In this series of videos, I tested six of my humbucker-sized pickups in the same guitar with the same rig and the same mic. The guitar is an Epiphone Les Paul with 500K CTS pots played through a vintage Bassman (black faceplate). A Strymon Flint is used for reverb, overdrive is a Fulltone OCD, and distortion is a Russian Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. One SM57 is used to mic the 12″ speaker cab. I was very happy with the results and surprised at the variety of tones I could get from one guitar. All of these pickups are available to buy on the “Hand Made Pickups” tab.
getting a warmer tone from your Strat bridge pickup
2. Wire the bridge pickup into the middle tone $0- The classic wiring of Strats is to have a tone control for the neck and a tone control for the middle, and the bridge is left out of the tone circuit. Most modern Strats have the bridge wired in with the middle control. If your bridge pickup has no tone control, here is a wiring diagram to help you:
3. Affix a baseplate to the bridge pickup $4- This mod is cheap, easy, and completely reversible, so why not give it a try? Tele bridge pickups sound amazing because they have a baseplate to raise the inductance, lows, and volume, the same technique can be applied to Strat pickups. Buy a baseplate from a guitar parts supplier and either apply glue or melt some wax to adhere it to the bottom of the pickup (wax is my preferred method as it is easier to remove later). Any metal plating on the guitar should always be grounded. Use a file or course sandpaper to scratch up a section of the baseplate and apply some solder. Then solder a lead from the baseplate to the back of a potentiometer.
4. Replace the bridge pickup with a higher output pickup $85- single coils with a greater resistance (measured in ohms) with have more output, more lows, and less highs. There is a wide variety of drop-in replacements out there that require no modification to the body. Here is one of my Blue Dog pickups that measures 8.1K ohms in the bridge and uses steel poles and bar magnets like a P-90 for a fat, warm tone.
Most modern guitar pickups are potted to prevent microphonics. This can be done with wax or lacquer. Wax is my preferred method for potting pickups as it is easier to work with and penetrates the coil better, but many vintage pickups from Fender and other brands are potted in lacquer. Potting in wax also allows you to pot pickups with the cover attached, potting in lacquer should only be done with the cover removed. By dipping a pickup in wax or lacquer and letting it dry, you are creating a hard casing that holds the individual parts and winds together.
I use a process incorporating lacquer and wax on my Fender-style exposed-pole pickups. Potting the bobbins in Lacquer insulates the magnetic poles from the winds, this way a short is prevented if the coating on the winds is thin or starts to corrode. Once the pickup is completed, it is dipped in wax to prevent microphonics.
Myth 1. Scatterwinding is just a bunch of hype
Is good tone just hype? Scatterwinding is putting the most space between each consecutive wind as possible, thereby lowering the capacitance of the pickup. This is achieved by the winding pattern and the tension of the wire, which is usually done by hand, and takes years of experience. This is, in my opinion, the most important aspect in pickup making next to resistance and magnetism.
Myth 2. Scatterwinding can only be done by hand
Nope. Although hand-guiding the wire onto the bobbin is probably the best and easiest way, you could get the same results from a machine. I have heard that when Jason Lollar was starting out pickup winding, he made his own machine that would turn the bobbin and guide the wire automatically. A pickup can be scatterwound in this way as long as the motion and wire tension are calibrated. The problem is that machines are consistent and the point of scatterwinding is to be inconsistent, it is hard to replicate the motion of the human hand.
Myth 3. All handwound pickups are scatterwound
Not really. The winding pattern and the tension are still dependent of a number of variables: machine type, speed, wire type, and most importantly, who is winding the pickup. All will make a pickup sound different.
Myth 4. Scatterwinding just means randomly guiding the wire onto the bobbin
Wrong, it almost has more to do with wire tension, which takes a lot of time to perfect by hand. If the pickup is too loose, you won’t get the correct number of turns and the pickup will sound thin. Too tight and it will sound dead. Here is a useful tool for figuring out the proper tension.
Myth 5. Scatterwound pickups need to be wax potted
Not always. Microphonics are screeching sounds coming from winds of wire and little parts of the pickup vibrating together. This can be a big problem when playing at a high volume on stage. A lot of it has to do with the quality of the parts used, the age of the pickup, and how it was wound. If you use a pickup that has been made with quality parts that fit together tightly and that has been carefully scatterwound, you do not need wax potting, and that gives your sound extra openness and clarity. I have been testing this myself for years.
Myth 6. Single coils are scatterwound and humbuckers are not
Traditionally this is the case as most humbuckers are wound on a machine. Personally, I prefer all pickups to be scatterwound. Anywone who plays a with a humbucker in the neck position knows that it doesn’t really cut through the mix as well as the bridge in a band situation, try using a scatterwound humbucker!
Here is a quick video I made showing basic soldering skills:
Some key points to consider:
1. use a quality soldering iron with adjustable temp control. If your temp is too low you might cook the internal parts of the potentiometer before you melt your solder.
2. get in, solder, and get out as quick as possible to minimize heat on delicate components.
3. score the area you are soldering with 80 or 120 grit sandpaper.
4. tin your wires and lugs, ALWAYS.
If you have ever listened to music on a car stereo or headphones you can probably appreciate the importance of stereo. Have you ever panned all of the music to either the left or right side? It sounds like something is missing right? Well once you hear a guitar in stereo, mono will never sound the same again. It is a fuller, richer sound and opens up a whole new world of possibility.
Guitars are typically wired in mono, but a few companies are making stereo guitars these days. These are usually two-pickup guitars with a jack for each pickup. This means you have to have two cables hanging from your guitar while you play! As far as I am concerned the only thing worse than one cable is two.
The Skyliner guitar has one jack that you can use either a mono cable or a stereo cable in. Plug in a mono cable and it operates just like a normal guitar. Plug in a stereo cable, the included A/B footswitch, and put the guitar in stereo mode and you are ready to conquer the universe!
The footswitch has one input for the stereo cable and two mono outputs, one for the bridge pickup and one for the neck pickup. You can run the two channels independently to select one, both, or none, and the LED indicator lights tell you if the channel is active. This way you can run separate effects and amps for the two pickups. This gives you the fullness of two guitars when only one is playing. Here is a demo of the Skyliner Stereo guitar:
fixing a vintage Gold Foil pickup
As some of you know, my girlfriend and I moved from San Francisco, CA to Nashville, TN in May 2015 to be closer to a vibrant music scene and to start a new life in The South. The move was so exciting as we took a two week road trip across the country. You don’t get many chances to pick up and move to a new place so we took advantage of the opportunity. Becca started a blog called the Bay To River Rambler and you can see her photos and writings here.
We found a place in East Nashville with a standalone garage that I converted into a workshop and now I have more space than I know what to do with! I built myself a 2×8 workbench and got a drill press and now I am up and running. The pickup winder is all tuned up and I’m cranking out pickups again, ready to get your guitar tone in tip-top shape.
Things to look forward to in July:
Gold Foil release July 4th I’ll be releasing a brand new pickup based on the originals from the ’60s. I designed mine to be on the more affordable side compared to vintage or reissue pickups by other manufacturers and still embody that twangy, low-fi character. They will fit in a standard humbucker rout and start at $90 each.
Summer NAMM in Nashville July 9th, 10th, 11th I’ll be there walking around, checking out the exhibits, and meeting as many people as possible. I won’t have a booth this year, but I’ll be staking it out for future years. Check out https://www.namm.org/summer/2015 for more info on how you can go.