Van Zandt Pickups
How many years have you been
Years Building: 12
Average Wait: 1 wk.–1 mo.
Starting At: $241.50/set
I’ve been building since my uncle died in
1997, which was about 12 years ago.
Were you interested in building pickups,
or did you get into it more by necessity?
I ran an auto repair shop for years, and I
was kind of interested, but he wanted to
slow down a bit and do some traveling,
and spend more time doing things with
my Aunt, so he brought me in and started
training me on the process. That’s how
I got into it—it’s something you’d never
think about unless you did it.
How did Van Zandt Pickups originally
Van Zandt pickups started with W.L. Van
Zandt doing rewindings for friends and
players around Dallas, and he did it in a
little corner of his garage. And everybody
liked the tone so much better than their
original sound that he decided he ought
to begin building his own pickups. And he
started handwinding—all of our pickups are
handwound—and then he built steel guitar
pickups for builders for a long time. And
then he decided to start building his own,
and it just took off from there. We’ve been
doing it for about 21 years now.
Was it tough transitioning the business
after his passing?
Oh, a little bit. A lot of people tried buying
up the stock that we had, because
they thought that what we’d start building
would be different. But it wasn’t at all—I
was building some of that, so the stock
they were buying up was actually from me.
There’s no difference; we build them to the
same specs that he built them to.
Tell us about Van Zandt’s approach to
We want to give guitar players and builders
the very best sound and product they
can get, including vintage sounds they
wish to replicate or custom sounds of their
own. If somebody’s looking for something
specific—and nearly everybody is looking
for something—we try to build it for them
and get them to where they want to be.
We do that by mixing various pickups in
a single guitar. Quality is our big thing,
and for a small shop, I think we’ve done a
good job with that. I guarantee it, stand
behind it, and hope people will buy it
and pass it along to others who might be
searching for one of the best sounding
pickups on the market today.
Can you take us through the differences
between your single-coil sets?
Yeah, we make five different kinds of
single-coil pickups. The True Vintage is kind
of a country sound. It’s a little brighter,
with a vintage tone—it was W.L.’s favorite.
We make a Vintage Plus, which has a little
more to it. You can play country and rock
with it, depending on how you turn your
guitar up and down. We make a Blues set
that’s really attack sensitive; it’s good for
blues and rock. And then we make a little
bit hotter pickup called the Rock pickup,
and it’s good for all kinds of more aggressive
tones—you can even get it to distort,
because it’s fat enough.
What kind of magnets are you using in
We’re using Alnico Vs, unless we get a
request for Alnico IIIs. Most of our standard
pickups are Vs.
How would you compare your products to
other boutique pickup builders?
I don’t try to compete with anybody; I just
try to do my own thing. I’m sure people
love their pickups, and if that’s what they’re
looking for, that’s what they oughta buy.
I was at a guitar show and this guy came
up and played some of our pickups, and
he turned to me and said, “Well, I can’t
tell any difference between these and the
Fender pickups.” And I told him he’d probably
oughta buy the Fender pickups then,
because they’re cheaper. [laughs]
How do you zero in on what a player is
I just listen to the tone and style of music the
players are trying to achieve and offer one of
our pickups that I feel best suits their need. If
somebody wants something custom wound,
such as for a hotter sound, I try to accommodate
and build what they’re looking for.
That seems like a pretty laid back
It is, it really is—it’s a Texas thing, I think.
What are your plans moving forward? Is it
just business as usual?
It is. We don’t really want to get too big,
because that way we might lose that
quality. We try to stay small, and we have
a pretty good lead time on our pickups. If
you notice, everybody who talks about us
really only has good things to say. I don’t
really ever hear any negative stuff—at least
I’ve gotta look for it. [laughs]