Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Common Myths of Scatterwinding

1. Scatterwinding is just a bunch of hype

Is good tone just hype?  Scatterwinding is putting the most space between each consecutive wind as possible, thereby lowering the capacitance of the pickup.  This is achieved by the winding pattern and the tension of the wire, which is usually done by hand, and takes years of experience.  This is, in my opinion, the most important aspect in pickup making next to resistance and magnetism.

scatterwinding a single coil

2. Scatterwinding can only be done by hand

Nope.  Although hand-guiding the wire onto the bobbin is probably the best and easiest way, you could get the same results from a machine.  I have heard that when Jason Lollar was starting out pickup winding, he made his own machine that would turn the bobbin and guide the wire automatically.  A pickup can be scatterwound in this way as long as the motion and wire tension are calibrated.  The problem is that machines are consistent and the point of scatterwinding is to be inconsistent, it is hard to replicate the motion of the human hand.

3. All handwound pickups are scatterwound

Not really.  The winding pattern and the tension are still dependent of a number of variables: machine type, speed, wire type, and most importantly, who is winding the pickup.  All will make a pickup sound different.

4. Scatterwinding just means randomly guiding the wire onto the bobbin

Wrong, it almost has more to do with wire tension, which takes a lot of time to perfect by hand.  If the pickup is too loose, you won't get the correct number of turns and the pickup will sound thin.  Too tight and it will sound dead.  Here is a useful tool for figuring out the proper tension.

5. Scatterwound pickups need to be wax potted

Not always.  Microphonics are screeching sounds coming from winds of wire and little parts of the pickup vibrating together.  This can be a big problem when playing at a high volume on stage.  A lot of it has to do with the quality of the parts used, the age of the pickup, and how it was wound.  If you use a pickup that has been made with quality parts that fit together tightly and that has been carefully scatterwound, you do not need wax potting, and that gives your sound extra openness and clarity.  I have been testing this myself for years.

6. Single coils are scatterwound and humbuckers are not

Traditionally this is the case as most humbuckers are wound on a machine.  Personally, I prefer all pickups to be scatterwound.  Anywone who plays a with a humbucker in the neck position knows that it doesn't really cut through the mix as well as the bridge in a band situation, try using a scatterwound humbucker!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How to solder

Here is a quick video I made showing basic soldering skills:

Some key points to consider:

1.  use a quality soldering iron with adjustable temp control.  If your temp is too low you might cook the internal parts of the potentiometer before you melt your solder.
2. get in, solder, and get out as quick as possible to minimize heat on delicate components.
3. score the area you are soldering with 80 or 120 grit sandpaper.
4. tin your wires and lugs, ALWAYS.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Acid-aging guitar parts

using muriatic acid to make parts look 60 years old!

Depending on their environment and how often they are played, guitars can start to deteriorate in appearance.  This can make a guitar feel and look more "played" and "broken in".  You can replicate this look on a new guitar in a number of ways using sandpaper, and various metal objects.  I personally prefer a subtle bit of aging that catches the eye, it's easy to go overboard.  

Muriatic acid replicates years of oxidation in a matter of hours, and can be purchased at your local hardware store.  Be mindful to use gloves and goggles when handling it, this stuff will burn your skin!  A respirator is also advised since the acid puts off gasses when aging metal, and do it in a well ventilated area away from children and pets.  


You'll need a plastic container (the acid will not eat away at plastic).  I used these old food containers.  I've got a 4 oz perforated with holes for the top and an 8 oz for the bottom.

Arrange the parts on a single layer in the perforated 4 oz dish.  Nickel parts age nicely, chrome and gold also work.  Place the 4 oz dish in the 8 oz dish to catch the acid.

carefully pour acid over all of the parts.  The liquid then drains into the bottom and the parts remain suspended.  I have found the gas does the best aging, rather than submerging the parts in the liquid.

Carefully place the lid on top to trap the gasses, DO NOT PRESS DOWN, exerting force on these containers could split the side, then you'll have acid all over!  Not good.

Let the parts sit and check on them periodically.  When they are to your liking, rinse them in water and dump out the used acid, or save it for another use.  Keep in mind as the parts dry they will oxidize a bit more.  I would not recommend doing this with tuners or bridges as the oxidation will eventually seize the parts together.  I also only age covers, poles, and baseplates, the pickup coil would not last long in acid.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stereo Guitars

Why would you need a stereo guitar?

If you have ever listened to music on a car stereo or headphones you can probably appreciate the importance of stereo.  Have you ever panned all of the music to either the left or right side?  It sounds like something is missing right?  Well once you hear a guitar in stereo, mono will never sound the same again.  It is a fuller, richer sound and opens up a whole new world of possibility.

Guitars are typically wired in mono, but a few companies are making stereo guitars these days.  These are usually two-pickup guitars with a jack for each pickup.  This means you have to have two cables hanging from your guitar while you play!  As far as I am concerned the only thing worse than one cable is two.

A normal mono cable on the left and a stereo cable on the right

The Skyliner guitar has one jack that you can use either a mono cable or a stereo cable in.  Plug in a mono cable and it operates just like a normal guitar.  Plug in a stereo cable, the included A/B footswitch, and put the guitar in stereo mode and you are ready to conquer the universe!

