Custom Pickup Covers

Everyone has their pet peeves I suppose. I am not a huge fan of plastic on guitars, be it binding, purfling, electric guitar knobs …. or pickup covers. My guitars are carefully designed, sculpted and finished with just a bit of obsession to details.

Cocobolo Rosewood cut for pickups

Cocobolo Rosewood cut for pickups

For electric guitars that attention to detail includes the pickups. In this case, P90 single coils by Lindy Fralin, who is known as one of the czars of pickup tone.

For pickup covers, first I select the wood which compliments the guitar. In this case the instrument is to be finished in a orange sunburst. Cocobolo Rosewood is the obvious choice, with rich orange colors and wonderful dark ink lines. Cocobolo is a fantastic wood – hard, resonant and beautiful. The wood oxidizes over time, darkening to very rich and warm hues. Unfortunately Cocobolo dust is also very dangerous to breath. It is a sensitizer – the more one breathes the more one is likely to incur increasingly allergic reactions. When cutting and sanding, precautions are taken, vacuuming with a HEPA filter and wearing a protective breathing mask.

Top cover carrier used to index magnetic pole and screw holes

Top cover carrier used to index magnetic pole and screw holes

Once cut, the top covers are placed in a carrier which precisely locates the pole piece holes as well as the mounting screws. Holes must be carefully drilled with near perfect spacing and no chip out. The small 7/64″ mounting holes have very thin walls with no room for error! As one can see the carrier board centers the pickup cover top and registers the end precisely. The covers are brought to an 0.085″ thickness then careful sized in width to have a slight interference fit.

With the holes drilled I finally start assembling the pickup covers. P90 plugs are made from Mahogany and have 3/16″ steel pins to correctly register the pickup cover on center. The sides are tacked in place with cyanoacrylate (super glue). A bit of paste wax keeps the plug from becoming glued to the cover. Once the sides are glued to the cover top, the plugs are removed.

Tooling jigs - plugs and drill index carrier - for drilling and assembling covers

Tooling jigs – plugs and drill index carrier – for drilling and assembling covers

All the seams are then flooded with cyanoacrylate to ensure a sturdy pickup cover that will last for years. Final shaping and sanding is performed, then the wood pores are filled with cyanoacrylate and sanded smooth. A final coat of Tung Oil and Briwax provide some protection and a beautiful natural satin finish.

Covers take several hours to create. A small detail, maybe, but such details bring design cohesion to the final instrument. Do the rosewood covers contribute to the tone of the instrument? Of course not – but I’m sure someone will speculate nonetheless!