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Where did the Alumitones originate? Were they an extension of the Sensors?
Jeff: Actually, it’s a completely different technology that approaches the electronic equation much differently. Lace Sensors, and all other pickups under the sun, are primarily driving forces of voltage they produce; the Alumitone was approached in the other half of the equation, which is the current. With the Alumitone, we can maximize the current by minimizing the amount of turns.
We went from a Lace Sensor with 4000 turns of wire on it to an Alumitone that, in a sense, only has one turn wrapped around the magnet. Now, obviously that can’t work by itself, so we used a host of different parts from other items. We got the secondaries from a microphone, because I wanted to use a step-up transformer, but it went from a separate step transformer to being integral within the design itself. That’s how the fundamentals of the Alumitone were created. It’s an incredibly versatile technology because you can go from acoustic to real heavy metal with a simple manipulation of the windings.
The secondary aspect of the design was the architecture of the actual pickup itself, which allowed me to create a look and design that would be completely unique, and unlike anything else on the market.
Are these active pickups?
Jeff: They are not active pickups because in a sense, the whole pickup is the transformer, so it basically powers itself. The framework you see is the primary, and that’s coupled to the secondary output, which is a small 1/4” x 1/2” sized coil, which is the only true copper wire on the pickup. What you get is dead quiet operation with more output and real broadband response. It’s kind of like HDTV for pickups.
Strangely, they seem to have a vintage vibe to them; they wouldn’t look out of place on the old Supros and Nationals.
Don: Oh yes, I agree. We always joke that this pickup should have been invented in 1948.
Where do you see the Alumitones’ placement within the current crop of pickups?
Jeff: They are a very flexible and forgiving technology, so they really can be sculpted to any sort of application. We’ve generally gone down the middle of the road with them, in terms of tonality. We are coming out with some splitable models – some very heavy, super hot versions – but they can really be anything you want them to be. The great thing about their response is that the guitar plugged into a Marshall brings out the best elements of a Marshall stack, but that same guitar plugged into an acoustic amplifier gives you all of these acoustic overtones you didn’t expect. It’s all because of the frequency range that the Alumitone has.
Basically, we are like a car company – we’re a higher performance product for those who know.
Your website states that the Alumitones were created as a response to environmental concerns of using battery-powered preamps. Can you expand on that?
Jeff: Generally, the benefits come down to going with a passive system versus an active system. I know from experience that batteries are rarely recycled or properly disposed of. How many people with that system in their guitars are aware that they are adding to the pollution in this world?
Don: Also, the processing of aluminum scars the Earth a lot less than copper mining, which leaves these huge, huge holes. Copper prices have gone through the roof while aluminum oxide is one of the most abundant minerals on the planet. We are also looking into producing our Alumitone products with recycled aluminum in the near future. Thinking in a manufacturer’s sense, we realize that by shipping guitars and pieces, we are talking about shipping thousand of pounds, and we are cognizant of all the fuel it takes to complete this process.
How did you make the decision to move into instruments with the Helix bass?
Don: Well, we kind of saw it as a roundabout way to sell pickups. It helps us put them on the walls and showcase our technologies. We’ve done it in several different forms in the last three to four years, but we used the Helix basses to launch our Alumitones. Bass players are little more open to change and looking at new things, and so far we have been successful in that.
The Helix isn’t just a vessel for the pickups, though – it really brings an original design to the table. What were your goals when you were designing it?
Don: We had the idea for years, actually. We did some limited edition guitar versions a while ago with a twisted neck design – an ergonomic design that we developed. We built them here in the States, but they were actually a real bear to build, so we shelved it. We revisited and redesigned that concept for bass specifications. The market now is different; back then, it was primarily vintage-oriented, but now people are a bit more open to different designs, shapes and technology. We thought it was a good time to reintroduce [the design] with our pickup technology.