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Lessons Upgrades

Replacing Pickups on a Gretsch Electromatic G5120

Like so many others, I had a tough time justifying spending $3k+ for a Gretsch (I really like the Setzer model) when the Korean version can be had for under $800.  But that means dealing with a lot of the places they cut corners to drop the sticker price.  One of the most often disliked stock items on the G5120 is the pickups.  They are wimpy, flat, lack definition and just stink all around.  Most folks throw in TV Jones classics, but given that a pair of them is nearly 50% the total cost of the guitar, I decided to try out some GFS Nashville Filtertron-ish pickups.

Note: This guide will help you no matter what pickups you select, just giving a little personal lead-in.

What you’ll need:

  • 1/4″ outside diameter vinyl tubing (from the plumbing section of your local hardware store – it usually comes in 20′ rolls, that’s good)
  • tiny philips screwdriver
  • soldering iron/solder
  • wire strippers
  • pliers or specialized tool for tightening pots & jacks
  • allen wrench set (metric)
  • pickups & appropriate mounting hardware (The GFS pickups come with the proper mounting ring, but TV Jones require a special ring – you can buy it with your pickups)
  • 5/16″ outside diameter vinyl tubing** (I don’t remove the selector switch – but if you need to remove it, this is the size you’ll need)

Skill Level: Moderate – You’ll need basic soldering skills and some more patience than the typical pickup swap (given it’s a hollowbody and all).

Step 1 – Prep the Guitar & Remove Stuff

  1. Mark the bridge location. If you’ve never taken all the strings off your G5120 at the same time (or never loosened them a bunch) you might not think of the fact that your bridge isn’t held in place by anything but string tension.  If you don’t want your intonation shot to hell, mark the bridge location.  I use a fine point black marker, because it cleans up with rubbing alcohol.  If you’re afraid of this, use some tape to mark the location.
  2. Remove the pickguard. It’s held on with one screw under the fingerboard, and two on the underside of the body.  The one by the Gretsch logo stays put, it just holds a bracket in place.
  3. Remove knobs. They’re held on with allen screws.  My metric allen set doesn’t mark sizes, but I’m fairly certain it’s 2.5mm.
  4. Loosen or remove strings.

Step 2 – Remove Hardware & Attach your tubing

I’d cut lengths of 12″ to be extra safe.  You’ll need 5 pieces cut.  Do everything in this order.

  1. Detach nuts on pots. Carefully unscrew the nuts holding the pots in place. Do not let go of the pots! They’ll fall into the cavity and be a pain in the ass to recover.  Remove the nuts and washers.
  2. Attach tubing to the tops of your pots.  It’s a snug fit, so grabbing onto the pot with a pliers (or small clamp) helps a lot.  For the pots near the F-hole, you can maybe stick your finger in the f-hole and hold the pots in place from the underside while you attach tubing.
  3. Remove input jack. Insert a piece of tubing inside your input jack, remove the nut/washer on the jack.

Your guitar should now look like this 1:

Gretsch G5120 Pickup Replacement

Step 3 – Remove your old pickups

  1. Remove pickups. Unscrew the four screws holding the ring in place.
  2. Get slack on wiring. You can push the pots/jack into the body cavity to allow slack on your wiring, pull it all (gently) toward the pickup openings.

Step 4 – Swap Pickups

I’m not going to spend a ton of time here, as it’s not really unique to a hollowbody.  Use the diagram below to wire things up.  Definitely test before moving on since it’s a pain to take things apart.

Gretsch G5120 Wiring Diagram

Step 5 – Re-assemble & rock

I’d suggest starting with the input jack as that’s the furthest in your wiring chain from the pickups and the most likely to come loose from your tubing (I know there are other tools you can use to hold onto an input jack, but the tubing works just fine for me)

During the whole re-assembly, leave the pickups in place but not screwed in, in case you need to get access to the inside of the body for any reason.

Pull all of your pots into place before securing anything, in case some wires get tangled.

  1. I’m doing this guide retroactively, so the pickups are already swapped