What is a pickup?
At its most basic, a pickup is a simple electrical transducer that
captures mechanical vibrations and converts them to an electrical
signal. A coil of wire is wrapped around a magnet or magnets. When a
steel string vibrates above the pickup it becomes a moving magnet that
induces an alternating current in the coil of wire.
Cheap vs Expensive
The pickups found in low end guitars are made with plastic flatwork,
ceramic bar magnets, low-grade steel pole pieces, poly-coated coil wire
and 28 gauge lead wire. Expensive pickups use fiber flatwork, Alnico
magnets, enamel-coated coil wire and 20 or 22 gauge cloth covered wire.
Ideally, the center of each pickup pole piece should be centered
directly under the string. The problem is that different guitars have
different string spacing. Just on Fender Stratocasters you may have 2
1/8" spacing at the bridge on a Standard or 2 1/16" spacing on an
import. One size does not fit al when it comes to pickups. In addition
to the bridge spacing, the nut is always narrower than the bridge and
the string spacing is different depending on the point on the string.
This can have an effect on three-pickup guitars such as the Strat where
the pickups are widely spaced.
Since a pickup is a transducer it can pick up magnetic or electrical
fields that interfere with the output, causing hum. Single coils are
particularly susceptible to this. To mitigate this interference we first
try to shield the pickup cavity. Low end guitars generally have no
shielding, but better guitars use a combination of methods from
electrical shielding paint to copper tape or plate.
Interference can be reduced by having multiple pickup coils with
opposite polarity, which cancels the hum. This is the idea behind
"humbucking" pickups. While traditional humbuckers have always had
reverse-wound, reverse polarity (RWRP) coils, the same principle can be
applied to single coils when using two in parallel or series. Low end
guitars have three identical pickups, while better ones have the middle
pickup RWRP so they are hum-canceling when used together.
Pickups are generally classified by their resistance. In generally,
the higher the resistance, the "hotter" the output. A Strat neck pickup
may range from 5-6k, while a bridge pickup runs from 7-9k. As with most
things, there is a tradeoff - the more turns n the coil the hotter the
output, but also more high-frequency attenuation.
When a machine winds pickups they are very precise - the wire moves
across the bobbin, then moves back with the next layer then back again,
the way you would wind your garden hose back onto the reel. The problem
with this is that long parallel runs of wire create something called
"distributed capacitance" and it isn't a good thing. That's why
electrical wires will cross every few pole - to break up the effect.
Hand-wound pickups mean the wire is guided onto the bobbins by hand, and
no human can go more than a few turns without having the wires cross.
"Scatterwound" is a popular term that is generally the same as
hand-wound, but there are machine which can introduce enough randomness
to get the same effect.
All our pickups are wax potted to prevent the coils from becoming
microphonic, eliminating squeal when the wires in the coil vibrate
against each other. Each pickup is dipped into a blend of paraffin and
beeswax to coat the coils and fix the wire in place.
This refers to switching off one coil of a humbucker to get a single
coil sound. In practice, one coil of a humbucker does not really sound
like a single coil, but it does sound different.
Often used (incorrectly,) as a synonym for coil splitting, a true
coil tap takes a signal from somewhere within the coil rather than from
the end. This allows two different DC resistance values and switching
between them gives you two different sounds. At this time, we do not
offer coil tapping.
Why use our pickups instead of other boutique brands? Simply put, the
main ingredient in most custom pickups is voodoo. Everyone claims their
pickups are the best, but you don't have to be named Seymour, Lindy or
Jason to wind a good pickup. We don't pretend that our pickups are the
equal of the product of their years of experience and expertise, but can
one really be said to be the best? What they all sound good, but the
main point is that they sound different. Which one you prefer
really has more to do with your individual taste. Do you like a hotter
sound? The trade off is more high frequency attenuation. Do you like the
wide range of tone you get with a less aggressively wound pickup? Do you
like your humbucker coils in serial or parallel?
That's where the voodoo comes in. You can find endless discussions
online about the most minute details of vintage pickups - for example,
did the 1966 Fender Strat bridge pickup have 7123 turns or 7125? There
is no answer. Guitars built in the vintage era were not built to that
level of precision. There is the oft repeated quote, "We wound them
until the bobbins were full." When the electro-mechanical counters broke
down they would time how long it took to wind a given number of turns,
then put a stopwatch on the broken machine. The fact is that vintage
pickups al sound different, reflecting the manufacturing tolerances of
the day. What does a vintage PAF really sound like? It depends on which
Everyone who has played our pickups likes them. If you want another
brand we'll be happy to use any brand you want. Our pickups are
generally much cheaper than pickups from Fralin, Lollar, etc., but as
with all options on a Tala Custom Guitar, the choice is up to you.