These are what you’d probably call “standard” humbuckers covers – in that they have 6 holes down one side to accommodate the pole screws that are poking up through the top – and I think it’s safe to say it’s the look we think of when we talk about covered humbuckers – that Honey burst Gibson® Les Paul®, immaculately polished, all the chrome** hardware sparkling under the lights, and as a final touch of call, covered humbuckers! Beautiful!
Now, in reality, Humbuckers are a little more than being just cosmetic additions – so for the sake of honesty, we’ll break this write up down into 4 parts so its simpler – and by the time we’ve finished, we should have ticked off a couple of the more common questions, as well as helping to figure out what size and colour you need.
So lets get straight into it.
Humbuckers nowadays come in a baffling range of sizes – and when we say sizes, we specifically mean pole (also called String) Spacing – and that refers to the measurement between the Top and bottom E poles, centre to centre. Obviously, you need the correct size to match your humbuckers – so here goes!
The history of the variations is a bit of a strange one frankly, the original humbuckers where all 49.2mm (or, if you prefer Imperial, 1 119/127”) – Gibson® made the design popular sometime in the 50s, so it might be a bit of a sweeping statement, but as a rough guide – the originals are all 49.2mm.
Fender® eventually moved into Humbuckers (if we conveniently skip over the wide range humbuckers of the early 1970s!) sometime in the late 70s/ early 80s, and to accommodate for their wider string spacing at the bridge, they opted for 52mm pole spacing.
So alongside Gibson and Fenders developments (or possibly foreshadowing them) you have the aftermarket manufacturers who are also making humbuckers as direct replacements – and generally, they offer a “wide” and “narrow” version – the widest for Fender® and the narrows for Gibson® (and that excludes the Tokai®, Epiphone®, Ibanez® guitars – but lets not get too far into that!)
So as a very rough guide, here goes! A few brands we know about, and what fits what!
DiMarzio® – Standard Spacing – 48.6mm, F Spacing – 51.05mm
Gibson®* – Historic spacing - 49.2mm, Modern Spacing – 52mm Bridge, 49.2mm Neck
Seymour Duncan® – Standard Spacing - 49.2mm
Artec Sounds – Neck – 50mm, Bridge – 52mm
G&B - Neck – 50mm, Bridge – 52mm
Rosewell Pickups® - Neck – 50mm, Bridge – 52mm
Ibanez ® - Neck – 50mm, Bridge – 52mm (Excluding models fited with US made DiMarzio® Humbuckers)
Fender®* – 52mm
Wilkinson® - Neck – 50mm, Bridge – 52mm
Axesrus® - we do things a bit weird, because it’s all hand wound to order – but as a general rule, we do 49.2mm, 50mm or 52mm…(we don’t link string spacing to position)
*Just watch out with Fender® and Gibson® - they’re the mega companies in all this, so there are a lot of them out there, and more than a few anomalies – I’ve seen Gibson® 57s with 52mm pole spacing, and I’ve seen Fender® enforcers coming in at 49.2mm – rough guides are fine, but they’re no match for using a ruler on your pickup!
But yeah – I think that covers the worst of it! As I remember more, I’ll add them to the list!
This is where we can actually get back to speaking about our covers!
For all of our covers, we use Nickel (what I’m going to call “German silver” from here on out) – it’s a fantastic metal to electroplate, so you can have a fantastic range of colours, and it’s the most “tonally neutral”, so has the least impact on the sound of your pickup, because, lets be honest – if you’re going to the trouble of putting a cover on the thing, I bet you quite like how it sounds now right?!
The alternative “base” material, would be brass – not without its charms, but far from tonally pure – it has this weird habit of muddying the pickup – no one seems to know why (if anyone cares to enlighten me, I’m all ears!), but brass parts on humbuckers seem to attenuate the top end – so for the time being atleast, we avoid it (maybe in the future, it’ll be something we expand into)
On top of the base, at least with the plated covers, you’ll find a very fine layer of highly conductive copper that’s used to give the best possible finish to the Electroplating, and then on top of that, you’ve got the final colour, the electroplated finish
For the tonal purists out there, it’s worth noting that copper “under plate” – it doesn’t make a massive difference to the sound of the things, and it really does help give the best possible finish – but I know there are those who don’t like it, so, full disclosure – its there! (obviously, excluding the unplated version – that’s just pure nickel)
So we know what the things made of, and we’ve got a good idea of what size we need! How do we fit them?! Well – the unavoidable answer is by soldering them to the base of the humbuckers. I wish it wasn’t the case, but it really is the best way to do it!
