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I recently bought a Les Paul online and when I tested it out the neck pickup was incredibly quiet. I could hear that it was on, but I really had to listen. When I had it in the middle position, it sounded exactly like the bridge pickup. According to the seller, the guitar was working fine before he shipped it.

I haven't had a chance to look at it yet, but I suspect that it's a wiring issue (I really hope it's just a wiring issue). I'm curious what part of the wiring would cause the pickup to be extraordinarily quiet or could it be a different issue all together?

  • Of course the seller's "working fine" doesn't really mean much unless you know he's a skilled guitarist and a reliable seller. – Carl Witthoft Jun 15 at 16:00
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With the assumption that you have tested all positions of volume and tone knobs and selector switches, that leaves only two likely causes:

The most likely is a damaged wire, worn selector switch or a bad solder joint - which is leaving a very poor connection or no connection. You should check all wiring and solder joints. It's useful to have the guitar plugged in and playing while you wiggle (gently) each wire as that may instantly indicate where the problem is.

Another is a damaged pickup, but if this is the case then it's going to require a replacement, so test wiring and solder joints first.

And as @Tim mentioned in comment - the pickup could just be adjusted too far away from the strings (ie set very low against the body of the guitar) - this can be amended by turning the pickup height screws.

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    I'd have thought these days, most pups are potted, and are virtually impervious to damage (physically). How could such a pup sustain damage? – Tim Jun 12 at 17:09
  • I agree about newer pups, but depends on the Les Paul - I have seen older pups with pole pieces missing and coils bent. Dunno how... – Doktor Mayhem Jun 12 at 17:13
  • Don't reckon either of us would buy an older Les Paul on line - would we..? My money would be on the selector switch having bad contacts. – Tim Jun 12 at 17:30
  • I'd add a third potential issue - if the pickup is too far from the strings, it will be very quiet. Some people may consider this so obvious it's not worth mentioning, but I've had people bring me guitars with complaints that the pickups were too quiet, and ask me to put new (hotter) pickups in them, when the issue was simply that the height screws had been adjusted to the extreme such that the pickup was a mile from the strings. 10 seconds with a screwdriver and the guitar was suddenly plenty loud! I do agree with @TIm though, in this case my bet would be on selector switch dirty/loose. – dwizum Jun 12 at 20:34
  • thanks - have updated the post with both of those – Doktor Mayhem Jun 14 at 9:31
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Shorted windings in the pickup would affect the sensitivity of the pickup. You can check this using a digital ohmmeter to measure the impedance of the pickup. This can be compared to the impedance of the other pickups to help you decide whether you do indeed have a shorted coil. As stated in the other answers, poor connections, dirty pots, dirty or defective selector switches can also cause these same symptoms.

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