751. How do you adjust the winding pitch with more than one magnet wire?
You need to measure the diameter of each magnet wire including insulation and divide it by the width of the traverse or winding area. This is usually done with winding machines with automatic traverse controls that guides the magnet wire back and forth on the bobbin. If the traverse is .240” and the magnet wire diameter is .0025”, you divide .240 by .0025 and you get a maximum of 96 turns layered side by side. If you try to put more turns on per layer, the layers starts to bulge and the winding can force the walls of the bobbin to bulge or warp. When using another magnet wire the same procedure should be repeated.
752. How do you determine the average ohm per turn?
If you have a pickup that reads 5.8 K and wound with 7600 turns, I would divide 5800 (5.8 K) by 7600 and you get .7631 ohms per turn. If you have precision measuring equipment and can measure one turn of the coil and you multiply it by the DC resistance, you can get an average number of turns. One problem is it is measuring the length of the outer turn which is longer than the turn from the beginning of the coil.
753. How do you determine the turns per traverse width?
You need to use winding machines with adjustable or manual pitch control. Pitch is the distance between each turn in relation to the rotating winding speed. If the traverse is .50”, you divide by the diameter of the magnet wire which is .0026”, you could put an average of 192 turns per layer. You would need a precision machine to accurately put that amount on as each turn would be right next to each other. Often you want to widen the space or winding pitch. If you double the space I would divide the 192 turns by 2 and you’d get 96 turns per layer. This would leave a space between each turn equal to the diameter of the .0026” magnet wire.
754. How do you determine the winding tension?
There are tension devices that measure the tension in grams when the coil is being wound. When hand winding you can usually feel the drag between your fingers and also the amount of heat that builds up if you are holding the wire to tight. If there is not enough tension on the coil, the magnet wire will flop all over the winding area and cause the coil to have loops and snags. I hold the wire between my thumb and index finger when hand winding. This allows me to control the shape of the coil. Leo Fender told me that he liked pickups hand wound because you would have better control over the tension of coils being wound.
755. How do you solve the winding problems?
I basically sit down and analyze each step in the winding process and do one step at a time. One of my oddest situations was when winding an old ‘63 Telecaster Rhythm bobbin. Normally the average DC resistance would be about 7.6 K DC resistance for the particular number of turns that I use. Each time I would wind the bobbin the coil would read 6.4 K or 6.8 K or 7.0 K instead of the 7.6 K I was looking for. After winding 3 or 4 coils with 43 Plain Enamel magnet wire, I decided to figure out what the problem was. With the help of my microscope I found that as the turns increased in relation to the winding speed I was using caused the insulation to chip off the ends exposing the bare copper wire and the turns would short out. I realized the winding speed was to fast and I increased the distance or pitch between each turn. I also noticed the insulation was quite brittle on the magnet wire and as each turn was bent around the 3/16” rod magnet it wouldn’t allow time enough for the magnet wire to form to the shape of the angle. I found that warming up the magnet wire in an oven to about 120 degrees softened the insulation and magnet wire allowing it to shape better to the radius of the magnet.
756. If the coil doesn’t work, what can you do to fix it?
Make sure you have the proper tools and skill to work on your pickup without damaging it any further. I would send it to a qualified repairman experienced in working on pickups or the original pickup builder. About 70% of the broken pickups I get in can be repaired without rewinding. Just about any pickup that has broken external wires can be repaired or restored. Coils with internal breaks from ICPC (inner coil pole corrosion) are more difficult to repair and the coil can be unwound to the break and rewound with the original wire. I can be difficult to repair broken beginning or internal wires. I enjoy working under my microscope to get a really close up of the pickup I’m working on. It allows you to see cracked or shorted turns and to see the damage caused by guitar strings that get lodged into the coil by players that don’t know how the pickup just stopped working! That’s why it’s always important to remove the strings when removing or replacing pickups. The coils can easily become damaged.
757. What are properly wound coils?
Coils that are wound parallel with the walls of the bobbin and the coil has the desired number of turns or desired DC resistance. Proper coil shape is also desirable to maintain consistent readings from pickup to pickup.
