It is an art unto itself. It’s nearly wizardry. And it’s one of the reasons why hand wound and scatter wound pickups cost more than others. Because they are worth it!
Scatter winding allows for the wire to be laid down unevenly. This puts more air space into a coil and lowers the distributed capacitance that exists between the many turns of wire. And this lowered distributed capacitance allows for more high end to come through while increasing clarity. It also increases the resonant peak and extends the frequency response (which is part and parcel of the clarity and dynamics). The pickup sounds more complex, more open and clear, and louder by the nature of these combined characteristics.
Some pickups sound better wound by machine. Even certain pickups that benefit the most from scatter-winding, like a Strat pickup, sometimes benefit from machine winding. Winding such a pickup by machine can lend it a more tight and punchy character as opposed to squishy, quacky and dynamic. It’s one of the big reasons I like to talk to a player before I wind something for them. Maybe they want a really punchy bridge pickups but very vintage sounding and feeling middle and neck pickups.
A machine wound pickup is exactly that. A machine spins the pickup bobbin and it also distributes the wire onto the bobbin. The tension of the wire is constant and the distribution is uniform and results in the wire being laid down very evenly (though the uniformity and “evenness” is relative to the machine and the design of the machine), one layer very close to the next, over and over.
“Scatter wound” is kind of a misnomer. It suggests complete randomness and, indeed, is sometimes referred to as “random winding.” But it isn’t random. It’s very intentional and incredibly varied. An experienced winder knows what sort of scatter to use to produce a particular tone, what sort of tension is necessary to scoop certain frequencies or highlight others, and otherwise produce a unique and very beautifully sounding pickup by directing the wire through their fingers.
I boast about scatter winding. Many winders do and do so to such an extent that it’s becoming a cliche. And that’s a damn shame because scatter winding actually is something special.
But scatter winding doesn’t always make a better pickup and not all scatter-winding is equal. I always use a cooking analogy. Just because you know the ingredients doesn’t make you a chef or allow you to combine those ingredients and turn them into a delicious tasting food.I move the wire back and forth between the wire guides as to not go beyond the sides of the bobbin. I like to move the wire at a decent pace. The temptation is to move the wire slowly but this increases the chances of creating an uneven wound coil with more windings in one area. It is better to move back and forth quickly. Think of it like spraying with paint. If you move the sprayer slowly you will get drips and uneven finish. It is better to use quick sweeping strokes.
To guide the wire I use screw driver with a couple of drill guides mounted on the shaft. The guides are set to guide the wire to the ends of the spool to make sure I don’t run the wire beyond the edges of the spool. High tech stuff eh ?
I usually run a screw driver with a long shaft through the spool of wire and place the handle between my legs to hold the spool vertical. I run the wire through my fingers making sure the wire stays tight so no lumps or looseness occurs during winding.
The spool is mounted between the two metal mounting plates. Springs push the mounting plates together. There is some foam tape on the inside of the mounting plates to deal with surface anomalies that may be on the spools/bobbins (i.e. pole pieces) that prevent the mounting plates from getting a good grip on the spool.
One method to perform the rotation counting is to use a lever switch (Figure 5). On the winder shaft is an arm that swings around hitting the switch upon the completion of a full rotation. This is fine for slow low count operations but the limitations of this system show themselves very quickly.As The Tone God I am not limited to just playing with effects. One of the many other things I dabble with is winding pickups. This should not be considered a “How To” but more of a “How I do it”. I would not consider this a complete guide. Do a lot of research on the topic before getting involved. I have not read any books on winding pickups or fully know how manufactures make their pickups. This is what I’ve learned through trials and MANY errors. I’m sure there will be plenty of “opinions” on what I do compared to others.
The wire used in pickups usually comes on large spools that weight quite a bit. Thicker wire can pull on the spool to unravel more wire. The wire use in pickups is very thin and cannot handle much force before breaking therefore the wire cannot pull on the spool to unwind. The best way I found to the feed wire is by mounting the spool vertically (Figure 13). The wire can then unwind from the spool without having to carry the weight the spool. I just make sure there are no burs on the edge of the spool that the wire can get caught on and break.
This is my homemade coil winder (Figure 1). Notice I don’t call it a pickup winder. It is designed to handle many different types of coils. I wind inductors, chokes, transformers, and other things with it as well as pickups. If I intended to use it only for pickup winding I would have made several design optimizations for that purpose.
A pickup is nothing particularly special. Its just a spool with a bunch of wire wrapped around it. The trouble is that it is an odd shaped spool with thousands of turns using wire that is only slightly thicker then human hair. While you can do it purely by hand to have reasonable resulting coils in a decent amount time and with consistent results you will need some equipment.
Thats how I wind my pickups. Winding a pickup is not complicated but there are a number steps you have to following to help avoid possible problems. After you get the hang of it you can start playing around tweaking your pickups for your own tastes. I hope you have found this interesting.
Its nothing special or fancy. I built it out of stuff I had lying around the workshops. I think I only spent $5 on it (for the counter). If I were to build it from scratch I could probably do it for less the $100 CDN. The blue box houses the power supply for the motor and other electronics. The orange box is the controller.
