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Topic Title: Hand Wound Guitar Pick-ups
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Created On: 23 November 2011 01:21 PM
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Related E&T article: Fender factory tour: photo essay
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 23 November 2011 01:21 PM
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AGDominey

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To Quote :- "Fender's guitar pickups are often wound by hand. Tone will be affected by the number of winds, ... "
Volume is more likely to be affected by the number of winds, while tone will be more affected by the way the winding has been carried out - evenness of layers, whether there is any cross-winding etc.

 23 November 2011 05:44 PM
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amillar

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It will have some effect on tone, if only because the combination of pickup impedance and cable capacitance has a noticable effect. (I wouldn't be surprised if there are magnetic effects as well, but I couldn't claim to know this for sure.)

How much difference it makes is, of course, another issue. Also, I would have imagined that machine wound pickups would be more consistent, but I wouldn't be surprised if little work has been done to investigate this. There is surprisingly little money around in the instrument manufacturing business, and so R&D tends to lean heavily on the "if it sounds good keep making it like that" approach.

(P.S. Congratulations - I'd actually sworn never to post on these forums again but this is a really interesting point! At least it is to a guitar and sound equipment nerd like me...)

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 23 November 2011 08:32 PM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: AGDominey

To Quote :- "Fender's guitar pickups are often wound by hand. Tone will be affected by the number of winds, ... "

Volume is more likely to be affected by the number of winds, while tone will be more affected by the way the winding has been carried out - evenness of layers, whether there is any cross-winding etc.





"Tone" in the way guitarists view it, is not necessarily a "frequency response" per say. It's a combination of a lot of things, that leads to the overall "fullness" or "fatness" of the sound.

However.

If you want to apply the most basic electrical engineering terms, then of course "tone" is affected by the number of turns.

Number of turns affects the inductance and also induction ratio.

Change in inductance means change in frequency response, change in induction ratio increases voltage output. Both affect "tone" however you define it.

However, hand-winding or scatter-winding is a very tricky thing for "purist" engineers to understand, because there are a number of factors that are very difficult to give a quantitative account of in terms of modelling the frequency response.

Since I'm not 100% sure we actually know precisely what electricity is, however, I'm not too worried that there are things we can't quantify or model in the most basic of electrical circuits.


PS - I love guitars - Les Paul at home !

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 24 November 2011 12:19 PM
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amillar

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Originally posted by: gkenyon
PS - I love guitars - Les Paul at home !

I'm a Les Paul rather than a Strat man myself, I really like the sustain on them. Mine's only an Epiphone (I'm not a good enough player to afford anything more!), I'd be really interested to compare it with a Gibson sometime to see if I can tell the difference.

My children (who are far better players than I) and I occassionally have conversations with my wife about whether the phrase "too many guitars" makes any sense, she has one view, we have another!

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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 20 December 2011 09:01 PM
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deleted_1_pwherritt

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Slightly off topic - a few decades back I made an electric guitar from a piece of blockboard, used log tables to work out the fret spacing and wound the pickup coils on "eclipse" magnets. Sounded awful !

Many years later I have a steel acoustic Avalon that sounds magical. Just wish I could play it properly !!

Regards
Peter

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pwherritt
 21 December 2011 01:19 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: amillar

Originally posted by: gkenyon

PS - I love guitars - Les Paul at home !


I'm a Les Paul rather than a Strat man myself, I really like the sustain on them. Mine's only an Epiphone (I'm not a good enough player to afford anything more!), I'd be really interested to compare it with a Gibson sometime to see if I can tell the difference.



My children (who are far better players than I) and I occassionally have conversations with my wife about whether the phrase "too many guitars" makes any sense, she has one view, we have another!
Andy,

Apologies I didn't spot this response earlier - lots to do over past few weeks at work (and two young kids at home to think about with the Festive Season upon us).

