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May 2014
more... Builder ProfileSinglecoilAmalfitanoJune 2009KinmanO.C. DuffVan Zandt PickupsVintage Vibe

5 Single-Coil Pickup Builders You Should Know

5 Single-Coil Pickup Builders You Should Know

Pete Biltoft
Vintage Vibe Guitars

Pete Biltoft
Years Building: 11
Average Wait: less than 2 weeks
Starting At: $174/set
(541) 436-2836
How did you originally get into pickup building?

I started building guitars and pickups back in 1998. I have always been interested in fabrication technology and after looking closely at the pickups in my guitars I saw that there was room for innovation. This opportunity for me was almost irresistible, as I very much enjoy the challenge of design and fabrication. When I was a younger, I made my own surfboards, windsurf boards, windsurfing sails and other things. I even made a composite tennis racket once! I just love making things.

What’s your philosophy regarding pickup building?

We tailor the pickup design and carefully select the materials of construction to work in harmony to achieve a specific tone goal… we also incorporate features in the pickups, such as grounded shielding, to keep the noise from external sources to a minimum, because we believe a player deserves both great tone and low noise.

Do you scatterwind your pickups? What does that do for the tone of the pickup?

Yes, all of the pickup coils I make are scatterwound.

After hand-winding coils for quite a while, I developed a cam-driven mechanical system that guides the coil wire back and forth in a random manner that accurately reproduces hand winding. Using this system I can make scatterwound coils that are very uniform in their degree of “imperfection.” The result of scatterwinding is a more musical-sounding pickup.

You offer a wide range of options for players looking to fill a single-coil spot on their instrument—could you walk us through a few of the options and the materials you’re using?

We offer a very wide range of pickups for most popular instruments. For Strat- and Telestyle guitars, we have single-coil pickups with Alnico rod magnets, blade-style single coils, and P-90-style single-coils with adjustable poles. We also make stacked humbucking pickups and dual-blade humbucking pickups for both the Strat and Tele. In the P-90 format (soapbar and dogear) we offer single-coil pickup designs with adjustable-height polepieces, designs with Alnico rod magnets, blade-style and stacked humbucking pickups. We use several grades of Alnico magnets (II, III and V) and ceramic magnets in our products. Wire gauges range from the large diameter AWG-38 to very fine AWG-46. We stock coil wire with a variety of insulation types, including enamel, Formvar and polysol.

Your SP-90 seems like a fairly revolutionary design—can you tell us more about that?

Yes, I have had a few “revelations” over the years. I started out making single-coil pickups for Stratocasters and Telecasters; these tend to be reasonably simple from a design and fabrication standpoint. P-90-style pickups were a turning point for me. Prior to working on a P-90 design, I had not fully appreciated the tone a P-90-style single-coil pickup can generate. Over the years, my version of the P-90 design changed to include grounded shielding to reduce noise from external AC electric fields, and now the capability to change magnets. Following this, I developed a version of the P-90 design that fits into a standard plastic cover designed for a strat-size single-coil pickup. I call this pickup design the SP-90; it has been one of my best-selling standard models.

What makes your pickups unique, compared to some of the other boutique pickup options available?

Our products are unique from the ground up. We do not sell any pickups that are made using injection-molded plastic bobbins. One hundred percent of the pickups we make are designed and fabricated in our shop. Over the years we have developed and refined a family of pickups that are designed to allow the owner to change the magnets. In these pickups the magnets are held in place using threaded fasteners, rather than being glued into the assembly. This unique capability to change magnets provides the customer with the capability to tune the tone and output of a pickup to suit a specific instrument or musical style by changing the magnet type. When the capability of changing magnets is coupled with a shielded output cable, which has independent leads for the coil start and coil finish, the pickups can be made to be reverse wound, reverse polarity (RWRP) with respect to any other pickup. In effect, the user can change both the magnetic field direction and effective winding direction.

What kinds of feedback are you receiving from customers?

It generally falls into two categories. Quite often a customer will send me an email immediately after receiving a set of my pickups and let me know how well built the pickups look. People have told me that the construction and design features set my pickups apart from others. Let me give you an example: in a conventional Strat-style single-coil pickup the fine magnet wire exits the coil in two locations (coil start and coil finish). Each of these delicate wires go to a brass grommet, where the output leads are soldered. This exposed length of fine coil wire on top of the bobbin bottom flange can be damaged by handling and make the pickup non-functional. In the single-coil pickups we make for Strats and Teles, we add a wire shield over the area between the coil and the grommets that protects these delicate wires. This wire shield not only protects them, but also makes the pickup look like a thoughtfully designed product.

The second type of feedback I receive from customers has to do with tone. It has been very gratifying for me to hear that my pickups have transformed guitars that collected dust into favorite instruments. I also hear quite often that people play more because of the great tone they’re getting from their pickups. That’s the kind of feedback that really makes my day!

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