Comments on raised vs. flat pole pieces in single-coil pickups
I did extensive testing on the raised pole piece question with Red Rhodes* before he died. Red was a pioneer in many innovative developments in amplification and pickups. His pickups were known as Velvet Hammers, and originals are coveted by collectors and players all over the world.
He built the first Fender® pedal steel guitar with Leo Fender. He also designed the Groove Tubes Solo 75 and Studio Guitar Preamp with Speaker Emulator.
Red made the pickups in James Burton’s paisley Teles® and also the pickups in Clarence White’s Tele®. Marty Stewart now owns that guitar and I believe he still uses it all the time.
The only thing we ever found in all our experiments with raised vs. flat pole pieces was that a harsh spike in the tone was created when the poles were raised. By flattening the poles to the top of the bobbin the whole bobbin can be raised higher under the strings -- resulting in a more unified bobbin. The strings are picked up better by a combination of all the pole pieces instead of narrowing the focus to the individual magnets. It really is the bobbin as a whole that gives the tone. The magnets are just one component of the bobbin.
Flat pole pieces allow you to have the magnetic flux raised higher under the strings, in turn allowing the induced signal to come from a more even and constant string movement (interruption of magnetic flux) and thus a more even response.
*Red was also one of the great pedal steel guitarists. He was the No. 1 session call in LA for almost two decades.
I’m thinking of ordering a set of SweetSpot™ Pickups for my Strat®. I’m doing session work and live gigs where there can be problems with lights and stuff. What about noise? Are the pickups hum-canceling in any way? Do you have any tips on what to do to minimize noise when playing live?
I have quite a few studio players using my SweetSpot Pickups™ in their Strats® and Teles®. The middle pickup is reverse wound with reverse polarity to the neck and bridge pickups. You have hum canceling in the number 2 and 4 positions. The pickups are made in a way that allows the hot lead to be on the inside so that every wind that goes on to the bobbin acts as shielding. You can also put an aluminum (or copper) foil pickguard shield* under your guard to give extra shielding. The pickups are single coil so there is an inherent 60-cycle hum, but I have been able to reduce it and make it not as apparent. And there’s never been a set returned for any reason.
*I have the shields available for $25.00 – please call me.
I just saw a great video* of Dean Parks talking about your SweetSpot™ Pickups. Can you tell me about the guitar he is playing?
I did quite a bit of work on that ’63 Strat® that Dean is playing. He hardly ever played it before I set it up for him and now he uses it all the time. He called me about a month after I did the work and said that he had used the guitar more in that month than he had used the guitar in the 20 years that he owned it.
Dean is also using my Titanium Saddles™ on that 1963 Strat®. The saddles are really fantastic, and I highly recommend them. I have them on my personal guitars and love them.
I have a brand new product that is just coming available. It is a Titanium Trem Block™ for vintage style Strat® bridges. You can read about it elsewhere on this site. It is truly amazing.
What is the difference between your SweetSpot™ Pickups and other boutique makers?
The main difference in my Strat-style pickups is that there are actually three different bobbins in the set. The string moves a different amount above each pickup and that string movement is what induces the signal. If you have basically the same bobbin for each position then you can never really achieve the balance of output from pickup to pickup. What typically ends up happening is that instead of the pickups being adjusted to their optimal tonal position under the strings they are adjusted to deliver an equal output when you change pickup positions. When my pickups are adjusted to their best tonal position they are also adjusted to an equal output from all the pickups. The difference in tone is considerable. Because of different magnetism, different bobbin size, calibrated winding and the ground wire coming off the pickup last to shield the pickup for less outside interference you end up with a 3 pickups that are fine-tuned to deliver the fullest and most natural tone. I also make my pickups with Alnico 2 magnets and flat pole pieces allowing you to get the entire bobbin closer to the strings.
I have designed these pickups to stay true to the sound I know a good single coil can produce. However I have also tried to overcome a number of shortcomings I always felt existed in the traditional pickups we have been using for the past 50 plus years. Some of these issues are 60-cycle hum, improper volume balance from pickup to pickup, uneven magnetism causing tuning problems, overbearing neck pickup and thin piercing sounding bridge pickup. By addressing all of these issues I feel that the most important element came forth. The feeling of being connected to your guitar and amp, from tone that really draws you in. I find myself getting lost in the tone.
I take special steps to shield the pickups by winding them in a completely different manner and can wire a pick guard for you that would have shielding under the guard as well. My pickups are more quiet than most though.
I have tried the Fender Noiseless pickups and found them to be almost bland. Not much character and I felt very little connection to my guitar and amp. Sure they worked but they seemed like there was very little dimension. Sort of like a car that gets you there but you could never really tell anybody what kind of car it was. I have also played many Lace Sensor pickups over the years that have come in to my shop. The Clapton Strat was probably my most common encounter. It seems that any time pickups makers have tried to eliminate the (natural) 60-cycle hum they have also eliminated some of the beauty of the sound of the good old single coil pickup.
I am going to insert a quote from a letter I received recently. I made a set of guitars for this player and he sent me the most amazing letter in response to his guitars. This is just an excerpt from the letter in which he speaks of my pickups. He has played Joe Barden pickups in many of his guitars as he records in close proximity to his computer.
“I plugged into my Bruno Cow Tipper 45, admittedly with a bit of trepidation. I guess I was worried about 60-cycle hum and nervous too, that like other single-coil instruments I’ve owned, the bridge pickup would be like an ice pick in the forehead.
What a relief!! Mike, in my book, you are the only guy doing single-coils the right way. Your SweetSpot Pickups are easily the greatest pickups I have ever heard. They are thick and meaty and twangy and chewy and responsive and so perfectly musical that I want them in every instrument I own. Really, I am blown away at how amazing these things are. And the balance between neck and bridge is spot on. I wish I had a book of new adjectives to describe how perfect your pickups sound.
In a Talking Heads song, David Byrne once sang “some things do not exist in any language; they can never be uttered by a human mouth”. That is how I feel about your pickups. That is how I feel about your guitars. I cannot adequately describe them, but they are perfection.” -- Steven Reine