Most hollow-body electric guitars are a pain when it comes to wiring and pickups. This is because they don't generally have a backplate or pickguard that can be removed to access the electrics.
Nope, usually we end up having to pull the original wiring out through the f-hole* before doing any wiring or soldering required. Then comes the really annoying part — getting all of the pots and wiring back in though the f-hole.
It’s a job that usually involves a little swearing and a lot of ‘fishing’.
*Some instruments will have been wired through a pickup cavity instead of an f-hole. The information here is just as valid in that case.
Installing an output jack in a semi-hollow guitar
The jack socket is often one of the hardest parts because it’s usually the furthest from the f-hole so access is tricky.
And that’s why people who do this regularly will try to find ways to make it easier.
Ways like the Jack-On-A-Stick.
I’ve sacrificed some old and cheap guitar leads to salvage the jack plugs. It’s not a major job to pull these apart until all that’s left is the actual plug part of the jack (the shaft and tip). This can be fixed (epoxy is good) to the end of a ‘reaching’ implement.
For longer reach, I have a jack epoxied to an un-bent coat hanger.
For shorter jobs, I use a jack epoxied to a dowel. This one is really handy for installing endpin outputs in acoustic guitars.
Fishing output jacks through semi-hollow guitars
When I’m rewiring semi-hollow or archtop style guitars, I can thread the jack-on-a-stick through the jack hole, from the outside, and work it up and out the f-hole.
Then, I just ‘plug’ it into the output jack socket and I can guide that through the body to where it lives.
That saves a LOT of messing around.
What about the other components?
Well, sometimes you can juuuuuust reach with your little finger through the f-hole. I usually wish I had smaller hands or longer fingers when I’m doing this so another solution can be helpful here too.
Installing volume and tone pots in hollow guitars
Fishing some thin wires through the jack holes from outside can work. I use stranded wire and strip the insulation from the end. I’ll divide the strands and wrap them around the pot shaft. It’s a delicate balance — you want enough ‘wrapping’ to grip the pot for pulling, but not enough to get in the way of getting the pot shaft through the mounting hole.
Installing switches in hollow and archtop guitars
This is easier. Sacrifice an old switch tip. Drill a hole in the end, thread through a line or wire and make a stop knot on it.
You can then thread the tethered switch tip through, screw it onto the switch and pull it back through.
Let’s call this the switch-on-a-line.
The bottom line
Hollow and semi-hollow instruments, with only f-hole access to the wiring, continue to be a pain in the butt. The tricks above can make working on them just a little bit less hassle, though.
If you ever have to work on the wiring in these instruments, you'll probably agree that making the jack-on-a-stick and switch-on-a-line can really be worth the time investment.
If you ever have to work on one of these a second time, you’ll definitely agree. 😉