MACGYVER MOMENTS THAT SAVE YOUR ASS BY JOL DANTZIG
Waiting for the house lights to go down, I noticed
that the neck humbucker on
my guitar had dropped into the
body. Vibration had loosened
the adjustment screw on one
side, and when the pickup’s
mounting leg had reached the
bottom, the pickup just fell in.
Panic stricken, I fumbled with
the screw only to realize the
internal tension spring wouldn’t
allow me to re-thread the adjuster. With only seconds before
show time, I did the only thing
I could think of. Tearing the
cover off a pack of cardboard
matches, I fashioned a folded
wedge and stuffed it between
the pickup cover and the surrounding bezel—jamming my
pickup into a stationary position. Luckily, it held for the set.
I’ve had a few such episodes
during my tenure as both a
guitarist and guitar maker, and
I’m not alone. Almost every
musician or tech I meet has
stories about improvised fixes.
Sometimes a simple solution
can be the source of a feature
adapted by a guitar builder—or
an entire company. I call them
MacGyver moments and here
are a few of my favorites.
Alan Rogan, guitar tech to
some of the most iconic players
in history, such as Neil Young,
Keith Richards, and Peter
Townshend (the undisputed
king of catastrophic gear fail-
ure), tells a tale similar to mine.
Townshend has a well-known
habit of using his guitar as a
ing on the face of the guitar
with the heel of his hand, boot,
or whatever suits his fancy.
More than a few times, he’s
driven a pickup straight down
into the guitar as a result. And
if it’s a pickguard-mounted
unit, the screw usually takes a
large portion of the guard with
it. Alan’s remedy is cutting a
plastic 9V battery cap in half,
spearing it with the screw, and
re-threading it into the pickup.
Rogan says a guitar pick is
another option, if you don’t
have a battery cap handy.
Almost every musician or tech I meet
has stories about improvised fixes.
Sometimes a simple solution can be the
source of a feature adapted by a guitar
builder—or an entire company.
still going unplugged by accident, take note.
Sean Beresford cites temperature as an often-overlooked
gremlin. Both a tech and a
studio engineer, Beresford has
had long stints with Living
Colour, Lou Reed, Third Eye
Blind, and a host of others. He
has quite a story about Lou
Reed storming offstage in a
fury when a rackmount guitar
synthesizer decided to bust out
solo. “About halfway through
the song,” Beresford winces, “the
synth started playing these wild
and random arpeggios all by
itself—and not remotely in the
same key as the music. I don’t
really remember how we made
it through the remainder of the
show—I’d rather forget it.” A
frantic rewiring of the entire
rack during the show failed to
bust the ghost in the machine,
so Beresford contacted the manufacturer the next day and was
told the main microprocessor
was particularly sensitive to heat.
ing the screw is a much more
permanent solution than glue
and toothpicks. With that said,
Bonamassa recently added a
vintage 1959 sunburst Les Paul
to his live show stable—Gavin
knows better than to fix this
guitar with halfway measures!
Although not really a fix,
covered pickups deserve an
honorable mention. There
was a time when every pickup
had a cover, but some hotshot
(probably Jeff Beck) decided
to remove the metal lid from
his guitar’s humbucker. The
reasoning for the popularity
of removal isn’t exactly clear,
though it was probably like tak-
ing the hood off a 1932 Ford
hot rod. Almost overnight, cov-
ered pickups became as uncool
as saddle shoes and golf shirts.
I imagine the extra groove fac-
tor was viewed as an upgrade,
though some players claimed to
be able to hear the difference.
Manufacturers of aftermarket
pickups were certainly happy
and willing to skip the expense
of making the metal parts,
but like the fashion industry,
something cyclical happened.
As dead-stock vintage guitars
became desirable and their
prices soared, covers became
JOL DANTZIG is a
noted designer, builder, and
player who co-founded
Hamer Guitars, one of
the first boutique guitar
brands, in 1973. Today,
as the director of Dantzig
Guitar Design, he continues to help define
the art of custom guitar. To learn more, visit