Friday 2/16/2007 ~ Pickup Construction
OK... so at six o`clock last
night I started to think about this week's email special. I usually
wait until Friday morning... but this has been such a strange
week, with the snow and the ice and the snow...
Anyway, I wanted to elaborate
on last week's email about pickups. For example, you may not
realize that, although they sound different, the pickups on an
older multi-pickup guitar are identical. In other words, all
three pickups on an older Strat are the same; both pickups on
an older Les Paul are the same, etc. They produce a different
sound because of their position relative to the bridge. At the
bridge the strings are tighter and the sound is brighter. At
the neck position the strings are looser and the sound is bassier.
That's why there is no "tone" knob controlling the
bridge pickup on a Strat. Leo Fender figured that if you wanted
a more mellow sound, you should just use the selector switch
to move to the middle or neck pickup. (Which, of course, brings
to mind that "tone" controls on a typical guitar are
really just "roll-off-the-high-end" controls...)
I also wanted to mention that,
in addition to the obvious single-coil vs. double-coil design,
Strat and Les Paul pickups are different in that the pole pieces
on a Strat pickup are actual magnets, whereas the pole pieces
on a Les Paul pickup are screws that are touching a lower magnet
(they are magnetic by association!). The result of this difference
is that Strat pole pieces exert a stronger pull on the strings,
and if your Strat pickups are too close to the strings they will
affect the string vibration, and cause weird over-tones... almost
as if you are out of tune. This often happens with the neck position
pickup on a Strat... it's easy to accidentally have that pickup
up too high. As the string tries to vibrate in a happy circular
motion, the magnet in the pickup pulls it downward, creating
an oval motion. And yuck.
And then I wanted to mention
that these days folks like Seymour Duncan are using different
magnets and wire and windings to fine-tune the tone and volume
of individual pickups...to emphasize, or de-emphasize, the tonal
changes due to pickup location.
So, to learn more about it and
try to explain some of the inner details, I logged on to a few
web-sites about pickup construction. And after about twenty minutes
I had a headache. There were all of these charts and squiggly
lines and talk about ohms and resistance... and ow! my brain
hurt. I admire Seymour and anyone else who ever made a pickup,
but I couldn't follow the electro-magnetic, behind-the-scenes,
harmonic-overtone, mumbo jumbo, without becoming numb. Don't
get me wrong... I know what I like. I've played thousands of
guitars, and I have strong opinions about what sounds good and
bad in a guitar and a pickup... But the science of it all started
to bring me down. At 8PM I locked the store, and still in a daze
I wandered out into the 25-degrees-below-zero wind chill....
As I started my van for the drive
home, I popped in the new CD by The Smithereens that Johnny B.
(formerly "the-new-guy") gave me yesterday... and suddenly
my headache was gone. You may remember The Smithereens from their
1990 hit "A Girl Like You." (http://www.officialsmithereens.com)
On their new CD, "Meet The Smithereens," they have
re-done The Beatles' first Capitol Records' album, "Meet
It made me happy on so many levels.
First of all, I've always been a Smithereens fan. The drummer
and guitarist were on a Sonny Bono tribute I did many years ago and
they're very nice guys. Secondly, it's a fun idea. Lots of bands
do cover songs, but it's pretty cool to cover an entire album.
And thirdly, it reminded me of the magic of The Beatles. The
album opens with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "I
Saw Her Standing There." These two songs were also both
sides of the band's first 45 rpm record on Capitol... and that
Beatles 45 is a work of art.
You may have read in the news
this week that in Paris the Louvre guards are going on strike
to protest the stress of guarding the Mona Lisa. I believe that
if you carefully analyze "I Want To Hold Your Hand"
and "I Saw Her Standing There" you'll see that that
single alone is as much a work of art as the Mona Lisa. Sure,
at first glance you might say "it's just two rock &
roll songs"... you could also say that the Mona Lisa is
just "a nice picture of a semi-smiling lady." But Leonardo
da Vinci used delicate brush strokes to create a masterpiece
that is far more complicated than it first appears... The beauty
of the Mona Lisa is that you can study her for years and still
see more. In the same way, "I Want To Hold Your Hand"
and "I Saw Her Standing There" are far more complicated
and intricate than they first appear. The interplay of the instruments
combined with youthful exuberance (John Lennon's rhythm guitar
work in "I Saw Her Standing There," for example), the
more-complicated-than-it-appears drumming (Ringo's two-handed
triplets at the end of the first verse of "I Want To Hold
Your Hand"), and George Martin's production ("I Saw
Her Standing There" is a powerful recording that holds up
even today) resulted in a record that impacted an entire generation
Do what I did when I was a kid.
Listen closely to these two recordings. First listen to just
the bass. Then start the record over and listen to just the lead
guitar. Then just the rhythm guitar. Then just the drums. Then,
once you understand all of the components, listen again to hear
how they all fit together. It's impressive. And Pittsburgh Guitars
today can be traced back to that 45.
So, I enjoyed my drive home.
I got over my inability to concentrate on the technical descriptions
of magnetic flux. I remembered that it's the sounds created by
electric guitars that I love.
And I also got a kick from the
realization that the previously mentioned "I Want To Hold
Your Hand"/"I Saw Her Standing There" recordings
do not have a Strat or Les Paul pickup on them anywhere.
Because I strongly believe that
"I Saw Her Standing There" is a great song, and worthy
of analysis, here's this week's special/contest:
Sometime over the next couple of months get together with your
band, or duo, or self, and record a version of the song. Send
us the recording and we'll put it up on the Pittsburgh Guitars
web site and our Pittsburgh Guitars myspace page. After we get
a bunch, we (Scott, Mark, John, Rick Marsh and I) will pick our
favorite (based on no particular criteria), and the winning act
will received a FREE Vox AD30VT amp! (List Price $340!)
(You can send a CD or tape...
or contact Johnny B. at the store for other methods of song transfer...)
(Or if you'd like to send a video,
we'll put it on the Pittsburgh Guitars youtube page.)
See you soon,
PS: The inclusion of both sides
of the hit single "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on the
album "Meet The Beatles" was a Capitol Records modification
here in America, where LPs always featured the artist's latest
hit 45. The original British release of this album, on EMI Records
and titled "With The Beatles," did not include these
two songs. Our email subscribers in other countries, especially
our friends in England, probably question Capitol's decision
to re-arrange Beatle recordings... but it made for a super strong,
super successful LP... and in the long run it worked out OK.
PPS: The rest of the LP, both
"Meet The Beatles" and "Meet The Smithereens,"
is also great. I just got sidetracked by the first two songs.
PPPS: I forgot to mention that
after the success of the "I Want To Hold Your Hand"/"I
Saw Her Standing There" 45, The Beatles went on to have
a few other hit records...
PPPPS: Customer web site: