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Friday, 10 May 2013

New pickup prototype

An often ignored design ... at least outside of rockabilly ... is the DeArmond Dynasonic ... or 2000. Top end clarity and bite, bottom end slap and grind, yet not as 'middle heavy' as a P90.
Here is my first prototype bobbin and plastic top insert (white here ... but production ones may well have a choice of black, parchment, mint or 'tortoise shell'.)
Powerful brutes, the originals of these topped 9k resistance and drove those fifties amps hard. One reason they are not as popular as they might be is the complex and expensive 'valve gear' pole height adjustment mechanism that doubles the height of the pickup and makes it pretty well impractical to fit to anything but a hollow body guitar.
I will be dispensing with the mechanism, and pre-setting any stagger to the poles (fine with modern strings), though keeping the distinctive adjustment screws as simply dummies. I will also be making these with the standard humbucker and soap-bar P90 form factors to enable the widest spread of users to be able to fit them to their guitars.
Bit more jig and tool making to do yet ... but all part of the game

Thursday, 9 May 2013

New pickups for Ibanez Artcore No1 ... yes I have 2 now!

 Two more pickup demonstrator guitars have joined the Oil City fold … both Ibanez Artcores, and both … I have to say … absolutely exceptional instruments. The first to arrive was a sparkle black thin body ‘Western Graphic AFS75TD … destined to host a pair of my Cow-T-Ron Gretsch style humbuckers. The second a gorgeous antique ivory finished deep body AF75 ... I’ll come to my choice of pickup prototypes for that beauty later!
Here’s the AFS75TD before I started work!

The most horrible thing about this beastie were the ACH1 and ACH2 Ibanez pickups fitted. The whole top end was is muffled in woolly yuckiness … and the bridge pickup was harsh and  brittle yet had no real punch.I will try and post some sound files to illustrate (yuck).
Right, out with the old and in with the new … a nice shiny pair of Cow-T-Ron Specials  with the nice curved tops!

Mmmmmmmmm sexy (though I say so myself).
For those who don’t know, the Cow-T-Ron is my take on Ray Butts classic FilterTron design … but in a humbucker size. The output on these is low … around 4.5k neck and 4.8k bridge … but the sound is powerful for such a slender coiled beast, and loaded with that hollow rockabilly bark.
So to the first job before those pickups come out: that there fully floating bridge will simply drop out when I slacken the strings, losing the intonation settings … so some masking tape will show me exactly where to reposition the bridge after the work’s done. I shall probably use some double sided tape unser the bridge ‘feet’ to help hold it in position. I’m a powerful strummer, and have been causing the whole bridge to move fractionally sideways after heavy playing sessions. This should keep things lined up!

The pots will be replaced with the pickups, but I’ve decided to reuse the existing wiring as it seems pretty good on the whole. I decided on Alpha full size pots rather than CTS as this will save reaming the pot holes in the guitar’s front to take the larger CTS shafts. It’s not simply laziness … okay well it is mostly, but Alphas are pretty robust and until I hear the instrument with the new pickups I don’t yet know if it will be a keeper! 
After the strings come off the first job is off with the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece so I can trap the tailpiece earth wire so that I can get enough slack to pull out the wiring harness without losing it inside.

So I soldered an old guitar string to it and gently pushed it inside … the string will allow me to easily pull it back after the pickup/pot swap.

For semis where the selector switch is on the top bout I would next have attached string to the switch shaft with tape then unscrewed the nut and pushed the switch inside before attacking the pots. However the Artcore has its selector switch in rather an odd place:  right next to the volume pots. This is convenient for the pickup swap, as the switch is reachable through the f hole … but is actually a bit of a pain when playing as it falls right under the bigsby arm! I the future I may install a selector switch on the top horn if I can get round to it, perhaps  putting a master volume or ‘varitone’ switch in the redundant hole.
Out with the nasty mini pots. Notice the masking tape to protect the finish from any nasty accidents!

The old pickups are separated from the harness and the new units fitted.

The Ibanez units use horribly short springs so I raided the parts box for some longer ones to allow a full range of adjustment to the Cow-T-Rons.

You will probably notice I haven’t bothered feeding string through the ‘pot’ holes as I removed  the old  controls … if I were replacing all the wiring I probably would have done. However the layout of the controls is nice and close to the f hole, so I will pass the string through once the re wire is done (saves getting tangled in multiple strings as I’m soldering
I’ve laid out the new components and soldered in the new caps to the replacement tone pots

Components are now carefully soldered in and cotton cord brought through the control holes and out of the f hole. I tend to use gaffer tape and a quick turn around the control shaft to secure the cords to the pot s … but it does require a careful hand not to lose a pot inside and thus have to start again from scratch. And it’s always the last pot you lose! 
 Firstly the jack socket is eased into place. I use stiffer electrical wire instead of string to guide that to it's hole. A kink of wire is made around one of the jack contacts so that it grips the component under tension ... but once the jack is in place with the nut slid over the wire and tightened a couple of turns ... then a little more gentle tension will unkink the wire and it will just slip out.

Next the pots go into position
Slowly slowly is the order of the day ... and a dentist's inspection mirror is handy when things get snagged (as they often do).

All back together ….

 ... then some heavy chrome Gretsch style knobs to complete the ‘look’.
I will post some sound sample shortly, but the difference is startling: gone is the muddy, ‘cardboardy’, unrefined sound. In its place cutting treble,  thwacking bass, and nicely scooped mids.

It’s now a serious looker too ... see how it attracts cool cats?
Here's a taster of its white stable mate!

My 'under development' DeArmond style single coils for that one methinks.