If the electric guitar takes the prize for most influential participant in the development of modern music, then the humble single-coil pickup should win an award for its supporting role. It is not hyperbole to say that single-coil pickups helped launch rock ‘n’ roll—from Buddy Holly to Eric Clapton to Jeff Beck, these versatile pickups provided the foundation for countless influential riffs and defined the “electric sound” for an entire generation.
What is perhaps so remarkable about passive
single-coil pickups is that, for all intents and
purposes, they remain a straightforward idea,
built upon basic scientific concepts of magnetism
and electricity. This has made single-coil
pickups one of the most democratic of all guitar
components to build—find yourself a little
wire, a few magnets, and you’re in business (it
may not sound like an original Fender pickup,
but you’re in business nonetheless). Their very
simplicity lends itself to experimentation and
exploration, and it’s for this same reason that
many modern pickup builders got their start,
by repairing dead single coils.
That’s not to say that these pickups have
remained static in their half century of existence.
On the contrary, they’ve kept pace with
players as they’ve demanded more power
and less noise. They are as relevant today as
they were when Jimi Hendrix strapped on his
Strat at Monterey. A new generation of pickup
builders has delivered an incredible level of
specialization and complexity to demanding
gearheads, providing us with spot-on vintage
recreations, high-output powerhouses and
everything imaginable in-between.
This month, we’ll speak with five pickup
builders who have been working hard
to keep the single-coil pickup moving
forward: Pete Biltoft and Vintage Vibe
Guitars, J.D. Prince of Van Zandt Pickups,
Owen Duffy of O.C. Duff Pickups, Chris
Kinman of Kinman Guitar Electrix, and
Jerry Amalfitano of Amalfitano Pickups.
These builders demonstrate that there’s something
for everyone in today’s boutique pickup
market, and that single-coil devotees are limited
only by their imagination.
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