Tonally, I’m not always sure what I’m after. It changes weekly I guess. Some weeks I really like a super jangly, on the edge of ice-pick-to-the-ear treble tones then the next I really want an even-keel warm crunchy tone with a healthy amount of bass. In order to get an idea of what I’m consistently after, I have to look back at what I keep returning to. The tone I keep wanting.
One consistent tone I keep returning to is a good neck humbucker tone. For me that sounds like a clear, woody tone with a healthy mid presence but not a bunch of low mid like many seem to have. I’ve always defaulted to the neck pickup as my comfortable place to go. Its non-aggressive warmth seems like a good place for an introvert to hide on the fret board; especially when it’s just you and the fret board. Every now and then I would hear a glimpse of the clarity that I’m after, so I knew it was possible, but I don’t think I ever held it in my hands. Most of what I’ve played, wound, and heard in person for some reason, at one point or another are way too muddy. I’ve tried more modern output humbuckers, vintage copies, alnico 2, alnico 5, humbucker sized P-90, and none of them seemed to have the clarity that I was looking for.
I had a breakthrough when I started winding wide range humbuckers for a customer. As I was testing them out, the neck had a tone that was very close to what I had been searching for; that whole clarity thing. Removing 6 of the 12 poles that would come on a standard humbucker seemed to improve the clarity. From there I tweaked the design to roll off the articulate attack (it was too much for my taste) and ended up with my wide range humbucker.
I’ve only been playing it for a week so I’ll see how it sits with me in time. As best as I can describe it, it has a single coil character without much jangle. It’s like a P-90 without the mud. Anyway, give it a listen and let me know what you think.
,Alrighty, let us just gush for a minute about one of our favorite haunts. We have frequented Guru Guitars for years now, drooling over their guitars (sorry about that guys!), and enjoying their laid-back atmosphere. Here's why you're going to be visiting them soon:
There is no shortage of cool vintage, new, name brand and local gear here at "the humble home of tone"! A wonderland of guitars awaits you as soon as you walk in. Guru quietly ushers you in with walls lined of guitars in various makes and models. At your feet is a vast array of amplifiers in all shapes, sizes and prices. Students come and go for their private guitar lessons and Howard, Gene, Clay and Zech maintain the store's cool, comfy vibe - often repairing guitars while carrying on conversations with customers.
This is unlike the big box guitar store experience where no-one cares you exist. You're going to walk in and feel welcome and you're going to want to buy something...or a lot of things. Just don't touch that Gretsch Chet Atkins amp, I've got my eye on that!
We are now honored to be gracing the shelves of Guru's guitar cable section. They carry a selection of our popless and standard guitar cables. We're stoked. We love this place. Go for a visit and tell 'em we said "Hi".
The Saga continues of modifying the good ole Mexican strat. Again, my goal here is to help those of you who want more out of your mexican strat, without paying an arm and a leg while getting American strat sound quality.
As is from the factory in Mexico, I was ok with the overall tone of the guitar. The pickups were not the greatest, but on a budget, I could live with them. However I found myself never using the bridge position. To me it sounded…well…like garbage. It was way too bright and ice-pick to the forehead-ish for me to use in most cases. Luckily there is an easy fix for this. Just add the bridge pickup to the tone circuit and give yourself control over how bright the pickup is. This is a great mod you can do if you are strapped for cash to get new pickups to warm up the bridge position. All it requires is a soldering iron, solder, and a one inch length of wire.
Open up your guitar and get to where you can see the five way switch. There are two solder lugs that you need to connect with a piece of wire. The two lugs that you need are shown in the picture below.
Now that you know what lugs you need to connect, you can get to work. Take the one inch piece of wire and strip off the ends back so that about 1/8 inch of copper is showing on each end. Melt the solder on the lug to the left and while it is melted, push one of the ends of you wire into the lug and add more solder to ensure a good connection. Bend the wire around and inset it into the adjacent lug to the right and add solder. That is all you need to do. When you are done it should look like the photo below.
What you are doing when you connect these two lugs is, you are adding the bridge pickup to the tone knob that typically controls the middle pickup. When in the position one(the bridge position), only the bridge pickup will be active and the middle tone knob will roll off the highs just like a conventional tone knob. Position two, will be bridge and middle with the tone rolling off the highs as you roll back the knob. Position three is only the middle and the middle tone knob rolls off the highs as you roll back the knob.
The reason I go to the length to describe the function of each position is because I was initially worried that it would mess up the typical switching function of the switch. I want to assure you that it will work as you would expect it to work. Nothing weird should happen…right….?
So give it a go if it is something you deem worthy of doing. I was really pleased with the results and I hope you are too.
The first thing that I wanted to do with this Mexican Strat is crack it open and see what’s inside. I liked the response of the controls overall so I was curious to see what it was set up with as far as the potentiometers.
