O.C. Duff Pickups
Is it just you behind the O.C. Duff name?
It’s just me. I pretty much have control over
everything from start to finish. I do small
batches, for the most part, and I talk with
the customer from beginning to end. I make
the product by myself, and all by hand.
How did you originally get into
I’ve been building them for about nine
years. I built my own guitars and my own
amps for years and years, and it was just
something that I started doing because I
used so many pickups. I kind of got into
doing it, and after a year or so, I started
making a product that I thought was really
good, so I started putting it out and there
and it caught on.
How would you define your
The way I’ve differentiated myself in the
marketplace is with intensive customer
service. That’s really what I pride myself
on, and what keeps my customers coming
back… I have a strong musical background
and a strong interest in the history of tones.
By and large, my whole mission statement
is that I know Fender did everything on a
day-to-day basis almost differently, so I try
to replicate some of that inconsistency in
some ways, too.
How does that process between you and
the customer take shape?
We’ll exchange a couple of emails, and
they can give me an idea of, “I want this;
this is what I’m not getting.” I think that
my real skill is not only the process of making
the pickup itself, which is a skill on par
with a lot of artisan kind of work—it’s not
magic. I think a lot of pickup makers carry
this trope of a magical, mythical process,
and it’s really just a skill, but by and large
the process starts with the customer. My
success has been being able to interpret
what they’re saying into a physical process.
There’s really nothing proprietary about
what I do. There are different winding patterns,
different materials that I can use,
different bobbin widths and heights, and
all of these things achieve clearer, brighter,
warmer or woodier tones.
You have three “base” models—the
Traditional, the Special Stock and the
Contemporary—which are sort of like
launching pads, correct? If someone
wants something different, they can work
from those bases.
Yeah, exactly… I think those are sort of
my bread-and-butter models. I have other
models that are more specialized. I have
the Nancy models, which replicate that
early Blackguard kind of bright, open,
articulate, somewhat microphonic tone, and
then I have a Number 1 set, which is a replication
of what was in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s
guitar—basically a set of classic 1959 pickups,
warts and all.
I offer a Traditional series set—there was this
trend about eight years ago where everything
had to be hot. Everyone wanted overwound
pickups, and I think the macro pickup
makers were really catering to that. But if
someone said, “Look, I just want a classic
1959 set of pickups,” they just weren’t
available—the Traditional series filled that
void for someone who really wanted an
authentic, stock sound. I think a lot of
people haven’t even heard that sound unless
they’ve been around vintage guitars.
And the Special Stock fills that market
demand for a hotter pickup?
The Special Stock would fit in somewhere
between the middle to hot range. It has
that vintage tone, but it’s pushing the envelope
more towards a hotter stock pickup.
Contemporary pickups are usually twists on
old designs—to say that they’re contemporary
is more for a player who wants vintage
components with the best modern interpretations
You use the standard complement of
Alnico magnets, but you also use different
diameter magnets. How does that
affect the tone?
It’s incremental. Obviously, the larger the
diameter of the magnet, the more string
coverage it will have. And traditionally,
Fender in the early 1950s was using larger
diameter magnets—even the earliest Strats
used Alnico III, in pretty much the largest
diameter that was ever used on the
Stratocaster. I’m able to find those unique
sources where I’m actually able to get that
same type of magnet, even from the original
manufacturer of the supply. As Fender
went on into the late fifties, they used
smaller poles, and to me those are just like
Every pickup that I make, to use a cliché, is
a snowflake. Every one is different—if you
unwound each of my pickups, there might be
some similarities, but by and large, each one
is going to sound a little bit different. The
quality of tones is consistent, but if a customer
articulates a need for a specific tone, I’m
able to accomplish that through the pickup.
Who are your pickups generally
By and large, I’m the last stop for a lot of
players who have tried other pickups, and I
think that I’m designing for the professional
player, obviously. I have some pretty highprofile
players, and then I have the weekend
warrior who will go out with their blues
bands, and they’re all about tone. There’s
even the bedroom players—I’m a bedroom
player, but I still have a high appreciation
for great sounds. A big part of the enjoyment
for me comes from the auditory experience.
I’m kind of catering to those who
want the best, those who are savvy, and
those who want a high-quality product.