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Thread: Need Some Help - Strat Pickup Driving Me Crazy

  1. #1
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    Need Some Help - Strat Pickup Driving Me Crazy

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    Ok...here's the deal. I have an old Bullet Strat that I've always used as my "experimental upgrade DIY" guitar. I replaced the neck with a MIM strat neck and tuners that I liked. Love the neck. Then.....I replaced the pickups with a set of MIM's that I got from Ebay. I tested all 3 and they had the correct resistance and seemed fine so I put them in. I wired them all the same way the old pups were wired. The MIM pups had two with white and black wire and one with yellow and black. I put the yellow and black one in the middle. I ran continuity checks and and all was well. As soon as I put the loaded pick guard back in.....the trouble started. The neck pup wasn't working at all. I removed the assy again and it started working (while out of the guitar) without me doing a thing to it. I put it all back in and it worked fine for a few days. Then the neck pup quit again. As soon as I pulled it out of the guitar it worked again. I re-soldered all connections....tested it again and it was fine. I put it back in the guitar and it worked fine for a day. Then.....the same thing. The neck pickup stopped working. What am I doing wrong here????

    Notes: The tone controls work fine.......and the volume control has no issues. I'm thinking it's the 5 way switch (4 positions are fine) but could it actually be the neck pup? I always thought.........they work or they don't. Nothing in between.
    Just A Song Writer..........

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    There can be a bad (broken) winding, or winding attachment, on a pickup that could cause an intermittent problem. Or if you have shielding in the cavities or on the pg cover you might have created some kind of shorting path that only happens after it's all back together.

    Plug a patch cable into the output jack and keep your multimeter on it while you play with the switch and wiggle the pickup around, adjusting height, etc. Keep volume and tone all up so it's obvious if it's in the switch or pickup itself. Move on to pressing on the knobs and moving them around if you don't get a change with the pickup or switch. If you can't reproduce the problem, or get it working, take it apart and poke around with your fingers while watching the meter. Sooner or later you'll find the weak spot I suspect.
    "... I know in the mornin' that it's gonna be good
    when I stick out my elbows and they don't bump wood." - Bill Kirchen

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    Thank for that info KR. Much appreciated sir. I've done the multi-meter check with the pg assy both in and out of the guitar. I've gone as far as to have the meter connected as I re-install the assy. Each time it looks fine and except for one time (the very first time I installed the new pups) ......the pup worked after every time after reinstall......but quit later. Here's something I can add. Oddly enough.......I've never had the neck pup quit while playing. Once it's working.......it keeps working. I can't get it to fail. Changing the 5 way between pups....it still works. The problem only occurs after the guitar has not been used for a day or so and then.....it will only begin to work if I remove the assy and reinstall. I've tried re-routing the assy wires every which way to see if there's a shorting issue. Once I checked it every half hour for a few hours.....after playing while it worked..........and it was fine. On the other hand.......once it's not working....nothing I do makes any difference.....wiggling the 5 way......or tapping on the pg does nothing at all. The pg is an upgrade from the original bullet so it has shielding on it. There's no shielding in the cavities.

    So.......a pup can fail intermittently huh? Never knew that. Question........would it matter if I switched the neck and the middle pups to see if the problem moves?
    Just A Song Writer..........

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mickster View Post
    ...
    So.......a pup can fail intermittently huh? Never knew that. Question........would it matter if I switched the neck and the middle pups to see if the problem moves?
    Well, "intermittent" would usually be something is loose in the winding or its connection, but it generally would take some kind of shock to make it happen I'd expect.

    Definitely swap the pickups, though you could just swap the wires at the switch...

    If it's standard wiring, and the middle pot is only the neck tone, I'd kind of suspect something going on there. When it's not working, is the lead shorted out when switched to the neck pickup? (Zero resistance between tip/sleeve.) If it's "off" and not noisy, it must be a short, so trying to think of a component that could do that, and is only in the neck pickup path would suggest its tone pot or something right around there.

    P.S. Attach a pic of the wiring next time it's opened up.
    "... I know in the mornin' that it's gonna be good
    when I stick out my elbows and they don't bump wood." - Bill Kirchen

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    You're sure cavity isn't painted with conductive paint? That's been pretty common even in cheap guitars for a while now.