758. What are some winding problems?
There are many things that can go wrong when winding pickups. Here are some that can be problems for beginner and experienced winders. Here are a few hand winding problems. Hand winding is often called scatter winding.
1. When winding with to much tension the magnet wire can stretch causing the coil to have a higher DC resistance.
2. Winding with to much tension can cause the top and bottom flatwork or molded bobbin to flair causing uneven coils.
3. Winding a coil to fast can cause the coil to become spongy and magnet wire can become stretched causing the insulation to crack.
4. Winding a coil to fast can also cause loops or snags from the edge of the flatwork or bobbin. The edges need to be smooth and parallel with the magnet wire.
5. Magnet wire that has cracked insulation that exposes the bare copper wire can eventually oxidize causing the turns to short out that can lower the DC resistance or cause the pickup to fail.
6. Coils wound with inconsistent or not enough tension can become spongy and cause the DC resistance in pickups to vary considerably.
759. Will putting a metal cover on my humbucking pickup help reduce microphonic feedback?
If you are having microphonic problems without the cover, I would first try to solve the microphonic problem by checking a few things.
1. Make sure both bobbins are firmly secured to the bottom plate.
2. Carefully tighten the 4 bobbin mounting screws. Do not over tighten or strip the mounting holes in the bobbins.
3. Make sure the magnet is firmly secured and does not slide back and forth.
4. Make sure the pole pieces are not loose in the bobbins. They can vibrate and cause feedback. Especially in bobbins where the neck of the screw isn’t secured.
5. Make sure the stud pole pieces are not loose.
6. Check to see that the metal spacer is firmly secured between the bobbin and bottom plate.
7. The height adjust springs can vibrate and cause noise or interference with the pickup.
8. Make sure the pickup is firmly attached to the mounting ring. Pickups that are loose in the mounting rings can flop around and also make unwanted noise in the instrument.
9. I don’t like to wax pot various models of pickups because it can change the appearance or decrease the value of the pickup. If the parts are loose try using a small amount Vaseline to lubricate the metal parts to cushion the vibration that can cause feedback. It is easy to remove and will not damage the parts.
10. Wax potting should only be done by an experienced repairman under controlled conditions because of the safety factor and damage that could occur with the plastic bobbins.
11. Installing a metal cover should be done with proper clamping to firmly hold the cover while being soldered to the bottom plate. Having a cover that is loose on a pickup will only increase microphonic feedback and should be carefully wax potted, quickly and preferably in a vacuum system using specified temperatures.
760. My single coil pickups hum really bad when I’m in the studio. Is there anything that I can do?
Usually when I play in a studio and have had hum problems, you have probably noticed that if you turn to a certain angle from your amplifier that the hum will usually decrease. You are actually picking up stray magnetic fields or EMF signals. What I have done and had worked on occasion is instead of moving my guitar all around to reduce the hum, I just simply moved the amplifier to a different angle. I’d put the amplifier on it’s side, backwards and even upside down. This seemed to help the field angle and made the engineer much happier. You can shield your guitar all you want but it doesn’t reduce the stray magnetic fields that can penetrate your high impedance single coil pickups. You will find hum to be much worse with larger powered amplifiers with large power and output transformers. Also if you are recording with your computer controlled studio, remember the computer monitors will radiate many signals that will cause noise in your instrument.
761. My guitar got flooded in my garage and I got it dried quickly. Will the water ruin my pickups?
If you got all the water out of the controls and pickups soon enough it should be OK. Water can damage all the ferrous metal parts and can even cause the magnets to rust. Using a warm hair dryer to evaporate the moisture will reduce oxidation in the metal parts. Leo Fender was clever when he waxed his pickups too. He told me that he used wax for two reasons. First he said, the wax was used to protect the coil and reduce microphonic feed back but the second thing he told me and I never forgot was to reduce moisture from penetrating the coils. This would help reduce or prevent “ICPC” which stands for Inner Coil Pole Corrosion. ICPC happens when moisture penetrates the bobbin, pole pieces and causes oxidation that eventually ruin the coil from the inside. With proper procedures from the manufacture, ICPC can be reduced significantly.
