Well, I always knew how pickups worked. I dissected my guitars as a teenager, and because I didn’t have the tooling to repair any of [the pickups] that were dead, I would just chuck them. But I came to own a ‘79 SG with a dead neck pickup, and I wanted to keep it original. I took that pickup apart, saved the original tape and discovered the starting wire was broken. I decided to start unraveling the bobbin, but my method of peeling it off didn’t work—it kept breaking. I didn’t realize how delicate this wire was, so I went online looking for exact replacement wire and found a source selling vintage enamel wire. Of course the minimum they would sell me was a two pound roll.
So I purchased it and made a suitable winder, using a small electric motor from an electronics supply house. The pickup had just one dead coil, so I ohmed the good one and tried to match it. I handwound it and reinstalled the original leads, reassembled it, and it sounded great. I thought, “That was fairly easy.” Upon researching to find the magnetic wire, I also found sources for various pickup making materials, bobbin material, pre-cut flatware for Strats and Teles, pre-cut magnets, etc. Seeing I still had a lot of wire left over, I thought I may as well try to make a Strat set for myself, and let me tell you it sounded awesome.
The wire I bought for that Gibson humbucker was NOS vintage enamel—it had that purplish brown color. When wound for my Strat set, it gave it such full bodied tone, and that’s what spawned my SPs. I attribute the bottom end of those pickups to that wire, because it’s a darker-sounding wire, while Formvar (aka Fender) wire is more airy and open-sounding, because of the different insulation used. I’ve been using vintage enamel wire on all my SP sets and it works great.
You just stumbled onto that sound and decided you liked it? Have you learned the rest of your pickup building through the same trial and error process?
It definitely was an accident—I admit I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. The internet is a great tool. I read about Fender Texas Specials, Lollars, Duncans and everything in between that people post about on forums. I said, “Okay, I’ll make a Strat set, and I want it to be rich and gutsy.” Recognizing the high output of Texas Specials was about 7k, I said, “I’m gonna do one better.” I figured more would be better, of course, so I made my first prototype set having a 7.5k bridge pickup. I’ve still got players using them, and they love them. However, the slight inconsistencies between each wire roll made it tough to reach that target ohm value each time. Sometimes I’d hit the 7.5k ohm value and the coil shape looked fine, while other times I couldn’t reach 7.5k without spilling the wire off the edge of the bobbin… by the time you get all of the wire on the pickup it would be a hit or miss, and sometimes the pickup cover wouldn’t even slide on. So I said, “This is too dangerous. I can’t guarantee this will work for me every time,” so I dropped the spec down to 7k, so even when I come across those minor inconsistencies, it will still work. It will either be a super-full pickup or it will be just right, right where I like it to be.
What do you hear when you imagine the perfect Strat single-coil pickup? Is there such a thing?
That’s a tough one—my VS set sounds great. It’s nice and open and chimey. It has that Buddy Holly bell-like fifties Strat sound. It sounds great and is very melodic. But I get customers that say, “I want to sound like Stevie Ray, but I also want it to sound like surf music,” and I say, “You can’t! It’s two different strengths, amp settings, attitudes, everything.” I tell them one pickup set can’t do it all. My SPs have a purpose; they hit the amp hard. They’re ballsy without being distorted, they’re loud and proud and they’re constructed as a tool for playing blues and hard rock. If you want to play surf music, you need a vintage style pickup with weaker magnets and lower output, like my VS set. The SPs are a whole different animal—strong Alnico V magnets, vintage enamel wire and high output.
Why should someone buy a set of Amalfitanos out of all the boutique options out there?
I think it’s just about great tone—a lot of guitar builders and professional musicians like them and use them. I’ve had great reviews so far, but I gotta say, tone is subjective. Your ear might think they’re great, but somebody else’s might think they’re not. And that’s not a problem with me. That’s why there are so many out there. They all have a following—you know, people say, “I love my Lollars.” “Well that’s good,” I tell them, “don’t change them then.” Pickups aren’t that complicated and it’s not rocket science. It’s just magnets and wire, but what gives them their tone is in the pickup maker’s specs—where you stop winding, your magnet strength, your magnet heights, your wire tension and your scatterwinding technique. This all shapes the tone at the end, and mine are just very musical and articulate. You can strum your guitar and hear every note ring out—it’s that clarity, and players like that.