The footswitch has one input for the stereo cable and two mono outputs, one for the bridge pickup and one for the neck pickup.  You can run the two channels independently to select one, both, or none, and the LED indicator lights tell you if the channel is active.  This way you can run separate effects and amps for the two pickups.  This gives you the fullness of two guitars when only one is playing.  Here is a demo of the Skyliner Stereo guitar:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Teisco Gold Foil repair

fixing a vintage Gold Foil pickup

I bought this '60s made in Japan Gold Foil on eBay "as-is" with the intent to repair it.  It had no output and showed no resistance on the meter so I took the cover off by removing the phillips head screws on top.  

Next I removed the magnets which are simply held in place by their own magnetism on either side of the coil.  They were installed with South polarity facing up.  As I was inspecting the coil, I removed some tape and noticed the tiny 44 gauge coil wire had become detached from the white lead wire.  I resoldered and checked the resistance, it was now showing 5.3K.  

This might seem like a low resistance for a single coil, but don't be fooled!  The low resistance makes these nice and clear while the powerful magnets and the squatty coil make it sound full and fat.  I have repaired another Teisco Gold Foil that was around 6.3K and I have seen DeArmond pickups showing upwards of 10K, so there is quite a variance in specs of what is called a "Gold Foil".  I based my own Humbucker-size Gold Foil pickups on vintage pickups I see come into the shop.

When dealing with classic pickups like this, it is always better to use the original coil if possible for the most authentic tone.  The most common cause of dead pickups I see is sweat or moisture corroding the coils.  Usually there is no other way to repair a corroded coil than to rewind it, which I will do with vintage-spec wire to the appropriate number of turns.  Rewinds usually cost about $50 per coil. 

With this pickup I will probably wax pot it so that it will be less microphonic and install in a Telecaster.  Here is a quick video I made of the pickup in my tester guitar:

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Nashville workshop!

As some of you know, my girlfriend and I moved from San Francisco, CA to Nashville, TN in May 2015 to be closer to a vibrant music scene and to start a new life in The South.  The move was so exciting as we took a two week road trip across the country.  You don't get many chances to pick up and move to a new place so we took advantage of the opportunity.  Becca started a blog called the Bay To River Rambler and you can see her photos and writings here.

We found a place in East Nashville with a standalone garage that I converted into a workshop and now I have more space than I know what to do with!  I built myself a 2x8 workbench and got a drill press and now I am up and running.  The pickup winder is all tuned up and I'm cranking out pickups again, ready to get your guitar tone in tip-top shape.

Things to look forward to in July:

Gold Foil release July 4th I'll be releasing a brand new pickup based on the originals from the '60s.  I designed mine to be on the more affordable side compared to vintage or reissue pickups by other manufacturers and still embody that twangy, low-fi character.  They will fit in a standard humbucker rout and start at $90 each.

Summer NAMM in Nashville July 9th, 10th, 11th  I'll be there walking around, checking out the exhibits, and meeting as many people as possible.  I won't have a booth this year, but I'll be staking it out for future years.  Check out https://www.namm.org/summer/2015 for more info on how you can go.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Balancing output with a humbucker

Using a simple resistor to match a single coil with a humbucker

It's a classic combination: a humbucker in the neck and a single coil in the bridge, but it can be a real challenge to keep that single coil from sounding too thin in comparison.  The problem arises for three reasons:

  1. humbuckers are naturally warmer and louder than single coils
  2. at the neck the string vibrates farther than at the bridge causing more bass and volume
  3. humbucker-equipped guitars usually come with 500K pots
The third reason is the one I'll be talking about first.  Typically humbuckers sound better with 500K pots and single coils sound better with 250K pots.  This is because single coils sound better with a little bit of the highs bled off to the ground, and humbuckers (being naturally dark) sound better wide open.  This Telecaster Custom (shown above) came with four 500K pots, one each for neck volume, neck tone, bridge volume and bridge tone.  This sounds fine for the humbucker but to give the bridge pickup a little more warmth we are going to use a resistor.  If you follow this link you'll find a wiring diagram for the American Telecaster HS.  Scroll down to the second page and you'll see two pots, a switch and a resistor leading from the hot lead of the bridge pickup to ground.  Scroll down to the third page and you'll see that these are 500K pots and a 270K resistor.  I didn't have a 270K resistor, so for the Telecaster Custom we are going to use a 220K in series with a 39K resistor to give us 259K.

I then covered the resistors with shrink tubing to prevent a short and soldered it between the ground and the first lug on the volume control where the hot lead for the bridge connects.  You can also see a high-pass filter soldered between the first and second lug of the volume control consisting of a .001 uF capacitor and a 150K resistor wired in parallel.

This gives you a more uniform blend of highs and lows when you turn down the volume control.  This trick works great on bridge and neck pickups and I use it on all of my guitars.

The final thing to do is adjust your pickup height.  You want your bridge pickup to be reasonably close to the strings without touching them.  Depress the first and sixth string at the last fret and raise the pickup until it is very close.  If the pickup sounds harsh and metallic then back off a touch.  The neck pickup should be adjusted all the way down to the pickguard and then raised until the volume of the two pickups is equal.