Bringing your guitar to a luthier or guitar tech can get quite expensive, not to mention the time and wait most reputable techs and luthiers maintain. With all the different pickups available today, especially from companies like Guitar Fetish, it can get quite consuming and expensive trying out all the different options available. Installing pickups is not too difficult a task, and does not even require much electrical knowledge, but you will need a basic understanding of how to solder. Today we are going to talk about what is known as “The Cheat Method” of installing pickups. This is generally done in hollow body and semi hollow body guitars because it is such a pain trying to fish out the pots and all that this entails. The cheat method allows you to simply connect the wires from the pickup to the wire already in place in the guitar. So, the only soldering that you do is connecting the new pickups to the old wire, very simple and easy. I will list this process out in steps.
Steps to the Cheat Method
1. Remove the existing pickup from the body of the guitar by unscrewing the screws that attach the pickup.
2. Cut the wire attached to the pickup. In most cases you will need to cut the wire as close to the pickup as possible to ensure you have sufficient wire to properly connect the new pickup. Most stock pickups won’t have much lead wire in there, so be careful to have enough wire. Also, note that it will make the old pickups useless unless you are able to leave enough wire to reattach them at some point. But, most stock pickups are junk anyway, and if they are not, perhaps you should just leave them in.
3. At this point, you will have a wire sticking out of the pickup cavity. You need to strip the wire back about a half inch or so. There will be two different ends in there, one hot and one ground. Pre-tin each of the ends. Also, at this time pre-tin the ends of the new pickups. Some pickups may have multiple ends for coil tapping and all that, but we are only concerned with the hot and the ground, the ground willnbe the unshielded one. Now, solder the hot to the hot and the ground to the ground.
4. Wrap each individual joint with electrical tape. (If you have heat sink connectors on hand that would be much better, in which case do the appropriate steps up to this point to attach those.) Then wrap them both together with the tape. You should cover the ends of any unconnected wires with tape too.
5. BAM, you are done! Now, go ahead and mount the pickup back into the cavity of the guitar and ENJOY!
Here is an instructional video I slapped together to explain this with visuals and a real life example. We installed GFS Mean 90 pickups into my Epiphone Sheraton II semi hollow body guitar. If you have ever had an Epiphone you know that the stock pickups are junk and have are terrible resale value, so it was no big deal to destroy the stock pickups in order to install these new ones. These new pickups do sound great by the way!