Here are some things to do if your pickup get submerged in water.
1. Carefully remove the pickup and hardware from the instrument and air dry with the help of a warm hair dryer.
2. Remove screws or pole pieces and make sure the cracks and crevices and carefully dried.
3. Carefully lubricate the metal parts with a fine solution of WD-40. This will stop or reduce the hardware from rusting or becoming oxidized especially in the pole pieces or unplated metal parts.
4. Carefully dry the volume and tone controls and switch contacts. Make sure all wires are dry inside and out. Any moisture can cause faulty connections and shorts.
5. Spray the contacts and switches with a quality contact cleaner and lubricant especially in the volume controls. Make sure the inside of the pots are dry before spraying contact cleaners. The combination of water and lubricants can cause contamination in the cleaners.
6. On single coil pickups I’d use compressed air in a canister and gently force air into the center holes on top or the bottom of the pickup. The small holes are used to mount the pickups when being wound on the coil machine. Moisture can get lodged inside the bobbin that can later ruin the pickup.
762. I tried to remove the speed knob from my Les Paul and pulled out the shaft from my potentiometer. How can I get the shaft out of the knob?
The easiest way that I found was to carefully wrap masking tape around the edge of the knob to protect it from scratching. I carefully held it in a small hand vice and took my soldering iron and carefully held it to the metal shaft. As the shaft would heat up and softened the plastic in the knob, I carefully pulled the shaft out using a small pair of pliers. It seems that the friction of putting the knobs on causes the plastic to harden and crystallize around the knurled shaft. The older knobs were made of Butyrate which is a softer material and didn’t cause such a problem as the newer plastic materials being used.
763. When removing the small screws from my mounting rings the screws break in half. What can I do to prevent this from happening?
I’ve noticed that when the screw holes are drilled and the mounting screws are in place, in time moisture can penetrate into the screw holes and expanding the wood around the screws. The screws can oxidize from the moisture in the wood and become rough and pitted. When you try to remove the oxidized screw out of a tight hole the friction heats the screw making it softer and it breaks. I learned an easy solution years ago from master builder Phil Kubicki to help reduce the problem. He would simply dip the threads of the screw into a paste wax to reduce the friction, seal the drilled hole with wax to reduce moisture from rusting the screw. I always thought that was an easy simple solution to help prevent screws from rusting and breaking in half when screwing in or out. I do the same on my pickguard and other mounting screws. Always make sure you have the right size drilled hole for the size of the screw you are using. If the hole is to small the friction will heat the screw making it softer and eventually breaking.
764. What is the biggest cause of pickup failure?
I would probably say from all the broken pickups that I have rewound and restored is because of human error. When you start removing pickups from assemblies and mounting rings there is a greater risk of damaging the pickup. On single coil pickups the majority of pickups have exposed beginning and finish magnet wires and can easily be damaged from mishandling. Removing plastic or metal covers can snag the coils. Removing tape or other coatings from coils can break the fine magnet wires. Removing the pickups and throwing them in a drawer will only cause them to be damaged and should be carefully wrapped up and put safely in a container and away from little fingers. If your pickup works, either leave it or have an experienced repairman do the necessary modification. Pickups are valuable and the heart of your instrument. Don’t take the risk of destroying your pickup and perhaps the unique tone of your instrument.
765. My pickup has no reading but still works. What can cause this?
There are little trick in pickup building that we’ve done to several Jerry Donahue instruments. We actually install a small capacitor in series with the hot output of a pickup and this can reduce bottom end in a particular pickup. With this method you can change the character of the pickup and making it sound like another. The pickup will work but the capacitor keep’s the pickup from reading on a multi-meter. Rickenbacker used a .0047 mfd. capacitor in series with the output from the bridge pickup on their 4001 bass. This is a very distinct tone Chris Squire has playing bass in the group “Yes”.