Starting with a clean pickup bobbin (Figure 9) I check it over for burs and other possible obstructions that could interfere with the wire during the winding process. If there are any problems I file them down. Before I mount the spool in the winder I loop some wire around through the pole piece holes (Figure 10) or wrap a length of wire around the pole pieces. This wire becomes the inner connection of the pickup. I use double sided tape to hold the wire in place during winding so it doesn’t break during winding (Figure 11). The double sided tape has another purpose.
Attention has to be paid as to what kind of plastic the bobbin is made and what type of insulation is used on the wire. The solvents used in some spray products may damage the plastic or insulation. I test the spray on an unimportant part of the coil like the bottom end of the bobbin where there is no physical connection. I tape the coil’s top and bottom and spray both sides of the coil. I do this two or three times depending on how much wire movement occurs after the spray has had some time to harden.[/
su_quote]After I seal the pickup I take another reading of pickup looking for any major change from the reading I took after winding. Any large difference may mean that something has broken inside the coil during drying. If all is good I attach the hook up wire to the inner and outer coil wires. This is the wire that will stick out of the coil that later hooks up to the final wire that sticks out of the finished pickup to be connected to the guitar’s controls. I check the coil for continuity again through the hook up wire to make sure that everything is ok and the hook up wire is connected properly to the coil.This is the drive system for the winder (Figure 3). The motor drives a wheel mounted to the winder’s shaft via a belt. Behind the wheel mounted to the wood is the counter sensor. More on that later. The traditional way to seal a coil is to “pot” it which is soaking the coil in hot wax. The wax cools and becomes solid thus holding the wire from vibrating. I break with tradition by not using wax. I prefer to use spray lacquer, varnish, or enamel. I have nothing particular against wax. I’ve just been happier with using lacquer. It does the same thing wax does; starts as a liquid, soaks into the windings, then solidifies. Some pickup manufactures seal their coils using sprays instead of wax. Here is the completed coil (Figure 14). It usually takes me about five or so minutes to wind a coil. After the winding is complete I pull out the inner and outer wires to perform a continuity check. This will let me know if the coil has a break or if something unusual is happening. I can also find out what the DC resistance is of the coil to give me an idea of the output. If it is a humbucker coil I’m winding I make sure that it closely matches the readings of the other coil. If the coils are too far apart I figure out which one is wrong and rewind the pickup.If the reading is within tolerances I tape both wires up and move on with the next step, sealing the pickup. The reason you have to seal the coil is to prevent the windings vibrating under high volume conditions otherwise the coil will feedback and squeal badly. By sealing the windings so they cannot move prevents the feedback from occurring. How you seal the coil is up to you.I mount the coil in the winder (Figure 12). To prevent the coil from becoming dislodged due to the force of winding I attach the coil to the winder using double sided tape. If the coil is mounted way off the winder’s center of rotation the coil may shake the winder making it hard to get a good winding. It may even fly out of the winder thus making even more difficult to wind. 😉 Now the coil is ready to be wound.On the left is the counter. It counts the number of rotations the winder has completed. There is another counter with a red cover above the main counter display. When I open the cover I can set the number of windings I want to perform. When the counter hits this preset number the counter will automatically stop the winder. The control panel (Figure 4) allows me to control the speed of the winder, use the auto-stop or manual (no auto-stop) mode, and other functions. I usually keep the control one hand while the other hand guides the wire. If something bad happens I can stop it quickly. To handle the higher speeds and counts I installed a magnetic reed switch (Figure 6). I hacked the switch out of brunt out relay. Inside the drive wheel is a magnet (Figure 7) that passes over the switch causing the reeds to close incrementing the counter (Figure 8). Its works fairly well.After making and checking the pickup connections the coil should be taped to protect the windings. There are many different ways to tape a pickup. To serve my laziness best I use a bunch of overlapping wraps of tape with each layer insulating the hookup wires (Figure 15). I take one last reading of the coil to make sure its fine. If everything checks out the pickup is assembled, installed, and tested.
When you play the guitar string, the string disturbs the magnetic field, pushing and pulling the electrons in the coil wire. This practice, in turn, creates AC voltage – the small signal generated and sent to your amplifier.
When making a guitar or bass pickup, one vital ingredient of the pickup is the coil. The coil consists of thousands of turns of copper wire wrapped around or near a magnetic field.
How hard is it to wind pickups?
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided you might try your hand at winding your own custom pickups. In theory, it’s quite a simple task. That’s because pickups are fairly simple devices: copper wire wrapped around a magnet. That’s it. Cached
Fantastic writeup on pickups and related topics. Now I am very clear why I ordered the high output humbuckers and split blade single coil blues version. Thank you.The number of turns of coil wire will dictate the voltage created – how ‘hot’ the pickup is. So, in essence, the more turns of wire will generate more voltage and a stronger signal. Generally speaking, more turns of wire will create a louder pickup, and fewer turns of wire will equate to a weaker pickup. I can hear you from here: “That’s good and all, but what does that do to the tone?”
I have both jazz and p bass Fralins. They seem to be what an engineer loves. The have the bump in the right low spot as well as the upper frequency clarity that give the bass a fat but clean sound in the stock configuration for an R&B, Jazz and Blues venue. I find them to be clean, responsive in a linear manner to any tone or volume changes that won’t leave the engineer with a frown. if these are your venues, you should be pleased.
