How to install ANY Buhr Electronics Pre-Wired Kit
Installing a Buhr Electronics wiring kit can be fun, easy, and educational. The clear and uncluttered layouts allow you to easily follow the signal path from pickup connection point to the tip of the output jack. They are designed to give even the most novice guitar tinkerer a trouble-free installation with minimal solder connections. However - without some very basic understanding and/or few key terms it's also very easy to get turned around, lost, a frustrated.
In its most basic form, a guitar pickup is wire wrapped in a coil with a magnet. For the guitar pickup to function properly one end of the wire needs to ultimately be connected to the ground lug (sometimes called the sleeve lug) of the output jack, while the other end ultimately needs to be connected to the tip lug (sometimes called the "hot" lug). This holds true regardless of whether you're wiring a single coil with two obviously separate pickup leads or something less obvious like a vintage style braided lead that you find on a PAF style humbucker.
Terminology / Jargon / Lingo*
Hot - Anything that carries the signal to the tip lug of the output jack of your guitar. This can also refer to the pickup lead that is ultimately connected to the tip lug of the output jack.
Ground - Anything that is connected to the ground (sleeve) lug of the output jack - directly or indirectly. This can also refer to the pickup lead that is connected to the ground lug of the output jack - again, directly or indirectly - ex. via the back of a potentiometer that is connected to the ground via the outer braided shield of Gavitt Vintage Style Braided Wire. In terms of pickups, "Ground" can sometimes be sub-divided into what I call "Chassis Ground" and "Signal Ground" - but for basic setups this differentiation is not necessary.
Potentiometers or Pots - Used for either volume or tone controls and can be a big part of shaping the overall sound of your guitar. 99% of all connections made to the volume pots. Pots have 3 lugs that can be wired in various ways to achieve a desired affect - a volume pot is wired as a voltage divider and in this application the 3 lugs can be designated as follows:
- Hot / Input Lug - This left most lug and is typically where the signal enters the pot from the pickup - either from the pickup directly or via some sort of pickup selector switch.
- Wiper / Middle Lug - This is the center lug and is typically where the signal leaves the pot to the tip / hot lug of the output jack - again either directly or via some sort of pickup selector switch.
- Ground Lug - This lug is indirectly grounded ground / sleeve lug of the output jack via the back of the potentiometer casing and other components.
"Hot" Pickup Lead - The pickup lead that sends the to the tip of the output jack and is, more often than not, routed through a series of - and directly connected to - potentiometer(s) and/or pickup selector switch.
"Ground" Pickup Lead - This lead can come in a few different forms. It can be a single insulated wire. It can be the stranded layer of many fine wires between two layers of insulation where a single insulated internal wire is the "hot" lead. It can be the braided outer shield of Gavitt Vintage Style Braided Lead mentioned above. More advanced wiring configurations (phase switching, series/parallel humbuckers) may require two separate grounds. They are as follows:
- Chassis Ground - Not ever pickup has one. They can be necessary in pickups that have a metal baseplate/mounting frame or cover. This most commonly found in 4-conductor humbucker leads. In the 4-Condcutor humbucker instance, it is the single bare wire that is ALWAYS connected to ultimately to the ground lug of the jack, typically via a potentiometer casing. Again, in more basic configurations It is accompanied to "ground" by the Signal Ground.
- Signal Ground - Every traditional guitar pickup must have a signal ground. It is sometimes internally connected to the chassis ground via the pickups baseplate / mounting frame. In the instance of the 4-conductor humbucker the signal ground is isolated from the chassis ground to facilitate phase or series/parallel switching between two pickups. If these two grounds were not isolated to cover or base plate could be inserted into the signal path and any time you touched it, it would sound as if you were touching the tip of an unplugged guitar cable with your finger.
Series Link - A humbucker pickup is two single coil pickups connected - traditionally in series. It is sometimes called a Coil Split or Coil Tap (Coil Tap is inaccurate terminology and the forum police will find you) . The Series Link is visible in 4-Condcutor Humbucker leads. It is comprised of two wires that are twisted together, soldered, and taped off (or connected to a switch to a switch to facilitate coil splitting). In vintage style pickups this connection is internal and cannot be accessed without modification.
Selector Switch Connection Lug - Sometimes pickup hot leads will be connected to a pickup selector switch and are then typically routed to a volume pot. This could be a Fender style "blade" switch or a toggle switch that is more closely associated with Gibson style guitars. Some guitars have rotary switches (early PRS) and others could have Slide Switches (Fender Jaguar / Mustang) though they are less common. These switches have their applicable contact lugs that are clearly labeled for each harness - both in diagram form as well as annotated pictures.
Universal Installation Steps
- 1. Familiarize yourself with you harness along with its diagram and annotated pictures. Make sure that you harness is oriented properly and inspect the areas where you will soon be making your solder connections.
- 2. Identify your pickups leads - this often requires consulting with your particular pickup winder's instructions. Keep in mind that not all pickup winders employ the same terminology. Which lead is "Hot", "Ground", and - if applicable - "Series Link"?
- 3. Carefully remove the harness from the hardboard template and mount it to your guitar's body, pickguard, or control plate - whatever is applicable to your setup. Make sure that everything fits properly and your potentiometers are set to the desired height - nothing worse than having your control knobs sticking a 1/4" up off of your pickguard.
- 4. Prepare your pickup's leads to make final connections. This includes ensuring that they are long enough to meet their connection points. It also means stripping back unnecessary insulation, as well as using insulation (heat shrink) to isolate exposed grounds, such as braided outer shield, from making contact with anything carrying "hot" signal - potentiometer lugs, selector switch lugs, etc.
- 5. Connect your pickup's "hot" lead to its proper connection point. You always want to make sure that you have a solid mechanical connection. Giving the lead a half-wrap or so around the connection point is more than sufficient in most cases. This prevents the lead from shifting when apply heat/solder.
- 6. Apply heat to the joint and apply solder. Then promptly remove the solder tip from the joint and allow it cool naturally on its own - DO NOT BLOW ON IT. Repeat steps 5 & 6 for each pickup "hot" lead.
- 7. Once all pickup "hot" leads are connected it is time to tackle the "grounds". Different methods work better than others depending on the configuration. Sometimes you may want to group all of the grounds together and solder them to the back of one single potentiometer. Other times you may want to solder them individually for easy single pickup swaps down the road. Just like in step 6 apply heat, apply solder, remove solder, remove heat.
- 8. In most cases, YOU'RE DONE! But before you start screwing down your pickguard and re-stringing the guitar it's a great idea to hook up the guitar to an amplifier and test your work. You can use a screw driver to conduct a tap test to ensure that each pickup is functioning in accordance with the selector switch. Sweep your volume and tone controls as well. If something isn't working as you feel it should please feel free to consult my troubleshooting guide with common mistakes and how to resolve them. If you're still having trouble please do not reach out and I will be happy to help in any way that I can.
* These terms are commonly used in guitar wiring - most any person familiar with guitar wiring will either use the same terminology or know exactly what you're referring to. These are not Electrical Engineer terms and definitions.