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Handwound, Scatterwound or 'Vintage' Pickups?

Are they better?

 

In recent history is was 'discovered' that pre-corporate takeover Fender® and Gibson® pickups were more musical and rich sounding, with clearer highs & lows and less mud & ice-pick! This, it turns out, was down to lax quality control measures in the old days, and inconsistencies produced some great (and some less-so) pickups. Analysis of some of the great pickups revealed their secrets: 

  • Coils were hand-wound - uneven winding patterns altered the capacitance of pickups, letting more frequencies through. Modern pickups are generally wound on automated machines, laying down the strands of wire in a very uniform pattern. Hand winding, which would more accurately be described as hand feeding of the wire using a motor driven winding machine, lays down the wire in a more scattered way. My method of using a Hand-cranked winding machine exacerbates this effect.

  • Inconsistencies in magnets used - before the standard Alnico 5, now in most quality pickups, Alnico 2, 3 & 4 were also used, giving different musical properties. 

  • Humbucker coils were mismatched - more or less winds between adjoined coils, again allowed more frequencies through.  

By using the specifications of those coveted old style pickups it is possible to recreate some of those sounds from the golden era. It is also possible to create more modern sounds, but with greater musicality. Many small companies exist which specialise in these types of boutique, high quality pickups. Fletcher Pickups produces hand-wound, handmade pickups at an extremely competitive price.

 

Choose your magnets

 

There are two types of magnets commonly used in pickups; Ceramic & Alnico.

  • Ceramic magnets are cheap, strong and most common in the cheap pickups we all know & hate. In those cheap pickups claiming to be PAF style or classic etc, they sound muddy & dull in the neck and shrill & piercing in the bridge. However, if your style is high gain, over-driven, distorted wall of noise - strong magnets in over wound well made pickups shows what ceramics are for.

  • Alnico are a mixture of Aluminium, Nickel & Cobalt, and are a more expensive & weaker magnet. These are used in better quality commercial pickups and can sound beautiful. They are available with differing proportions of the metal mixture, as Alnico 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 8, each with their own use.

    • Sandcast bar magnets used in p90s and Humbuckers were used in some of the oldest pickups including PAFs. Their rough, unpolished surface produces slightly uneven magnetic distribution, resulting in a slightly smoother, less focused sound with a slight trimming of the top end.

    • UnOrientated bar magnets were later used on some Humbuckers and p90s. During the solidification of the AlNiCo alloy, strong magnets align the crystals within north-to-south, orientating the magnet, giving it a 'defined sense of direction'. Unorientated magnets miss this step, resulting in a chaotic distribution of magnetic flux. Magnets are still charged North-to-South, but the focus of the magnetic field is wider. This results in considerable smoothing of the tone produced, with significant levelling of the top end produced, though retaining most of the strength associated with the alloy.

Alnico 3

The weakest magnet with lowest amount of string pull.

Used in some old P90's but hardly ever used in commercial pickups.

Delivers the greatest sustain, as it has the least string pull, a smooth attack and warm mellow tones.

Used in some of the very earliest pickups, including the first p90s.

Alnico 2

A weak magnet with low string pull for great sustain. Smooth attack and low output, typical of that 50's sound.

Great for single coils, classic twang and articulate humbuckers.

Great paired with Alnico 5's on a single coil bridge to mellow the tone of the unwound strings.

Alnico 4

Described as a flawed Alnico 5, with strength and pull between a 2 and a 5. This magnet tends to give an even response across the frequencies.

In my opinion it's the best magnet for that PAF humbucker sound.

Really clear and sweet sound, with a bit of grunt if you light it up.

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Alnico 5

Found in the majority of good pickups, this is the go to magnet.

A stronger magnet with pleasant attack, clear highs and scooped mids and manageable lows.

Perfect for modern sounding guitars where both proper grunt and true clarity are needed out of one instrument.

That sound of the 60's single coil. Clean and dirty!

Alnico 6 and 8

Found between Alnico 5 and ceramics, 6's & 8's have strong highs, full mids and reasonable lows with sharp attack. 

Alnico 6 is darker than 8, which has a pronounced top end.

This comes at the expense of sustain due to the high magnetic pull. A reasonably uncommon magnet in commercial pickups.

Great for over-driven in your face sound, but with a bit more versatility and musicality than ceramic.

Ceramic

High power & string-pull, and generally hard to make work well with clean tones, these are for pickups designed for aggression over musicality.

If your guitar is used to scream in peoples faces, use these.........or why not go mad and use rare earth magnets, it'll either work or break something!

Neodymium

Ridiculously strong magnets!

Can be used for Massive Sounds, with Ultra clear top ends in the Hottest of pickups.

 

Basically childish, but surprisingly playable in the right context.

Who needs Active Pickups! 

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