Join the Pagey Project — If You Dare!

True fact: While Jimmy Page is usually pictured with a Les Paul, he recorded many of Led Zeppelin's greatest tracks with Fender guitars. (Artist's conception.)

All aboard, mateys! Join our ship of fools as we sail the fiercest seas of guitar electronics: Yes, the legendary Jimmy Page wiring scheme. There will be NO QUARTER for pickup pussies!

Actually, there will be a great deal of quarter as we help each other with this cool but tricky project. I’ll be disembolwing the black Les Paul Custom I wrote about here. My hope is that many of you will join me on this voyage. We can troubleshoot together, share tips, and commiserate after we’ve destroyed a bunch of nice guitars other things.

As you probably know, this complex wiring scheme transforms a standard Les Paul into an über-versatile tone machine with added series/parallel, phase-canceling, and split-coil options. It was the means by which Pagey reproduced the many Telecaster and Danectro parts from Zep’s studio albums when performing live.

We’ll cover the classic arrangement, with four push/pull pots. Then we’ll go a step further: If you add a pair of Seymour Duncan Triple Shot Mounting Rings to the mix, you get many more options than with the original scheme. Yes, we can all be bigger badasses than Pagey.   :shake:

(FWIW, I’m less interested in cloning Page’s setup than in mastering the ins and outs of alternative humbucker wiring. So think of this as a chance to explore all available options, and refine a mod that works best for you.)

Here’s what you must have before setting sail:

You don’t need to have a Les Paul — but you do need a dual-humbucker guitar with two volume knobs and two tone knobs. You’ll probably get great results with a budget-priced Epiphone, especially if you upgrade the pickups. You can also do it with any number of inexpensive, used Les Paul knockoffs, like the Aria Pro II shown here.

You don’t need a particular brand or style of humbuckers, but they must both use four-connector wire. (It’s possible to hack pickups with single-connector wire, but you’re on your own there, matey — I can’t help.) For a Page-like sound, it helps to have vintage-voiced humbuckers. (I’ll be using a pair of Duncan ’59s with four-connector wire.) But you’ll probably get cool results with hotter-output pickups as well.

For the classic Page setup, you’ll need four 500K push/pull pots like these or these, which will set you back about $40US, not including the usual wire, solder, and tools. For the “Pagey Plus” option, you’ll need a pair of Triple Shot Mounting Rings (street price about $60US) but only two push-pull pots, for a total cost of about $80US. Be sure to determine whether your guitar requires regular-style pots, or the long-shaft pots of the type found in vintage Les Pauls.

This isn’t exactly a cheap project, but it’s definitely more manageable than a signed and aged Gibson Page signature model for $25,882.

The usual disclaimers apply: Don’t do stupid stuff. I can’t assume responsibility for the safety of you, your guitar, or your home. Heck, I can’t even assume responsibility for myself! And seriously, this probably isn’t a sensible first project for workbench n00bs. If you haven’t soldered or installed your own pickups before, please check out some of the beginner’s projects at Tonefiend DIY Club.

Anyone still here?

Good. Then click here to download the Pagey Project Pack, which includes wiring diagrams for both versions and a great article on Page wiring by Seymour Duncan pickup brainiac Scott Miller.

This is going to be a fun one. And when the smoke has cleared work is done, you’ll either have an incredibly powerful musical instrument, or the lifelong right to declare, “Regular Les Paul wiring is plenty good for me, thanks!”

I’ll be posting photos and demos in the coming days. See you then!

32 comments to Join the Pagey Project — If You Dare!

  • Bah I don’t think I’m emotionally ready to hack up my LP Studio, and the only other guitar I have available is a cheapo HSS strat copy. Looking forward to hearing some sounds though!

