Modifying pickups – the half-air mod

After installing my DiMarzio Tone Zone in to my Ibanez 20th Ann RG550RFR, I had been reading about the “half-air” mod, which quite a few people have performed on their Tone Zones. I was curious about it as I was wanting to find a way to get rid of some of the boomy low-end that the Tone Zone produces, and thought I might try the mod just in case I had no luck sorting it out by adjusting the pickup heights, etc.

I thought that before I pulled apart the Tone Zone that I might try it on a cheaper pickup in a guitar I don’t use so much. I have a Saga PRS-style kit guitar that I put together several years ago, which I had installed Mighty Mite Motherbuckers in to.

I have always found that this guitar, which has a very dark and prominent low-end tone sounded way too thick with the Motherbuckers in. The Motherbuckers are also extremely high-output pickups. I installed a ceramic pickup, as per the instructions in one of my previous posts on magnet changes in pickups. This opened up my pickup a little, and tamed the wild output somewhat, but it was still a little too thick, especially while picking on the low E string.

The “half-air” mod involves removing the bar around the screw pole-pieces in a humbucker, and sticking the magnet directly to the screws themselves, eliminating the contact the magnet makes with the lugs on the other coil.

This idea is based on the “Air” range of DiMarzio pickups, where the magnet does not touch any of the pole-pieces. this results in an open sounding pickup with increased sustain. The “half-air” mod lowers the pickup output, and opens up the tone a bit,  eliminating some of the lows, and increasing some of the highs.

So how do we do this:

As always, take particular care when working with the insides of pickups. The wires are extremely thin, and if you break any you may be in for a world of pain to fix it!

Get the strings out of the way.

Step 1:

The first thing you need to do is get your pickup out of the guitar. Get the strings out of the way. This guitar has a tune-o-matic bridge and tail piece, so I de-tuned the strings, and unscrewed the tail piece, lifting all of the strings out of the way at once.

Remove the pickup ring or pickguard from the guitar.

Step 2:

Remove the pickup ring or pickguard so you can get to the pickup.

Don't lose your screws!

Step 3:

You don’t want to loose your screws and springs. I use a spare pickup magnet. They are not going to get lost when they are stuck to this.

Remove the pickup from the pickup ring or pickguard.

Step 4:

Remove the pickup from the pickup ring or pickguard. You need to do this so you can remove the pickup’s base-plate.

Remove the pickup base-plate.

Step 5:

Remove the pickup base-plate. There are 4 screws to remove. Carefully loosen the pickup tape around it with a stanley knife or small flat-head screwdriver so you can lift it right off the pickup bobbins. Remove the magnet from the pickup. Use a flat-head screwdriver to carefully lift it up. Take note of it’s orientation so you don’t make the pickup out of phase. I labelled it with some masking tape as you can see.

Remove the metal bar that is around the pole-piece screw ends.

Step 6:
Carefully remove the metal bar from the pole-pieces. I used a flat-head screwdriver to pry it up from the bobbins.

Put the magnet back in, ensuring that it is pressed up evenly against the pole-piece screws.

Step 7:
Put the magnet back in, noting orientation, and push it up evenly against the screws.

Put something non-ferrous in-between the magnet and the slugs.

Step 8:
Put something non-ferrous in-between the magnet and the slugs. I used a thin sliver of rubber sheeting that I had available to me. This is to ensure that the magnet stays “aired”.

Once this is done reverse steps 5 to 1, and tune your guitar back up. Plug in and find out what your newly modified pickup sounds like.

I found that it tamed my Motherbucker a good amount. That was fine though, as I had plenty of space to increase the pickup height to get it really driving the amp again.

The tone is definitely more “open” now and less a wall of sound, with the lows not so powerful, and a nice amount of highs added back to the sound. I am quite happy with how it turned out, and will definitely be leaving the pickup in this state.

I’m still not sure if I’ll be performing this mod to the Tone Zone just yet, as I seem to have set it up just right for my ears. The mod is definitely worth trying though, not just to a Tone Zone, but to any other pickup that you might want to experiment with.

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