BTW, I saw an interview with the “Principle Builder” of the Fender Custom Shop & he said he doesn’t even put a bridge pickup on his own personal custom Strats, also preferring playing almost always with the neck & mid pickups combined.The Pure P.A.F. reads around 7.8K on the Neck, where the Modern P.A.F. reads about 8K, and the High Output reads about 12.5K. To prevent the pickups from getting too dark, we are also using a stronger magnet to add brightness.
Conversely, when we underwind a pickup, the midrange gets scooped, emphasizing the top-end of the pickup. An excellent example of underwound pickups is John Mayer’s ‘Big Dipper’ pickups. His Fender pickups have a noticeable ‘scooped’ midrange and ‘glassiness’ to them that comes from underwound pickups. Our Real 54’s do this very well.
Stratocaster™, Strat™, Telecaster™, Jazzmaster™, Tele™, Precision Bass™, P-Bass™ and Jazz Bass™ are registered trademarks of Fender Musical Instruments (FMIC). Fralin Pickups is not affiliated with Fender (FMIC) or GibsonAs mentioned at the beginning of this article, the coil itself is just one ingredient of the pickup. The magnet structure also has major effects on the tone. For instance, using stronger magnets in a hot pickup will make a dark pickup sound brighter. For example, take a look at our Humbuckers.Does the emphasis/de-emphasis of winding variation only actually occur to midrange, with highs/lows only perceived to be relatively boosted/cut, or are highs/lows actually boosted/cut?
The design of the pickup has a major impact on the tone. Overwinding a pickup from 6K to 7K will increase the output as well as shape the tone. However, certain pickup designs use a lot of coil wire – for instance, our Hum Cancelling P90 Neck has a resistance reading of 15.6K – that’s a lot of copper wire in that coil! It’s generating a lot of voltage and a strong signal, so underwinding or overwinding the pickup will shape the tone, not change the output of the pickup.I’m looking for a clean and sweet sound for one Strat with 3 single-coils for playing “Cool Jazz.” Any suggestions on which pickups I should select and what windings (particularly for the neck & mid pickups, since I commonly play with the switch set for both).
Is it cheaper to wind your own pickups?
Here’s our answer: most folks would suggest you steer clear of winding your own pickups. They’d say that such an idea isn’t worth the money invested, that you’re far better off buying new pickups than spending somewhere around $500 on winding your own.
So, the Pure P.A.F. uses Alnico II, the Modern P.A.F. uses Alnico IV, and the High Output uses Alnico V. Using stronger magnets adds more top end to the pickup, preventing the pickups from getting too dark.
Two things happen to the tone when we overwind a pickup: the midrange becomes more pronounced, and the sound becomes darker. I like to equate this to sounding ‘thicker’ or as Lindy likes to call it, ‘beefier.’ Our Blues Special Strat pickups have a thicker-sounding midrange and are a little quicker to break up when pushed hard.
Well, that should clear up a few things, hopefully! My goal is to give you a very broad and general understanding of Overwinding and Underwinding. There are a ton of pickup designs and options out there, and coil wire is just one drop in the bucket of how the pickup will sound.
We have two PAF-voiced humbuckers and a High Output model available – the Pure P.A.F., the Modern P.A.F., and the High Output. Each model gets stronger, thicker, and darker from the last, but are very similar in design.👋 I'm Tyler Delsack, the Manager of Fralin Pickups. Along with managing the shop and working on this Website, I run my own website to provide free Jazz Guitar lessons. Copper coil wire generates resistance. Without getting too technical, the more turns of wire on a pickup, the more resistance the coil will have. As mentioned in our article on resistance, resistance readings only help when comparing two identical models of pickups. For instance, comparing a 7.8K Tele pickup to a 7.8K Humbucker won’t give you any useful information – they are two completely different pickup designs. However, comparing a Strat pickup wound to 6K to a Strat pickup wound to 7K with the same magnets, you can infer that the 7K Strat pickup will sound thicker and darker. Lastly, active pickups are used in genres that demand higher distortion levels, such as heavy metal. Speaking of which, here’s why metal guitarists wear wristbands. Okay, guess that should’ve done it for the introductory section! Now, let’s hear it for the main question: is it worth winding your own pickups?All in all: if you’re not so eager to try it out yourself solely because of the whole DIY ideology or something that’s not I-want-to-go-cheaper thinking, it’s best you forget about the idea. However, keep in mind that if you’ve got a winding machine, some wire, flatwork, and magnetized slugs sitting for no reason in your storage room, there’s nothing stopping you from trying it out.Also, you should keep in mind that humbuckers are more prone to produce feedback. That’s because they’ve got a lot of moving parts. All in all: even with all that we’ve mentioned here, metal covers won’t have a significant effect on the tone of your instrument. So, since we’ve already said that some of you mightn’t know the basics when it comes to guitar pickups & why/how folks wind them, it’s best we consider rudimentary knowledge surrounding the piece of guitar equipment in question. Therefore, it’s only natural to ask what exactly guitar pickups are and what their purpose is. Here at Music Gear Heads, we’re quite known for going into detail, as you might’ve noticed. Here’s some you’ll-never-know-when-you’ll-need-it trivia: passive pickups were the first ones that were invented. Why are they called passive? Well, it’s because they don’t boost the signal, besides having a warm & organic sound. However, there’s a bit of a downside to using passive pickups: they’re not so fantastic at high levels of distortion.
