QUICK HIT: In this article I've pulled together a collection of pickup wiring diagram resources that I've used and have found to be most helpful. Since I've messed up a lot of pickup swaps and guitar mods, I've had the occasion to look for wiring help and have been surprised at how good some pickup manufacturers are about providing electrical and wiring info, not just for their products but for others as well.
When Everette and I put a new set of pickups on an Epiphone SG, we spent a lot of time looking at wiring diagrams and documentation. Not only was the pairing of the Seymour Duncan humbuckers and that particular model of SG a little unorthodox, but our (my) skills at guitar modding wasn't the best.
As a result, we had to do a lot of technical digging and reading before the job was done.
In the process, we found that there are a ton of really fantastic resources available for pickup installations and proper wiring.
The Problem of a Standardized Approach
Of course the pickups themselves came with a wiring document, a graphic in the case of Seymour Duncan. However, this isn't always something you can use because the graphic they box with the pickup doesn't take into account the guitar it ends up being paired with.
They just box the pickup set with the most common or "standard" configuration. Since our configuration wasn't standard, the provided documentation was incomplete and even a bit confusing.
What we found out is that Seymour Duncan covers nearly every imaginable configuration on their wiring diagrams page.
Here's just a peek:
Get a FREE Guitar Tricks membership that lasts 14 days and try it out. If it's not for you, just cancel. Your membership is also backed by a 60-day money-back guarantee.
11,000+ lessons, 1000+ song tutorials with tabs, works on all devices.
I will list these resources for easy referral. Even if you just used the Seymour Duncan database, you could probably cover everything. However, there are several other companies who also do a really good job with these diagrams, so I'll list them as well.
Note that pickup wiring diagrams are usually one of the following file types:
- PNG (image)
- JPG (image)
Pickup wiring is always going to be most optimally communicated visually. This means that all the diagrams we list here are using images of actual pickups and electronic components that display proper wiring arrangements. In other words, you don't need to read much.
Here an example from Seymour Duncan:
I'll list each company that makes these diagrams - all of which are themselves manufacturers - and give an example for each one. Note that a pickup wiring diagram from Seymour Duncan could, in most cases, work for a similar pickup from another brand.
In some cases that's not true, but usually you can crossover diagrams between brands and not run into trouble.
Let's start with Seymour Duncan since I've already used them as an example.
1. Seymour Duncan Wiring Diagrams
- URL: https://www.seymourduncan.com/wiring-diagrams
- Pickup Type Covered: Humbuckers, Teles, Strats, Bass and Others
- Total Diagrams in Database: 284
Seymour Duncan's wiring diagram database is probably the one I refer to most regularly, just because they cover so many different configurations (284 between all the pickup types) and their graphics are really high quality. Under the "View All" section you can use a drop-down menu to select your pickup type.
Once you select a category, it'll default to that category's most typical configuration, displaying a second drop-down menu with all the additional pickup wiring diagrams for that pickup type.
From there you'll have to figure out what kind of configuration you want to setup. For example, you might want to implement coil splitting, multiple tone knobs or different switch selection options (usually three or five). Once you find the configuration that matches both your particular pickup and the configuration you want to implement for your guitar, you can just read off the screen or download the diagram.
Here's what the above diagram looks like as a standalone graphic. It's pretty easy to read and intuitive to follow.
2. Lindy Fralin Wiring Diagrams
- URL: https://www.fralinpickups.com/resources/wiring-diagrams/
- Pickup Type Covered: Stratocasters, Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Mustang, Telecaster, Humbuckers, P90s and Bass
- Total Diagrams in Database: 34
Lindy Fralin's shop is close to where I live in Richmond Virginia. It's a great place that you can just walk in like you would any brick and mortar store. Their wiring diagram database isn't as full as Seymour Duncan's, but they still cover all of the basics.
All the diagrams are housed in expandable drop down menus.
If you click on the drop down menu for humbucker pickups, you'll get a handful of the most common configurations. Once again, the artwork is excellent and easy to follow along with.
The Fralin diagrams are all available in a PDF download. One downside is, they don't offer nearly as many configuration options as Seymour Duncan does. Yet, they cover most of the basics and are helpful for a lot of pickup sets and configurations beyond the products they sell.
3. EMG's Top-10 Wiring Diagrams
- URL: https://www.emgpickups.com/top-10-wiring-diagrams
- Pickup Type Covered: EMG single coil and humbucker pickups
- Total Diagrams in Database: 10
Most EMG pickups are active, meaning they need to run off a 9V battery, making them more complex to install and configure. As a consequence, EMG's pickup wiring diagrams are mostly limited to being useful only for EMG pickups, primarily because they're made to include a 9V battery in the circuit.
