Replacing Carvin pickups

Carvin Guitars, I have a bone to pick with you. Don’t worry – it has nothing to do with the quality of your product. I admire the fact that you manage to make fairly high quality instruments at reasonable prices right here in America. In fact, I rarely have much to bitch about when it comes to working on your instruments (well, sometimes you use cheap electronic components, but that’s not a biggie). What does drive me nuts is your pickups – they are slightly smaller in size than what is considered the industry standard, and the pickup routes are subsequently too small to install any other type of pickup.


Replacing Carvin pickups usually requires routing, widening the pickup cavities by mere millimeters in order to fit more standard sized pickups. Today, I came up with a different solution, one that will at least work with certain DiMarzio pickups – modding the pickup itself.

Here’s a shot of a DiMarzio pickup and a Carvin pickup. The DiMarzio pickup is wider than the Carvin pickup  by only 2.12mm – just big enough to not fit in the guitar’s pickup route.



While I’m certainly comfortable with routing the pickup cavities, it would have required a significant amount of work just  to shave a couple of millimeters off: take the entire guitar apart, custom make a routing template, mapping out the routes to be dead center, and working the router around the fingerboard (this neck isn’t removable). As I was planning this out, I suddenly thought of modding the DiMarzios instead. Sure, it seems obvious, but sometimes the obvious solution is the most easily overlooked.

These particular DiMarzio pickups have a fiberglass baseplate, which I figured I could cut down pretty easily. These pickups coils weren’t overly large, so the only thing preventing them fitting in the route was the base plate itself. Pickups are pretty delicate, so  I knew that taking them apart would be a risk – but on the off chance that I wrecked a pickup, I could just buy a new one, so I figured I’d go ahead and give it a shot. I first unscrewed the base plates from the pickups, then carefully peeled the ribbon tape away from the plates, and eased the backs off. So far so good!


Next I desoldered the chassis ground wires from the plates, and marked off the 1.06mm I intended to remove from each side of the base plates. Conveniently, the base plates had a thin conductive coating, which was easily scratched off by my calipers while making my marks. Sweet!


Then I took each base plate to my belt sander, and shaved off just enough material to allow them to fit inside the guitar’s pickup routes. Since I had to use both hands for this, I didn’t get a picture – just imagine an incredibly good looking guitar tech at work and you’ll get the idea.

Once the base plates were small enough to fit in the guitar, I put the pickups back together and then installed them in the guitar. The whole procedure took less than an hour – far less time than it would have to route the guitar, and saved the guitar’s owner a bunch of money. Sure, there was a small risk taking the pickups apart, but ultimately this was the way to go.


All in all, a great success methinks. The guitar sounds a lot better, no major modifications were necessary, and it came in under budget. Win!

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