Not that I'm any good at playing, but . . . I have tried many guitars, and I can say I've tried some "cheaper" guitars that are better than some "custom shop" models. In general, I find the more you pay, the easier it is to get a good sound: but it's how you work with an individual instrument that matters most

So, you can find a good Epiphone you're really happy with. On the other hand, I was playing a Gibson Les Paul in local music shop, and it apparently sounded really good to my wife, who asked what I thought: I said it's the best guitar I've ever played, and she bought it for me as a special gift. And all I can say, is that no matter what I try, whenever I come back to this particular Les Paul, everything is much easier.

I did since buy a used (but nearly new) SG Standard (with single-coils) along similar lines, after discounting guitars at many times the price: in this case the £400 model out-played £1500-2500 models.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 21 December 2011 01:19 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: amillar

Originally posted by: gkenyon

PS - I love guitars - Les Paul at home !


I'm a Les Paul rather than a Strat man myself, I really like the sustain on them. Mine's only an Epiphone (I'm not a good enough player to afford anything more!), I'd be really interested to compare it with a Gibson sometime to see if I can tell the difference.



My children (who are far better players than I) and I occassionally have conversations with my wife about whether the phrase "too many guitars" makes any sense, she has one view, we have another!
Andy,

Apologies I didn't spot this response earlier - lots to do over past few weeks at work (and two young kids at home to think about with the Festive Season upon us).

Not that I'm any good at playing, but . . . I have tried many guitars, and I can say I've tried some "cheaper" guitars that are better than some "custom shop" models. In general, I find the more you pay, the easier it is to get a good sound: but it's how you work with an individual instrument that matters most

So, you can find a good Epiphone you're really happy with. On the other hand, I was playing a Gibson Les Paul in local music shop, and it apparently sounded really good to my wife, who asked what I thought: I said it's the best guitar I've ever played, and she bought it for me as a special gift. And all I can say, is that no matter what I try, whenever I come back to this particular Les Paul, everything is much easier.

I did since buy a used (but nearly new) SG Standard (with single-coils) along similar lines, after discounting guitars at many times the price: in this case the £400 model out-played £1500-2500 models.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 21 December 2011 01:20 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: pwherritt

Slightly off topic - a few decades back I made an electric guitar from a piece of blockboard, used log tables to work out the fret spacing and wound the pickup coils on "eclipse" magnets. Sounded awful !



Many years later I have a steel acoustic Avalon that sounds magical. Just wish I could play it properly !!



Regards

Peter
Peter, I'm not saying I can play at all well, but the kids like to sing along !

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 21 December 2011 09:23 AM
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amillar

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Hi Graham,

Yes, this is why I would never buy a guitar mail order! For me one of the joys is that two guitars of the same model will sound and feel slightly different, so in fact most of my purchases have come from picking up a guitar in a shop and thinking "this particular guitar is really nice". I'd be fascinated to know if more expensive instruments are more consistent than cheaper.

I mainly play classical guitar at the moment (despite "really" being a electric bass player), and a few years ago I had a fascinating time in an excellent classical guitar shop trying increasingly expensive models, and I was really surprised how much I - as a not very good player - could tell the difference. That was an expensive experience!

My latest toy is a Steinberger electric upright bass (with piezo pickups) - now that's a lovely thing.

Cheers,

Andy

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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 25 January 2012 11:02 AM
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jpwilson

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Hello,

I wrote the text for that Fender photo essay. As a guitar enthusiast of many years standing, I have come to appreciate that the winding of a pickup determines its sound, which I define as its tone.

I don't know the electrical or magnetic reasons for this, but I do know that it's the difference between e.g. a Stratocaster's sound and a Jazzmaster's sound - even though both Fender pickups are single-coils, wound in much the same way. The difference with the Jazzmaster is that it's wound around a flatter bobbin, which changes the frequency response.

Handwound - or scatterwound - as opposed to machine wound is the traditional way and modern companies like Bare Knuckle Pickups, based here in the UK, take great pride in offering only pickups wound this way. And they sound great!

I also agree that when you find a guitar that feels right, that's the instrument for you. It doesn't matter if it's cheap or expensive - if it feels right, it is right.