The page I'm referring to is a collection of the 10 most common configurations, which address both single coil and humbucker style pickups.
Here's a screenshot of that page:
For most of their pickups, EMG uses a solderless wiring kit, which you can buy separately or - in some cases - is shipped with the pickups. However, you can install EMG pickups the old-fashioned solder way, if you prefer. If you go that route, I'd advise looking at another wiring diagram that addresses your particular method.
Once you get the technical differences of EMG pickups and the solderless system, they're actually much easier to install. They don't even require string grounding.
Before we get to the diagrams, let's recap:
- Active EMG pickups are powered by one 9V battery
- Solderless kit is the easiest way to install them
- EMG pickups can be installed via a solder system
- Older EMG pickups can still be used with new solderless kits
The diagrams assume you're using the solderless kit. Take the following SSS single coil configuration, which would be typical of a Stratocaster pickup mod:
Like I said, the diagrams can be tricky and are not going to be applicable to other types of pickups, unless you're trying to use the solderless kit with a similar, active set. My advice here is to take your time and read through the documentation, because once you figure out the technology, it makes pickup swapping extremely easy.
I'd also recommend checking out some of EMG's installation videos. They're quite helpful.
Here's one by Monique on the EMGtv YouTube channel:
4. GuitarElectronics.com Wiring Diagram Database
- URL: https://guitarelectronics.com/guitar-wiring-resources/
- Pickup Type Covered: Humbuckers, Single Coils (Strat and Tele), P-Bass and J-Bass
- Total Diagrams in Database: Too many to count
GuitarElectronics.com isn't a site I've purchased parts from, but they do have the most massive collection of wiring and technical diagrams that I've ever seen. They're also not brand-specific, which means you can find your particular configuration and apply it to whatever brand of pickup you want.
It assumes the soldering approach, but (despite EMG's progress in guitar electronics) most pickup manufacturers still do.
Here's how the database is categorized:
Once you click on one of these squares, perhaps the "2 Pickup Guitar Wiring Diagrams" option, you'll be taken to a page with a massive amount of diagrams that cover nearly every feasible configuration.
There are well over 150 in most of the categories.
Here's a quick look at one part of the 2 pickup section:
The diagrams themselves are not nearly as nice as some of the others we've seen. For example, here's the graphic for two humbuckers and a three-way selector switch:
A pretty lackluster graphic, but functionally it gets the job done. Thus far, GuitarElectronics.com has the most robust and comprehensive pickup wiring diagram resource. Nothing else even comes close to matching the vast amount of content they've developed here.
It's a great tool for guitarists to keep in their back pocket, regardless of the pickup brand they're most enthusiastic about.
A Few Honorable Mentions
Most manufacturers provide some kind of documentation to go alone with their pickups. I noticed a few others that were worthy of a mention, though not quite as robust or as high-quality as the ones here. Still, they can be useful depending on your situation.
How to Chose a Diagram
I should reiterate that the manufacturer's packaging for a particular pickup does not take into account your guitar. They're trying to anticipate the most common scenario, which means the diagram(s) they include may or may not be applicable to your situation.
Generally speaking, these are the variables you should consider:
- Pickup count
- Number of volume knobs
- Number of tone knobs
- Pickup selector (three or five-way switch usually)
- Coil Splitting/Coil Tapping/Push-Pull Controls
- Series-Split-Parallel (for humbuckers)
- Reversed Wound Reversed Polarity (usually single coil pickups)
- Two or four-conductor wiring
It seems complex at first, but know that these are just possible things you could run into, depending on your setup. Not every pickup mod is going to involve all of these different issues and technical challenges.
Just make sure you know which ones will apply to you so you can get the right wiring diagram to work off of.
We want to avoid having to install the same pickups twice.
I've done it more than a handful of times and it's no fun.
Conclusion and Your Questions
Pickup mods and electric guitar modding in general, has a tendency to be an ambiguous journey. That's partly why we've built tools and resources like this to help with that process. Since I've made so many mistakes myself, I figured it would be helpful to have resources that make the process a little more straightforward and easier, even if it's just curating as much information as possible into one place.
The websites I've cited have, in my experience, been the most helpful when it comes to providing wiring diagrams, useful both for their products and for others.
If you have questions about the material, the diagrams or just pickup mods in general, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I'll do my best to help out.