Pickup Magnetic Polarity and Phase

In this article, Pete Biltoft at Vintage Vibe Guitars explains how the magnetic orientation and winding direction of single coil pickups affects their phase relationships and hum cancellation.

Thanks again to Pete for the permission to post this here!



In this newsletter I would like to cover how to “match” two single coil passive magnetic pickups.

Consider all of the possibilities for magnetic polarity (north up or south up) and winding direction (clockwise or counter clockwise) for each of the two pickups as well as series or parallel connection of the two pickups and the possibility of the pickups being in phase or out of phase with each other and things can get a little complicated.

Let’s try to sort it out.

Most players just want three good and useful tones from an instrument with two pickups:

  1. Bridge position pickup only
  2. Bridge and middle position pickups both on (and most often connected in parallel)
  3. Neck position pickup only

In switch positions 1 and 3 all is good- no phasing issues are possible as there is only one signal from one pickup, but in switch position 2 the possibility exists that the two signals from the two pickups could be in phase or out of phase with each other.


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The Overall Guitar Circuit

Guitar Circuit as Second Order FilterI’m often asked for advice on choosing volume/tone pot values for a particular guitar/pickup combination.  My answer is usually “get a selection of component values, and experiment until you find what you like”.

I may also mention some general principals for working with passive guitar circuits: lower pot resistance will sound darker, while higher pot resistance will be brighter; larger tone capacitance will result in a darker sound; higher resistance pickups will be hotter but darker; etc, etc.

But why?  Honestly, you don’t really need to understand why the different component/value choices make a difference in the sound, as you can generally just experiment until you find a sound that works for you.  However, you may be interested in electronics and want a deeper understanding of why your component choices affect the sound.

I have written before about the tone circuit as a low pass filter, but to understand the bigger picture, it’s important to think about the overall guitar circuit: the pickups (which are coils of wire acting as inductors), the volume pot (which is a resistive load), the tone pot and cap (which comprise a first order filter on their own), and even the cable between the guitar and amp (which is a capacitive load).

I’m no electronics expert, and this stuff can get pretty deep and confusing.  So allow me to direct you to some excellent resources from the experts:

There’s also some interesting examples and discussion here:


Three Les Pauls

Three Les PaulsI’ve been playing an Epiphone 1960 Les Paul Tribute Plus for the last couple years, and loving it.  On a whim, I recently tried a couple of these unbelievably inexpensive Monoprice Route 66 guitars.  A couple weeks ago, my birthday rolled around, and I ended up purchasing a new Gibson 2013 Les Paul Studio.  The Gibson is twice the price of my Epiphone and nearly ten times the price of the Monoprice.  What are the differences?  How do they stack up?

There was a brief window of time before I returned the Route 66, where I had all three guitars on hand- my trusted Epiphone, the low cost Route 66, and my brand new Les Paul Studio.   So being the obsessive guitar nut that I am, it seemed like a good opportunity to film a comparison:

Three Les Pauls

Les Paul 1952 Ad

Ted McCarty and Les PaulThe Les Paul. 

It’s an iconic guitar- first introduced in 1952 as Gibson guitar’s response to Fenders solid body telecaster.   It was Gibson’s first solid body, and was designed by then Gibson president Ted McCarty in collaboration with the man himself, Lester William Polsfuss

As with most things, this guitar is available at all different price points and quality levels.  Today I’m taking a look at three Les Pauls, at three different price points.  First up is  this beautiful 2013 Gibson Les Paul Studio, at around $1100.  Next is this gorgeous Epiphone Les Paul 1960 Tribute Plus, at around $600.    And last is this Monoprice Route 66 imitation Les Paul, which can be had for a mere $100. 

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.  

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Birthdays with Les Paul

Gibson 2013 Les Paul Studio Vintage SunburstGibson 2013 Les Paul Studio Vintage SunburstGibson 2013 Les Paul Studio

A couple years back on my birthday, my family gave me a 2012 Epiphone 1960 Les Paul Tribute Plus.  I love that guitar – and have played it nearly every day for two years.   Aside from some cosmetic issues, the only real negative about the Tribute Plus is that it’s heavy- it’s a solid body with no weight relief.  I’ve been playing many long gigs and rehearsals with my band the Drop Daddies, and the weight really does takes its toll.

This year for my birthday, my wife again suggested I get a new guitar.  I like this tradition!!  This time, I chose a Gibson 2013 Les Paul Studio. I purchased it from Sweetwater- they had a great “last year’s model” price – under a grand, with a hard case.  And their photo gallery selection process took a lot of the gambling and guesswork out of the online purchase.  Their service was awesome, the guitar arrived exactly as pictured, and it was nicely set up (though for some reason they had put 9’s on it, so my first job was to change it to 10’s and redo the setup).

Contrasting mahogany neck and granadillio fretboardThe Les Paul Studio is a very effective compromise in features vs. price.  It’s very similar in quality and playability compared to the higher-end Gibson’s- only really lacking some cosmetic fanciness.  With Gibson Les Pauls, you’ll pay 2 or 3 times the price of the Studio before see body/neck bindings, figured top woods and elaborate inlays.

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Vox Throwback

Vox 2000 Catalog

“Classic Vox Sound- standard on all Vox amplifiers” –  Yes!

