Hello PG readers! I was blown away when Trent and Brett asked me to write an article for the first issue of Premier Guitar. I thank them mightily for the opportunity to try to get some of my ideas across to all of you tone freaks.
WCR has been hand-winding pickups for about 15 years now. I hope I can shed some light as to how WCR’s tones are achieved, and why they have become a benchmark to many.
I was always amazed at the fantastic tones of an old humbucker blasting through Marshalls. Even way back then, those pickups were going for an easy $750-$1500 per set (you know which ones I mean...). Well beyond my reach, I decided to wind my own. Although early on I used the same old material types, I just could not get those magnificent tones. So I tried radically different approaches using different wire, magnet configuration, potting material, and so on. This gave me my first success, the Fillmore Set; I got what I was after, and had my own, new style.
Personal hand-winding style had a huge effect on WCR’s product, and I found I could use brand new materials to get great old, vintage tones (listen to “Stormy” on our website).
Personal hand-winding styles/patterns are of extreme importance to great tone. There are many variants in a wind that can, and will, change the tone. Wire type, gauge, insulation, tension, speed, patterns, magnet type, strength and placement, potting material and application technique, even the type of tape, amount of, and tension on it will all effect the outcome. Each is a very small thing, but they all add up.
Put your ear directly on your favorite axe, and imagine still hearing all of that great tone coming out the speakers when plugged in. That kind of harmonic clarity, sustain, and excellent note separation, even in high gain situations, are all very obvious components in high-end pickups, including those from WCR (you can listen to clips on our website).
The next huge improvement came in the potting, or coil-saturation dept. Wax to me is a huge killer of tone. It acts like one of those run-away-truck stops on the highways. The truck (guitar resonations) plows into the loose gravel (the wax) and quickly comes to a dead stop. Wax is a good thing to use if you need something to kill shrill highs, or squealing caused by a loose, fast, lousy un-controlled wind, or an improperly installed cover. After several years of trial and error, we found a perfect material that not only stops the un-wanted squeals, but also still allows the true tone and resonation of the guitar to shine through the coils like they should. It’s the same with covers; when done right, they can add a different, desirable dimension to the end tones.
Theory has it that the electrons do not move through the inside of the wire, but rather along the outside of it. Since the wire is wrapped over itself many times, there are many different electron collisions happening, and the pattern will shape how they occur, and color the sound. Intense, independent hands-on quality control on each coil will out-do a machine-wind everytime. Automation is too perfect, and the human ear is not. Perfection is just too sterile sounding to the average ear.
Consistency in style is vital, and sadly, very, very few hand-winders are. In fact, there are very few true hand-winders left. I have been jokingly told it is a black art! Just like learning guitar, it takes practice, practice, and practice! It is not rocket science. It is long, hard hours of study. With the proper hand-winding expertise, correct metal alloys, plastics, wire, building techniques and detail, it is more than possible to make pickups that sound as good as, and even better, than the early buckers. They certainly were not cryogenically freezing them in the 50s … and they sounded most excellent both then and now.
After literally thousands of hours of practice, the procedure is extremely well established. Take advantage of true hands-on experience, and give us a try. You’ll never go back!