An ungrounded cover (that’s basically what you’re soldering them for) is prone to act as an antenna that will pick up every scrap of interference in and around the guitar – so as well as acting as a solid point to affix the thing; it also saves you from ending up with a noisy pickup.
Its not too bad a job really – you need to raise the screw poles a little on the pickup, remove the cloth backed tape around the edge of the bobbins , and port the cover into its final position over the pickup. Mark the centre points on either side (between the D and G poles is usually a good spot – but no need to be accurate), remove the cover, and sand down to expose the nickel underneath the plating and copper.
Once you’re through, you can put the cover back in place, and solder in in place, and you’re job done – securely mounted, and grounded.
Now, there’s also the contentious matter of wax potting – I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say “yes, you will definitely need to re-pot a pickup once you’ve fitted a cover” – but I know full well, its not strictly true. Chances are your coils are already potted pretty well, and you’ll be fine if you don’t… but we all know that we don’t live in a perfect world – so if you do notice your pickup is feeding back more often with covers fitted, then it might be time to research wax potting. (I’ll skip the intricate details for now)
Right – this is the fun part! The purely cosmetic part where its completely up to you what you go for! (No tech support required!) We’re really just including this to make sure theres no confusion when it comes to the more subtle differences.
It is what it is – fairly low karat gold is usually the case when it comes to plating (atleast outside of jewellery) – interestingly, the variation between different parts in gold comes down to the karat of gold used in the plating – the darker, more orange gold colours come from higher quality gold. Ours are fairly middle of the road “guitar part gold” to be honest. Worth nothing that whilst gold normally wont tarnish, it will get dirty, and cleaning gold plate is the very devil, because its soft and thin (we’ve all seem gold humbuckers where the platings rubbed off – that’s why! Its not that its cheap gold, or “not gold” (granted, its low karat usually)) – it’s possible to just rub straight through most gold plate with a bit of force and abrasion. So go for gold (all gold, not just our humbuckers covers – but anything gold plated!) with caution – looks great, but If its getting used and abused everyday, its going to show its age.
Black is Black – it’s commonly thought to be power coating or painted, but it is actually Electroplating (in a fashion anyway), and as such, offers all the benefits/drawbacks there within – it’s actually a process that causes oxidisation of the base material (that copper layer) which is then converted into Cupric Oxide. Its not exactly common with humbuckers covers, but it looks fantastic as long as you keep it clean!
These are just the unfinished covers, no copper under plate, no electroplate, as pure as they come – just a shaped hunk of German silver, completely with little tool marks and scuffs from manufacture. A nice little part to use as a “ready made” relic, but they can be polished up with a metal polish to a mirror shine. Without an electroplating, they age very quickly – so aftera year or two of serious playing, expect to see that zebra stripe pattern where you’ve hit the cover with your pick, but never under the strings.
You’ll see Cosmo being called “Black Nickel” or “Ruthenium” – but its all the same thing, a sort of gun metal grey, somewhere between Chrome and Black. Really nice colour, and often turns up on Ibanez® guitars, but its very rare as a humbuckers cover colour. It’s a fairly stable element though, decent scratch and wear resistance, and not overly reactive, so it won’t tarnish too easily. Again, just like black – got to keep it clean – it shows up finger prints.
Chrome & Nickel
Now Chrome and Nickel are a strange one – you ask 90% of guitarists what colour hardware they’ve got on their guitar, and they’ll answer ”chrome” – but it’s actually much rarer then you think (or at least it was, its becoming more common because it’s a great material for plating!) – High wear resistance, good scratch resistance, and very little reaction to acids (that’d be out sweat!) – it’s a great choice if you like silver.
Weirdly though, it wasn’t really used until recently – most “silver” hardware you’ll see on guitars before the 1990s, will have been nickel plated. Not a clue as to why. It’s not too tricky a job to ID though if you’re in any doubt. Chrome has a certain blue tint to it – think about a screw driver, a pair of pliers, that’s chrome plate. Nickel has a slightly more yellowy tint to it, if you’re looking for examples – normally turns up on more decorative stuff, but if you’re struggling, the low strings on your guitar will be nickel wound.