There’s a lot talked about the original Fender Wide Range humbucker especially now with Fender re-introducing these classics with vintage correct CuNiFe magnets.
For the full back story on what makes these magnets so important here’s a great interview on my favorite podcast with the man who brought CuNiFe back, Tim Shaw.
The Fender Wide Range humbucker was the invention of Seth Lover. He’d previously worked at Gibson and is responsible for the PAF Humbucker
In 1967 he went to work for Fender and was asked to make an equivalent to the PAF to compete with Gibson. He was still obliged under the PAF copyright (even though it was under his own name) to make something completely different and that’s what he did.
So why CuNiFe ?
Fender guitars are known for their percussive treble. A bit part of which is achieved by having the magnet located inside the coil unlike Gibson style pickups with the magnet outside. He was clearly keen to have adjustable poles too so that left the question of – how do I make magnetic threaded bar? The answer is CuNiFe. Other magnetic material needs to be cast where as CuNiFe – an alloy of copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), iron (Fe) – can be machined.
The primary use for CuNiFe at the time was in speedometers where this threaded magnet was used in calibration. But when the automotive industry moved on to better methods of measuring speed CuNiFe stopped being produced. So the traditional Wide Range ceased production in 1979. The re-introduced Wide Range humbuckers of the 1980’s have a Gibson PAF style bar magnet underneath the coils. They might look like Wide Ranges but they really aren’t.
Why is the Wide Range so big?
CuNiFe does not make strong magnets and has quite a trebly tone. To offset this Seth needed to design powerful coils. The more windings on a bobbin the more power but also the more bass and less treble. The whole eq is shifted to the bass side. Compered to a PAF the Wide Range coils are very overwound. So much so the bobbins had to be made bigger to accommodate them and therefore the whole pickup is bigger. Wide Ranges are wound to around 10.6KOhms where as a traditional humbucker is closer to 8KOhms.
Then there’s the much ignored steel plate under the coils. Putting a steel plate under a magnet will help push the magnetic field up towards the strings creating a bit more power and a bit more bass. This works in the same way as in my Tui pickup – here’s more on that.
The result of all this is a clear, full sounding pickup loved by many.
Repairing a Wide Range
A while ago I had a faulty Wide range sent to me for repair and took the chance to take some pictures. This one is from 1975 as you can see from the last 2 digits of the serial number. From the underneath you can also see the sneaky way he used the threaded magnets fitting half of the upside-down.
With the cover off we get a good look at these unique bobbins. There’s a small metal tab at each end of them to help with connecting the winding wire with the hookup wire.
With one bobbin removed there’s that steel plate underneath directing the magnetic field and adding inductance to the coils. The black wire connects the 2 coils together in series and it’s tucked away between the coils when the pickup is together.
You can see that even though this is an oversized bobbin it’s full up with wire.
Here’s a really interesting blog post on a Wide Range copy by Tym Guitars in Australia. You can see the difference between an original Fender and what looks like an exact replica.
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updated 3 April 2023