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I'm going to try making pickups for the first time. I plan on making humbuckers. They'll be handwound (ouch) and wax potted.

I'm pretty positive I know what I'm doing, but, of coarse, I'll have to find out for sure.

Any suggestions or recommendations. StewMac seems to have pretty good parts. Is there anywhere else I should be looking?

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There have been some posts lately (last few months) that talked about a few different suppliers lately...I'd go back over a few pages, some may not have obvious titles...

When you say "hand wound"...you are going to rig up some kind of winder I hope...the wire is hair thin and very difficult to do "by hand" without at least something holding and spinning the bobbin. Passing the wire through a felt pad for tensioning also helps...a counter is good too, but it can be done roughly by eye, to get the best HB effect the coils should match and that can be very hard to impossible to do wiithout some way of counting the turns...

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There have been some posts lately (last few months) that talked about a few different suppliers lately...I'd go back over a few pages, some may not have obvious titles...

When you say "hand wound"...you are going to rig up some kind of winder I hope...the wire is hair thin and very difficult to do "by hand" without at least something holding and spinning the bobbin. Passing the wire through a felt pad for tensioning also helps...a counter is good too, but it can be done roughly by eye, to get the best HB effect the coils should match and that can be very hard to impossible to do wiithout some way of counting the turns...

Yeah, I'm going to make a rig. I'm going to set the bobbin up so it spins easily, probably with one hand, so I can just nudge it when i have to. I haven't decided yet about the actual winding. I'm thinking of a few different ways. I plan on counting and marking every hundred or so winds, maybe fifty, so it'll be easier to track.

I keep hearing 5,000 winds is the standard for PAFs. Any suggestions or tips as far as the number of winds is concerned?

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I suppose it depends on what you want... but I think slightly mismatched coils in a humbucker could have an interesting tone. But then again, when I make pickups, I'm not trying to match anyone's specs, just expirementing.

I don't use a counter. I just wind till the bobbin is full. You can always remove windings but you can't add 'em. :D

Stew mac has magnets too, don't they? Also try Allparts.

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I suppose it depends on what you want... but I think slightly mismatched coils in a humbucker could have an interesting tone. But then again, when I make pickups, I'm not trying to match anyone's specs, just expirementing.

Yeah, that's the attitude. Matching of the coils maximises the noise canceling effect...they will still make a sound even if completely mismatched...possibly a more interesting one...

Counting is only one aspect...things like tension matters a lot, and the evenness, or not of the winding. If you wind from side to side it will be radically different to one that has very even rows of wire...and the amount of wire you fit on a full bobbin varies surprisingly with this winding style.

Also, this wire is ridiculously thin and fragile and made from very soft metal. So, tension plays an important role as the wire stretches and becomes thinner with more tension and always it will stretch a bit more over the ends of the bobbins...as the wire gets thinner, the resistance goes up. Speed can also be a factor as faster speeds tend to heat up the wire and soften it making it stretch more and so get thinner.

So, you can use a multimeter to test the resistance, but that is only a small indicator. You can use your eye and feel for tension, but it is not really very accurate or reliable. But, a lot of this only matters if you want to reproduce such things.

...

Personally, the easiest and cheapest way of doing this with the least frustration is to build a very simple winder from a cordless variable speed drill.

Mount the drill to a piece of wood so it is steady with clamps or screw some timber over it so that you can still get to the trigger. Make a disc or mount for the bobbins (maybe use double sided tape to secure them) with a bolt or something that will fit in the chuck and make sure that it spins very true. On the mounting board, mount a bolt through from the below in line with the bobbin but well back from it...add two washers and a wing nut sticking up. Cut some felt and make pads with a hole in them between the two washers.

