Just posted this HSS demo on YouTube, some fantastic playing by Warren Mendonsa from Blackstratblues https://music.blackstratblues.com/ . I urge you all to go and listen to his album “When It’s Time”.
I’ve wound a lot of Strat pickups since I started in 1995. I started off re-winding cheap pickups and then moved on to repairing old dead Fender pickups. Every experiment was written down in a notebook with tone comments. Back when I started there wasn’t much information available so there was a lot of reverse engineering and a lot of trying things out. That learning time was invaluable to developing instinct for how to change the sound of a pickup. I’ve still got the note book and I’m still adding to it.
In, I think, 2014 a customer of mine approached me wanting a set of Strat pickups. He’s a great blues player and had recently moved from using a Les Paul to a Strat. He described the sound he was after and it seemed to me it was the same as I’d been after myself so I put some time in to designing a pickup set for him.
The “Tui”- hot Strat needed to be most definitely a Strat sound – I hear plenty of Strat replacement pickups that are fine but just not Strat-ish. Secondly I wanted a bit more power, just a bit, enough to make a good old valve amp clip a bit easier than a “vintage” pickup would. And there needed to be dynamics – tickle it and it’s clean, dig in and it grits up. As I was making the original version of this set for a player used to humbuckers I wanted to reduce the ”ping” of the attack. I’ve added steel base plated as standard to this set. This changes the shape of the magnetic field, broadening the harmonic window. They add a wee bit of power, a wee bit of bass and reduce that pesky ping.
The neck pickup needed to have “that” Strat sound with fullness and clarity. It’s the ‘go to’ sound for most Strat players. The middle pickup needed to have some ‘quack’ to it with its own distinctive personality. The bridge pickup shouldn’t be too thin, it needs to have plenty of highs but not too much of that ‘ping’ or it’s almost useless. Then there are the other sounds – positions 2 and 4, mistakenly referred to as ‘out of phase’. They are really just 2 pickups in parallel. It’s hard to predict what those sounds will be, there was a lot of experimenting.
So I consulted my old note book and wound a lot of pickups and fitted them in a few test Strats. I’ve been lucky enough to have some great players as repair customers and so I was able to get quite a few opinions.
Eventually I was happy and I fitted a set for my ex Les Paul customer and he loved them straight away. A few months later he contacted me to say he was still loving them. I love it when players do that.
I’ve fitted resulting sets into a lot of instruments and it turns out that not only blues players like them, they seem to work for everyone. I shouldn’t be surprised, the Stratocaster is such a versatile guitar, of course they do.
Further experiments have shown they balance really well as part of a HSS set with either my Integrity or Cloud Nine humbuckers in the bridge position. https://mrglynspickups.com/2020/03/29/tui-hot-strat-set/
Every pickup manufacturer makes a “Vintage” humbucker based on the Gibson PAF, of course they do – old Gibsons sound so good.
So how come they all sound so different? Well, the simple answer is that PAF’s were all different. I’ve been a full time luthier since 1995, whenever I come across an old humbucker I test the ohms and the gause and have a good listen. They’re all different. My conclusion is that pickup manufacturers have taken the PAF they like and based their own version on that. Old PAF’s vary so much so modern ones do as well.
I like my own version to be clear sounding, have obvious string separation and definition and to keep clarity no matter how much gain. The mids must be strong and woody, this is not a “scooped” pickup. The clean sound needs to be chimey and clear with no mush; through a valve amp I want clarity. When I tickle it I want clean and vocal sounding when it clips. The bridge pickup needs to be well behaved with high gain and clear with enough cut through so the drummer knows you’re there. The neck smooth, clear and articulate. Warm but with none of the boom you get with a more powerful pickup.
I don’t want much do I.
My “Vintage” Humbucker has an Alnico II magnet and I’ve used plain enamel insulated magnet wire with asymmetric coils to open up the mids. The very first pickup I ever made back in 1995 was a PAF style and I’ve been tweaking the recipe ever since. Like all my pickups I’ve used a number of test pilot players in its development as well as gigging it myself. It wasn’t until around 2015 that I settled on this particular design. I did a gig with a set in a PRS SE series only last weekend – sounded great to me.
The full and honest sound of this pickup along with it’s timeless tone inspired the name “Integrity”. https://mrglynspickups.com/2020/03/29/blue-sky-vintage-humbucker/