What does a winding do?
A winding is one or more turns of wire that forms a continuous coil through which an electric current can pass, as used in transformers and generators.
Oh, that’s right. There’s another categorization we’d like to mention. So, yeah, additionally, we’re able to differentiate between passive and active guitar pickups.Certain pickup models utilize metal rods instead of the aforementioned magnets. Therefore, they’re sporting a long and narrow magnet that’s placed under the black bobbin. Now, let’s see whether there are various types of guitar pickups, and if so, how they differ from one another.
If you’ve got the right tools and equipment to wind your own pickups, go for it. Also, you’ll need some experience too. If you’ve got neither of those, it might turn out to be a costly & frustrating ordeal, and it’s best you avoid it and buy a new set of pickups instead.There are many guitar-pickup-related questions we’ve tackled recently. However, we haven’t talked about one question in particular. The one you’ll always see sparking up some debate in the online guitar enthusiasts community. That’s right, we’re talking about the question of whether winding your own pickups is worth it!
The appearance of rust on guitar pickups is nothing you should be surprised by. However, it’s pretty darn natural to be worried if you’re to notice such a thing has happened. Luckily, we’ll take care of all of your suspicions (assuming you have them). Let’s consider the idea of rusty guitar pickups messing with the tone that’s coming out of your guitar.
On the other side, active pickups boost your signal. Therefore, they provide you with a higher amount of output. Also, they use active circuitry that demands a power source. Usually, it’s a simple 9V battery that’s embedded into the body of the instrument.Here’s our answer: most folks would suggest you steer clear of winding your own pickups. They’d say that such an idea isn’t worth the money invested, that you’re far better off buying new pickups than spending somewhere around $500 on winding your own. Some suggest this idea only if you’re planning to sell them later. However, not only is the process a bit on the expensive side, but it’s also pretty time-consuming, and there’s a good chance you’ll have a hard time making a name for yourself.
Nope, rusty pickups won’t affect the way your instrument sounds. That’s because most electric guitars you’ll find on the market don’t possess pickups with much iron in them. Therefore, there’s a really slim chance of rust having any significant effect on your tone. Rest assured knowing that this is not a thing you should be concerned with. If you think this ain’t enough info about the subject, click here for a full version.Besides knowing whether rusty pickups affect the tone of your instrument, it’s good you know whether metal pickup covers have an influence on the sound of your guitar. First things first, let’s consider just why metal pickup covers are there. In other words: what’s their purpose? Metal pickup covers are there to protect the pickup from a certain “breed” of noise pollution called EMI (electromagnetic interference). Also, they keep your pickups safe from various kinds of external forces, and, to an extent, boost the physical appeal of certain guitar models (whether that’s important – you decide).
So, you’re thinking about winding your own pickups? You’ll want to know that you’re definitely not alone in those thoughts. It’s something many guitarists around the world consider an idea worth trying. However, speaking money-wise, is winding your own pickups really worth it? Let’s find out together!
Continuing with our let’s-get-you-introduced-to-some-basic-guitar-pickups-related-stuff section, we’ll talk a little about the most frequent types of electric guitar pickups. There are main categories in which we’re able to divide them:Okay, that’s about all for today, folks. Now you’re well aware of the fact that winding your own pickups probably isn’t worth it. For more tips & info on various guitar-related subjects, click right here.
MusicGearHeads is operated by Opinodo ApS Media Division. This website carries ads and by using the site you accept this. If any recommendations are made on the website it will always be fully disclosed.
Lastly, the pickups themselves, the way they’re made, will have some influence on the tone you’re getting from your favorite instrument. Oh, and speaking of tone, here’s whether you should practice violin with a tuner.
You’ll want to know that guitar pickups utilize coils. Remember electromagnetic coils? Well, you must remember them from school experiments or something. If not, click on that link. Anyway, here’s the thing: electric guitar pickups are usually made out of black bobbins that possess 6 magnetic bars (one for each string) & some enameled wire that’s wound around these bars.
Okay, so you’ll want to know that playing your instrument through an amplifier wouldn’t be possible without pickups. So, what’s the deal with them? Well, guitar pickups represent devices that transform the vibrations of your strings into electrical signals, which are transferred to your amp. Subsequently, your amp greatly boosts these signals in order to make them audible. You’re able to modify and color these signals with a compressor or wah-wah pedal, or even by the amp itself (the so-called chorus effect).
Okay, but what exactly does it mean to wind your own pickups? There’s a good chance that some of you mightn’t get the phrase. We’re somehow counting on the fact that most of our readers are beginners. Anyway, whether you’re a beginner – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re about to read an interesting article (oh, the modesty).
Most guitar pickups consist of a coil of thin copper wire wrapped around a bobbin containing a number of magnets. Mass produced pickups have very accurate windings, whereas hand-wound pickups are less even, which can account for a more desirable resulting sound. This coil winder combines the automation and speed of a more commercial machine, but reproduces the 'scatter winding' effect of hand-wound pickups by using interchangeable shaped cams.Most coil winders feed the wire onto a rotating bobbin. This machine feeds the wire through the centre of a rotating arm and onto a moving wire feed head, without rotating the bobbin. The feed head assembly is held against a shaped track, ensuring that the wire is always fed on to the bobbin from an equal distance, creating a much more even tension in the coil.