766. What is the difference in using a standard Fender Telecaster ferrous bridge plate as compared to the stainless steel used on the Danny Gatton signature model Telecaster?
I find that using single coil pickups in a ferrous bridge plate will expand the magnetic field from the pickup giving the Telecaster a unique classic sound. Using the same pickup in the stainless steel plate will not expand the magnetic field and gives the pickup a brighter and clearer tone. Using the Joe Barden style or any type of after market rail pickup will not work as well when using a traditional ferrous plate. The plate attracts two opposite magnetic fields (North magnetic field and South magnetic field) of the pickup and the plate combination interfere with the quality and efficiency of the pickup. Rail type pickup work better using non-magnetic stainless steel or brass plate. I don’t like using brass for a Telecaster bridge plate because it changes the tone from what I like to hear out of a Tele. Make sure you check the material of the plate since they are usually nickel, chrome or gold plated. For a traditional Telecaster tone make sure the plate is ferrous and a magnet will stick to it.
767. I like the sound of Gibson Melody Maker pickups and will they work in my Fender Stratocaster?
Like the Lipstick tube pickups, Gibson Melody Maker pickups need modification to fit into a Strat assembly. The average length of a Melody Maker pickup is .695” wide X 2.90” long. A Stratocaster pickup cover averages .690” wide X 2.748 long. The Melody Maker pickup has a solid top cover and the nylon bobbin is slotted for an Alnico bar magnet. They are great sounding pickup and have about 2,000 more turns as compared to a stock Fender Stratocaster pickup. I’ve used Melody Maker pickups in all three positions on one of my custom instruments that has a great tone. It is easy to reverse the magnet and electrical polarity for hum canceling when using two pickups together. And the pickups can easily be connected in series or parallel for other unique blends of tone. I believe the Melody Maker pickups will soon be sought after like the Dan Electro Lip Stick tube pickups. They have a unique tone and I’ve even seen players crop the top off their Melody Maker pickups to get the pickups closer to the strings. They are very smooth sounding and moderate output. You can even put two side by side like a humbucking with incredible output when used with various switching combinations such as series, split, parallel and in or out-of-phase with itself.
768. How often do pickups need adjustment?
Pickups that are properly adjusted for string gauge and balance will not need much adjustment for periods of time. Usually when a player is playing hard the pickups could vibrate and the height could be affected. If other repairs or modifications are done the repairman could change the settings that would make you instrument sound different. String gauge would be the biggest difference and change the output of the pickup. The string diameter and amount of energy created by it will also change the control setting on your amplifier. Different alloy strings will also change the tone of the instrument. You may need to balance the pickups from one end to the other depending on how you play either using a pick or fingers. Heavier strings will give the instrument a fatter fuller tone especially on the bottom strings and usually by lowering the pickup will help balance the output when strumming.
769. When I play my Gibson ES-345 Stereo guitar using a mono-cord plugged into the stereo jack half way, the pickups are out-of-phase when the toggle switch is in the middle position.
That is a typical problem when using a mono-cord with a stereo system. Basically to have it operate in-phase when using two pickups you need to flip over one of the bar magnet from one of the humbuckers 180∞ (degrees). By reversing the magnetic field will reverse the magnetic phasing and make it in phase with the other pickup when used in combination. You could reverse the wires but I don’t like to touch original solder joints and flipping over the magnet is much easier. I don’t like removing covers of older instruments and I often re-magnetize the pickup with the covers on. Again this keep the solder joints original and untouched which retains the value of the pickup.
770. What are some of the best tones you’ve heard over the past years?
There are so many tones that I like and I’ll try to list some of the players and instruments they used. These are not in order but just what I think of when doing this article.
1. Chet Atkins recordings on many of his instruments using several Gretsch Model guitars.
2. Duane Eddy recordings using his famous 1957 Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 with DeArmond single coil pickups. Duane’s number one Gretsch is serial number is 25827 and I’m the proud owner of Gretsch serial number 25829.
