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Removing metal humbucker covers

J

JamesE

Guest
I've searched through some very old threads, and conclude that, depending on the make-up of the metal, removing humbucker covers could improve the top end of the pickups. The reason I'm bringing this up is that today I decided to put my 3 humbucker guitars through a head-to-head.
The guitars are:
2013 Gibson Les Paul
1994 Epiphone SG (Samick)
2022 Harley Benton HB35Plus

The Gibson and Epiphone have uncovered PUs, and both have a bright, immediate sound.
The HB has covered PUs, and has a slightly duller sound. What did you expect? I hear you ask - cheap guitar=cheap sound.

Can I improve the HB pickups by removing the covers? The PUs are Roswell LAF Alnico-5s, and looking at a few that came up for sale recently, appear to have big blobs of solder holding them on. Therefore, removal isn't just undoing a couple of screws, unfortunately.

If the PUs are too poor to really be worth fiddling with, I would prefer to buy a better guitar, such as an Epiphone Casino than start "modding" the HB. I am also rather keen on a Gretsch (yes, I like Duane Eddy), the HB is more of an experiment than a guitar to last the rest of my life.

Your suggestions, please!
 

charliechitlins

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 16, 2021
Messages
1,114
I have made big differences in tone by melting the wax out.
You'll never have a totally un-potted pickup, but getting that big blob of wax out from between the bobbins and covers can really wake a pickup up.
I pull them out as far as the leads will allow, set them on the sunday paper and hit them with a hair dryer.
If you want to pull the covers, a dremel wit a cutoff wheel (SAFETY GLASSES!) will make quick work of it.
Melting that much solder away from both surfaces is very tricky.
 

GlassSnuff

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 30, 2002
Messages
3,694
From what I've heard, the Roswell pickups aren't so bad.

And with soldering skills, removing the covers isn't hard. It can be tricky, though, not really a beginner's project. Copper braid helps a lot.

I have a strong urge to modify everything... but in this case you might be better off stepping up to a better guitar. One that doesn't have "for the price" attached to its accolades.
 
J

JamesE

Guest
I have made big differences in tone by melting the wax out.
You'll never have a totally un-potted pickup, but getting that big blob of wax out from between the bobbins and covers can really wake a pickup up.
I pull them out as far as the leads will allow, set them on the sunday paper and hit them with a hair dryer.
If you want to pull the covers, a dremel wit a cutoff wheel (SAFETY GLASSES!) will make quick work of it.
Melting that much solder away from both surfaces is very tricky.
That's an interesting idea! I've never altered any humbucker pickups (although you guessed that), so I didn't know about wax. Also, that wouldn't affect the appearance.
 
J

JamesE

Guest
From what I've heard, the Roswell pickups aren't so bad.

And with soldering skills, removing the covers isn't hard. It can be tricky, though, not really a beginner's project. Copper braid helps a lot.

I have a strong urge to modify everything... but in this case you might be better off stepping up to a better guitar. One that doesn't have "for the price" attached to its accolades.
Thanks - I'm no soldering expert. I got a bit over-excited by these guitars last year, and a couple of months ago there was an Epiphone Casino going for a very good price. I wanted a bright and shiny new guitar for gigging! I'll have a look at @charliechitlins ' suggestion first.
 

goldtop0

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 19, 2003
Messages
8,956
Yes you've GOT to have a good efficient soldering iron to do the pup cover removal, it's a reasonably tricky process if you haven't done it before.
Best to just cut through the solder on the side of each side of the pups with a one sided razor blade, give it a knock with a hammer, that does the trick.
 
J

JamesE

Guest
Yes you've GOT to have a good efficient soldering iron to do the pup cover removal, it's a reasonably tricky process if you haven't done it before.
Best to just cut through the solder on the side of each side of the pups with a one sided razor blade, give it a knock with a hammer, that does the trick.
I have a Weller soldering iron which comes out about once a year, so maybe the cutting would be easier. I wasn't aware you could still get one-sided razor blades, but I've seen some a Dremel-type cutter.
 

Señor Verde

Active member
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Messages
624
I heat up the solder to spread it out and make the solder connection as thin as possible. Next I cut it with a razor blade, scoring it as deep as possible. Then I put a thin blade screwdriver in the gap between the bottom plate and cover, up against the end of the solder. Slightly twist the screwdriver, it will break the solder seal. Pull the cover off. I've done literally hundreds and this method works well for me.
 

