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Friday, 24 June 2011


Where does tone come from? When we hear a killer tone ... whether from a blues, rock or country guitarist ... how do we set about getting that tone for ourselves? Well personally, I think the first thing is to find your own original tone ... something that is uniquely you: not try and expend precious time and money chasing someone else’s sound. Still, I might be shouting in the wilderness here. I suppose it is still valid to use a famous artist as a yardstick for a tone to aspire to ... so here are my tips on a killer tone.

1. 1. It’s all in your hands ... for example; Stevie Ray would have sounded distinctly ... well, Stevie Ray, on any guitar he picked up (check out some of his acoustic tracks). So learn to express yourself with touch and phrasing before blowing hard earned dosh on gizmos.

2. 2. Strings make your sound ... make sure they are fresh, good quality, and as heavy as you can get away with for your style. Yes heavy! The more mass your string has, the better the sustain and the gutsier the tone. Heavy strings will stay in tune better, last longer, and really hack off any guitar light-weights that pick up your instrument! Get strong fingers and wail baby wail. I use 10 to 53s and get to feel like Tarzan often.

3. 3. Look at your string contact points ... are you overlapping string on the tuning machine? Has your plastic top nut got the consistency of soap? Are your bridge saddles some disgusting alloy pot-metal rubbish? All the afore mentioned will rob tone and sustain. Get a proper bone nut, or brass if you are that way inclined. Learn how to string without creating bird’s nests ... get some steel or hard brass saddles.

444. Check over all your electrics and fit a good quality tone capacitor/s ... cheap ones sound it ... or it could just be my ears. Cheap pots feel awful but I don’t think they really affect your tone very much. Make sure the right value and taper ones are fitted for your pickups though. Swapping from a 500k to a 250k (or visa versa) can make all the difference.

5. 5. Get your amplification sorted! The market is awash with small, relatively cheap, low wattage tube amps. One of these babies will sound mouth watering ... I show an Epiphone ... but there are loads of other good ones out there.

but if you need really squeaky clean sounds at high volumes you might have to go bigger.For the record, I have nothing against transistor amps ... in fact there are two I would love to own ... a hundred watt HH VS musician 2x12 combo from the seventies, and a twenty watt Gorilla combo amplifier from the early eighties. The trouble is that these are the only two tranny amps I have ever heard/played through that I really liked ... out of all the hundreds I had through my shop in the nineties!

6. 6. Right ... now, as a pickup maker, perhaps you would have expected me to put ‘getting expensive pickups’ at the top of my list. Well you’d be wrong. I have played plenty of guitars with cheap pickups that sound perfectly acceptable. In fact, if you are going to be bunging your sound through a rack full of effects or into a ‘modelling amp’ (must be made in Essex) then a cheap but powerful humbucker is probably your best bet ... no point in drinking the finest wines if all you want is to get hammered!. However if you are like me, and prefer to play a guitar, a lead and a tube amplifier (sometimes a chorus and/ or overdrive box ), and you want the most versatile and detailed sound then ... babies ... I’ll wind you a beauty!

7. 7. Don’t be fooled by hype. There is no pedal on earth that gives ‘instant Hendrix’ ... there is no pickup wound that will make you sound just like your heros ... gadgets get you closer perhaps ... but ultimately it comes right back to number one ... learn to play with passion and soul and your sound will fall into place.

Oh yes ... and my favourite pickup in the entire world? Apart from the ones I wind of course ... the first after-market pickup I ever bought ... the DiMarzio Super Distortion humbucker ... all over-winding and ceramic magnets ... pure filth. But it takes me back to being seventeen again!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Beast lives!

Prototype pickup RDTD0002 known as 'The Beast' due to being born in a thunderstorm and being over-wound 666 turns was completed today and installed on my own Tele to test. Yes I know I should have installed 0001 onto my own, but the provenance of 0002 and my sense of theatre won out. (links to a demo on utube will follow shortly)

Above 0001 gets potted just before 0002. Twenty minutes of soaking in hot wax before ...

... being blotted on kitchen paper like a couple of big chips, and allowed to cool ... in fact such was my haste to hear 0002 that I installed it still warm from the potting! The Beast can be identified by the purple grounding wire as opposed to the white on 0001

How does it sound ... well it's a hell of a lot hotter than the 6.35k Fender offering that admittedly sounded great in there before. It has more low down grunt ... with stinging highs that are complex not 'ice pick'. Clean it's civilised and tuneful, mixing well with the stock neck pickup. Country riffs and chicken-picking - were I much good at them - seem as they should be. Okay, what about the filth? I hear you ask. Well here the Beast's raw power drives my Laney's preamp a lot harder from the get go. The sound dead flat on the controls is a little more P90 like, but much more aggressive at the treble end. As you gradually wind up, things go through vintage 'Keef' territory to Wilko type stuttering rhythm crunch ... then, well due to neighbours I had to moderate slightly, but it seems that screaming lead tones are there for the taking too.