This machine was completed back in 2004. Wire coil winding is an absolutely fascinating engineering problem, which I am hoping to return to some day as it presents a huge range of fascinating conundrums. A 317:1 gearbox connected to the rotating wire feed arm drives the cam, which provides the lateral movement of the bobbin as the wire is added. The desired amount of windings is entered into the programmable counter (typically around 8000 to 10,000), and the machine automatically stops when this number is reached. Pickups in saleable condition may be returned or exchanged within 30 days of purchase. Upon receipt and inspection, the purchase price will be refunded, less a $10.00 rewire and refurbish fee per pickup, $20.00 for a set of three. Covers that are scratched or otherwise not resaleable will be deducted from reimbursement. Electronic components (capacitors, potentiometers, etc.) that have been soldered are not returnable and will not be reimbursed. Damaged or defaced items will not be refunded, at the discretion of Lawing Musical Products, LLC. Shipping costs to and from are the responsibility of the customer and will not be reimbursed. Please see Shipping below.A basic inductor, along with the governing equation for that inductor, is shown in Figure 2. This type of inductor, called a solenoid, consists of a single layer of conducting wire wrapped around a cylindrical core. The core may be empty (in which case we refer to it as an “air coil”) or it may be filled with, typically, a magnetically permeable material. Inductance is represented by the letter “L” (after Lentz) and is measured in “Henries”. From the equation, you can see that inductance depends linearly on a number of things including; the number of turns of wire that make up the coil (squared, so turns are huge), the area of the coil, the magnetic permeability µ (which we’ll discuss in a moment), and it depends inversely on the length of the coil. Magnetic permeability is a property of materials and it represents the tendency of a material to concentrate magnetic flux. For a material with high permeability, a magnetic field really wants to be in the material and it will basically suck the field in. Magnetic shielding typically has very high permeability and it effectively channels the magnetic field away from the object to be shielded (you can’t block a magnetic field, but you can redirect it). Materials with low permeability don’t tend to concentrate a magnetic field. For convenience, we usually talk about the relative permeability, µr, of a material. Relative permeability is defined such that the relative permeability of empty space (a “vacuum”) = 1. Air basically acts like a vacuum when we consider its magnetic properties, so an air coil is one in which the relative permeability of the core equals 1. A relative permeability of 1 basically does not affect a magnetic field at all, it’s like there is nothing there as far as the magnetic field is concerned. A material with a relative permeability greater than 1 will concentrate a magnetic field. A relative permeability less than 1 will reject a magnetic field.
Subscribe to our mailing list if you wish to receive notifications about new products, promotions, blog posts and other fresh stuff from Zexcoil. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking unsubscribe on received emails. Tracking and insurance is advised as well as proper packaging. In order to protect the pickup(s) from shifting within the box, use adequate, cushioning materials such as bubble wrap or other effective substances. In the first installment of this series I talked about Resistance, one of the most widely used pickup response parameters. Unfortunately, resistance is a parameter that is really only useful in the context of “all other things being equal”. If you change one thing about the design, you could affect pickup response significantly. Alternatively, you could design two pickups with different resistance that could be made to respond similarly.
What is a pickup winding machine?
This machine feeds the wire through the centre of a rotating arm and onto a moving wire feed head, without rotating the bobbin. The feed head assembly is held against a shaped track, ensuring that the wire is always fed on to the bobbin from an equal distance, creating a much more even tension in the coil.
Several trademarks belonging to other companies are used throughout this website. These trademarks are used solely for descriptive purposes and Lawing Musical Products, LLC is in no way endorsed by or affiliated with any of these companies.
Why overwind pickups?
Overwound pickups are wrapped with more coil than that of a standard pickup which in turn strengthens the impendence of the magnet, increasing the voltage which then increases the output signal, making them hotter than a normal pickup.
All new Zexcoil pickups are guaranteed free from defect in materials and workmanship for a period of 2 years. Pickups will be replaced or repaired (we will determine which after inspection) providing they have not been abused, misused or altered. Removing the cover on pickups with covers potted on will not only destroy the pickup, but will also void the warranty.Electromagnetic induction is a fairly simple basic concept, the implications of which can get quite complicated. Figure 1 shows a classic example of electromagnetic induction, where the current in a coil produces a magnetic field which may then induce (hence, “Induction”) an electric field in a neighboring body. It is important to remember that magnetism and electricity are intertwined. Maxwell first showed how the two were related and years later Einstein showed that they were actually the same thing, the difference being merely the frame of reference of the observer. This is why with Electromagnetism as one of the 4 basic forces, we do not distinguish between them at the most fundamental level. So, not only will a current in a coil induce a magnetic field associated with the coil as in Figure 1, but a moving magnetic field will induce a current in a coil as well. Think of how electric motors work versus electric generators. They both utilize the same physics, just in reverse compared to each other. An electric motor generates motion through the laws of induction by applying a current, while a generator creates electricity through the laws of induction by harnessing motion.
