Chelsea's Roost : Home of Steve Smith Tuition

The Pickups Page

Make Your Own Pickups!

I've also started making my own pickups. This is pretty easy to do.

Now when you're talking 'making your own pickups', I have to point you in the direction of Elmar Zeilhofer and his amazing Original Flatpup. The guy's a genius. He makes pickups that look good, and are so thin that they fit on top of the body of the guitar, but underneath the strings.

Picture of a Pickup

Pictured here is one of Elmar's thin pickups, or 'flatpups', as he calls them.

Now this is such a neat idea. If you make your own guitars this is nirvana: you don't have to make a hole in the body to accommodate the pickups. As I say: genius.

And if you contact Elmar, he'll tell you how he does it!! Once you know the basics, then you'll start experimenting, I promise you.

The Piezo

Picture of a Pickup

This is the piezo crystal that can be used as a pickup. If you don't know anything about piezo material, have a search of the internet. It's pretty amazing stuff. It turns mechanical vibrations of the piezo material directly into an electrical current. That's what you need in a pickup. But they are notoriously 'microphonic', in that they pick everything up.

This property of piezo crystals gave me the idea for making a microphone...

Make Your Own Microphone!

This microphone consisted of a baked bean tin wedged inside the Heineken tin with sponge, so that vibrations from the outside tin are minimised. The piezo is glued to the bottom of the baked bean tin, and connected to the jack socket available on the bottom of the outer tin.

This works (actually TOO well - you can't hold the tin as you talk into it as the vibrations of your fingers against the tin are picked up!), but as you might expect, it does sound a bit tinny.

First Attempts at a Thin Pickup

Picture of a Pickup

Elmar Zeilhofer's thin pickups are a piece of ferromagnetic material with magnets attached along the center line, and the magnet wire wound around the iron core. In my first attempts at making a thin pickup I ignored the iron core and wound the wire around a piece of card as shown in these pictures. The iron core is VERY important, though, as it augments the magnetic field passing through the loop of wire considerably.

Picture of a Pickup

One of the beauties of Elmar's design is that the pickups are actually humbuckers(!!), since the wire is wound in one continuous piece, but wound in opposite directions on the two sides of the magnets.

I'm fairly new to this kind of thing, so there's a lot of experimentation to do, altering variables like: the thickness of the magnet wire; the number of turns; the ferromagnetic material used to wrap the wire around; the number and kind of magnets to use, etc, etc.

Once I know more, I'll let you know. But what I do know, is that they work, and they work VERY well indeed. And they give a very nice soft sound that you don't get from standard pickups. Amazing idea.

After a Bit of Practice...

Picture of a Pickup

So, as is usual in life, the more you do something, the better you get, and after a while I was producing pickups like this. Still nowhere near Elmar's standard, but they work!

A Standard 'Drop-In' 3-String Pickup

But thin FlatPups aren't the only kind of pickup you can make! Here's one I made by winding the magnet wire around screws that I'd put through a couple of pieces of balsa wood. Just add a magnet to the bottom of each screw, and you have a pickup.

Picture of a Pickup

The idea with this one is that you would have to make a hole in the body of the guitar, but if you were making a cigar box guitar, you can make the hole just big enough in the lid of the box to let the pickup drop into it, but then the top piece of the pickup covers the hole as it decends.

Then You Get Ideas...

Picture of a Pickup

This is just magnet wire wrapped around a sewing machine bobbin. Put a magnet on the top and you have a pickup.

Picture of a Pickup

And this one is magnet wire wrapped around two sewing machine bobbins, with cylindrical magnets inside the bobbins. Neat!

Make Your Own Gaussmeter

Once I started making pickups, one thing that I found to be of interest is the strength of my magnets. Questions that cropped up were 'How strong is this magnet?', or 'How strong does my magnet need to be?', or 'How does the ferromagnetic core material affect the magnetic field through my coil?', etc, etc.

Picture of a Pre Amp

So I wondered if it were possible to buy a cheap gaussmeter, to measure the strength of the magnetic field around my magnets.

But once you start looking around, you'll find that gaussmeters are quite expensive things.

Aha, I thought! How easy would it be to make one? Guess what...

It didn't take very long at all to find Build Your Own Gaussmeter. It was very easy to do (once you get the parts from eBay), and it cost me about £2.


Check them out!