To expose or not to expose your humbuckers, and a little history behind the question.
I was recently asked why Hamer used cream- and zebra-colored humbuckers in many guitars. Because I’d taken the answer for granted for so long, I actually had to stop and think about it. The short answer is because we thought it looked cool. But that statement begs some backstory now that so much time has passed that the aesthetic history of guitars is, well, history. And the question coincides with another subject I’m also asked about: the significance or purpose of covered versus exposed coils.
Early electrics used pickups with a single coil, which were susceptible to interference from electrical fields generated by lighting, appliances, and even the guitar’s amplifier. To alleviate this bothersome buzzing, Seth Lover designed a double-coil hum-cancelling pickup in 1955 while employed at Gibson. Known colloquially as the “humbucker,” these pickups first appeared on Gibson 6-strings in 1957. For the first decade of their existence, these pickups were seen as shiny nickel- or gold-plated rectangular boxes with six slotted-fillister screw heads poking through the face. The internal coils and magnet were encased entirely by metal in order to shield the signal from RF (radio frequency) interference.
Back in the day, pickups were viewed as somewhat proprietary to each guitar maker and there weren’t aftermarket replacements. Most guitarists regarded pickups as a permanent part of the guitar, and not something to mess with.
Fast-forward to January 1965, when the Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks appeared on British television playing a cherry red Gibson ES-335 with the humbuckers’ pickup bobbins exposed to the world. Hicks’ instrument had previously been seen with its original gold covers, so it was my assumption they were removed after purchase. “Yes, I took the pickup covers off,” Hicks confirmed. “I left them off because I thought they looked better and they didn’t sound any different.”
Hicks’ countryman and fellow guitar-slinger Jeff Beck certainly took notice of this emerging trend. When Beck strolled onto the stage at Chicago’s Kinetic Playground with the Jeff Beck Group in 1968 and launched into their first number, I pushed my way forward to get a better look. Beck was playing a late-’50s Les Paul Standard that appeared to be fitted with four single-coil pickups. On closer examination, it turned out that the hot-rodding Beck-Ola had removed the nickel covers from his 9-year-old axe to reveal the guts within. Did he imagine some improvement was gained? It was hard to argue with the sound he was getting. I of course had to go home and take the covers off the humbuckers on my guitar too. Wouldn’t you? Before long, more rock guitarists like Marc Bolan, Robin Trower, and Alvin Lee were sporting the exposed-coil look.
Guitarists and techs who dared to pull apart the older PAF pickups found that the coil bobbins were mostly black, but sometimes they were cream colored. Combinations of cream/black or “double cream” occurred because—as the myth goes—the company that manufactured the parts for Gibson had run out of the black-plastic molding material, so Gibson used cream-colored material for a short while. After all, the coils were hidden, and no one would ever see them—or so it was assumed. It was completely random and didn’t change the sound, but the cream-bobbin pickups became coveted items because of rarity and fashion.
Still, the guitar-manufacturing industry—especially Gibson—was oddly oblivious to all of this. A short time after the Beck sighting when I was employed as a warranty technician at the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, I mentioned that it would be a cool idea for Gibson to consider removing the covers on their pickups. “Bad idea,” I was told. “They could be damaged.”
Fashion aside, what does really happen when humbucker covers are removed? One ramification is that it allows the entire pickup to be raised (by the thickness of the cover) closer to the strings. This proximity results in increased output and a change in tonality as well.
Another aspect is the way the metal cover actually disrupts the magnetic field of the pickup. “One thing it does,” shares noted pickup builder Jason Lollar, “is smooth the attack out slightly. It gives a slight effect I’d call ‘grind’ to the tone, and it knocks off a little presence.” Additionally, Lollar finds that a cover can produce a variety of results depending on the material used and its thickness. This is borne out when studying the effects of eddy currents—small whirlpools of magnetism created in metal by fluctuating currents in a nearby coil. It’s part of the reason the Telecaster sounds the way it does, as the bridge pickup is surrounded by metal.
If you prefer the look or sound of covered pickups, it’s important for the cover to be fitted snugly on the bobbins. It’s interesting that the trend of removing covers from humbuckers in the 1960s paralleled the rise of amplifier wattage and volume. Players may have found that coverless coils mitigated uncontrollable squealing encountered on loud stages. According to Lollar, “If the cover is not seated correctly and soldered on, it will likely shriek like crazy in a nonmusical way from microphonic vibration if you get near your amp.”
So the answer to the original question is that not too long after the “bad idea” conversation at Gibson—when we were starting Hamer Guitars—we just naturally used that look on our instruments. We figured if it was cool enough for those British dudes, it was good enough for us, and Hamer became one of the first guitar companies to feature exposed-coil humbuckers. Of course, that look eventually became so ubiquitous, that I later decided to go retro-retro and put the covers back on our guitars! Everything old is new again, and again.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.