Electric Mandolin Wiring and Pickup Options

This page covers:

Pickup Options

My default pickup choice is Seymour Duncan's Cool Rails. This pickup has no pole pieces to misalign with a 4 or 5 course instrument, and delivers a clear smooth and natural tone.

I've also used the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails which is more appropriate for those that want a pickup that will overdrive the amp into distortion.

For those that want a jangly surfer-dude sound, then a lipstick pickup would be a cool choice.

For short neck (17 fret) mandolins, I can fit either one or two pickups, likewise for longer scale instruments. For "long neck" (22 fret) mandolins and shorter mandolas or OM's there may only be room for the one pickup - you would need to enquire about that with the specific details if this is something that interests you. Note that bridge pickups on mandolins tend not to get too much use: generally speaking mandolins are more than bright enough already, plus the top e-strings move so little that close to the bridge that they tend not to drive the pickup terribly well. On the other hand, blending two pickups on longer scale instruments can sound extremely nice indeed.

Cool Rails pickup on a short-neck / 17 fret 5 string:

Hot Rails pickup on a long neck / 22 fret 5 string:

Two Cool Rails pickups with blend option (initial tunes at the start are with the two pickups blended together):

Wiring and Selection Options.

I wire each pickup into a 2 or 3 way toggle switch, which provides the following options:

Series wiring:
This is the traditional "thick" humbucker sound: think blues or jazz.
Parallel wiring:
This is still "humbucking" in the sense that it suppresses the hum, but is cleaner and brighter sounding than series wired and without so much "colouring" imparted by the pickup. Think plugged-in semi-acoustic.
Single Coil
This is the cleanest option, and also noticeably quieter than the other options. The tone is very close to that of parallel wiring though, so this option can be omitted if a 2-way switch is used. There can be one interesting use case for this option though: as it's noticeably quieter than the other options, if you play in single coil mode and with the amp on the edge of distortion, then flicking the switch into one of the other positions will immediately over-drive the amp.

In addition to the wiring selection switch I fit volume and tone controls as standard on the single pickup models - see below for a description of the tone control options.

For dual pickup models, there are a rather large number of ways they could be wired, and I'm happy to accommodate whatever the client would find most practical. The default choice would be to provide a neck/bridge/blend toggle switch, plus independent volume controls for the two pickups.

Tone Controls.

I normally fit a treble-cut tone control as standard. However, I have also used bass-cut controls where needed, and more recently a "wide range" control which cuts treble in one direction, and bass when you turn in the other direction. Note that the wide range control requires a slightly deeper body than I normally use, so I need to know in advance when this is required.

You can see/hear the wide range control in use on this instrument:

Please contact me here, if you see anything you're interested in.