Wax Potted vs Non Wax Potted Pickups: Effects on Tone

In your journey as a guitar player, you might have heard about wax potted or potted pickups. Especially humbuckers.

This practice is very common among many pickup manufacturers and almost a standard for some.

But what is the difference between wax potted and non wax potted pickups? Here is the short answer:

The main differences between wax potted pickups and non wax potted pickups are that wax potted pickups are less prone to microphonic feedback due to the potting process that immobilizes their internal components preventing them to be affected by vibrations or perturbations. Non wax potted pickups are noisier.

If you want t dive deeper into this topic, in this article I will try to answer the most common question about wax potted pickups and how they differ from the ones that have not undergone that process.

After reading this article you will have a clearer idea about why do manufacturers wax pot some pickups and why do they do it.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

What are wax potted pickups?

Wax potted pickups are pickups that were submerged in melted wax to make all of their components stay in place and not be affected by any kind of vibration or perturbation that could hinder their performance or generate issues such as microphonic feedback or any other kind of mechanical failures.

This process is usually carried on by the manufacturer, but it could also be done by a specialized guitar technician as a mod for unpotted pickups.

Does wax potting make an actual difference?

Wax potting does make a great difference in reducing the issues that have to do with unwanted vibrations or mechanical movements inside the pickup that could generate microphonic feedback or other kinds of problems. For pickups intended to be used with heavy distortion, it is almost a standard.

Does wax potting affect tone?

On the technical side, displacing the air between the windings of the pickup’s coils with wax increases their inter-winding capacitance. On the practical side, the differences in tone are mild, however, some players argue that unpotted pickups sound more “open” and have a sharper treble response.

It could also affect the resulting tone by affecting, previously, how the player plays. Unpotted pickups are harder to “tame” and they feedback easier. This could make the musician play with his amp in a more conservative manner affecting its final tone.

On the other side, wax potted pickups would mean a smaller risk of unwanted feedback and allow the player to push the amps settings a bit further without many concerns.

How can you tell if your pickups are wax potted?

How to know if a pickup is wax potted

There are many ways to tell if a pickup is wax potted. All of them require removing the pickup in question. You can try turning the screws of the pickup to see if any wax comes up. Also, if you pay close attention to the hookup wire that comes out of the baseplate in some cases you could see some wax residue.

An easier alternative would be to try googling for your actual pickup model to see if it’s factory wax potted.

If everything fails, you can always try to remove the cover by cutting the solder points with a knife. However, if it’s wax potted the cover would not come out and you could only make it do so by heating the whole pickup with a hairdryer and thus ruining the potting.

Can single-coil pickups be wax potted?

Yes, single-coil pickups can be wax potted and the process and reasons to do so are the same as with humbuckers. However, single-coils are less prone to have feedback issues due to their lower output and it is not that common for them to be wax potted. But there’s nothing preventing you from doing it.

Lacquer potted vs wax potted pickups

In the early years, Leo Fender experimented with potting guitar pickups with lacquer. This material turned out to be not as useful as wax since it’s not reversible and impedes any further work on the pickup, also it has had problems drying fully. Also, wax reached deeper and bound to the coils better.

Can you wax pot unpotted pickups?

Yes, you can wax pot factory unpotted pickups and the process is pretty straightforward. You will require to mix canning paraffin with 20% beeswax and heat it up until liquid to then soak your pickup. If you are not very sure about how to do it, I would recommend you talk to a guitar technician to guide you.

Here is a great video on how to do it step by step:

Are all pickups wax potted?

No, not all pickups are wax potted nowadays, however it is a very common practice. You should check if the pickup you are interested in is actually potted in some way or not. Some players prefer their pickups not being potted at all to get a more vintage tone. In the early days, almost no pickup was potted.

When were wax potted pickups invented?

Wax potting was a very common practice for electrical engineers in the early 1900s. So it is to be expected that when the first guitar pickup squealed their manufacturers rushed to soak it in wax. It is known that Leo Fender experimented with lacquer potting in the 50s for their earlier guitar models.