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Cult Coils: Lesser-Known Vintage Pickups


Photo courtesy of Curtis Novak

Franz Single-Coils

Guild made extremely desirable guitars in the 1950s. The company’s electric line included archtops as well as the Les Paul-like Aristocrat. But if you refer to their pickups as P-90s, Guild fans will immediately point out that they were in fact made by Franz.

Guild started guitar production in 1953 (though they didn’t assign model numbers until the following year). Franz pickups appeared on the early X-series archtops and the Aristocrat. Guild’s higher-end archtops had three pickups with pushbutton selector switches like those in early Epiphones. This was no coincidence—Guild was founded by former Epiphone employees who opted not to follow the company when it moved from New York City to Philadelphia.

Franz pickups were manufactured in Astoria, Queens. They were very much handmade items, and somewhat crudely handmade at that.

Franz pickups were manufactured in Astoria, Queens. Guild did not have exclusive rights—Franz sold pickups to other guitar manufacturers as well. They were very much handmade items, and somewhat crudely handmade at that. The bobbins were glued together, not molded, using a type of vulcanized rubber. The top and bottom bobbin pieces were cut at the corners to avoid snagging while winding. Unlike most of the day’s manufacturers, Franz had the foresight (at least for a time in the early 1950s) to create separate models for the neck and bridge, spacing the pole pieces accordingly.

Armed with that info, you can confidently point to an old Guild and say, “Those aren’t P-90s.” Except that, for most practical purposes, they are. Like the P-90, the Franz pickup has two side-by-side bar magnets positioned below the coil. Separating the magnets are the lower portions of the adjustable pole pieces, six 5/40 Fillister-head screws. The magnets sit on a metal base that folds up slightly at the sides.

Franz on YouTube

A Franz-equipped Guild can be heard in Dave Gonzalez’s hands on The Paladins “Daddy Yar”

Curtis Novak, who dissected many Franz pickups in preparation for his current reproduction, encountered widely varying readings from vintage models. Typical values are 4.6k for a neck pickup and 4.9k for a bridge, but some units have DC resistance into the 8k range. Was it simply a matter of too much workday chitchat among Franz employees when they should have been counting their windings? Perhaps, but that range seems too wide to be accidental. More likely it’s due to the fact that while many Franz pickups were destined for Guild’s large-body archtops, others were being readied for solid bodies. Pickups with lower readings were probably wound for mellow jazz box tones. Those jazzers would have been likely to use heavy-gauge flatwounds. Pickups with higher DC resistance may have been deliberately wound for rock guitarists.

Franz bobbins differ slightly from those in P-90s. And according to Seymour Duncan, Franz magnets tend to be relatively weaker and not as loud, though weaker magnets can provide a smoother sound.

By 1959 DeArmond pickups started replacing the Franz pickups on some Guilds. Original Franz pickups are long out of production, though Novak offers accurate reproductions.