    When the neck pickup goes out, what happens to the neck+middle position (2 or 4 depending which way you swing) on the switch? If it's also silent, it's probably a short. If the middle pickup comes through in that position, it can't be a short, so must be the neck pickup or its wiring going open.

    This doesn't help if you need to get at the pickup, but I have a long standing habit where the first time I remove a pickguard with the controls attached, I cut it to separate the control section before I put it back on. You can usually find two opposing screw holes and cut a line between them so they can hold both pieces and you don't have to drill the body to add screws. It makes it soooo much easier to fix/modify later.

    This is on a tele, but I think it makes the point:
    img_2313-jpg

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    KR......with the neck pup not working......as it is right now........there's an OPEN line between tip and ring with the 5 way switched to neck and volume and tone pots all maxed out. When I check resistance with the switch in the other positions there is resistance in the range of 6.88k on every position except for the 4th position (bridge and middle)....which seems to be around 4k. The middle pot on my guitar seems to be neck and middle pickup....since it does affect the middle tone even when the neck pup is not working.

    I'll swap the pickup leads next.....when I get a chance. I can't think of anything else to try. It is maddening though. Pretty much each time I remove the assy it works without doing a thing to it. It SHOULD me some sort of short or open line somewhere.......right? Since the tip / ring is open when the neck pup is not working........I guess it could still be the 5 way....right?
    Just A Song Writer..........

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    Hey ashcat.......I missed your post while I was typing and it looks like you might have figured out the problem. The body cavity is not painted with any conductive material or paint. At least my meter is telling me that. With the neck pup not working.....all the other positions work fine...except of course.....that the 2nd position which is supposed to be neck and middle....only has the middle pickup working. In other words.....the 2nd position and the middle position sound exactly the same. I guess I'm going to need a new neck pickup or 5 way....or both.

    I like your idea of cutting the pg. Has to be MUCH easier.

    NEW NOTE: I have Zero resistance in all 5 positions between tip and ring when the volume pot is all the way down at zero.
    Just A Song Writer..........

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mickster View Post
    ...
    NEW NOTE: I have Zero resistance in all 5 positions between tip and ring when the volume pot is all the way down at zero.
    That's what it should be. "Zero" on the volume pot is shorting the pickup(s) to ground.

    As @ashcat_it said, if the middle pickup is the only thing coming through when it's in the 2nd position and you have infinite (open circuit) resistance in the 1st/neck position, that's a broken connection somewhere. Work back from the switch, testing the in/out taps on the switch first.
    "... I know in the mornin' that it's gonna be good
    when I stick out my elbows and they don't bump wood." - Bill Kirchen

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    KR...ashcat.....I tried an experiment and removed the pg screws one by one starting with those near the neck pup. My idea was take enough screws out to slightly lift the pg and pup enough to see if that movement would change anything. When I removed the screws to the left and upper right of the neck pup I was able to lift and create some movement up and down. Watching my meter there was no change. Still open. I replaced those screws and then removed those on the lower right of the pg around the 5 way. I was able to lift enough to poke at some wires and relieve stress on the 5 way......as well as put a little sideways stress on it. Poking at the wires seemed to work.....bingo......zero resistance......and it also seemed that stressing the 5 way worked as well. I reinstalled all screws and have my meter on it now. So far so good. I think I'm going to order a 5 way to be safe. What do you think?

    Thank you both for your excellent help.....as always!!
    Just A Song Writer..........

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    Quote Originally Posted by keith.rogers View Post
    That's what it should be. "Zero" on the volume pot is shorting the pickup(s) to ground.
    Actually, it shorts the jack. Some guitars with dual Vs (certain LPs et al) wire the pots "backwards" to short the pickup (not necessarily to "ground", there kind of isn't a ground in a guitar) so that the middle position doesn't go silent with one pickup all the way down.

    I know you said that you reflowed all the joints, but I'd do it again. It's more likely to be a bad joint than a bad switch. They're relatively cheap, though, so it doesn't hurt to just replace it.

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