Paul Reed Smith Pickups — The Ultimate Installation Guide

Paul Reed Smith Pickups — The Ultimate Installation Guide

In this article, we’ll provide a Paul Reed Smith pickup installation guide to help you install these pickups into your guitar. PRS doesn’t make and sell pickups the way DiMarzio and specialized pickup companies do, but they do come stock in all of their guitars, and it’s possible to purchase one second-hand at a local music store. This guide will help you install any pickups you find into any guitar, and it will be a great resource if you run into any pickup issues with a Paul Reed Smith guitar.

Before You Begin

This PRS pickup installation guide is not a step-by-step tutorial. It’s a reference guide for those who know how to install and remove pickups and have the tools and experience necessary to make solder connections. You will also need to be able to read the wiring diagrams we provide and apply them to your guitar.

Single Coil Pickups

PRS has made several guitars over the years with single-coil pickups. Currently, you can find single coils in the Silver Sky and Silver Sky Nebula. Single-coil pickups have two wires corresponding to each end of the coil. PRS uses a white wire for the HOT and a black wire for the GROUND.

In Example 1, we’ve illustrated how to install single-coil pickups in a Fender Stratocaster-style guitar.

Example 1

Humbucker Pickups

Paul Reed Smith specializes in humbucker pickups, and the vast majority of their guitars use them. You can currently find humbuckers in the CE 24, CE 24 Semi-Hollow, and the DE CE 24 “Floyd.” These pickups use a unique wiring scheme with three wires instead of the traditional four, which makes installing them a little easier. Humbuckers typically have four wires because each coil has two wires, but you need to find the HOT and the GROUND to install them. PRS humbuckers provide you with a HOT, a GROUND, and a third wire that is essentially two wires soldered together; you can tape this off or use it for modifications. You solder the bare wire to the GROUND.

Paul Reed Smith Wiring Code

  • Black = HOT
  • Red = Split
  • White + Bare = GROUND

We’ve illustrated this PRS wiring code in Example 2

Example 2

Once we know the wiring code, we can install the Paul Reed Smith pickup using the HOT and GROUND wires. We’ve illustrated a common way to install PRS pickups in a Gibson Les Paul-style guitar in Example 3.

Example 3

Humbucker Coil Splitting

Even though the PRS humbuckers provide you with only three wires, you can still create a coil-splitting modification. The coil-split allows you to use a push-pull pot to turn off one of the two coils in your humbucker, giving you access to single-coil tones. If your guitar has two or more humbuckers, you can install the mod on those humbuckers for even more variety.

Convert to a push-pull pot

To install a coil-split modification, you will first need to convert one of your tone pots to a push-pull pot. A push-pull pot is the same as a standard pot, except it has a built-in switch. For now, we’ll ignore the switch section and install it the same way as a standard pot.

We’ve illustrated what a converted tone control would look like in a Gibson Les Paul-style guitar in Example 4.

Example 4

Complete the coil-split modification

To complete the coil-split modification, you will need to connect the red wire to the switch mechanism and add a short GROUND wire from the switch to the back of the pot. We’ve illustrated these final connections in Example 5.

Example 5

How does It work?

When you pull out the push-pull pot, it allows the signal from the red wire to escape to GROUND, which prevents it from going to the second coil instead. Since the signal doesn’t go through the second coil, you’ve essentially split the pickup, giving you access to a single-coil tone. Pushing the pot back in breaks the connection between the red wire and ground, so the pickup acts like usual with both coils operating.


Changing the pickups in your guitar is one of the best ways to personalize your sound, and Paul Reed Smith has a large collection of great-sounding single coils and humbuckers. We hope you’ve found this guide helpful, and that it’s helped you get these pickups working in your guitar. Please feel free to share this Paul Reed Smith pickup installation guide on Facebook and Twitter. For more articles on guitar electronics, visit

Our resident electronics wizard came by his skills honestly — first as an apprentice in his father’s repair shop, later as a working musician and (most recently) as a sound designer for film. His passion for guitar led him to Humbucker Soup, where he continues to decode the wonders of wiring and the vicissitudes of voltage. Ed has never taken his guitar to a shop — he already knows how to fix it.