Wax Potting Pickups - A Primer With Photos!

Discussion in 'The Tone Zone' started by Lane Sparber, Oct 15, 2010.

  1. Lane Sparber

    Lane Sparber Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Hey there, folks!

    As I've been asked a question or two about wax potting pickups since I've been on here, I wanted to go over the tips and tricks that I've learned over the years as to the most effective way to do this process. The perfect opportunity has recently presented itself because I just took in 3 vintage cream 1970s DiMarzio "Dual Sound" pickups in a trade for some guitar work. While these pickups DO sound amazing, they were never potted, so since I had to do this process three times in a row, I figured it would be fun to document my work and share it with the Forum.

    First, a word on why this needs to be done. In the olden days, pickups were never potted (largely because amps had FAR less gain in the 50s and 60s then they do now), so almost all really old pickups are microphonic. Conversely, almost ALL mid to high priced modern pickups are potted at the factory. How can you tell if your pickup is microphonic? Have you ever had a guitar or pickup that had a high-pitched squeal or noise when you turn up the amp? I'm not talking of good, musical feedback that swells from your notes. I'm speaking of a shrill, ear-piercing noise like when a microphone is too close to the PA speakers/monitors. This is caused by sound waves from the amp/PA penetrating the pickup and vibrating the coil windings themselves causing this HIGHLY unpleasant noise. In the following process, we will immerse the pickup in melted wax (namely paraffin) to stabilize the coil as well as all other elements of the pickup. This should make it impervious to microphonic feedback, and you can then mute your strings at high volume without that annoying squeal.

    First, here are the tools I use:

    [​IMG]

    This is my wax melter. I got it on eBay for around 50 bucks. It was designed for spas and salons, although I have no clue what THEY use it for. It keeps the wax melted at a nice and stable 150-160 degrees Farenheit, which is the ideal temperature for our needs. If you get the wax much hotter, you can melt the actual pickup bobbins, and if you have the wax too cold, it won't properly penetrate the coils and you won't solve the problem. If 50 bucks is too steep, you can also do what I did during my college days: use a Rival Hot Pot like you get at a drug store. Basically, you NEED a double boiler, because you don't want hot, molten wax anywhere NEAR an open flame for reasons that I hope are obvious. In those days, I filled an old, cleaned-out tuna fish can with wax and put it in the hot pot with boiling water around it. If you use this method, take care not to over-heat the water, as the turbulence caused by the boiling can shake your tuna can and water can splash into it, which would be unfortunate at best. As to the paraffin, you can get it cheaply at any online hobby store and a lot of drug stores. Get unscented PURE paraffin ONLY, or you will wind up with lavender or patchouli scented pickups, which might suck. :D Also, some mix beeswax with the paraffin, but I have never done that and so can't speak for it's effectiveness or not. Straight paraffin has always done the trick for me.

    [​IMG]

    This is a look inside the pot of the wax melter. The wax is pre-melted here, and note the blue marbles at the bottom. These standard size flat style marbles (round ones would work just as well) keep the pickup from making any direct contact with the hot metal bottom of the pot and provide a bit of over-heating insurance.

    [​IMG]

    This is my thermometer for measuring the temperature of the wax while I work. It's a standard meat thermometer that you can buy at any grocery store for a couple of dollars or so.

    [​IMG]

    This picture shows the thermometer in action. It's just over 160 deg F here, which is a BIT hot, but the relatively cold room-temperature pickup going in will drag it down a bit, so we should be fine.

    [​IMG]

    Here is our guest of honor - a 70s DiMarzio Dual Sound that squeals like a pig when the Marshall is turned up. Not for long... ;) We have all the tools we need now, so let's get to work!

    [​IMG]

    Here the pickup has just been placed into the wax. Note the tiny air bubbles on the surface. That's what you want to see. The air in those bubbles coming from the pickup are being displaced by the hot wax, and they mean that the process is working and is under way. You want to let the pickup soak in the hot wax (while monitoring the temperature) for anywhere from 15-30 minutes. This is because the entire pickup needs to warm up to the temperature of the wax, thus allowing the wax to fully saturate the entirety of both coils. Some people like to put rubber bands around the pickup to keep the black cloth tape around the edges from unravelling, but I have never done this for two reasons. One, the tape has never unravelled on me, and two, the rubber bands leave unsightly "scars" in the wax when the pickup is dry, and I don't like to leave ANY kind of marks on anything I work on.