Of course, it often takes a reasonably expensive guitar to have the crucial elements right - intonation, smooth neck, solid tuning, good pickups - but I have a Japanese-made Gibson ES-330 copy from the 1970s and that plays beautifully. Cheap as chips it was when I bought it in 1987. £150!

Recently, I had a hankering to buy a real Gibson ES-330 when Gibson finally reissued it a year or two ago. But I couldn't tell enough difference from my cheap copy to part with £1,500. Ten times as expensive! Apart from the Gibson logo on the headstock, I already owned a guitar that played just as well.

I also own a Fender Jazzmaster (AVRI '62), which was expensive but nails all the crucial elements above perfectly. As it happens, I bought that one by mail order direct from the States, sight unseen. I took a chance, but it meant I got it much cheaper that way. No way I could have afforded one in this country :-(
 28 January 2012 10:32 AM
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amillar

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If you'd like an idea for a follow-up article for E&T magazine, an interview with Kent Armstrong would be fascinating...I'm guessing he probably knows more than most people in the UK on this subject.

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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 20 April 2012 04:28 PM
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murungu

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A friend of mine in S.Africe winds coils but uses a machine. The critical part has been to make sure it does not overwind on the ends of the coils
 26 April 2012 09:14 AM
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gkenyon

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Well, I'm having one of those issues that I think all long-term guitar [try to] players have from time to time.

I have a Les Paul Classic, which came with Gibson's ceramic pickups, which in general I'm very happy with, but sometimes I do think I need a little "dirt" in the sound from Alnico.

Do I really need to change these out for Gibson Burtbuckers like I think I want at the moment, or will I regret it later ?

And if I do change them out, do I do the complete custom wiring job with, for example, push-pull pots with coil splits on both Bridge and Neck, Phase Reversal on Neck, and series/parallel on Bridge?

Don't get me wrong, I don't want a new guitar, I want this guitar, just a little different sometimes !



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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 27 April 2012 01:04 PM
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amillar

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I have a similar issue at the moment, my son has just bought himself a 6 string bass, which I think would sound much better with active pickups and a different tone control arrangement. I'm planning to remove (rather than modify) all the existing system and just keep it one side, then if it turns out to be a terrible mistake it's not that big a job to put it back in.

I vaguely remember one oddball manufacturer had a cartridge system where you could swap pickups to find the one you liked.

I am kicking myself at the moment: I bought an Ovation acoustic bass about 18 years ago, with an undersaddle piezo pickup. The original pickup had a rubber covering which was slightly torn, meaning it didn't make good contact (so had very unven response across the strings). Ovation supplied me a new pickup under warranty (which didn't have the rubber covering), and I spent the next 18 years (off and on) trying to get its position perfect. A couple of weeks ago I had a brainwave and stripped the rubber off the original pickup and refitted it. Absolutely perfect response straight away. As Homer Simpson would say: "D'oh!!". I think I must have had the last of a good design of pickup before they changed something.

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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 28 April 2012 03:32 AM
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gkenyon

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Andy,

Yes, I wasn't thinking about throwing any parts away, but embarking on this little curiosity trip won't be cheap (possibly getting on for £200 for the pair of pickups, plus at least £50 for good push-pull pots).

Of course, even when I've decided to bite the bullet, there's the decision as to whether to go for pickups with covers, or no covers as I've got at the moment - and if no covers, do I stick with black bobbins, or go for the famous "zebra" look ?

I vaguely remember one oddball manufacturer had a cartridge system where you could swap pickups to find the one you liked.
I think Gibson themselves made a Les Paul like this at one time.

Absolutely perfect response straight away. As Homer Simpson would say: "D'oh!!". I think I must have had the last of a good design of pickup before they changed something.
Yes, one of the things that's never ceased to amaze me in all the years I've been tinkering with guitar electronics, is that sometimes the impact on sound from some minor thing that a purist electronics engineer with no experience of real-world audio electronics would dismiss as "nonsense".