Now go back and take a close look at Figure 1. Note that when the magnetic field is created by the current in the coil, the field lines are centered about the coil and are concentrated in the core of the coil. Every field line created by the current in the coil passes through the center of the coil. So for the opposite case, where we want to induce a current in the coil via an external magnetic field, the field lines that will be most efficient in generating that current will be the ones that pass through the core of the coil. This is the physical reason why magnetic permeability is so important in increasing inductance. A permeable material in the core of the coil acts to concentrate the magnetic field exactly where it needs to be in order to make the inductor more efficient. But what does this mean for pickup design and response? Here’s an example of the effect of the area of the coil coupled with the magnetic permeability of the pole piece material. Figure 5 illustrates the inductance as a function of turn count squared (according to the proportionality shown in the equation in Figure 2) for a range of coils using 41 awg (closed symbols) and 42 awg copper wire. The coils are measured as air coils (i.e. nothing in the core of the coil but air), with an AlNiCo 5 pole piece and with a nickel plated low carbon steel pole piece. As I’ve mentioned a few times, we use a range of coil gauges in Zexcoil® pickups, and we basically use the largest diameter (lowest gauge) wire we can at any given turn count. When we fill up the bobbin we jump to the next wire gauge. So, the highest turn count coil for a given gauge will be as big as the coil can get, we’re basically filling the bobbin up completely. Then the next highest turn count coil, with the next smallest gauge wire, will be significantly smaller and encompass less coil area even though it has more turns. As we can see from Figure 5, with an air coil we can very clearly see this effect. There is a discontinuity in the relationship between turns and inductance every time we “jump” to the next gauge. The larger wire at the highest turn counts is yielding more inductance per turn than the smaller wire. If we put a pole piece in the core of the coil with minimal magnetic permeability, like AlNiCo 5, we still see an area effect but it is reduced. If we put a highly magnetically permeable pole piece in the core, like low carbon steel, the area effect goes away entirely. With a highly permeable core, the magnetic flux becomes so concentrated that it doesn’t really matter exactly how much area the turn encompasses, as long as it’s going around the concentrated flux in the core. The effective area of any given turn becomes the area of the core because that’s where virtually all of the magnetic flux is. \u201COrders that are shipped to countries outside of the United States may be subject to import taxes, customs tariffs and fees levied by the destination country or the shipping company. These charges are the customer\u2019s responsibility and will be billed by the destination country\u2019s delivery service. We have no control over these charges and are unable to estimate them. Tariffs and taxes are neither collected nor included in your price calculation at the time of your order. For an estimate of these fees, which vary by region, contact the customs office in your area.\u201D
How does winding affect pickups?
The number of turns of coil wire will dictate the voltage created – how 'hot' the pickup is. So, in essence, the more turns of wire will generate more voltage and a stronger signal. Generally speaking, more turns of wire will create a louder pickup, and fewer turns of wire will equate to a weaker pickup.
In this post, I will discuss Inductance, a much more useful parameter than resistance. Inductance is the best descriptor of pickup output. As I demonstrated experimentally in an earlier blog post, How Does a Pickup Really Work?, pickups are after all just inductive sensors – converting the signal from the moving magnet (the vibrating, magnetized string) into an electrical impulse. Inductance is the measure of how effectively the pickup collects and converts that magnetic energy to electrical energy.But why don’t we get all of the benefit of the magnetic permeability in a guitar pickup? If permeability is a multiplier of inductance, shouldn’t a pickup with a pole piece with 2000 times the permeability of air have an inductance 2000 times the air coil? Why only by a factor of about 6 as shown in Figure 3? First, we have to consider that magnetic energy travels in loops, just like electrical energy. The black lines in Figures 1 and 3 represent the paths taken by representative loops in the magnetic field. The problem with the “magnetic circuit” depicted in Figure 3 is, while the core of the coil is filled with magnetically permeable material, most of the magnetic circuit is air. For the full multiplying potential of the permeable material to be realized, we must construct a closed magnetic loop, as shown at left in Figure 4, where virtually all of the magnetic flux is contained in a closed loop of permeable material. Note that all of the field lines are contained in the rectangular loop of permeable material. Even a fairly short air gap, as shown in the middle of Figure 4, can result in as much as a 99% loss of the native permeability of the core material. Notice how the field lines start fringing out significantly into the low permeability space around the permeable core, even on the opposite side from the air gap. A pickup is basically a completely open magnetic circuit as shown at right in Figure 4, where the field is free to bloom out into the low permeability space. Considering what happens to the field lines in the examples shown in Figure 4, we can start to see how other permeable materials in the pickup, baseplates, covers, etc., might also affect the field and the effective inductance and response of the pickup. Of course, as shown by Figure 1, the most important material is the stuff in the core of the coil.
Sometimes users in the farthest (from us) U.S. shipping zones are overcharged for shipping. These overcharges will be refunded when the label is printed. You’ll find that the effects of tension and lateral wire distribution are essentially the same. This is primarily due to the distributed capacitance changing in relation to the proximity of the strings to one another. Strings that are closer together will create parallel capacitance (increased capacitance), while spreading them apart will prevent this from occurring. Generally, the higher resonant frequencies indicate a brighter tone – though after 7k (approaching 10k), your ears become less sensitive and you enter territory that approaches inaudible ranges. So after 7k, you can expect the brightness to begin turning into a flat tone.So, there you have it – Alnico IV may not have an official designation anymore (not sure exactly why, perhaps the MMPA just couldn’t find a practical industrial need for it), but it did exist. And it does exist today too, because people like Tim are having this formula specially made for them.