Now to wind, feed the wire between the felt pads so it wont touch the bolt and get cut on it...and just the wing nut so there is a light but reasonable grip on the wire between the felt...feed it onto the bobbin and make sure the end is taped clear and free from potential damage. Use your left hand to control the speed of the drill...you don't want to go fast, you might even consider rigging a stop or something so you can't accidentally hit the trigger too far...and use your right hand to feed the wire back and forth across the bobbin after the tensioning bolt/pad set up. Put the wire reel on the floor or something. You may also consider making something to prevent the wire being fed beyond the edges of the bobbins...remember this wire will be very hard to see as it winds on and it is easy to do.

So...fairly basic, but it can do a very good job with some very important aspects covered.

You have one hand to operate the speed, one to work the wire across the bobbin and make it even (and a little finger pressure to alter tension on the fly) and a tensioning device that provides some consistency in tension. The big advantage is that if you should stop, the felt pads will hold the wire in place so that it does not start winding off either the main spool or the bobbin in progress and your hands are free and everything stays in place, the drills torque will stop it from spinning back. Without this, both the bobbin and the spool WILL unwind if you let go...and eventually you will have to let go! Also, when you have finished and you need to secure the wire end and cut it, the felt pad will hold the spool end tight so it doesn't unwind or tangle leaving both your hands free at the crucial moment. It is also good for taking readings on the wire without breaking it by scraping the enamel off a little after the tensioning device and using a multimeter from that point and the starting wind end.

Very simple, but important for success. Bear in mind that when people talk about pickups being hand wound or the mojo of early pickups, scatterwinding and all that, we are really talking about the feeding of the bobbin, not literally spinning the thing by hand!

...

As for parts...consider using a dead or even a cheap pickup, stripping the wire off and rewinding that. Often you can get a cheap pickup these days for less than the parts once you add up all the components. It is an interesting exercise to compare the sound of the original to what you made from it by rewinding...yours will inevitably sound better!

anyway...hope that helps a little and gives you a bit of a heads up...maybe check a few other threads...or if you have any questions...happy to chip in...

pete

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Personally, the easiest and cheapest way of doing this with the least frustration is to build a very simple winder from a cordless variable speed drill.

Just to add to this... a good speed control for this setup is a C-clamp on the trigger. With my drill at least, it's difficult to control the speed at low RPM, and the clamp gives you much finer control (just tweak the handle of the clamp). Also, you don't have to hold your hand in the same position. That gets tiring real fast.

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As for parts...consider using a dead or even a cheap pickup, stripping the wire off and rewinding that. Often you can get a cheap pickup these days for less than the parts once you add up all the components. It is an interesting exercise to compare the sound of the original to what you made from it by rewinding...yours will inevitably sound better!

Not to argue with Pete, but IMO you are better off getting a kit from SM when starting up. I started with those kits. I have from that tried most suppliers stuff and the SM kit is surprisingly good bang for the buck. The quality is better than from some other suppliers (Allparts among a few) and the price is reasonably low. Its a case of "you get what you pay for". The cheepo Asian made pickups out there are generally lower grade material and you need to disassembly the pickup and degrease it to get rid of the potting wax (if any). A GFS zebra HB is 35$ and the stewmac kit is 25$! Saves you10$ a pickup. You might need some big neo magnets to get the SM A5 bar magnets up to full strength. They claim them to be fully charged, but they mine had lost about 2/3 when they arrived (Air cargo X-ray? Drastic temperature changes when flying? Vibrations and other stress? I dunno) so you might need to charge them with some neo magnets. Or you might call them vintage correct de-gauzed pickups and sell them to some punk on E-bay. He will most probably make raving reviews of that pickup in some obscure guitar forum…

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Thanks SL...it's like deja vu these threads...we had a good discussion about this recently but I don't recall what it was hidden in. GFS is more expensive than Artec :D and Artec more expensive than free if you can find a guitar shop repairer who is throwing out dead ones...

Still, if you are only making a pair or something, no point skimping really I guess. It is a shame that HB bobbins seem to be so difficult to make...or any bobbins for that matter...it's what has held me back on making things as I'd like to experiment with "something different" but you can't get to radical within the same format. Still, as was revealed to me, there are a lot more parts suppliers than there used to be and perhaps I am tainted by what was available 5 years ago (not much!).

