Lindy Fralin Pickups
Well, I do remember when I bought my first hot pickup—it was a Duncan. It had to be around 1981 or so, and it made a huge difference in my Strat. It was a Strat bridge pickup; that was a pickup I thought was too weak. The other two pickups sounded great to me. They sounded like Hendrix, but the bridge was so trebly and thin it hurt my ears, you know?
I remember that all three pickups were about 5.7k. After about a year or two of that pickup being in there—it was a 14k pickup— it became too much. And I started thinking, “There’s gotta be something in between 5.7k and 14k.” Luckily, I met a friend here in Richmond who had been winding his own pickups. He somehow stumbled on a roll of wire, built himself something to spin the pickups and had some success. And after I wound two [pickups] on his, I made myself a similar rig. And I just did that for a while; my band didn’t play a whole lot. [laughs]
Comparing your pickups to the standard fare for Stratocasters, they’re a little more forward voiced, a little more aggressive.
Well, I have always played my amp just on the edge of distortion and rarely use pedals. That way with just how I hit the string, I can go from distorted to clean. A cleaner pickup lets me have really bright rhythms, if that’s what I want to do, or I turn the guitar down or play it softer. Likewise, I can get as nasty as I want by turning the guitar all the way up or changing my attack.
Your website mentions that the Strat is one of your favorite guitars. What’s your idea of a perfect Strat?
The perfect neck, the perfect frets and a really versatile [pickup] set with a hotter bridge. I guess my theory in Fenders is that I want the loudest pickups I can possibly have, but still have brilliant wound strings.
How do you achieve that?
It’s a different pickup for every guitar. And that’s why we make a line with subtle variations between models, because every guitar of mine needs a different amount of power and high end to get what I’m looking for. In a Fender, if you go too far, your wound strings get clogged up. And that’s too much pickup. I would take it back out and go weaker until I got what I wanted. But basically in a Fender I want the loudest pickup I can have that still has brilliant wound strings. I love that sound.
Could you tell us about some of your higher output models?
We use the term “high output” around our shop for pickups wound with 43 gauge wire instead of 42. Because the wire is one gauge smaller, you can fit more turns on a coil. Fender used mostly 42 gauge wire on Strats and Teles; if you want to wind something past a certain output on Strats you have to use a finer gauge wire. So if we use the term high output, we’re using 43 gauge wire. I can still vary the number of turns, but it leaves you room for somewhere between 10 and 15 percent.
Who would you recommend those higher output models for?
Our high outputs are for people who want a thicker midrange and a stronger pickup. It gives you a little longer sustain, a thicker midrange and a little more grind in your chords. The stronger the pickup, the more the tube amp distorts with a chainsaw grind, and that grind gets faster and faster. With a weaker pickup, you can get it up loud enough to distort the amp,
I know you handwind each pickup, but do you do custom builds? Or are customers limited to your established models?
We will build anything a customer can think of, with the parts available to us. An incredibly high percentage of our stuff is custom wound for somebody. They look at all of our models and still say they want something in between two specific models.
What is hot-rodding a guitar to you?
It’s making a guitar better in any way. To one guy, it might be bigger frets. The first time I put big frets on one of my Fenders, I was the happiest guy in the world. When you narrow it down to pickups, it’s just getting them to do what you’re hearing in your head. There isn’t a perfect pickup for everybody; with us, it involves having a lot of options, listening to people and finding what they’re looking for.
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