Tim

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 15, 2001
Messages
1,862
I would stick the razor blade in the crack next to the solder, coming out over it at an angle. Then heat the solder with a gun and as the solder melts just push the razor over and it goes right through.
 

charliechitlins

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 16, 2021
Messages
1,114
I would stick the razor blade in the crack next to the solder, coming out over it at an angle. Then heat the solder with a gun and as the solder melts just push the razor over and it goes right through.
This makes sense.
Solder doesn't stick to steel.
 
J

JamesE

Guest
I heat up the solder to spread it out and make the solder connection as thin as possible. Next I cut it with a razor blade, scoring it as deep as possible. Then I put a thin blade screwdriver in the gap between the bottom plate and cover, up against the end of the solder. Slightly twist the screwdriver, it will break the solder seal. Pull the cover off. I've done literally hundreds and this method works well for me.
Thank you - my next question is - does it improve the sound? My other two humbucker guitars have naked PUs and both sound ,ore "immediate" to me, like the attack time on a compressor being very short, while the Roswells on the HB seem to need a fraction of a second to "warm up".
 

Señor Verde

Active member
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
Messages
624
Thank you - my next question is - does it improve the sound? My other two humbucker guitars have naked PUs and both sound ,ore "immediate" to me, like the attack time on a compressor being very short, while the Roswells on the HB seem to need a fraction of a second to "warm up".
I currently have covers on all my humbuckers and like them. I don't know if there would be an improvement. I might actually think they sound worse uncovered, it just depends. I do know some pickups sound worse covered than others. The cover also matters. Covers with a brass substrate or a layer of copper between the nickel substrate and nickel top plate sound dull to me, as do thicker pure nickel covers. If you can find the thinnest possible pure nickel covers, they would be most transparent. Philadelphia Luthier has some that are nice and if you don't need an exact 50's looking cover, I think the regular Gibson Nickel covers are nice. If you need chrome though, I don't know. I haven't used them in many years. They might dull the sound, But I don't remember.
 

charliechitlins

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 16, 2021
Messages
1,114
Metal covers are not sonically transparent.
But a lot of this stuff depends on your ears.
If you hang on guitar bulletin boards, you can find people who hear a "night and day" difference when they change a tailpiece or thumbwheels.
I hear a noticeable increase in highs when changing P90s from metal to plastic covers. More so that from removing humbuckers COVERS. But I'm a 61 year old gig dog with damaged hearing.
I find the biggest difference comes from melting the wax out, which you'll probably want to do before removing the cover anyway.
 
J

JamesE

Guest
I currently have covers on all my humbuckers and like them. I don't know if there would be an improvement. I might actually think they sound worse uncovered, it just depends. I do know some pickups sound worse covered than others. The cover also matters. Covers with a brass substrate or a layer of copper between the nickel substrate and nickel top plate sound dull to me, as do thicker pure nickel covers. If you can find the thinnest possible pure nickel covers, they would be most transparent. Philadelphia Luthier has some that are nice and if you don't need an exact 50's looking cover, I think the regular Gibson Nickel covers are nice. If you need chrome though, I don't know. I haven't used them in many years. They might dull the sound, But I don't remember.
Ah, so the others you've removed were more for aesthetic reasons? A semi-acoustic might look odd without covers. I don't think I've seen one.
 
J

JamesE

Guest
Metal covers are not sonically transparent.
But a lot of this stuff depends on your ears.
If you hang on guitar bulletin boards, you can find people who hear a "night and day" difference when they change a tailpiece or thumbwheels.
I hear a noticeable increase in highs when changing P90s from metal to plastic covers. More so that from removing humbuckers COVERS. But I'm a 61 year old gig dog with damaged hearing.
I find the biggest difference comes from melting the wax out, which you'll probably want to do before removing the cover anyway.
That looks like the best solution. I'll loosen off the strings and have a look first. Interesting that there's a lot of wax filling the PU - I guess it's a bit like all that green jelly you get in a Pork Pie!
 
J

JamesE

Guest
Update - well, I operated on the guitar last weekend. Hair dryer on full power, the wax came slipping out of the neck pickup as anticipated. I decided to do just the one pickup for now. Tune up and play - well, it's different! Is it better? I think so, it's not as dull as before, but still not as "immeridate" as the SG. I need to play some more before moving on to the next stage! Thank you @charliechitlins for the tip.
 
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