We’re big fans of do-it-yourself projects when it comes to guitars. We also think that upgrading or changing pickups is one of the best ways to improve your tone. So when DiMarzio contacted us to try out a couple of their new solderless pre-wired pickguards loaded with DiMarzio pickups we jumped at the chance. Check out our walkthru of the installation and our review.
DiMarzio’s pickguards brings together some of their most popular pickups and puts them into an easy-to-use platform that anyone with a wire cutter, a wire stripper and a screwdriver could install. If you’re familiar with “lefty-loosey” and “righty-tighty” then you’re ready to try out some new DiMarzio’s. Plus you can save a buck or two by not having to pay your local guitar tech in labor to have the wiring and installation done. It took us less than 30 minutes to install the pickguard and restring the guitar. There are some things to consider but we’ll walk through the process and show you how it’s done.
We decided to take an average-at-best guitar and upgrade the pickups and see how much we could improve the tone of the guitar. Our guitar of choice was a late 1980′s Fender Squier Stratocaster. We went with this example because we often hear about guitarists wanting to upgrade cheaper guitars, save a few bucks and still end up with great sound.
About the only thing we were giving up with this classic 80′s Squier was the “vintage” look 25 years of aging does to the white pickups and pickguard. When we pulled the Squier apart we found it had some very cheap looking single coil pups under the hood. By contrast the DiMarzio solderless pickguard assemblies that were provided represented some of DiMarzio’s best pickups in their product line. We were provided with two sets to pickups to test out.
The HS Setup includes two HS-4 pups in the neck and middle position and a HS-3 at the bridge. “HS” stands for Humbucking Strat meaning these single coil pickups has no 60-cycle hum. The HS-4 is the vintage magnet-stagger version of the HS-3 that recreates the string-balance of single-coils from the 50s. It produces a unique sound in the neck and middle positions with both chords and single-note soloing. The HS-3 is a classic metal pickup that’s high-output with a smooth and relatively quiet tone that combines perfectly with a heavily distorted amp.
We also had a chance to try out the High Power Setup that features a ProTrack at the neck, a Fast Track 1 at the middle position and a Fast Track 2 at the bridge. The ProTrack brings a vintage PAF tone to your Strat and will work great for blues and jazz. The Fast Track 1 is a very bright and clean sounding humbucker and finally the Fast Track 2 is a humbucker with three times the output of an average single-coil, with a huge mid-range and bass punch. The High Power Setup basically turns your Strat into a humbucking monster.
Check out the DiMarzio website to find out more about their pickups.
Installing the DiMarzio Solderless Pickguards
The first step was removing all the strings off our Fender Squier. After that we unscrewed the pickguard from the guitar and turned the pickguard assembly over. Our Fender Squier had a pretty basic wiring setup. We had one ground wire coming from the tremolo claw and a ground and output wire coming from the input jack that was attached to the volume pot. We cut the wires from the original pickguard assembly leaving as much wire as possible in the guitar.
This is where we hit a snag. Our ground wire coming from the tremolo claw wasn’t long enough to reach the connecting block on the DiMarzio pickguard assembly. We had to bust out our soldering iron and put in a longer wire. It was a small snag and one we don’t expect most folks to encounter but that said, you should be very careful to keep the wires as long as possible when removing the original assembly.
Once we had the new wire installed into the guitar, adding the DiMarzio pickguard assembly was a breeze. We cut and stripped the tips of the connecting wires and then inserted them into the connecting block. The connecting block has three inputs – two negative and one positive. Your white output wire goes into the positive jack while any remaining ground or black wires can be inserted into the negative jacks. If you have more than two ground wires you can combine two together and put them into one jack.
We decided for this demo to install the DiMarzio High Power Setup. We just loved the idea of three humbuckers in our Squier Strat…
DiMarzio also includes a small flat head screwdriver that will fit the small screws in the connection block. This made installing the wires a snap. Once we had the wires installed we flipped the assembly over and made sure it all fit properly. But before we screwed the pickguard back into the body, we plugged the guitar in and tested the pickups to make sure we had a good connection. Our test consisted of tapping the pickup up magnets while the guitar was plugged into an amp. Once we heard the tell-tale pops from the tapping we knew we had a solid connection.
From there we screwed the pickguard back into the guitar’s body and re-strung the guitar. Our little Fender Squier went from being a basic Strat-style guitar and morphed into a hard rock machine with 3 humbuckers. We were immediately inspired to crank the overdrive and bang out some of our favorite classic metal riffs. The guitar took on a whole new life and sounded completely new. It was most definitely an upgrade from the factory installed pickups. Swapping from one assembly to the other was a breeze after we did our wiring fix. Once you start thinking about how easy it is to install solderless pickup assemblies like this one, you can imagine a world where swapping pickups is as easy and frequent as changing your guitar’s strings.
Overall we found the DiMarzio pre-wired solderless pickguard assemblies a breeze to install. While we did hit a small snag with our installation, once we fixed the problem, swapping the solderless pickguards became easy. You may encounter a hiccup or two when you do your first installation but we don’t think there are any problems that the average guitarist couldn’t figure out on their own.
The improvement in tone and sound was dramatic. We went from flabby Squier pups to some serious humbucking tone. It’s probably not that hard to improve upon Squier Strat pickups but we thought this kind of upgrade represented a real world problem beginner and intermediate guitarists are trying to solve. With that in mind we’d definitely would recommend the DiMarzio pre-wired solderless pickup kits. We’d also recommend you doing some research on the pickup assemblies DiMarzio offers to ensure you get the setup and tones you’re looking to achieve.
Questions, suggestions or complaints? Put them in the comments please and we’ll do our best to respond.