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Frequently Asked Questions
I believe a pickup should NOT be thought of in terms of output, but rather of input. The function of a pickup is to sense the string and send as wide of a tone band as possible to your rig.
Contrary to the way pickups have been marketed for the past 20 years, a pickup is an input device, NOT an output device. Measuring, or rating a
pickup in terms of output is like rating a mouse, in terms of screen resolution, or pixels per inch.
It is far better to think of a pickup more in terms of the input level for recording. Like with pickups, in recording there is a sweet spot
you want to find where you are not restricting input volume and fidelity by having it to low, but you also do not want the input level so high
that the needle is pegged in the red. Just like in recording if you make a pickup too hot you loose much of the dynamics, richness, and the
fidelity, and you are stuck with a sound you can not ever recover from.
Leo Fender and Hand Winding
Personal attention to quality and hand winding is what makes a pickup sound great.
One of my favorite quotes from Leo Fender is, "No machine can wind a better sounding or tighter wind than a well trained person," and I agree.
I built my coil winder like the one that Leo designed and built for both Fender and G&L, and I wind my pickup the way he did...by hand. #002
Do "aged magnets" really give that vintage tone?
I get this questions a lot my response is Buddy Holly's guitar sounded great brand new, Blackie, and Brownie sounded awesome when they were only 10 years old. If it is true that an "aged magnet" has any real effect on tone, then these same models from the 80's should be sounding pretty good by now. #003
Why do you feel a hand scatter "slop" wound pickup sounds better than a precision machine wound modern pickup?
I am no Dr. Science so I can't say for sure. Besides I think that winding pickups is actually more of an art than science (or business), so my production theories are based from that. I remember as a kid helping my Dad run a TV antenna wire, way before cable. You were told to never run the antenna wire parallel to other wires because it will cause signal interference. With a cam driven machine wound pickup each wrap lays next to the previous wrap, causing what I believe a lot of signal bleed. With a hand scattered winding pattern you get a more random pattern. #004
Flat vrs Staggered magnets: Do staggered magnets help give that "Vintage Tone"?
In a simple word no.
Staggered magnets came from a time when string technology was not that advanced, and there was not good string to string balance so they compensated for this by staggering the height of the magnets to the strings. That was their sole purpose.
I get a lot of vintage pickups in for repair because someone broke the coil trying to push a high magnet down. If you use a staggered magnet nowadays you are only making the strings unbalanced again. #005
How to determine optimum pickup height
Each pickup and each guitar is unique and I do not feel there is a one- size-fits-all for determining pickup height. The best method I have found is to get yourself a small cheap amp that overdrives easy—the Smokey Amps are best.
Lay your guitar down on a flat surface, Plug in your guitar, select a single pickup, and fret your low E at the 12th fret and play the note. Just like with an out of tune string, you will hear an oscillation/wave rather than a clear solid note note. Now adjust the Low E side of the pickup up or down until that oscillation stops. At that point adjust the high E side of the pickup to match.
This will give you a clearer note without the oscillation so your notes and especially chords will ring clear. #006
Potting a microphonic pickup
Contrary to most advice given, it is NOT the coil that needs to be potted to stop the microphonics, but rather to isolate or fuse the 2 or more rigid parts that are in contact with the coil that are resonating independently. This resonance is exciting the coil which is sending that resonance frequency to the amp which is amplifies the frequency creating the feedback loop.
Think of it in terms of a Jew's Harp. As long as the metal frame is against your lips the harp is aloud to resonate as it was designed. If any part of the metal harp touches your teeth, the rigidness of your teeth gives an undesirable tone. Yeah you could dip the entire harp into some plasticoat and it would no longer have the undesirable resonance when it came into contact with your teeth, but you will loose MUCH of tone of the harp. The better solution for a microphonic pickup that does not sacrifice tone is to either isolate or fuse the rigid parts so they are not aloud to resonate independently.
The easiest home remedy is to remove the pickup from the guitar flip it over drip some candle wax on the bottom, anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon amount. Then heat it up with a hair dryer and let it melt into the pickup try to get the wax to flow into all the seams and holes evenly. Before you put it back in the guitar test it by plugging it into your amp and put it in front of the speaker, tap it or talk into it. it is best to turn the treble up a little high. If it still does it repeat the above steps. this method will coat the parts without saturating the coil.
As a side note Fender is one of the ONLY companies that potted their coils, most companies, Gretsch, Gibson, Ric, Dearmond, Rowe, Mosrite, Kay, etc. were all NOT potted as a general rule. Some of the most loose coil are Gretsch, often an old Filtertron bobbin the wire is almost falling off the coil and they surely were not microphonic. Now days in the age of mass production almost ALL pickups and coils are potted this masks their poor assembly and speeds things up along with kills much of the overtones. #007
What value of Pots and/or caps are best with my pickups?
I get this question all the time, it is generally followed with... "I read on the net that x is what every one says I should use, what do you recommend."
First off there is NO electrical requirement, and there is NO wrong answer, and lastly it is one of the cheapest decisions you could make. Pots and
caps are a very personal decision much like how spicy or salty you like your food. The hard rules that have been spread around the net, are simply
based on a decision made 50+ years ago way before much of the modern amp and recording technology, and the music style was MUCH different as well,
these companies bought their parts in mass quantities and it is just what they used.
Lastly remember to listen with your ears and not your eyes. #008
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