If you’re feeling unsatisfied with the description of magnetic pickups above, it’s probably because you want to know exactly what is occurring in the magnetic field that creates the electrical signals inducted by the copper. The next chapter will help flesh things out whilst teaching you some of the terminology you’ll need to fully understand how these pickups function.
A pickup’s resistance is often the one spec you’ll see listed up front in the title of the product page, or whatever you’re reading. That’s because it’s a good measurement to make an assumption of a general output level, and is great for comparing pickups to each other. In terms of volume, oomf, breakup, presence, whatever you call it. But not tone.
The shape of a pickup’s magnetic field is an often overlooked factor in tone. The size of the field and position of the strings within it are key to a pickup’s volume. But a few of the more intrepid pickup winders out there have gone out of their way to try to shape and focus the field to see how it affects tone.Something that wasn’t covered in this article is wind counts and resistance measurements – this is a subject more suited for Part II. The second chapter to this pickup winding saga will go over the actual winding process, techniques, machinery, testing, and everything else you were probably hoping to find in this one. It will also include a large list of manufacturer’s pickups with wind counts, measurements, and materials to help you base your own work around. So be sure to check back soon for that – and feel free to put yourself on the mailing list (on the front page) if you’d like to receive an update when it’s published. The downside to there not being an official designation for this grade of magnets is that virtually anyone can sell Alnico IV magnets without being held to any standard of quality. Perhaps that is why you hear many people complaining of the hit or miss quality of these pickups, or frequently describing them as slightly weaker Alnico 5s. You can trust that a reputable brand such as Bareknuckle or Seymour Duncan will be making an effort to retain the standard established long ago for these magnets, but even then, there is a chance that they’re working with slightly different formulas. Magnetic Flux – A difficult concept in electromagnetism to describe, so simplified visual representations are perfectly acceptable. The most basic description would be movement of a ferromagnetic material within a magnetic field – or, in other words, changing the magnetic field.If a magnetic field were to be visualized as a grid of arrows radiating from the magnet’s surface, the magnetic flux would be the measurement (quantification) of those lines passing through a surface. The surface area being used to measure the magnetic flux must be defined and constant to detect changes. A hall sensor can be used to measure magnetic flux. You can read more here.There’s a lot of room for individuality in pickup-winding. Having a strong grasp of the electromagnetic laws that govern the process, or even just a general understanding of the forces at work will give you creative power. This guide seeks to give you the ability to make confident, purposeful decisions about your material selection and assembly to achieve a tone you have in mind.Along with magnet strength, increased wind count can produce a stronger electrical signal (higher inductance). This results in a louder signal, as expected.
The mechanical vibration being detected is the movement of the string itself. It is transduced by an inductor (copper wire + magnet) when changes in the magnetic field (flux) are caused by the motion. This particular process of transduction is called electromagnetic induction.
What did we learn? If you read everything, you just absorbed a lot of data. Hopefully, there was enough semblance in how it was presented to you to give you an idea of how to manipulate a pickup’s tonal output. That’s the end goal, put simply.This would change the tone. This would simply be due to your wire cores being spaced just a tiny bit further from each other, reducing the amount of parallel capacitance.
Can you wind pickups by hand?
Many feel the reason hand-wound pickups sound better and have more harmonic content than their machine-wound counterparts is because there is less ca- pacitance within the coil. You can also tweak the number of windings for a custom sound.
Pickups are wound with what is often sold as “magnet wire”. It’s most often a copper core with a very thin layer of insulation. Copper is used for its high conductivity and tensile strength, but you will also find magnet wire made from aluminum and silver. Aluminum wire costs about half the price of copper wire, but only has 60% of the conductive ability. Silver is significantly more expensive, but is 7% more conductive. Things that can affect a pickup’s output voltage: magnet strength, number of winds, wire gauge & distribution, and of course…the presence of a battery circuit. That last one is just to remind us that the EMG 81 example we have here is active. Transducer – a device that converts energy to a different form. A mechanical transducer converts electrical energy to mechanical movement, and an electrical transducer does the opposite by converting mechanical energy into electrical signals. All pickups are electrical transducers.
So we know that capacitance can affect tone in a general manner, but let’s come back to the relation of capacitance to inductance. This excerpt from Wikipedia sums up the tonal changes:
The key to understanding the process of electromagnetic inductance is something called Faraday’s Law. It’s a fairly complex subject that’ll require some background reading in electromagnetic engineering. What you’ll be presented with in this guide is a simplified version to make things easy to understand and keep things brief. Defining magnetic flux properly is something purposefully left out here since it requires some abstract thought. We’ll stick to what’s absolutely necessary for making great pickups.In most cases, when a pickup coil is described as tight, it refers to a combination of tension and strafing of the wire. While tension was just described above, we’re now going to look at the lateral distribution of the coil as it’s wound (strafing).
