Giveaways January 2015

January 15
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5 Single-Coil Pickup Builders You Should Know

Chris Kinman

Kinman Guitar Electrix

Chris Kinman
Years Building: 45
Average Wait: 1 week
Starting At: $299/set
You’ve been building guitars and components for decades now, but when did Kinman Pickups first take shape?

I made custom pickups for customers since 1965, however, in 1995 I began a new era. In 1971, I developed an obsession about canceling noise. Hum-canceling Strat and Tele pickups called stacks or vertical humbuckers sounded like shit, so I figured if I could make the first good sounding ones, I’d have something unique! So using scientific methods I set about discovering the problem with these things, and that’s what led to my first invention.

What was that first breakthrough?

During my research I discovered some interesting flaws with stacks, one being a huge amount of magnetic coupling between the two coils. It caused almost as much signal cancellation as hum cancellation. Of course this also cancels important tone frequencies and output—that’s what’s wrong with (crude) stacks. So, my goal was to prevent magnetic coupling between the two coils and thereby prevent tone cancellation.

My first invention was a magnetic shield, and that did wonders, but it wasn’t the whole solution. I then completed developing my differential coil technology, where the two coils take on different roles—the top coil is focused on capturing the tone from the strings, while the bottom one is a specialized noise-sensing coil. I put the two inventions together, and that’s the basic secret of my pickups… sounds easy enough now but it took almost 20 years to discover this elegant solution.

Take us through a few of the single-coil models you offer.

The Traditional Mk-II—the most “Stratty” set— sounds pretty close to a fifties Strat that has a few years on the clock, where the pickups have aged a little bit. They lack the “ice pick” of new pickups; they’re sweeter, and what I call a slightly aged sound. I have a new-sounding pickup in development now. My Blues set has a gracefully aged sound. It’s like a pickup from the early sixties that has even more years on the clock—they still have those nicer Fender characteristics, but are more rounded. My Woodstock sets are quite different. They capture the expressive dynamics of Jimi Hendrix playing “Little Wing,” where his dynamic, fluid sound rolls effortlessly off the fretboard. The Woodstock sets make it easy to sound more like Jimi than Jimi himself did. [laughs] My Hank Marvin set allowed Hank to create his modern sound without the dreaded hum. However, he recently requested a set to get his classic, twangy sixties sound, so I have a new pickup in development now. It will sit nicely alongside Fralins and Lollars, but with zero hum.

My Tele pickups feature some unique technology, as well. The noise-sensing bobbin is 100 percent steel, made from 152 individual parts. A lot of players have said it’s the best Tele tone they’ve ever experienced. The fatter Broadcasters are raunchier than the ‘60s Custom set, which have more classic Tele sound, but never thin and brittle. Both neck pickups have a special cover that looks original but is magnetically and electrically invisible, so the sound has more definition than with original covers.

Why should somebody consider your pickups over another boutique manufacturer?

I was delighted when people began comparing my products to Fralins and Lollars in terms of sound quality, but I wasn’t so happy when they expected the price to be comparable too, as there are some big differences between hum cancelling and non-noiseless pickups. Mine have to cost a bit more, even if the tone quality is comparable.

There are many valid reasons for preferring Kinman over any brand. The first is to avoid 60-cycle hum and get more tone. My pickups are taller, have more parts, and the open architecture makes them sound much better than compacted noiseless designs.

The second reason is to get more sustain and less fret buzz, courtesy of my special magnets, which you won’t find in any other brand. Regular Alnico V magnets sound nice, but pull excessively on the strings, thereby shortening sustain and causing the strings to crash onto the frets, creating that buzziness. Mine are Alnico V with the lower strength of Alnico IIs, so my pickups have greater clarity and more sustain.

The third reason is to get increased dynamic range for maximum expression. Another is my improved magnet staggers for perfectly balanced string outputs. One is specially designed for compound-radius fretboards. Players will also like my range of NoSoldering harnesses, which provides the best operating environment for the pickups while eliminating soldering. Some models also have additional switching for extra sounds; the K9 has nine honest and useful sounds, two of them being series connections for high-output P-90ish flavors.

How would you define your pickup building philosophy in general?

During my early manufacturing engineer days, I was privileged to serve my apprenticeship with a very high class automotive component manufacturing group. We were trained to do things to perfection. Our instructors laid down the law that “Near enough is not good enough,” and that became an extra lobe on my brain—my perfection lobe. It’s a damn nuisance, because I can’t indulge in mediocrity. That and my obsession with destroying hum and devising solutions for known problems are the underlying philosophies behind all of my products.

To maximize sonic performance, I make my products a better way. Compare a regular pickup to a Kinman, and you’ll see a lot of differences, but multiply the differences you can see by three for the differences you can’t see. For example, I don’t use molded plastic bobbins because they’re not rigid. It’s all done to a much higher standard, using the best materials and the best methods of construction and manufacturing.