Fender Lead II Replacement PickupsPedals At Dawn
I owned my Fender Lead II guitar for 5 months before I decided to replace the pickups. I didn’t dislike the Player Series Strat single coils that come stock in the Lead II; apart from the fact that I’m not really keen on single coils in general. However, I have a Player Series Strat and a MIM Standard Tele, and I just really prefer humbuckers (and hardtails).
The driver behind even looking at getting a Lead Series was because I loved my Strat far more than expected, but not how the middle pickup is always in my way and how the volume knob is obnoxiously close to the bridge pickup. However, the Lead Series seemed to solve those issues and had a hardtail.
Logically I should have gone for the humbucker loaded Lead III, but I really didn’t like the colour options available – and let’s be honest, Pau Ferro as a fretboard looks absolutely horrendous. So that really only left the Lead II in black with the maple fretboard, and alas, more single coils.
I did enquire, but no one was making a humbucker routed pickguard for the Lead Series Reissues (which are different to the originals), plus I didn’t want to pay for something custom as that would have meant disassembling the pickguard to trace a template for them.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that some Seymour Duncan single coil sized humbuckers were the only logical solution. The bonus was that I could also retain the Lead II single coil aesthetic. So I bought the Seymour Duncan JB Jr for Strat (Bridge) and Little 59 for Strat (Neck) pickups. I had the full sized versions of these pickups in a PRS SE a few years ago, so it was a pretty safe bet.
The next issue was finding wiring diagrams so I could change the Lead II’s phase switch to be a coil-split instead. Eventually, I found a diagram for the Lead II and Lead III wiring. Using Seymour Duncan’s coil-split diagram that comes with the pickups for reference, I amended the Lead III diagram to create the diagram I needed for the Lead II. In all honesty, I will probably never actually use the coil-split, but as there is a switch I thought I should wire it anyway.
Shortly after taking my guitar apart, I realised that this was quite an ambitious project for my 3rd ever attempt at swapping pickups. The factory soldering was actually quite messy to work with and my novice soldering skills leave a lot to be desired. But all things considered, I think I was quite lucky to put the guitar back together and find only 1 of the coil-split positions inoperable. A quick (😂) re-solder later, and everything worked as I had envisioned.
And the verdict? For someone who started in the Gibson camp and willingly jumped to the PRS camp, I’m quite surprised how drawn to Fender I’ve become, especially as single coils and trems are really not for me. Since the pickup swap, this Lead II has become my ideal Fender and genuinely one of my favourite guitars.