The sustainer thread has similar problems with bobbin making...the main reason I have been experimenting in epoxy winding and no bobbins. I might one day carry over these techniques into actual pickup winding one day.

The magnet thing is an important point...I helped someone here recently where the magnets were failing to magnetize properly resulting in no sound on home made pickups...the first assumptions tend towards a broken wire or faulty soldering of course...lucky to catch it!

pete

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I suppose it depends on what you want... but I think slightly mismatched coils in a humbucker could have an interesting tone. But then again, when I make pickups, I'm not trying to match anyone's specs, just expirementing.

I don't use a counter. I just wind till the bobbin is full. You can always remove windings but you can't add 'em. :D

Stew mac has magnets too, don't they? Also try Allparts.

I don't remember the maker but i remember reading on a web site a guy was "offset" winding humbuckers that way it would have a truer single coil sound when tapped the problem is it loose some of the noise canceling qualities

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Thanks SL...it's like deja vu these threads...we had a good discussion about this recently but I don't recall what it was hidden in. GFS is more expensive than Artec :D and Artec more expensive than free if you can find a guitar shop repairer who is throwing out dead ones...

He, he, I remembered that one and I couldn’t resist that small comment…You are perfectly right Pete; A broken but free pickup is a great way to start pickup making. Hey that’s the way Duncan started and I think that it is fairly correct to say that things have worked out fine for him…

Still, if you are only making a pair or something, no point skimping really I guess. It is a shame that HB bobbins seem to be so difficult to make...or any bobbins for that matter...it's what has held me back on making things as I'd like to experiment with "something different" but you can't get to radical within the same format. Still, as was revealed to me, there are a lot more parts suppliers than there used to be and perhaps I am tainted by what was available 5 years ago (not much!).

Yeah Bobbins are a PITA to make. At least if you want them top look pretty and do not have access to a laser or water jet cutter. But if you can stand a rough appearance for some prototype pickups it is perfectly doable.

I don't remember the maker but i remember reading on a web site a guy was "offset" winding humbuckers that way it would have a truer single coil sound when tapped the problem is it loose some of the noise canceling qualities

I guess he also argued with some emphasis that his solution to offset wind a HB to get a “truer” (isn’t that a strange expression, either it’s true or not true, or?) SC sound was “the bomb” or other stupid expression. My guess is that the person doing that pickup was only trying the good old fashion media hype.

He (she?) have probably never even tried to listen to the two coils of a HB individually (a HB with very evenly winded coils) to get a hang of the difference between those coils. Try it once and you will never ever cut off the screw side of a HB, which is what I believe, is more of less industry standard (it’s at least the only way the coil-cutting are done in guitars I have had in my workshop).

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  • 1 month later...

You will find me there on a regular basis...

Some harsh attitudes from time to time, a moderator that is asleep at the weel but some really experienced winders there. I recomend it for annyone interested in pickup winding. Too bad Sam Lee (was he really SD himself?) have left the forum...

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Yes...I was disappointed with the attitude of some...it seemed a bit of a closed club compared to here...all the same, there is no other forum just on that subject...but it's a resource.

Try it once and you will never ever cut off the screw side of a HB, which is what I believe, is more of less industry standard

could you clarify this...you mean the slug side sounds better, or the screw side?

On my LP I have three way either or both coil cuts...but I am interested to try the cap splitting technique...I have some 16k HB's here that I have plans for. Instead of shorting one coil...you effectively put a cap to roll off the treble on one coil...leaving the full treble effect on the other but with a fatter sound...or at least that's the intention...it can even be incorporated into the rotary tone control. By doing this, you retain the humcancelling qualities of the HB but with something approaching the split sound.

There are fundamental differences between a split HB and a single coil, if in the magnet structure at least. Splitting or other things can be a really useful sound, but it never sounds like a "fender".

