In the world of guitars and basses, pickups are king.  Sure, there’s a bunch that can be said about the different components that make up your instrument’s body, such as how the wood used or the design change the tone of your instrument, but all those are a subject for a different post.     

Today, we’re talking about pickups, specifically, how to install a set of pickups into a Fender Jazz Bass.

The first thing you’ll need is a new set of pickups to install. In this case, we’re installing the Fender Custom Shop Custom 60’s Jazz Bass pickups.  You’ll also need a soldering iron, some solder, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a set of wire clippers.

Fender Custom 60's Jazz Bass pickups in their original packaging
Fender Custom 60's in their original packaging 

Begin by removing the strings of your bass, and then unscrew the pickguard.  Be careful not to strip any of the screws, but it should come off rather easily.

 Unscrew the pickguard carefully
Carefully unscrew the pickguard
 

When lifting up the metal plate with the potentiometers, check out the existing configuration so you know how it was set up originally. It’s important to identify where you should attach the ground wires and the live wires.  As you can see in the pictures below, there is a common ground being used in this bass’ set up.

 

Original Jazz Bass Potentiometer Configuration
Original Setup
Original Jazz Bass Neck Potentiometer Wiring
Close up of Neck wiring
Original Jazz Bass Bridge Potentiometer Wiring
Close up of Bridge Wiring
Original Jazz Bass Tone Potentiometer Wiring
Close up of Tone Wiring

 

Before removing anything else, take a look at the wiring diagram that comes with the pickups. It will identify which pickup is the Neck pickup, and which is the Bridge.  Sometimes these pickups can be interchangeable, but in the case of the Custom 60’s, they are specifically designed for their positions. The dot is the indicator.

The bottom of the Custom 60's pickups.  The little dot is the identifier
The bottom of the Custom 60's pickups. The little dot is the identifier

Making sure your soldering iron is nice and hot, unsolder the existing connections one at a time, taking care not to remove any of the connections that you shouldn’t.  You should be able to trace each wire from the existing pickups, to the corresponding spot on the potentiometers. Leave anything else intact.

Unsolder the existing connections to make way for your new connections
Unsolder the existing connections to make way for your new connections

If a wire really doesn’t want to come off when soldering, you can clip the wire, but make sure not to leave any of the remaining wire touching anything.

Clip any wires that won't unsolder easily
Carefully clip any wire that won't come off with the soldering iron

Place your new pickups in their corresponding cavities.  They should fit rather snuggly, but not as hard as that it is impossible to get them in.  In this case, the cavities for the basic pickups were slightly too small for the Custom 60’s and so I had to expand it.

Position the new pickup in the existing cavity to check the sizing
Position the new pickup in the existing cavity to check the sizing

Here I used an 80 grit sand paper and ever so gently sanded the edges of the cavities by hand. Making sure to expand equally on each side, I’d sand for a bit, then test to see if the pickup fit nicely, and if it didn’t, I’d sand a little more, making sure to keep the edges flat (so as not to get a “bowl” effect).

Expand the pickup cavities by hand, making sure not to leave a rounded bowl effect at the bottom, which would push the pickups up a bit
Expand the pickup cavities by hand, making sure not to leave a rounded bowl effect at the bottom, which would push the pickups up a bit

Once you have it big enough, you can pass a slightly higher grit sand paper over it a few times just to smooth it out and remove any roughness, how much is up to you but remember, your pickups will hide the majority of this sanding.  Just make sure the pickups fit nicely afterwards.

The pickups should now fit nicely, not too hard, but not able to move around either.
The pickups should now fit nicely, not too hard, but not able to move around either

Now that your pickups fit properly, you’ll need to solder the connections back where they go.  The wiring diagram is your friend here, but it’s not that difficult, you already saw where they were supposed to attach when you removed the old pickups.  Before proceeding too far, this might be a good time to test.  Turn your volume knobs down and plug your bass into your amp.  Slowly turn the volume up and tap a small piece of metal (such as a pickguard screw) NEAR the pickups magnets, but not on them directly.  Something like tapping it on the mounting screws for the pickups would work.  The signal should be passed on to the amp and you should hear sounds.

Since I had to enlarge the pickup cavities in this case, it makes sense that a bit of fine tuning was needed for the pickguard as well.  This is slightly trickier, since you really don’t want to scuff your pickguard, and so you should work from the back of it, and just lightly sand within the existing cut outs.

Gently sand the pickguard cut out
Gently sand the pickguard cut out
 

Hopefully you didn’t have to sand at all to make them fit, but if you did, just do another test to make sure everything fits nicely and there are no burrs from sanding on the pickguard or body, definitely not a nice thing to leave.  Once all that is taken care of, replace the pickguard and double check that everything looks correct.  Plug back in the bass and do the tap-test again to make sure no solders came loose when you were closing it all back up.

Put the pickguard back on and make sure everything lines up
Put the pickguard back on and make sure everything lines up
 

So now your pickups are changed, but your strings are still off and your bass is full of finger prints.  Grab a Fender Untreated Polish Cloth and buff out those marks while the strings are still off and it’s easy.

Buff out the finger marks with a Fender untreated polish cloth
Buff out the finger marks with a Fender untreated polish cloth
 

Finally, replace your strings, tune it all up, and have some fun! You’ve just customized your bass. 

Put the strings back on and have fun!
Put the strings back on and have fun!
 

Note that while this tutorial relates specifically to installing Jazz Bass pickups, the basic principles are the same for all passive pickups.  Active pickups are slightly different, but not by much. Specifically the EMG pickups are solderless which makes life even easier, but you will still need to find somewhere for a 9V battery in there and may need a soldering iron for the output jack ground connection.  Perhaps in the future we’ll do a tutorial for that, let us know in the comments if that’s something you’d be interested in.