3. The Ventures are my all time instrumental group with over 100 albums recorded. There so many great recordings by guitarist Bob Bogle, Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Harvey Mandel, Gene Moles and my favorite Nokie Edwards. Nokie has done so many great instrumentals and influenced me and my playing very much and influenced me into buying many old Jazzmaster’s. My late friend Red Rhodes played steel guitar on several instrumentals and also has a line of pickup called Velvet Hammers.
4. Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West along with Chet Atkins were the first instrumental recordings my dad’s brother Howard Duncan gave me when I first started playing guitar. To this day they totally amaze me on how they play and incredible technique. I remember meeting Albert Lee and we hit it off talking about Jimmy Bryant and his Telecaster playing. Albert got me a recording of Jimmy’s “County Cabin Jazz”.
5. Jeff Beck is my all time favorite guitarist and long time friend. He has influenced so many rock guitarists of today and still remains an important figure in the history of rock guitar. He plays so many styles and to this day “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” is one of my favorites. I built Jeff several instruments and worked on my others. I enjoyed watching him in the studio and doing shows with him. I enjoyed so much of his work in The Yardbirds and especially when he used his ‘54 Fender Esquire on “Train Kept’-A-Rollin” using his pinkie finger on the tone control for a train whistle effect.
6. Eric Clapton work in the group “Cream” along with Jack Bruce is some of the greatest blues-based rock guitar. “I Feel Free” is one of the greatest solo’s in my book.
7. Jimi Hendrix is and will remain one of the greatest guitarists of all time and thanks to the master Eddie Kramer and the release of many new CD’s. Jimi and I had a brief association along with Roger Maher during the late 60’s and I have many fond memories to tell.
8. Roy Buchanan to me is one of the greatest blues players that ever lived. His work on Polydor records has captured much of his early emotion and tone. Much can be learned by listening to Roy’s music and much needs to be said about Roy and his guitar.
9. Albert Collins was the Ice Man and he played with attack and authority on his modified Esquire. He used the Tele bridge cover and his thumb for picking. I loved his 100 foot guitar cord and always had a great band. I have an old demo recording of him doing “Albert’s Alley” which I’ve never heard on any LP’s or re-releases. It’s an old 45 from the 60’s and it’s one of his best. I’d like to find more information about it if any knows.
10. Les Paul was the first musician that talked to me about pickups. I would watch him at Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the early sixties and I’d go back stage along with guitarist Pat Martino. Les would show us all his recording gear and guitar gadget called “The Pulverizer” that would operate his multi-track recording system back stage from his Les Paul guitar. Les and Mary Ford both had goose neck microphones connected to their guitars. It was great. Thanks Les!
11. Neil LeVang was the guitarist for The Lawrence Welk TV show that I watched during the 60’s. He always had either a Jazzmaster, Strat, Banjo or some other unique instrument for particular songs. I wish there were more recordings of his instrumentals as he was a great influence.
12. Jimmy Bruno worked and did the guitar solo on “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” by a group out of Philadelphia called “The Virtues”. I recorded at Frank Virtues studio with rock-a-billy artist named Ray Coleman when I was 13 years old. We did several recordings at Frank’s studio and I often saw Jimmy there. Jimmy and Frank taught me how to mute the strings on the bridge and other picking techniques.
13. Roy Lanham had many recordings and worked with The Fleetwoods, “Come Softly To Me” and The Son’s of the Pioneer. I’ll always remember his great guitar work playing his Jazzmaster and he would visit my factory before he passed away. His material is still available and I’m glad to see his material released on CD. He was the greatest and played solo’s with melody chords.
14. Jerry Donahue is a long time friend and road tester for my company and I enjoy watching and listening to him play. While not touring with The Hellecaster’s, Jerry is at our shop working on some new ideas and I’m stealing his licks. Jerry has worked with many great artists and has done many fine solo recordings. Give him a listen to.
15. Arlen Roth is a long time friend and has recorded so many great guitar records and videos. He has helped so many guitarists with his videos and we did our touring of the orient during the 80’s. He is always at his best when playing his ‘53 Telecaster. I am so sorry for the loss of his family and our heart goes out to him.
