This time I thought I would talk a bit about custom guitar pickups, or more specifically custom/one-off pickups. Although the construction of a pickup could hardly be simpler, it’s certainly a topic people tend to get very passionate about and one that words like “right” or “wrong” simply do not apply to. Although a pickup might be just “right” for a song or a style of music, it might be “wrong” for someone who, for example, plays with a different touch.
In any case, I think that to build your own pickups is something that is worth a try, at least once. I myself have been making all the pickups for my little ones (except in two occasions) and even if it can make you nuts the first times, you will enjoy it and it will expand your view of the whole relationship between the parts and the sound.
Even if a pickup in its simplest form is nothing but a magnet and some copper wire, there are still many variables one has to consider, wire thickness, magnet type/size, how many turns of wire you put around the bobbin and the bobbin height to name some.
To illustrate one way of making a custom pickup, I thought of going through the process on a recent project. The idea was to fit two P90’s in Jazzmaster covers. This way you keep the traditional style (and leaves open the option of, at a later date, be able to fit other Jazzmaster size pickups) and get that punchy P90 sound. So, in this case I took the inside measurements of a Jazzmaster cover and started designing the bobbin. I like to use traditional fibre board for the bobbins since it’s easily cut with laser to great precision. In fact, prototyping pickups would take infinitely longer if I wouldn’t have access to a laser cutter.
When the bobbin has been assembled, the next step is to wind on the copper wire. This is the part where you can make big differences on how the pickup will sound, bright and not so powerful or dark and loud as the two extremes. For this particular set I didn’t want to sacrifice any of the high end, so I made the bobbin a fraction taller and kept the winds in the normal range (about 10000/ 42AWG). The bridge pickup has some extra winds to compensate for the lower string energy.
I particularly like the construction of this type of pickup and how it uses two Alnico 5 magnets to magnetise the adjustable pole pieces. The magnets themselves are quite far from the strings but not the pole pieces, so adjusting string to string volumes is very fast and easy. Another detail in its favour, is that it’s probably the easiest pickup for magnet swaps, loosen a few screws and pop in some Alnico 3’s and you’ll have a new sounding pickup.
Like in a guitar, where all its parts add to its signature sound (some more than others), we also have in a pickup. And that’s what makes some of them so compelling, their signature sound matching yours