Does hand winding a pickup make it somehow superior to machine wound pickups? I think so. At the very least I think it’s what makes a pickup sound great as opposed to “pretty good.”
I once read something said by Leo Fender. “No machine can wind a better sounding or tighter wind than a well trained person.” I obviously agree, because I hand wind all of my pickups with one exception, the Revel Retro P.A.F.
If you’re interested in more detail about hand winding and scatter winding you can read my thoughts here.
Flat Vs. Staggered Magnets
“Should I get flat or staggered magnets in your pickup?” Flat! Almost always.
“Do staggered magnets give a more vintage tone?” No.
There’s some small argument about why pickups had staggered magnets in the first place but two of the big factors were string technology and neck radius. Lacking good string to string balance, one way to compensate was to stagger the magnets. This was also true with 7.25 neck radii.
But think of humbuckers. Even with adjustable screws in one coil rarely will you see those screws adjusted to the degree magnets were staggered. Even the original S.L. humbucker design called for all flat slugs.
Today, with wider necks and high tech strings, staggering magnets does the opposite of what they were intended to do.
But, yes, I will build your pickup with staggered poles if you’d prefer!
Over Wound Pickups, Output & Resistance
I don’t know where the marketing of pickups based on the published resistance began but it sucks that it happened.
When you see a number like “7.5k,” this is the resistance of the pickup. And it’s used as a shorthand to express output. But it’s all wrong. Wrong I say!
First, when you order a pickup that’s advertised as 7.5k what you get may read 7.9k, or 7.1k. How could this be? Well, there are endless reasons why. I mean, not literally, but there are a lot.
Your meter is different than my meter. Your meter might be broken. Your house or apartment or practice space is absolutely a different temperature than my shop. The weather is different. The pressure is different. You heated the pickup up when holding it. You touched one of the meter clips while measuring. You’ve now tried to measure the pickup so much you broke a lead! Did you even get to play it first?
I’m lifting this explanation straight from Curtis Novak because it is unequivocal and concise: “Contrary to the way pickups have been marketed for the past 20 years, a pickup is an input device, NOT an output device.”
So measuring a pickup as an output device makes no bloody sense. Your amp is the output device. Your pickup is a string sensor. The object of this sensor is to clearly translate string vibration into a signal to send to the output device that is your amplifier.
You can always add gain with a pedal or amp. But if you have a pickup wound too hot, you can never get to that sweet spot. And this is another reason to talk before you order. That sweet spot is different for everyone.
Aged Magnets, Special Alloys & That Special Sauce
“Do “aged” and “special alloy” magnets give a guitar a special tone? Is that where the Mojo’s at?”
No. Jimi’s guitars were new when he played them. That goes for many guitarists who’s tone we covet.
The pickup business is full of these marketing schemes. I rant about this here. So it goes. But if vintage tone and mojo are what you’re after, you can save yourself a few bucks and steer clear of the snake oil.
Can You Make A Pickup Like This?
“Can you make me a copy of (insert famous pickup makers name here) pickup?”
Well, sort of. But not really. What you’re asking me to do is wind a pickup to the published specs of another winder’s pickup in the hopes that you can get what they’ve got but…cheap!
That’s not how it works. More on this here.
I can make a pickup to those specs but it’s going to sound like my pickup. And that’s because a great deal of what differentiates a winder’s unique tone is the literal way they wind the coil. And the only people privy to those secrets are those company’s winders.
“Do you wax pot your pickups?” Yes. Almost all of them.
In fact, the only time I don’t is by request. Some people want that un-potted squeal. And that squeal, contrary to popular belief, are the metallic components vibrating, not the coils.
Of course every pickup is potted nowadays because, in a mass production environment, potting helps to disguise shitty work.
But here I pot them precisely. Different pickups get a different amount of time in the wax and always in pure paraffin. Paraffin has, in my opinion, the least tonal coloration.
But, being a custom shop, if you want some bees wax, I’ve got bees wax. Hell, I used to keep bees.