Today there are so many great known and unknown guitarist’s. I get many CD and tapes from friends and players of great players that I hope have a chance to get heard. Players like Eric Johnson are masters along with the fluid style of Stevie Ray Vaughn and great session players like Brent Mason make so many recordings to be heard. I want to thank so many who have the foresight to record and film so many great guitarists. I miss seeing Danny Gatton with all his tricks and our occasional field trip looking for Indian Arrowheads. Danny was and will always be a great guitarist. I have worked with friends who are great builders and repairman who let me experiment on their guitars to test pickups. There are great builders who make the instruments for great players such as Larry Brooks, Phil Kubicki, Roger Maher, Wayne Charvel, Dave Shector, Tom Anderson, Fender Custom Shop, Mike McGuire and The Gibson Custom Shop and Seth E. Lover for all his design work with pickups, guitars and amplifiers. I’m proud of the young pickup winders such as Lindy Fralin and all his effort to maintain and restore valuable pickups. I really respect pickup builder and designer Ray Butt’s for all the great pickups used on the many Chet Atkins records that influenced me during my youth. Thanks Guys!
771. What is a winding machine?
Most all guitar and bass pickups are wound by some kind of winding machine where the bobbin is mechanically rotated in order to pull or draw the magnet wire from a spool. A winding machine can be a simple hand winder or more complicated computerized winding machine. A simple winding machine can be a sewing machine motor with a foot pedal to control the winding speed and is usually hooked up to a counting device to count the desired number of turns. They are often called hand winding machines and you control the pitch by moving the hand guided magnet wire back and forth. Coil machines can be very costly and can control the amount of turns per layer and number of layers. More expensive coil machines have an automatic traverse or pitch control and when programmed will give you the desired number of turns per layer for a particular gauge of magnet wire.
772. What is number of turns?
The number of turns is usually pre-determined when winding various types of pickups. When I wind bobbins or coils, I usually know the number of turns that I need for a particular tone I need in the pickup. The number of turns is the total turns you desire to put onto a coil or bobbin. Some standard humbucker bobbins can use 4,500 turns of a particular gauge of magnet wire on each bobbin where a single coil can use 7,600 turns of a particular gauge of magnet wire. Using different gauges of magnet wire and number of turns will change the output and frequency of a pickup. There are several more specifications that also change such as the Q of the coil including inductance and DC resistance.
773. What is TG when winding a pickup?
When I wind pickups I usually put the top of the pickups facing left towards the winding machine. As the pickup is wound the top of the bobbin goes away from me and I use the term “Top Going” or TG. Looking at a pickup from the top, the magnet wire is wrapped “Clockwise” around the bobbin or coil.
774. What is TC when winding a pickup?
When I wind pickups I usually put the top of the pickups facing left towards the winding machine. As the pickup is wound the top of the bobbin comes towards me and I use the term “Top Coming” or TC. Looking at a pickup from the top, the magnet wire is wrapped “Counter-Clockwise” around the bobbin or coil.
775. What is tension?
When reading the DC resistance of a pickup you find differences in the reading or ohms that you read with volt/ohm meter. It is commonly thought the coil that has a higher reading will give you more output. This can be true in some situations but in others it can mean that the magnet wire has become stretched when winding usually by to much tension or to fast of a winding speed. There are several types of tension devices used for winding coil. Some winders use “whisker discs” that are round flat discs with mono-filament of different diameters extending from the edges to help drag or keep the magnet wire from whipping off the spool of magnet wire as the coil is wound. Others can be felt pads to add tension or a series of pulleys and springs to add tension to the magnet wire. If the winding speed is to fast the magnet wire can’t de-reel fast enough and it can cause the wire to become stretched. This will make the magnet wire thinner and causing the DC resistance to become higher. This usually happens when hand or scatter winding when the magnet wire is held to tight as it is drawn from the spool. Tension is usually measure in grams and there are specific measurements and gauges for measuring magnet wire.