to mount the pickup in the guitar. I wasn’t sure at first at how a P90 is mounted into a guitar. A trip to YouTube gave me my answer. A Jason Lollar video showed how to mount it.
The P90’s two mounting screws go through the pickup, through springs, and directly into the wood. The trick is to drill pilot holes in the right places so the screws will securely fit into the wood.
But first, there was a problem: I had to remove some wood from the pickup cavity. I placed the pickguard in place and saw that some wood would block the pickup from fitting.
So, how do I fix this? I suppose a professional would fire up the router, use a P90 template and rout the perfect pickup cavity. I’m not a professional, and this is MY guitar, so I will fix the problem as I see fit!
Out came the one-quarter-inch chisel. I hacked away at the offending wood, intermittently using a vacuum to remove the chips. I finally got rid of enough of it for the pickup to fit. Nice thing about pick guards – you can get away with all kinds of woodwork abuse and the pickguard hides all of it!
With that done, I put the pickup cover into the pickup cavity upside down. I used a drill with a small bit to drill through the mounting screw holes in the cover. The result was this:
Next came the matter of running the wire from the cavity to the cutout where the controls are located.
Next job was screwing in the pickup. Now, this is where I may have become careless or made some other mistake from inexperience. When I put the pickguard on, I realized that the pickup was not sitting level. It was slanted toward the bridge of the guitar. I Played with it some, then decided to live with it for now.
Anyway, with this done, it was time to attack the wiring. My Tele partscaster is set up so that the volume knob is where the three-way switch is on standard Telecaster guitars. I first saw this modification used by Terry Kath, founding guitarist of Chicago (the band). It makes it easier to do volume swells, not that I do many of those or do them well.
Soldering pickup leads would seem to be a routine task, but I ran into another problem: the pickup had three leads. How would I tell which one was the hot lead and which ones were ground leads?
Out came the trusty multi-meter. I measured the resistance between the different leads and discovered that two of the wires, when checked for resistance between them, showed a reading of 8.5K. The other combinations of wires did not show anything.
So, I used the white wire as hot and soldered the red and black wires to ground. I think I got it right – the pickup sounds right and doesn’t seem to be out of phase. The white wire was too short to reach its destination, so I soldered an extension onto it.
Now came the acid test. I returned the strings to pitch, I plugged the guitar into my Danelectro mini-amp, selected the neck position with the witch, and played.
Voila!It worked. Now, I don’t take for granted the times when a project makes a sound on the first attempt. For me, at least, there’s usually something to fix.
I try to avoid that by using a multi-meter to check the continuity between various places in the circuit before I turn it on. It’s kind of like troubleshooting in advance.
So, I buttoned it all up and played on it for awhile, The tone is fine. My acid test is the combination of the neck and bridge pickups together. I look for a bright, clean sound in this combination.
The P90 seemed to overwhelm the bridge pickup. The tone wasn’t as bright as I though tit should be. However, this is a topic for another project. There are many options, such as a hotter pickup, blending pots, a resistor on the neck pickups, and who knows what else.
For now, I’ve got a great P90 trucking in my Tele partscaster, and all is rocking in the world!