With all of the signature guitars and amps in the guitar kingdom we live in, one thing to remember is that rock stars will examine everything in their signal path to find their own signature tone. This is why almost all of the well-known guitarists have had custom pickups made or vintage pickups rewound. One way to find your own tone is let the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop lead the way. In this article, we will discuss the options available in getting your own pickup made especially for you. Don’t worry though- while the Custom Shop can fabricate some pretty outlandish things, the bulk of what we do is bridge the gap between the sound you have from your current pickups, and the sound you want to achieve. Many orders are variations on something Seymour Duncan might already offer, with reasonable non-rock star prices to match. In the end, understanding what goes into a pickup will help you (and the Custom Shop) make decisions on what materials to use, and how your pickup will be built.
Single Coil or Humbucker-equipped guitar?
In the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop, that doesn’t matter. You can get a favorite single coil pickup in a humbucker housing, and many humbuckers can be shrunk down to a single-coil size. What form-factor you want might just be based on how you want your guitar to look, and it is no obstacle to finding the right sound. And don’t worry: mini-hums, P90s and others are on the table too. Need something to match the funky mid-60s pawnshop prize you found? Or how about for that 10 string tapping instrument you built? The Custom Shop will work with you to make your instrument sound and look the best it can.
The size of wire, the insulation used on the wire, and the number of turns on the bobbin are all important in determining the pickup’s overall tone. Generally, the thickness of a wire around the pickup bobbin is measured in gauges somewhere between 41 to 44 awg in thickness (but we have wire gauges that go all the way from 45 to 20). This wire has a coating on it (insulation) made of any number of materials, from Teflon to certain kinds of plastic. Wire is usually made of copper, but sometimes silver is used. Silver wire extends the dynamics and definition of the notes, but it is also much more expensive. Between selecting size, insulation type, number of turns, and wire material, there are endless combinations. Fortunately the Custom Shop can help you navigate which combinations will work for the sound you are after.
Magnets in guitar pickups can be made up of a few materials. Ceramic magnets are powerful, and have a tight bass and more immediate sound. They are a good choice for heavier music, although other factors in pickup design can influence this as well. Another type of magnet is called Alnico. Short for Aluminum, Nickel and Cobalt, this is the material of more vintage-sounding pickups. The bass is slightly softer, dynamics are emphasized, and there is an overall ‘sweeter’ sound. There are types of Alnico magnets too, from II to IX, named for the varying ratio of materials used. Alnico II magnets have more mids and less bass than, say Alnico V magnets. Higher numbers influence the mids and bass more. Magnets can be cast in different ways, all of which influences the overall tone of the pickup. ‘Aged’ magnets simulate the way magnets lose magnetism over time. Rough-cast magnets will have a rougher surface, which will influence the magnetic pull on the strings.
Slugs and Screws
The slug or polepiece material in humbuckers (or material and cast-type of magnets in single coils) can tailor your pickup to the sound you are after. Screws, hex bolts or rails are considerations too, and are available as well, in any combination. Hex screws generally have a little less bass than regular screws, while the rail design allows more consistent output if you bend strings a lot.
Quest for Wire, pt 2.
Wires used to wire the actual pickup into your guitar are called conductors. We have pickups that come in PVC, Wax Cloth, 1 conductor, 2 conductor, 3 conductor and 4 conductor. 2 conductor (commonly refered to as single conductor) pickups are reserved for single coils and vintage-styled humbuckers. 4 conductor pickups are humbuckers that allow special wiring schemes like splitting, out-of-phase and parallel. You can even order tapped pickups, which have an output wire within the middle of the windings, so you can get even more sounds out of the same pickup.
Color My World
Most color combinations are available, and if something special is needed, just ask. In a humbucker, the bobbins can be different colors. In a single coil, the covers can come in a variety of colors as well. Pickups can be ordered with the standard Seymour Duncan logo, the smaller version, or no logo at all. The bobbin or cover color doesn’t affect the sound of the pickup, but makes them look unique, which is one of the benefits to ordering a custom pickup.
Daddy Long Legs
This refers to the mounting ‘legs’ of a humbucker. While for many guitars, it doesn’t matter (most use short legs), longer legs might be chosen if your guitar has an arched top (like a Les Paul). Traditionally, arch-top guitars used long leg pickups, but these days short legs are more common in every guitar. The Seymour Custom Shop can use either on your pickup.
Art of the Pickup
On metal covers, the Custom Shop can add some engraved artwork to your pickup to make it your own. There are some standard designs to choose from, but the Custom Shop has been known to engrave a customer’s custom artwork and even signatures into the chrome or gold pickup covers. They can also ‘age’ it if a shiny new pickup doesn’t look quite right in your vintage guitar. The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop has the knowledge and experience to put more of you in your tone . If every other part of your rig is something to obsess over, don’t forget the first line of tone – the pickups. What would be the specs of your custom pickup? What kind of name would you give it?