    I occasionally tap the pickup with a chopstick or jiggle it by it's cable while in the wax to jar any trapped air loose. I usually do this every couple of minutes or so. When you can do this consistently and NO air bubbles come up to the surface from the pickup, you're done.

    [​IMG]

    Here I am lifting the pickup out of the wax and letting the majority of the excess drip back into the pot to avoid a big mess at cleanup. When the drips stop, it's time for the next step:

    [​IMG]

    Here I am tapping the pickup onto a paper towel to shake out additional excess wax.

    [​IMG]

    Now, I take a piece of paper towel and wipe the outsides, top, and back of the pickup clean from excess wax WHILE THE PICKUP IS STILL HOT. That's important because once the paraffin dries and hardens, it's a PAIN to clean off.

    [​IMG]

    All done and cooling on the towel. In about 45 minutes or so, this pickup will be ready to rock any high gain amp (or arena!) in a noise-free manner.

    Some notes on other pickup types:

    For standard single coils like Strat pickups, the process is much the same...just set the plastic covers aside - do NOT immerse them with the pickup!

    For chrome/nickel covered pickups (like a lot of humbuckers and Tele neck pickups), LEAVE THE COVER ON. Any attempt to remove it may damage the coil windings if you're not careful or do not FULLY understand what you're doing. Plus, you want the wax to fill the cover and fully encase the coils. If not, the air between the coils and the cover can create a mini reverb chamber for the sound waves and the whole operation could prove futile. I actually tape over the pole piece holes in the covers to allow the maximum amount of wax to dry inside the pickups for just this reason.

    Anyway, I hope this long winded thesis hasn't bored you and that you were able to glean a thing or two from it. Pickup potting is actually fun to do, and the results are undeniable. Enjoy yourselves and have fun with it. Feel free to respond with any questions or rants about this post and I (or any of the other techs around here) will, as always, do our best to answer them!

    Cheers! :D

    -Lane
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2010
    Craw, 1987 JMP, radiomatts and 11 others like this.
  2. chuckharmonjr

    chuckharmonjr Well-Known Member

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    Lane that was an absolute text book piece for the ages. This should definately be made a sticky. Thanks for sharing a wonderful how-to article.
     
  3. Micky

    Micky Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    I am sooo glad you didn't just provide a link to someone else doing this.
    Nice job, and thanks.

    (nice power strip BTW)
     
  4. IbanezMark

    IbanezMark Senior Member

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    Thanks for the tutorial Lane. A few of my customers keep asking me to do this - I suppose it's time to pick up a wax melter :cool2:
     
  5. jcmjmp

    jcmjmp Well-Known Member

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    I've done this with a simple double boiler on my 1974 Gibson T-Top pickups (and other pickups too). Made a huge difference in microphonics. I used a mix of 80% parrafin/20% Bees wax (edited for correctness).
     
  6. Lane Sparber

    Lane Sparber Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    What does the beeswax do for you? As I state above, I've never used it, so I am curious.

    @Mark - in YOUR case, DEFINITELY get the pro wax melter. It will pay for itself in no time! :)

    @Micky - I ALWAYS do my own work! :D

    -Lane
     
    chuckharmonjr likes this.
  7. jcmjmp

    jcmjmp Well-Known Member

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    I use it because its how Fralin does it.
    STEWMAC.COM : Wax potting pickups Free information

    From the article:
    Paraffin expands and contracts with temperature changes, and the beeswax nullifies most of that
     
  8. Lane Sparber

    Lane Sparber Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Ahh...good to know. Like I said...in 20+ years of doing this I've never had a problem, but I'd like to believe that this old dog can be taught new tricks! :)

    -Lane
     
  9. Adwex

    Adwex New Member

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    Great tutorial, Lane. Thanks for taking the time to show us.
     
