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What is perhaps so remarkable about passive single-coil pickups is that, for all intents and purposes, they remain a straightforward idea, built upon basic scientific concepts of magnetism and electricity. This has made single-coil pickups one of the most democratic of all guitar components to build—find yourself a little wire, a few magnets, and you’re in business (it may not sound like an original Fender pickup, but you’re in business nonetheless). Their very simplicity lends itself to experimentation and exploration, and it’s for this same reason that many modern pickup builders got their start, by repairing dead single coils.
That’s not to say that these pickups have remained static in their half century of existence. On the contrary, they’ve kept pace with players as they’ve demanded more power and less noise. They are as relevant today as they were when Jimi Hendrix strapped on his Strat at Monterey. A new generation of pickup builders has delivered an incredible level of specialization and complexity to demanding gearheads, providing us with spot-on vintage recreations, high-output powerhouses and everything imaginable in-between.
This month, we’ll speak with five pickup builders who have been working hard to keep the single-coil pickup moving forward: Pete Biltoft and Vintage Vibe Guitars, J.D. Prince of Van Zandt Pickups, Owen Duffy of O.C. Duff Pickups, Chris Kinman of Kinman Guitar Electrix, and Jerry Amalfitano of Amalfitano Pickups. These builders demonstrate that there’s something for everyone in today’s boutique pickup market, and that single-coil devotees are limited only by their imagination.