  • I have a Gibson WRC#5 which is a super strat prototype w/mahogany body made by Wayne Charvel when he was at Gibson in late 80′s early 90′s it is a SSH that I have experimented with wiring schemes a lot on. I actually had 3 humbuckers in it at one time with a modified version of the super switching system (that I think may have originated with Dan Erlewine). I was able to do many of  the series and parallel combination as well as phase reversal that were possible at different points in time. But I had a limited number of switch mountings available 3 toggles and switches on 2 controls.  The variations were pretty overwhelming and it was a great guitar to hand to an obnoxious player that insisted on sitting in at a gig (usually shut them right up).  It is now back to 2 Lace single coils and a SD Invader humbucker in the bridge with 26 or so combinations AFAIR which is way more than enough. My faves were some of the thinner sounding out of phase sounds which when amplified cut thru and really set an atmosphere but best of all was all 3 pickups in phase and in series. In the latter it was a big roaring feedback monster and sounded like a Les Paul on steroids even with the Floyd Rose whammy. I have been thinking about doing a bit of work on it lately to make it a bit more fun to play. Maybe this is the time for that.
    The only Les Paul style guitars I have currently are my Switch Oscars that I have SD Phat Kat P90s in and I am very happy with that setup except they are too heavy to play for more than 30 minutes before my back acts up. But I do have a nice Electra SG copy w/bolt on neck/fake bigsby that might work hmmmmm.

  • Oinkus

    Wow a Black 81 custom just like mine and its awful that’s so sad :( . I actually have 2 guitars with some alternate options but I just do toggle switches and series/split/parallel then  I use a blend knob. Pretty much just don’t like those thin out of phase sounds myself. Jackson RR5 and a former HM Strat.Back to the Les Paul issue you have Joe , Stainless Steel frets will add brightness but not alot it really depends on the pups and try out  a Babicz replacement bridge it will make the guitar much more resonant (I am sold on them changing the sound but if it is a “improvement” is debatable for each guitar) Kind of pricey too. One of the most important parts of wiring guitars is make sure you prepare the area ie: conductive paint /copper shielding either/or both use good wire and the best pots you can . The better the materials the better your sound will be, as well as doing a good job on the connections and grounding. Blah blah blah I am babbling 

    • Matt Seniff

       I really like the copper tape. I also solder all the seams to achieve a really good low impedance ground plane. I have  found that it is also important to pay attention to grounding in a guitar. I try to establish one ground lug (usually at the output jack) and tie all grounds directly to it. This eliminates ground loops and makes your guitar quieter “than a mouse pissing on cotton”. If you do the grounding like you traditionally see in guitars you end up with a slightly different ground potential at each component’s ground point. This will induce small amounts of hum and interactions that when amplified are a big headache particularly in the studio. It is a little thing but little things add up after a while. This is why really good high end guitar amps have either a copper sheet or copper flashed on the steel or aluminum chassis. It can make a huge difference in overall clarity and definition of notes. Steel and aluminum are OK conductors but adding the copper ground plane makes everything work better.

  • Jeff

    I don’t have a guitar that I’m ready to do this on at this point – my semi-hollowbody is TOO big of a PITA to work on the electronics. Despite that, I have a hair-brained idea to add to the mix:
    Imagine using the triple-shot configuration, but adding using push-pull pots on the tone controls to provide phase reversal for one coil of the humbuckers! You’d have to run an additional shielded 4 conductor wire to from the pickup cavity to the switch. Two wires would be used to run from the pickup to the switch, and two from the switch to the triple-shot circuit board. I’m not sure how sonically useful this would be, but it does give you another set of controls to play with!

    • joe

      I think that’s exactly what the “Pagey Plus” version I include in the download does — and it adds ANOTHER push/pull to control the parallel/series configuration, not of individual coils in each pickup, but between BOTH pickups. I haven’t tried it yet — but I’m curious!

      • Jeff

        I was imagining taking the “Pagey Plus” to the total overkill version with two more switches. Again, I have no idea of whether it would be sonically useful or not, but who knows.
         
        I wonder what it would sound like to have the bridge coils out of phase, but add in one or both coils of the neck pickup in phase. Hmm…????
         
        Peace!

        • joe

          LOL — Scott Miller, resident wiring genius at SD, told me that some of the combinations “sound like ass.” Since a substantial percentage of my career has been based on sounding like ass, I anticipate great things! ;) 

  • Mika

    This is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a long time but never got around to… I’ve got an Epiphone LP with P-Rails and triple shots that is just BEGGING for even more (?) tonal options! 

  • The-Destructor

    Why push/pull pots DUMB!!! The Duncan rings are the economical and MOST VERSATILE way to fly here IMHO. More options, less $$$. :cuckoo:

    • joe

      A reply from the DUMB!!! person in question:

      I too dig the Duncan Triple Shots. But there are several reasons why players might opt for push/pulls.

