Hand Wound Pickups
We manufacture single coil pickups to order to your specific requirements. Pickups are hand wound and assembled using traditional methods and materials and produce varied rich, warm tones. We use high grade copper wire, Alnico magnets, vulcanised fibre board flatwork and waxed cloth leads for that vintage look.
Alternative materials, particularly for flatwork, are available for a one-off custom look. We usually have small stocks of vintage spec’ Strat & Tele pickups available. Pickups for left handed guitars built to order.
All pickups are wax potted and can be supplied RW/RP. We will also repair or rewind pickups and manufacture humbuckers or any other type of pickup you require. Fitting is FREE please see Set-up & Repair for other costs or enquire at firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember !! Before changing any pickups make sure you are using the best quality, shortest guitar lead you can. Your lead probably has the biggest single impact on the tone your guitar produces, of any component.
Modern pickups are machine wound which provides a uniform tension and regular wrapping pattern for each coil. Machine winding started in the early 1960’s and gave an obvious economic advantage to manufacturers.
Earlier pickups were hand wound. Commonly used wire gauges were (and stil are) 42 or 43 AWG enamelled copper wire. This is a delicate and timely process. Each coil could be wound with 8000 turns, or more. The wire is extremely fine, around the thickness of human hair, although much weaker. The enamel coating insulates the wire along its length and between coil wraps or turns. Early pickups used “Formvar” wire. This was simply an American branded product and nothing magical, as some would have you believe. That being said the insulation does have an affect due to its thickness, (which varies between wire manufacturers), which ultimately, over 1000’s of turns bulks out the coil.
Hand winding produces a varied tension and winding pattern (commonly called scatter wound) for every coil. The wire is usually hand fed and guided on to each pickup bobbin, wrapping and building the coil as required. Hand wound pickups produce richer and warmer tones. No two hand wound pickups are ever identical due to the varying tension and bulk of the coils.
There is great scope for varying pickup output and tone by adjusting the number of windings, gauge of wire, physical size of the coil and the magnet size and type. Hand wound pickups can be built to similar specs’ to match those on vintage guitars and reproduce a similar tone. Generally the higher the coil’s DC resistance, measured in k ohms, and number of windings, the greater the output. There is however a loss of treble response. However the science of pickup design goes well beyond passive coil resistance measurement, which is not a good indicator of tone.
Surrounding metal work, including pickup covers, bridges and base plates all have an affect on tone due to an influence on the magnetic field, providing it is ferrous based metal – and don’t forget your lead !
Modern pickups tend to be far more generic. In the further interests of economy and shareholders, many are now manufactured with low budget ceramic bar magnets and steel pole pieces. Ceramic magnets produce harsh brittle sounds, are generally weaker and have less “string pull”.
Bobbins and flatwork have been manufactured with different materials. Early single coil pickups used “Forbon”, another branded product – vulcanised fibre board. It is a moot point, but the actual material has no bearing on the sound produced by the pickup. Some people inisist they can hear a difference between the black and grey flatwork used by Fender – no comment, flatwork has no magnetic properties ! The structural properties of the flatwork do have an influence, some early flatwork was prone to warping, which can distort the coil or fall apart.
Type of flatwork is obviously a serious issue for those seeking originality or attempting to restore vintage characteristics.
We could attempt to blind you with physics, (we’d rather you be deafened), citing varied coil capacitance, impedance, gauss measurements and shoe size. Really there is no point. Let your ears be the judge. The hand wound vintage spec’ stuff also looks very neat – despite being hidden in the belly of your guitar.
Early pickups used AlNiCo magnets – an alloy of aluminium, nickel and cobalt. Varying alloy ratios wre used, producing magnets of different strength and commonly classed as Alnico, II, III, IV & V. Alnico III is the weakest and V the strongest. When first produced in the mid 20th Century they were considered high tech’ !
Early magnets were sand cast, often pitted on the surface. Top face of the magnets was slightly bevelled to aid pressing through flat work – note this was not done for audio reasons !
Magnet length – pole piece height – was varied to account for varying string thickness and the string’s influence on the magnetic field of the pickup.
Vintage pickups catered for strings being flat wound, including the 3rd and also a much heavier gauge. Strings were also nickel, which has a different magnetic response to today’s predominant bright steel strings.
Polarity, north / south, varied over different years. This does not affect sound or tone. Eventually pickups were produced with flat or regular pole pieces, with magnets all the same length. Thus increasing the speed of manufacture and simplifying stock.
Magnet strength, II, III, V, could be varied between adjacent pickups, depending on location. There is less string vibration at the bridge than neck position, therefore sensitivity and response may need to be increasd at the bridge. If the magnet strength is too great this can have an adverse affect on string vibration.
If adjacent single coil pickups are each wound in opposite directions and have opposite polarity this produces a humbucking affect when the pair are switched together. This is known as RW/RP.
NCG Strat and Tele pickups faithfully reproduce the elements found in vintage instruments and produce a wonderful comparable output and tone.
After winding we carefully wax pot pickups. This further seals the coils and magnets from moisture penetration and more importantly the wax reduces the possibility of unwanted vibration and movement of the coils, which unimpeded produces unwanted microphonic effects – squealing to you and I. Before winding magnets are painted with electrical grade varnish to prevent corrosion.
The wax is a blend of parafin and beeswax, more a nod to tradition there, although the wax is slightly more flexible than neat parafin and has a lower melting point. Don’t be taken in by all that “darker tone” nonsense. Its electromagnetism not wizadry and bats wings. Sorry bees wings….
Pickups can and do fail. Generally this is due to a break or short in the extremely fine coil wire, possibly caused by corrosion and expansion of the magnets or failure of a joint in the coil. We have seen new high end guitars with coil wire twisted together and bound up with vinyl tape.
First sign of failure is often low output and odd reactions from tone controls. Some failed pickups will still produce a degree of sound. If you have nothing else to do with your life it is feasible to unwind and find the break – or you could just hand it over to us !