Winding pickups has always been seen as a bit of a dark art – shrouded in mystery and on some occasions blown out of all proportion. From the legendary status of the young women who used to wind single coils for Fender in the 60’s to the tonal implications of having a small sticker on the base of your humbucker that says PAF – there are some wives tales about. What is however somewhat accepted is that “how” a pickup is wound has a HUGE impact on its tone. No two pickups are the same .. but could they be close (very close)?
When I started hand winding pickups as a hobby I soon realised that there were so many variables that came into play.
On a cold or hot day – the elasticity of the wire changed so I’d need to adapt my tension to avoid wire breakage. On the very rare occasion where I’d had a “heated discussion” with the “Boss” or Junior my inner tension would cause more wire breaks.. and then there was the type of wire, the thickness, the magnets, the amount of turns, the baseplates – the list I quickly established was vast.
So what really makes a good pickup? I’m not sure it’s an easy question to ask – however, Deacci Custom Pickups was set up as a mechanic to try and get to the bottom of that question. Inspired by tone, I set about to see if I could tame some of these variables to produce pickups that were consistently good.
Without getting too deep into the geekery of this exploration it’s been a long journey into exploring magnets, slugs, screws, wire and much more. What I found was that the biggest variable was the winding pattern of a pickup. That human input was a true random element that was very difficult to replicate. It was simply beyond my own capability – it was the variable that I knew I needed to get control over in order to make it “repeatable”. At this stage Deacci wasn’t even a company, this was just a challenge to me and something I wanted to find a solution to!
I have an IT and computing background so I knew that the only way to consistently produce a pickup was to automate the heart of the process. But how do you make a computer do what a human hand does?
You probably don’t…
The original concept of the CNC winding machine was that it should have a joystick to substitute for the movement of your hand as you wound. The machine would be able to record this joystick movement and essentially repeat or replay back each time you wanted to make that bobbin, or pickup… For numerous reasons this was not available on version 1 of the machine, however as an interim fix, the designer did leave us a scripting window which gave us full control of every aspect of the CNC machine, so (for the tech-heads Bobbin Motor: rotation speed and direction, & Wire Feed Motor: Left/Right Speed and direction). When we combined this level of winding pattern control with an electronic wire tensioner that can maintain accurate tension to +/-0.1g at all winding speeds, we now had a way to consistently control all elements of the winding process.
What has followed has been close to ten years of research and development to create a series of winding scripts (or programmes) for our current range of pickups. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time logging and recording how each of the winding variables impacts the tone of a pickup. This was first used to develop our standard range of pickups – but it has also allowed us to fully accommodate customers who are seeking a custom product as a key metric to fulfil the “search for tone”.
Declan Larkin, Founder Deacci Custom Pickups