First I loosened up the strings until they were being held to the pegs with maybe one turn or two. I want to give enough clearance at the pick guard to lift it out from under the strings and flip it upside down to get to the controls. Once the strings are loose, undo the eleven small screws that go around the outside of the pick guard.
Once you have the screws removed, pull up on the pick guard and slide it towards the high E-string side of the guitar. After you’ve got the pick guard out, you should be able to flip it over like I have it shown in the picture below.
Once I got inside it, I was actually surprised at what they have in there. My plan was to possibly have to replace the potentiometers and switch with something that was at least of Fender American quality. What was already in there were three CTS potentiometers and a nice Fender 5 way switch. It was what I was planning on purchasing anyway so I was glad I didn’t have to buy about $35.00 worth of control parts. Maybe with that money I’ll get a tortoise shell pick guard.
What I do want to replace is the capacitor. Currently it’s a .022 uF which will give a brighter tone. Just to change it up I will change it to a .047 uF Orange Drop capacitor. I’ve been able to get both of these capacitor values at the parts section at Guitar Center for around $6.00 for a pack of three. This will make the tone a little darker which I may like. I also wanted to clean up the wiring. Some of the runs of wire can be shortened up, especially the ground wires. I also want to hook the bridge pickup into the tone controls. Currently the bridge pickup cannot be controlled by either of the tone knobs. Looking at the pickups you can see that they are ceramic pickups, which explains the bright and tinny sound I thought that they had.
One other thing that I was impressed that they had was the paint-on shielding in the body cavity and the foil shielding on the backside of the pick guard. Those two things are a great feature to have on a strat to keep out some of the unwanted 60 Hz hum.
Overall, I was happy with what came in the guitar. The controls are a good quality. Really, if a person wanted just to tame up the bridge pickup and darken it up, they could do the ultra-simple mod of adding it to the bottom tone knob. The shielding is great quality and the other hardware on the guitar looks to be good. The main place for improvement is pickups.
Keep a look out for the next Hub post where I walk ya’ll through how to add the bridge pickup to the tone circuit and swap out the capacitor for something more fun.
At long last it’s time that I wrote another post on the Hub. After graduating, starting an engineering career and chasing after every experimental guitar project that floated between my ears, I have decided to once again narrow my focus on pickup winding. I have been trying to decide on my next pickup build, and have decided on making a great strat set and overhauling my new Mexican Strat.
Back in October, my lovely wife got me a Mexican Strat for my birthday. Nothing too special about it. It was practically new with the sticker plastic covering the pick guard and no visible scratches. It has a maple neck, standard tremolo, ceramic pickups in the neck, middle and bridge, 5-way controls, and no tone control on the bridge pickup. I spent some time in guitar center going back and forth between a similar American strat and this Mexican strat. As far as feel, they were similar. The American had some nuances that indicated a little bit more care was taken in the manufacturing process but the most discernible difference was the overall sound. The American sounded a lot fuller with more power in the lows and mids. The Mexican had a sound that I would call “tinnier.” It had a lot more treble and the bridge pickup sounded like a trash can. But, knowing that I could possibly have some fun beefing up the electronics later, and with the feels similar enough, I couldn’t justify getting an American strat. So I dropped some hints to my wife. She picked them up. And I ended up with a decent Mexican strat. My wife is amazing.
I figured this is where a good number of guitarists find themselves when they are looking for a Strat. Does it make sense to pay the $1000+ price for an American strat when I could have a decent strat if I hot rodded my Mexican? So the goal for the next few hub post is to walk ya’ll through my mods on my Mexican strat and also my process for designing a great set of pickups for it.
I want to change out the controls to be a higher quality if need be, and put a tone control on the bridge pickup. After this I’ll get to designing a set of pickups.
I've attached a .wav file of the strat with all factory settings. I start on the neck pickup and move down the switch every time I run through the same little lick.
The next post will focus on what I found when I cracked open the Strat. Keep "em tuned!
So we’ve been busy for the past two months with various things. Coolest of all is this new Telecaster project. Through it, our passion and knowledge about guitars is growing.
An endeavor that we have embarked on is to build a telecaster for myself, one that I can cope with. Let’s back up a bit and explain what I mean: I have never really liked the sound of a telecaster. The neck pickup’s tone has always been ok to me and has good depth but compared to a strat’s neck tone I’ll take the strat anyday just due to its greater power and wider tone. My even bigger complaint was the bridge pickup’s tone. Way too shrill and thin in general. You can think that I’m a heretic if you want to for not liking the telecaster in general. I will say that as far as I’m concerned, I have never felt a guitar that is as comfortable as the telecaster. They are one of the best feeling and playable guitars ever, which is kind of funny due to its very rudimentary and squared off look.