What conclusions do I draw on 0002? Well firstly my potting seemed to work fine ... no hint of scream, and the pickup is no more microphonic than a stock Fender. Secondly, that I can produce a detailed subtle pickup with plenty of balls to a professional standard. Thirdly I have learned that Allparts baseplates are overpriced and poorly made: the cut-out that gives access to the soldering lugs is miles too narrow and needs dressed open with a file on each unit. Oh and never mind the mounting holes that need tapped before fitting ... okay I can excuse that as, I suppose, you might have American standard or 'imported' thread mounting screws ... but they could tell you before you buy! When I spend a fiver each for a bit of nickel plated, stamped out steel that probably cost pence to make ... I expect it to be as near as dammit perfect!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Demon Pickup ... perhaps ...

Here’s a spooky story: I was winding prototype pickup number two this afternoon while a thunderstorm raged outside. I was winding the last 500 turns (my counter is only three digit so I use a tally system for winding the total number of turns) when a particularly loud clap of thunder made me loose count then snap the winding ... at (near as makes no difference) 666 turns over wound ... okay 666.5 ... but why ruin a good story?. I took a quick snap of the new pickup ... unsoldered bare coils hanging loose against the rain covered window ... and the counter.

This prototype serial number RDTD0002 ... measuring 7.87k ... will hence forth be referred to as the Beastcaster pickup! Quake mortals the ‘Honky Tonk Hammer of the Gods’ has been born.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The first proper prototype...

Pickup: serial no RDTD001 ... the first prototype Eastend Customs 'Themes Delta' pickup gets 9000 turns of 42awg wire and clocks up a healthy 7.51k on my multi-meter. This beastie caused me a few winding headaches: though the magnets were new the top and bottom flatwork was reclaimed and the residue wax left on the Forbon caused the pressure of winding to pop off the top flatwork (when about 8000 turns was reached on the first two attempts ... sickening, frustrating and wasteful of wire). A strip down and running some water-thin super glue into the gaps between the magnet slugs and the flatwork cured the problem ... along with narrowing my winding guides.Now she awaits a nickel plated steel base-plate from Allparts, a wrap in cotton string to protect the windings ... and a nice wax hot tub!

My Themes Delta pickups are made pretty well exactly the way early Fender pickups were ... my only concession to modernity being the PVC covered hook-up wire.Yes there will be some loony who can claim to hear the difference if waxed cotton 'push back' cable is not used ... these types can probably 'hear' fifties solder too! If people want 'push back' they can have it ... then again it's not me having to wire the damn stuff up in their guitar ... most of the time!

As soon as this pickup is complete I’ll whip it into a handy Tele and upload some demo noodling through the valve LC30 Laney.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

I'm completely lacquered ...

Another part of the pickup building process: here a set of vulcanized fibre flatwork, equipped with vintage style staggered alnico 5 magnets ... north up ... is about to be hung to dry after being dipped in cellulose lacquer.

This process helps bond the magnets firmly into the flatwork and stops the bobbins deforming when they are wound (it also stops the rough magnet castings from nicking the coil wire insulation as you wind on the first turns ... you get a dead pickup if that happens!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Research and development goes on with our ‘Custom T-Cycler pickups. Here are three sets of flatwork and Alnico 5 magnets that will turn into the first batch of hot Oil City Specials. The plan is to produce a sharp barking Tele bridge pickup with plenty of overtones ... for that London R and B sound beloved of Mick green and Wilko Johnson. Not so powerful that the razor edge is blunted, but with enough body to really fill out the sound of a three piece band. Nine thousand turns of 42 awg wire (only just bigger diameter than a human hair ... and much easier to break) and a custom steel base plate each ... and these babies will be ready to rock and roll.

Why did we start with Tele pickups ... well, the Telecaster is a bloody good workhorse axe that players love to customise to their own special needs. It’s timeless and classless ... practically every studio has one, everyone knows what one should sound and play like. Yet it is also one of the most versatile instruments out there, and can easily be personalised. A Tele player generally has attitude and means business!

Strat pickups will come soon ... and Humbuckers. I intend to produce P90 style pickups as well as more uncommon types influenced by sixties British brands like Burns and Watkins. Why should all the plaudits just go to US icons?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Potty time!

As an addendum to the last pickup article I thought I’d show you my lo-tec pickup potting arrangements ... an old saucepan, some coat-hanger wire and a tin can. Oh and of course some wax (altar candles are the perfect blend of beeswax and paraffin wax!)

In fairness the early Fender pickups were not potted at all ... but then they were never meant to deal with modern high gain amplifiers and high stage volumes. In fact, an un-potted pickup has a more open, detailed sound: due to some inherent microphonic action when unrestrained pickup elements move like a microphone diaphragm. But squeal is always a threat, and most people would prefer the peace of mind of wax potted coils.

An interesting fact is that the harder the potting material the more 'sterile' a pickup sounds ... thus epoxy potted units suffer no microphonic problems but sound cold. Wax is a good compromise in my opinion and allows pickups to be 'unwound' and rewound again more easily.