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If you think that the usual suspects (vintage and vintage-style humbuckers & Strat pickups) are The Grails then you probably need to read no further; there are many very fine realizations of these designs available to you these days from some really excellent builders.
For me, however, there have always been a few things that just didn’t ring true about those devices (many of these characteristics centering around dynamics & transient response.) ‘Buckers seemed kindof grabby & glarey, Strat pickups seemed pokey, both seemed kindof clankey to me. The most convincing dynamic voice for me among regular production pickups belonged to P-90’s, although many of the vintage ones were a bit chunky for my taste. Plus, the hum level was a real dealbreaker.
A fundamental change in design approach occurred when I started thinking about pickups as translation devices.
By this I mean that they take the strings’ behavior (as influenced by the axe, your hands, etc.) and translate this dynamic image into a form that the next device in the chain can work with. The way different magnetic fields interpret the “point” & “pad” of a note (and the way that the point melds into the pad) is a fascinating area. Once the various ways I whack, stroke or otherwise send the note sailing felt right to me a number of aspects of sound & playing got a lot better. The pickups I’ve been developing for the past several years deliver the best version of point, pad and transition for me, and do so with essentially zero hum and buzz. The prototypes for these have lived for years on my main axes (Melody Makers, Teles & Strats) – many can be seen in these shots (and heard on these tracks.)
In addition, they’re available with a body-sensing option, in which case they look out at the strings and, simultaneously, in towards the wood. Truth is, the “microphonic” aspects of a pickup are too valuable to be left up to loose windings.
Currently these designs are available in standard humbucker, mini-humbucker, P90 & Jazzmaster versions. As good as these pickups record, their response must be experienced, which is why I hesitate to share sound samples. Originally available only as custom units, they’ll soon be offered through Duneland Labs, a new company founded to bring these designs to a broader market. In consideration of my clients who have endorsement deals with other pickup makers I keep their names confidential.