Generally, pickups will use one of two magnet types: Alnico or Ceramic. Alnico magnets are divided into strength categories, so an Alnico II magnet is on the weaker side, while an Alnico IV is quite a bit stronger. There are two other types of permanent magnets (Neodymium and Samarium Cobalt), but they tend to be quite a lot stronger than what’s needed for a pickup.
You can find some general differences in tonal qualities in the chart below, but external research and sound comparisons are recommended for a better understanding:“The turns of wire in proximity to each other have an equivalent self-capacitance that, when added to any cable capacitance present, resonates with the inductance of the winding. This resonance can accentuate certain frequencies, giving the pickup a characteristic tonal quality. The more turns of wire in the winding, the higher the output voltage but the lower this resonance frequency.”So, what we’re speaking about is the result of two build specs working together. Inductance and capacitance each have their own separate variation possibilities: inductance (and output voltage) is based on magnet strength and wind count, while capacitance comes from parallel winding, wind count, and wire material/insulation thickness.
Are overwound pickups hotter?
However, you can overwind single coils to increase the "hotness" of them so they produce distortion more quickly. The general rule I think is this: the larger the coil the hotter the pickup. "Hot" is general audio-speak for "loud". You may also hear someone say something like "my mic is a little hot".
I’ve yet to hear of someone winding aluminum pickup coils, but silver is definitely a hallmark of a few boutique winders out there. In fact, there are quite a few people out there who will tout silver over copper for its improved tonal qualities. This is something you’ll have to research for yourself – the jury is out for the time being. It would be interesting to see a comparison of two machine wound pickups using the same specs to compare the two.Due to copper’s loose surface electrons, magnetic flux (movement of ferromagnetic materials like guitar strings within the magnetic field) causes these electrons to constantly rearrange themselves, creating an electric signal. This is the process of electromagnetic induction.
Is a pickup an inductor?
A guitar pickup is basically an inductor that is configured as a generator. The motion to the generator is supplied by the magnetized string.
These issues can be addressed with other factors, such as pole size/shape/location, the closeness of the pickup to the strings, and even the wind count. It’s a great area to experiment in.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided you might try your hand at winding your own custom pickups. In theory, it’s quite a simple task. That’s because pickups are fairly simple devices: copper wire wrapped around a magnet. That’s it.Before we move on, it should be noted that this article’s focus remains on magnetic pickups. For that reason, we’ll just do a brief breakdown of the main pickup types that are found suitable for electric guitars (and various other instruments).
So those are the big three transducers in the music world. Since the purpose of this guide is to have you winding your own magnetic pickups confidently, we won’t be hearing about microphones and piezo pickups again.
This guide will take you through the various materials & winding techniques used, and attempt to distill a complex art into an understandable formula. As a result, you should be able to wind your own pickups with some level of confidence as to the expected tonal qualities.Inductor – a device that converts magnetic flux into electrical energy, typically by using a copper coil. Copper is one of a short list of metals which can create its own magnetic field when electricity is passed through it. For that reason, a simple copper coil can be its own inductor as long as there’s electricity running through it.
How many windings does a pickup have?
Pickups can have as many as 8,000 to 10,000 winds. This time-consuming process means that very few pickups are truly hand-wound.
Now we need to get an idea of how a pickup’s inductance can affect tone. A while ago when we spoke about the capacitance generated between two parallel wires in a coil, something referred to as self-capacitance. A coil that is wound more tightly with the wire distributed uniformly will have a higher capacitance (and a warmer tone, consequently). A more loosely wound pickup will have a lower capacitance (and a brighter tone, though at the risk of some microphonic overtones when distribution is randomized).Previously, in this article, it was stated that Alnico IV magnets do not exist. And that is 100% correct in the eyes of the MMPA, who have no designation for it. However, you’ll still find almost every pickup manufacturer building pickups with Alnico IVs…how is this possible? There’s a lot of theories and rumors floating around as to the composition and existence of this magnet type, so here’s a few you’re likely to run into: Before we delve too deep into the subject, this article from Seymour Duncan already explains things adequately. This article from Premiere Guitar on low impedance pickups helps round things out nicely by outlining some specific applications of varied impedance. Measuring a coil’s resonant peak requires a multimeter and an oscillating frequency generator, among a couple other things. It’s a process best left for another article. Here’s a video explanation.
So we know that the inductance process (and therefore a pickup’s measured inductance value) is indicative of signal strength / volume. And that increasing your inductance (by using stronger magnets, for instance, or moving the pickup closer to the strings) will directly increase output volume.
We spoke about the number of winds already briefly, but it’s worth expanding on the subject. Normally, the number of winds a pickup has is directly correlated with its strength. This is true for the most part (taking into account the magnet and winding arrangement). But there are some tonal factors that should be considered when deciding on a wind count. Its most important value is that it’s an integral measurement for finding the resonant peak values that are more indicative of tone. This article from Lollar will help break things down (from a far more experienced perspective). Some of these measurements and specs are indicative of tonal qualities, while some are not. Let’s go down the list and define each measurement and its importance.Magnetic strength is most directly associated with signal strength. An increased gauss strength will have a stronger induction, creating a stronger electrical signal. Not too much to ponder there.