I saw this 2000 Vox equipment catalog on ebay, and had to share the pics.

They were going for a throwback, misogynistic vibe with this catalog.  Amusing, horrifying, yes, all that and more.

“Lonely?  Amazing new sound attracts Devil Women!”

“What a lovely pair” (referring to the pair of Alnico Blue speakers in an AC30)




Vox 2000 Catalog Outside

Vox 2000 Catalog inside




A PA Makeover

Welcome to John's worldI mentioned in a recent post how frustrating it is to mix live sound with my band, The Drop Daddies. After helping a buddy’s band with their recent ballroom sound check and being stunned by how good their sound was- I became very motivated to research and assemble a new PA for our live rig.   Well, the results are in. and the difference is astonishing!

Our old PA setupPrior to the new setup, we had been using an old powered Mackie 808s mixer, driving a pair of enormous passive Cerwin Vega 3-way 18” speaker cabinets.  We didn’t mic the guitar cabs effectively, so we had to blast the amps on stage to be heard in the back.  The result was a mushy mix, very prone to feedback because of high stage volume and lack of gates on the mic’s.  And it was a chore to adjust the mix, with the mixer installed at the back of the stage.  The mixer was underpowered to drive the speaker cabs, and the cabs were so heavy that we couldn’t get them up on stands, so the sound was directed at people’s knees.

What a mess!  We could never get a well-balanced mix- vocals were easily buried in the mix; you could rarely hear the harmonica loud enough;  the rhythm guitar was usually lost in the mix; and my lead guitar struggled to reach the whole room.  We bought a Feedback Destroyer to try to reduce feedback in the monitors, which certainly helped a bit, but was really just a bandaid.


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2 Million Views!


Just catching up on some replies today on my YouTube channel, and was surprised to see this on my channel!

Wow!  It seems like such a short time has passed since my channel reached the first million, but actually it was a year and a half ago.

In that time, I have indeed continued to play guitar every day – my chain is unbroken!  Unfortunately, due to work and band commitments, I haven’t had the necessary free time to produce many new videos and blog posts.  

Estimated Minutes WatchedSo, maybe it’ll be interesting to take a look at some stats for my existing videos.  2.5 million estimated minutes watched- that’s a completely mind-blowing stat! 

Of my 53 videos, the top 5 most viewed videos are:

  1. Potentiometers- How They Work, Disassembly and Exploration   (130,886)
  2. Guitar Ground: Dealing with ground noise problems (118,301)
  3. Guitar Tone Capacitors, part 1: Evaluating Material Types (114,661)
  4. Wiring Up Guitar Electronics 4, Connecting Tone Cap (111,317)
  5. Epiphone Riviera P93 Review (96,960)

Interesting to see the Epi Riviera Review video on that list.  It was my first video on YouTube, and was just a quickie one take low-quality webcam video, with lousy audio.   I’d obviously rather see that video fall to the bottom of the list, while my more well-produced videos get more attention.  But it is what it is!

As I say at the end of most of my videos-  “hope this has been helpful, and thanks for watching.”

Play on,


A Year in the Drop Daddies

Drop Daddies posterIt’s been a very busy year. I haven’t had much time for making videos and posting blog updates.  Here’s why:

About a year ago, I started up a band – the Drop Daddies – with some of the other Dad’s at our kids’ elementary school.  Originally, the idea was just to get together on weekends to play some music and have fun.  Almost immediately however, a friend invited us to play at her 2012 end-of-the-world party.   That humble little gig by the Christmas tree kicked off a very busy year for the band.  So far, we’ve learned 60+ songs and played at least a dozen gigs- bars, an auction, carnivals, and parties large and small.

A few observations – each of which should be its own blog post, but I’ll collect them here for now and maybe expand on them later:

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Don’t Break The Chain

CalendarIn my Millionth Anniversary video back in 2012, I talked about Jerry Seinfeld’s motivational technique for tricking yourself into getting things done.  “Don’t Break The Chain!”

Since February 19, 2012- I’ve kept my pledge to play guitar every day, no matter what.  That’s 660 days!  Yes, sometimes it’s just a few minutes right before bed.  But more often, once I pick up the guitar, I end up playing for a good session.

I no longer need to draw X’s on a calendar, as in Jerry’s technique-  I just know that I don’t want to miss a day.  This technique really builds new, effective habits.

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Output Jack Considerations

In this article, Pete Biltoft at Vintage Vibe Guitars goes in-depth on the simple, often overlooked output jack. 

Thanks again to Pete for the permission to post this here!


September 2013


The topic for this tech tips newsletter is the all-important output jack.

While there are a few different styles of output jacks have been used in electric guitars and basses including cables with XLR connectors, ¼” stereo output jacks and 1/8” size mono and stereo jacks, for the purposes of this newsletter I plan to focus on the industry-standard ¼” mono output jack. I quite often use output jacks manufactured by Switchcraft and unless specified otherwise in this discussion I will be referring to the Switchcraft model output jack designed for strat, tele and Les Paul style instruments.

This simple and often overlooked component provides both a mechanical and an electrical interface to the guitar cable and is one of the most frequent causes of electrical issues in an electric guitar or bass.

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