All about that DeArmond Rhythm Chief pickup screw-on connector

If you’re here you probably just acquired an earlier vintage DeArmond Rhythm Chief (RC1000 or RC1100) archtop guitar pickup, got all excited to plug it in, then looked at the volume/tone control box thought, “huh? what the heck is this weird screwy connector?”

Well I’ll tell you what that is: it’s a very antiquated microphone jack that isn’t really around anymore. And to save you the time, the part number is Switchcraft 5501FX, and you can get them at Mouser, Digikey, or Angela Instruments. You supply your own guitar cable, chop off one end, and attach this instead. Done.

Well, actually it’s not that simple. It’s a very unconventional connector and not really a “unscrew some stuff, then solder two contacts” sort of affair. But I’ll get to how to install one of those in a bit.

Another option is to just buy the whole dang cable. Archtop.com has them here…. for $49 + shipping. And I see them on Reverb for more or less the same.

Now, I don’t know about you but something doesn’t sit right about spending over $50 on on a cable (sorry, readers who work for Monster). Sure, if you’re a busy multi-thousandaire you will probably think nothing of snapping one up, but chances are you’re a dumpster-diving jazz guitarist wondering if there’s an alternative.

So is there a cheapskate, DIY, stuff-around-the-house solution? Well, as it turns out… yes there is.

The cheapo solution

You might think, “gee that thing kinda looks like a coaxial cable… like the kind I use to connect cable to my TV”. And you’d be right… as it so happens those have the same threading of 3/8-32 UNEF-2B.

One tidbit though: the center brass wire coming out of the middle of the cable will be too long, but if you take some wire cutters and snip it to about 3mm or so, it will give enough room to catch the threads.

“Snip snip,” said menacingly

I also put a little bead of solder on the tip so it wasn’t so pointy and wont dig in to the contact point as much:

Modified coax cable with a small bead of solder to round out the sharp point

I soldered a 1/4″ input jack on the other end of the cable and voila: it worked.

Coax cable of unknown species successfully mating with purebred DeArmond control box

If you do this, keep in mind not all of these cables work the same and some are flakier than others for this purpose. Generally speaking though, I found that the fancy connectors are less effective as they try to isolate the ground/shield connection away from the metal bolt. In fact the cheaper cables make better contact since the whole external metal bit is conductive. Your mileage may vary. Still, not bad for something that only cost a trip to your box of cable spaghetti in the closet (or a free-pile on the sidewalk).

How to solder the proper connector

The actual 5501FX connector looks like this:

And installing it is not as intuitive as one might think. It’s a real head-scratcher as there are no obvious solder points. The screw in the middle removes the springy cable retainer, but that’s about it. Well a buddy of mine figured it out, thankfully. Here’s the deal:

First strip your cable and pull the ground housing down like this:

Next, remove the metal spring retainer from the connector by loosening the middle screw until it releases its grip on the retainer. Now, slip the metal spring over the cable with the narrow side up. Stop and have a look at the rest of the connector through the bottom:

You’re going to want to thread the stripped portion of “hot” interior wire through that hole. Then on the other side, spread the strands of the wire radially over the top of the hole. Then apply a bead of hot solder over it. It should attach the wire to the hole and form a rounded bulge, like so:

So now you’ve got the cable secured by this bead of solder and the loose ground wires hanging out inside the housing of the connector. Slide the spring portion up into the connector like this, and then tighten down the screw:

The spring itself makes the contact with the ground wires and pushes them up against the housing, which apparently is “good enough” as opposed to actually soldering them to anything. The only thing really keeping the cable secured is the little bead of solder on the top. Yup, that’s right. And now you know why these fell out of style…. they are one cable-stomp away from failure. More so, since they are screwed in and unlike an instrument cable wont get unplugged before the damage is done.

On the other end of the cable, you might consider pairing one of my mounted input jacks, so you can just strap it behind the bridge, plug in a standard instrument cable, and not mess around with propriety. I sell them on my store. Just sayin….

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