I've made a couple of guitar pedals with stunning results - definitely recommend anyone to try this, as of course the circuits are relatively elementary: especially of you've got youngsters who are interested in electronics it's a good starter project. You save very little over the cost of a cheap pedal, but with a little effort and tweaking can get the results of a custom pedal.

I got in trouble from Mrs Kenyon, for buying a nice new Wah pedal and, within 24 hours, re-wiring it for true bypass, as I didn't like the affect of the "as built" unit on the sound of the Les Paul in the original bypass arrangement.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 01 May 2012 11:34 AM
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amillar

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In fact, I'd almost go as far as suggesting that experimenting with audio equipment might be the last best use of hobby electronics - appropriate since (along with amateur radio) it was one of the first. When I worked in very high-end pro audio design I discovered very quickly that designing really high quality sound equipment is not rocket science, it just takes a bit of care and spending fractionally more on components than mass market manufacturers can afford. I've updated power supplies to get hum down, improved amplifers to get headroom up, noise down and (being an acousticy sort of chap!) reduce distortion, and built my own bass pre-amp since I simply couldn't afford one as clean and with the level of EQ I wanted. I've also had great fun playing around with MIDI controllers over the years - my then 15 year old daughter should have known better to ask me if she could have a set of bass pedals, the two of us had great fun (at least I did!!!) designing and building from scratch a bass pedal controller for her (actually my) keyboard.

My latest project is a valve Theremin, however given that I'm currently doing a Master's degree and work has gone very ... odd ... this year sadly this is still sitting as a pile of bits at the moment. And one day I will get around to playing with optical compressors, which I've wanted to dabble with for years. I used to design VCA compressors in my old day job, but they're nowhere near as steampunk as a nice opto resistor and a bulb

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert

Edited: 01 May 2012 at 11:43 AM by amillar
 02 May 2012 07:56 AM
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gkenyon

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I do like the idea of a Theremin built the old way !

Noticed that Joe Bonamassa does seem to like his Theremin and produces some dramatic sound effects live with it.

And for those reading this thread who haven't heard of Lev Theremin, or the instruments (and other devices) he invented, type the name into a search engine, and prepare to be amazed and intrigued at the same time.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 02 May 2012 12:47 PM
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amillar

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The one I'm looking at is on Art's Theremin page http://theremin.us/125/125.htm

Back to guitars: have you ever come across anyone who runs a "how to set up your guitar" course? With 10 guitars in the house now I'd really like to be able to do more of the "mechanical" tweaking myself. As you'll imagine I've read a lot about this, but I feel that it's one of those areas where a few hours sitting with an expert could save a lot of frustration and expensive mistakes (oh, the hours I've spent with my son's Floyd Rose trem...).

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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 02 May 2012 04:01 PM
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gkenyon

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Sorry Andy, I haven't, I'm mostly self-taught with setups. I'm sure if you look hard enough, there is plenty of the "standard literature" on guitar care and luthiery available on the internet, if you get my drift.

There are certainly some good publications, or extracts from them, about setting up the Floyd-Rose and Fender Strat trems.

My first guitar was a relatively inexpensive (but I wouldn't venture at "cheap" because I still have it and generally very good, certainly for a first guitar) Squier Strat.

Having read a bit (e.g. the "Haynes" manuals on looking after your Strat, Ralph Denyer's Guitar Handbook, etc., and a few of the "Q&A" sections in Guitarist), I bit the bullet and started checking the setup whenever I changed strings. I got quite proficient at a number of things, even managing to adjust heights, tremolo tension, intonation and truss rod when I decided to change string gauge. The stuff I learned with the Squier Strat over the years meant no problems when it came to my Les Paul.

I've since changed Saddle and Nut on my Vintage VI1400N acoustic, and, when the time comes, I might even dress frets, or re-fret it if required.

Whilst I'm happy to do most things, I would stop short of working on the frets or nut of my Les Paul and SG without more experience of those operations, because a mess-up would be simply too costly.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 02 May 2012 04:05 PM
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gkenyon

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And after having a look at that Theremin circuit, I might just have a go too: I think I've got almost all the bits in my garage, believe it or not!

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
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