  10. Lane Sparber

    Lane Sparber Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Thank you, ADWEX! I believe in sharing what little wealth I may have. :)

    -Lane
     
  11. thrawn86

    thrawn86 Well-Known Member

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    Very cool stuff Lane. Didn't know how to do this.
     
  12. eljeffebrown

    eljeffebrown New Member

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    Lane, you are at the top of your game man I swear to god. This was VERY, VERY informative and fun to read. If I used passives I would be tearing them out of my guitar right now to re-pot them cause you made it look like fun to do!

    I wish someone would do this stuff for Re-Tubeing, Biasing, Re-Capping (cause I need to do my head :) ), Tremolos, Nut repair, Re-Fretting, Scalloping, and so on. The new guys that come on here ask about this stuff all the time and we (in general as a forum) are constantly answering these questions (and answering these questions from each other all the time for that matter). It would be nice to have a Sticky thread just for tutorials on this kind of stuff.

    ADWEX, guys, what do you think? is it too much work or is it something that could be done? :hmm: :fingersx: :)
     
  13. 00jett

    00jett Member

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    Very cool! Great read
     
  14. JCarno

    JCarno Well-Known Member

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    Hello Lane, would I be able to do this with these pickups? If so, would I need to take any special precautions?
     

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  15. Lane Sparber

    Lane Sparber Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    ANY pickup can be potted (if it hasn't already been sealed or epoxy potted, which I doubt applies to your pickups). Just take great care removing them from the guitar and taking the pickups out of the bezels. If the white plastic is just a cover, take them out of that as well, but if you feel resistance there, don't use force to pull them off. Be VERY careful around the pickup windings. They are thinner than human hair and if the wire breaks, you might have to have the pickup re-wound. Once it's disassembled, however, if you follow the above procedure, you should have no problems.

    As that looks to be a vintage Vox, you might consider taking it to a pro, in case there's any funny business with the pickups. Just a thought. Most shops charge about 10-20 bucks per pickup, I believe.

    PM me or post here if you have any additional concerns.

    -Lane
     
  16. JCarno

    JCarno Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the reply!! :cheers: I'm not sure if the plastic is just a cover or not. Would I be able to dip them plastic and all. I'd hate to try and take them apart and end up ruining something.

    I really would like to pot these as they do make that God awful squeal you describe. Thanks again for your time!
     
  17. Lane Sparber

    Lane Sparber Well-Known Member VIP Member

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    Yes, if you are careful, in this case you can pot with the covers on. Be extra vigilant with the wax temperature and go slowly!

    Cheers!

    -Lane
     
  18. rjohns1

    rjohns1 Well-Known Member

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    Great info Lane. I have a humbucker I frankensteined from two bad Dimarzio's. One coil is from a tonezone, the other is from an evolution. I'm going to try to do this soon. I've been gunshy about doing it, I was scared of ruining the pickup.
    Jeff, I've thought about doing a bias tutorial, when I pulled apart my 6100, I documented it with pictures. The problem I see is that all of the Marshall amps are different, at least from looks from a beginner, and it will be hard for a newbie to follow, unless it was model specific. I'm just a little past getting my feet wet with tube circuits, I'm starting to get into the design stage. I'm not sure I could do it proper yet, best let Lane, Joey, Wilder, JCMJMP, Marty, or some of the pro's do one. I would feel really bad if someone took my info and screwed up their amp because I didn't explain things fully. I could do one on guitar setups, intonation. Maybe I will. Again Lane, thanks.
     
  19. Adwex

    Adwex New Member

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    I concur, Lane's potting lesson was an enjoyable read. I hope in the future he's kind enough to share more of his wisdom and experience. hint hint.

    Jeffe, you bring up a good suggestion, and I'd love to take it even a step further by making an entire "tutorial" section, but I do not have the software access to restructuring the forum. A whole new section would be most appropriate, as opposed to making one sticky thread with multiple tutorials that would get lost as the thread grew. Having each tutorial as a separate sticky thread is the next best thing I suppose, so...sticky'd it is.
     
  20. eljeffebrown

    eljeffebrown New Member

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    AWESOME man. Who could we ask to make a new section on tutorials? that would be a killer idea, if we can't, oh well, Stickying them is still awesome! :)
     

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