Livin’ Lovin’ TONE: The Whole Lotta Humbucker
Imagine a time in England between 1968 and 1974. Some of the most iconic tones in guitar playing history came from that time. We had Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. It seems that there must have been something in the water in England at that time- so much great music with so much great tone was readily available.
If we could take a trip back in time to London in the early 70s, we would realize that it wasn’t the water making all these players sound so good. That sound was usually produced by a meeting between those instruments and Seymour Duncan.
Seymour Duncan worked in the Fender Soundhouse in London. He worked on the actual guitars of many British blues-rock heroes. During that time he got to re-wind many pickups on these iconic guitars.
He pays tribute to that time and his work by offering us the Whole Lotta Humbucker.
Seymour recalls, “When I’d work on one of those great old guitars for a client, I liked to rewind the pickups with 42-gauge plain-enamel wire. I’d also insert sand-cast Alnico magnets with a better-balanced magnetic field, which made the B and high E sound as powerful as the other strings. This modified pickup had more output and a higher frequency response. The Whole Lotta Humbucker set is an exact replica of these special pickups. 8.78k DC resistance for the bridge pickup, 8.20k for the neck, custom winding pitch, and a calibrated sand cast Alnico magnet. I have such great memories of living in London, so I’m thrilled to be producing this pickup once again.”
Many of these guitars were Les Pauls, and the sound these particular ones made are the ones that have the tone people still chase today. The heart of these guitars were the famed PAF pickups, highly sought after today. The Whole Lotta Humbucker’s 42 gauge wire is the same wire used in the early PAF pickups.
Sand-cast Alnico V magnets used in the Whole Lotta Humbucker are created by making a mold out of sand, then pouring molten material for the magnet into the sand mold. When cool, the outer surface of the magnet has the impressions of the sand on it, which can be ground down producing the desired result. These magnets not only produce a more complex magnetic field, but they increase the volume of the high E and B strings, bringing their dynamics more in line with the other strings. This produces a more balanced tone.
Calibrated magnets start their life out as strong magnets, and are demagnetized until they produce the desired tone.
In the early 70s, amps didn’t have a master volume- preamp gain wasn’t a tone that was available. Pushing the amp harder resulted in more power amp distortion, more compression, and the tone that every guitarist wanted (and still searches for). Boost pedals were rarely used, and if a guitarist in London wanted to ascend the Stairway to Bigger Tone, they had their pickups worked on by Seymour Duncan.
The Whole Lotta Humbucker is slightly more powerful than traditional PAF-type pickups but still falls within vintage spec, with a fuller frequency response (due to the sandcast magnets and a unique winding pitch) which allow for the fuller E & B strings. This bigger sound pushes those non-master volume amps just a little bit harder, resulting in a unique compression of the power tubes. Add a non-master volume amp, and about nine pounds of mahogany and maple and you have the sound that still inspires a generation later.
The Whole Lotta Humbucker is available in a neck or bridge version, or as a set. It comes with 4-conductor wiring, so you can experiment with phase and series/parallel options. It has short mounting legs too, so it will fit in any solidbody with no modification. It comes in black with logo by default, but you can order it with any custom color option: Black, White, Zebra, Reverse Zebra, Nickel Cover, Gold Cover, and Custom Color bobbins. Dragon-embroidered pants not included.
So what would be the ultimate guitar for these pickups? What would be the first songs you’d play with the Whole Lotta Humbucker?