Ok. Now that we are up to speed on my worthless opinion of the telecaster, I mentioned to my fiancé that I wanted to make a tele pickup that had a lot of gumption and depth even in the bridge. So she went out and bought me a flamed maple neck and pretty much forced me to have to get the other parts to build a telecaster. I know, I know, such a burden.
So I grabbed an alder body from AllParts and hardware from mojotone, Guitar Center, and even got some from Santa.
Painting/finishing the body:
Post grain filler – used por-o-pac oil based grain filler from the wood store in Raleigh NC.
Sand and Seal-went with nitrocellulose (found out his step wasn’t necessary but it didn’t hurt anything).
Primer coat –used BINS shellac based primer. Went on great.
Color Coat – Used Nitrocellulose Sea Foam Fender Custom Color from Reranch.
Stay tuned for other articles on the electronics that I put into the Tele and additional hardware, If you have any questions about what I did or any tips or suggestion/what have you done’s you would like to share, just post or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like us on Facebook too!
In the interest of keeping customers informed about the tone quality of our hand wound pickups, we have added two videos to YouTube which highlight the 1957 style humbucker. Vids are posted below for your viewing convenience. Let us know what you think!
Greetings readers! If you are new around these parts you have got to hear about the latest and greatest thing in the guitar world. It’s called VINTAGE. You have got to try it. The audible goodness will bring tears to your eyes. It’s like magic for your tone.
Ok so maybe that is not always true, but I was under this mentality for a long time until I looked at the science of pickups. My research opened my mind to the vast possibilities of what a pickup can do for the guitar. One thing that I had to realize is that the vintage vibe has a placebo effect to a certain extent (Vintage lovers: hear me out before you have a heart attack). You must see pickups as tools. They give you a sound you want. I’m not saying that modern pickups are superior to a P-90 from the Fifties. For example, it would be foolish for me to say that I always use a brick hammer for everything that needs hammering simply because my grandfather was a brick mason and he was awesome. That would leave me in a tight spot when I needed to pull a nail out. The same goes for pickups; Use the right tool for the job in front of you. When you have the task given by your mind to create a certain sound, pick the right gear for the job.
I must confess, I have been bitten by the vintage bug and have a feeling in my gut that vintage will just sound better as far as pickups go. Even if it were in reality to sound like a dying cat, my mind would tell me it was the greatest thing. If I actually listen I find myself surprised when I hear what some more modern pickups sound like. Take our Saber Blade Humbucker for Stratocasters for example. I put an alnico 5 magnet to mellow it up instead of using the ceramic magnets that commonly inhabit these pickups. I put a Saber in a Peavey Predator Strat guitar and was blown away with the tone. It provided a sound which was wonderfully deep, wide, and woody. The first thing I started to play on it was the Allman Brothers “Jessica”. I close my eyes and swear I have a Les Paul in my hands.
As always, feel free to comment or contact us.
In our second posting, I figured that it would be a good thing to talk more about choosing a pickup to shape your sound. One of the primary reasons anyone would consider buying a new pickup is to try something new, a different sound etc. So here we go:
The Modern Sound:
Today, we can hear the sound of a guitar that is considered modern and we'll probably think of heavy metal guitars, screaming Ibanez's and long haired thrash lords. The strongest contributor to this sound in a pickup is a high output. This sound can be characterized by a high mid range and a load of distortion. The high output is attributed to the high number of turns on the pickup, rather than the DC resistance (more on this Later). What you get with more output is a higher sensitivity in some respects and more signal entering into the pre-amp stage of your amp.
Be Ye not Deceived:
A very common misconception in the pickup industry is that the DC resistance has something to do with the way a pickup sounds. You could get very nitty gritty and say that it does; but the resistance alone has very little to do with the sound. When choosing a pickup, the more important thing to consider is the magnet type, number of turns, and sampling style (such as pole pieces, rod magnets, blades, etc.). This is what will make your sound.
You will be surprised at the capabilities that a vintage output pickup will give you. I know from experience that your 1957 style humbuckers make finger-tapping very easy and have great sensitivity. Even pickups such as the Gretsch filtertrons have a very low output with a DC resistance of 4K (again not indicating output but number of turns) but they are absolute tone machines. So take a word of advice from someone who has gone through roughly ten or so pickups in the search for my tone. Hotter is not always better. Open your mind to pickups of all shapes, sizes and output levels.
Until next time...Play on!
The greatest thing about being a pickup maker is the fact that if I'm not crazy about a pickup, I simply make a new one. A better one. Not everyone has this convenience nor do they have the time to invest in making several pickups until they find the one that "speaks" to them. One of my biggest disappointments has been having an idea of how I want a guitar to sound in my head, only to play it and find out that it falls short. I wish I had known sooner that there is a method to the madness in choosing pickups:
Any questions? Send us a quick word through email and we will be glad to answer.