      1. They are cheaper. Push/pull pots are about $10 each, and Triple Shots are about $30 each.

      2. While I myself don’t care much about reproducing Page’s setup for the sake of replicating Page’s setup, there are some players who will.

      3. Also, while I’m comfortable making settings adjustments via the switches on the Triple Shots, for many, the ergonomics are better when switching via the pots. This is doubly true for players who already tend to ride their volume and tone pots while they play.

      4. (This is the main point.) When you COMBINE Triple Shots with a couple of push/pulls, you can get a buttload of tones unavailable to either the classic Page setup, or the usual Triple Shot setup. If you’re going for sheer number of tones, you need to add push/pulls to the mix.

      I share your favorable take on the Triple Shots, which I previously explored here.

      Anyway, tell us about your fave Triple Shot setup, if you please! :)

  • Thomas

    I adore guitar wiring modifications like the Page Les Paul system or Brian May’s elaborate phase-switching on the Red Special – they excite the guitarist and gadget nut in me. :) As much as I love my Telecaster’s elegant simplicity (and even it has a series/parallel switch), I’ve always wanted a “Swiss Army guitar” for my more experimental moods.  Sadly, I have neither the time nor the money to invest in a “Pagey Project” of my own, but I’ll be taking notes diligently for when I can.

    • joe

      Cool. I’m really seeing that as an chance to experiment with every possible humbucker wiring option, rather than a mission to mimic Pagey, great as he is. I hope we uncover something that inspires you, Thomas! :)

  • bryden bellrock

    I have the parts on the way and an 82 les paul ready and waiting.

  • CHris

    Is it possible to do this with hotrails?

    • joe

      It’ll work with any pair of humbuckers with four-connector cable, and that includes Hot Rails — but you need a setup with two volume and two tone controls plus a three-way pickup selector — which you probably don’t have if you’ve got the Hot Rails in a Strat-type guitar.

      I can’t predict exactly how it would sound — not very much like Jimmy Page, I’d imagine. But I’d be quite surprised if you didn’t uncover some exciting new sounds.

      Hope that helps! :)

  • Oinkus

     Almost makes me glad I have only installed a fuse holder and an LED power light , I would probably be trying to build a workbench into my room now for this project. I know everything about electronics there is to know really , I am the shortest route to  ground ! :stupid:

    • joe

      Ignorance of electronics is no excuse! Doesn’t stop me!

      :stupid:

      • Matt Seniff

        The most important rule of electronics is:
        Keep one hand in your pocket when working on live electronics, assuming you are wearing shoes it will pretty much protect you from dying of electric shock. Everything after that is just icing on the cake.

  • Oinkus

    They say ignorance is only temporary but I am not convinced

  • Matt Seniff

    Joe I love the picture of Page. But if I remember correctly there was a short article in GP claiming all those Page solos (and about every other cool 60′s solo) were performed using a Hallmark Swept Wing :-). Amazingly the Hallmark Swept Wing is being made again they even have a web site.
    BTW why play a guitar with a bow? If you want to use a bow get a cello, cellos can make the most amazing sounds when used/misused and they are pretty much in the guitar tonal range. Sorry it’s just a pet peeve of mine. IF you want to bow a guitar the Ebow is the ticket!!

  • zyon

    Grab a router, route a cavity for a middle humbucker and then go to town with switching options.
    http://zdguitars.com/Images/Final_Misfit_02-1.jpg
    I loaded  this tele I built with 3 P90-lookalike humbucker pickups, each with its own volume tone. Add in a kill switch and a parallel and phase switch and you have some interesting flavors  

  • Oinkus

    Les Paul plus a router , add a middle pup oooooh !

  • Jeff

    I just noticed that the GP implementation is different from the other two in your “Pagey Project Pack”. The article from GP places the pickup at the wiper of the volume pot, and the switching happens at the left lug. The other two place the pickup at the left lug and the switching at the wiper.
     
    The difference is that the GP version will allow independent control of the pickup volumes in both series or parallel. With the other two, the volume controls will not be independent in the normal parallel mode. I’m not sure this matters, and I don’t know which way Jimmy Page <i><b>really</b></i> had his #2 wired. But, it is a difference that folks may want to be aware of.

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