With the amp cranked...hmmm...I hear it even more with a lot of gain...but with that sound, there seems little point in the subtitles of different wiring techniques.

...

Something I found interesting when I modified a very cheap single coil with ceramic magnet below screw like slugs. I added a 3mm coil on top for the sustainer...this meant that the stock pickup coil was a little lower...but I also took out the slugs and because it was a slotted bobbin was able to replace them with a 3mm solid blade. This is substantially thicker than many blade pickup styles, but the coil was still a fairly low resistance. The result was a dramatic improvement in tone...more "body" and a bit more power or depth to it.

So...there is more to these things than just winding and resistances and room for some experimentation.

pete

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Try it once and you will never ever cut off the screw side of a HB, which is what I believe, is more of less industry standard

could you clarify this...you mean the slug side sounds better, or the screw side?

Not really better or worse. The two coils just sound different.

The slug side coil have more mass in the coil, different inductance, doesn’t have the screws coming down below the magnet resulting in a very complex magnetic field and so on. My personal experience is that the slug side coil have an over all sound that is much closer to a “true” SC pickup.

On a side note I’m currently working on a very interesting idea that, if everything works out right, will be even closer to a Strat type pickup, combined with a more traditional HB sound in full mode. Can’t really expand on that as it might even be possible to patent the idea. And I might do exactly that, in spite of the cost and the trouble, just to be able to put a sticker on the pickup saying “Patent Applied For” :D

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Yes...i thought that was what you were saying...and it ties in with my experience with that blade pickup. The slug coil has significantly more metal in it compared to the screw side and the core is closer to the coil and I think that is more of the difference.

An even bigger difference in splitting, especially with the bridge pickup is that if you split the screw coil off, typically the active coil is further from the bridge and it looses the high end brittle nature of the often under-wound and compromised magnetically active coil. Unfortunately, often it is the case that the screw coil that is kept active and the closeness of the coil to the bridge (much closer than on a fender say) means less string vibration and more brittle and complex harmonics (in a bad way).

The down side, or at least something to bear in mind, the splitting of an HB if combined on say a HSS strat of two HB's split can loose all HB effect if the coils preserved are of same magnetic polarity. It's something to consider (like swapping the magnet around or turning the pickup) if noise reduction is important.

Have you tried the alternative splitting techniques? There have been various versions over the years...i think DGB studio call it a "special tone". One way of implementing it is to use both sides of a tone control to split the pickups...at about 8 on the dial it is the full HB, turning down applies the tone cap to the whole pickup as usual, turning up to 10 uses the cap to drain off the highs from one coil of the HB only...this produces a split with the addition of the bass from the other coil and retaining the full noise canceling effect...and, no dedicated switching or additional hardware.

Such a scheme, applied to a pickup especially designed for it :D may be a real winner as far as this quest for more "truer" and practical coil splitting. The pickups I am planning to do it on have all slug poles and are pretty hot, I am anticipating that I will use it with some degree of split most of the time for the kind of sound I am after.

pete

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Yes...i thought that was what you were saying...and it ties in with my experience with that blade pickup. The slug coil has significantly more metal in it compared to the screw side and the core is closer to the coil and I think that is more of the difference.

You should also try to measure the Gauss levels and compare the slug side vs the screw side of a HB and compare that to a traditional rod magnets pickup

Have you tried the alternative splitting techniques?

No, not yet. I have been to busy fiddling about with other alternatives, but I will try it some time.

Such a scheme, applied to a pickup especially designed for it :D may be a real winner as far as this quest for more "truer" and practical coil splitting.

Well, I will have to make it work first. And sound good. I have the first prototypes done and I am about to test drive them during the holidays.

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...have the parts but is a PITA to make business with. Pat promised that he would get mini HB pole screws for weeks, telling me that they would come and in the end he stopped answering my e-mails. And that was not the first time. Much better is to call Allparts. They do not list all pickup parts online but they have everything you need.

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