Hi fellow tone-seekers! I just had some EXCELLENT questions about Stratocaster pickups come in via my site, VaughnSkow.com. So good I think I might use tham in a blog :-)
Q: Besides hum - does Non RW/RP mid pup really sound better and deliver more "quack" to in-between positions 2 & 4, than RW/RP?
Q: What NOS tone capacitor (& value) would complement your historic '64 set, best... do you suggest. Does it play any role at all tone?
Q: NOS cap or not?
Q: Some of the most respected pickup builders (C.Novak, M.Gray, D. Mare, M. McConachie...), as a matter of fact tend to differ on their opinion to these subjects. I was just wondering what's being the truth, out of your vast experience and knowledge.
Hello Friendly friends! Today I’d like to start out by pointing you in the direction of somebody else’s blog … yep, I’m turning you over to the competition! Not really … we’re all one big blogeriffic family :-)
Anywhoo … I subscribe to Premier Guitar Magazine, and often read their weekly blogs. The one I just read is entitled Joe Bonamassa’s 5 Most Underrated Amps, and sittin’ pretty at No. 1 was the Lab Series L5. Wow, great minds really DO think alike! The Lab Series L5, L7, & L9 (which are all the same amps in 2-12, 4-10, & 1-15 speaker configurations) have been at the top of my “under-rated” list for years now.
So, after reading Joe Bonamassa’s 5 Most Underrated Amps, take a gander at my blog of a couple years back: Lab Series L5, L7, & L9: the Ultimate Sleeper Amp?
Pretty cool, huh? Yea man! And, if you search the WGS site, you will find several threads from folks who have replaced the speakers in their in-expensively acquired Lab Series amps … and unleashed a serious tone machine. Like so many amps, the SPEAKERS were actually the weak point in the Labs. Heck, how important can the speaker be anyway … they only make the actual SOUND, right? Amp manufacturers, when will you learn? Oh well, there is a bright side … decades of amps being made with crappy OEM speakers has created a fantastic market for manufacturing and selling high-quality replacement speakers :-)
So, a few weeks back my sweet little wife asked a simple question that really got me to thinking. I was showing off the super-cool looking new WGS12L, and she simply asked: “what does it matter what it looks like, nobody ever really SEES the speakers in an amp anyway, right?
Wow, what a packed little innocent question. Let’s talk about that.
To ME, it MATTERS. Shoot, I just assumed everyone felt the same way I do, and truth be told, on this here forum, I am probably “preaching to the choir”, y’all get me. And that’s so cool! We’re like a dedicated bunch of car geeks; when they get together, no one needs to ask “why do you care what your spark plug wires look like, anyway … hardly anyone ever sees them?” No, we are meticulous folks who understand that perfection is way more than “skin deep”. We understand that what really matters is what’s under the hood.
Another, more musical way to look at it is this: take your average (non tone-freak) off the street and show him two amps, one an old hard-worked 1964 Fender Super Reverb, the other a nice new “digital-modeling” amp with all manner of golly-gee-wizz stuff on it. Ask him which one is the best … yea, he’ll pick the one that glitters on the outside. But we know better. We value the stuff that can’t be so easily seen, like the gorgeous matched pair of NOS RCA black plate 6L6’s and the big, robust pretty blue Sprague filter caps. Yea, just like a true car guy values what’s under the hood (bonnet for you Britts) … we value what’s under the tolex. After all, that’s what really matters, right. And, when you’re talking shop with a fellow hard-core tone aficionado, isn’t it nice to have him take a peak “under the hood” of your rig and see that super-cool speaker? Yea, it is.
In a similar fashion, I’m working on a custom pickup model that honors Leo Fender’s two go-to guys, Forrest White & George Fullerton (I’m calling the set the “59 Fullerton-White Custom Set). I’m going with bobins made of White & Red (George’s favorite color) fiber “flat-work”. No one will ever see those colors once the pickups are installed. But, I know I’ll play different. Yea, what’s “under the hood” … “behind the tolex” … or “under the pick guard” … that’s the stuff that really matters, so why not make it look cool, too!
Hi fellow guitar tone geeks, great to be with you all on yet another LABOR DAY weekend!
I’ve been fighting a bit of a cold this weekend, and I feel soooo blessed! Say that doesn’t make sense, well, let me explain! You see, when I get sick, I get to be sick in a nice snug home with heat and air-conditioning, and running hot cold water, and plenty of readily available food (with pop-tarts and chicken noodle soup as highlights), plus I have a nice comfy bed with big fluffy pillows … like I said, I’m blessed; and grateful. Even on my most miserable days, I’ve got it good. Very good, indeed.
On this holiday, I just hope that all of you can say the same. I don’t know exactly why I was so fortunate to have been born in such a great country with such freedom and opportunity. I don’t know why I have been able to grow up in a time and place where no wars have been fought. I don’t know why I’ve been granted such an awesome life; but I do know this: I will not take it for granted; I will not complain when I run out of hot water or when I get a little cold. I will remain forever grateful for the life of freedom and relative prosperity I have been gifted with.
Labor? Yea, I’m grateful for the opportunity to work, too. I love working; love actually making or accomplishing something. I’m so grateful that I’m in America where I was born a farm kid … but had the freedom to pursue my dreams in music. I’m so glad for both the opportunities I have had to do hard manual labor … and also for the opportunities I’ve had to be creative, and to use my mind rather than my biceps to produce something tangible.
How about all y’all out there? Are ya feeling what I’m feeling? Are you grateful … not just for the days OFF from work … but for the opportunity TO work? If not, give it some thought.
And now, a little HISTORY on the “Labor Day” holiday … straight from the “History” Channel: (Read On)
Hidey-Ho friendly friends! Confession: yesterday I committed a guitar atrocity … and it’s far from the first time, too! And … it was awesome! Yea, I know, I’m sick, right? Well … let’s talk about that.
Here’s the way I look at it. Some folks who ride motorcycles are perfectly happy to ride a stock bike, while others love to hack, weld, and chrome-plate their bike into a one-of-a-kind ride … same goes for cars … and, I contend, guitars. Needless to say, I fall into the camp of the “self-modifiers”; take, for instance, my 5-pickup FrankenStrat (ie, StratoBastard):
So, back to last night’s festival of guitar carnage. I needed a Les Paul style ax to audition my various pickups on (www.VaughnSkow.com) … and I wanted to be able to switch pickups fast. Really fast. So I took a cute little Epiphone LesPaul Special and did what any perfectly insane dude would do, I routed the pickup cavities clean through from front to back and stubbed in pickup lead wires for each pickup cavity.
Now, I can simply insert the pickup in the back, adjust it to the desired height, wire-nut the leads, and … in less than a minute I’ve just changed pickups! Ugly, maybe, but dude does it serve a purpose, and ain’t that what guitars are all about when it comes right down to it? Actually, with the little black foam inserts I cut out, it doesn’t even look too terrible from the back!
With this in mind, I present a couple of “modified” guitars from my buddy Jeff Miller, who plays guitar in one of my little hobby bands, Wind Up Monkey (I play drums in this one). First is an Epi Les Paul Standard that he sanded … and sanded … and sanded until spots of the mahogany body began to show through the maple top. Outfitted with a hot P-90 in the bridge and a “something” in the neck, it’s actually quite a pleasing (and one of a kind) workhorse of a guitar.
The second guitar started life as a dual bucker JB Player that received a complete head to toe sticker treatment … don’t know about you, but I think it’s cool as heck! If ya all got a “modified” guitar ya’d like to share with the class … post it here as a reply … or if that doesn’t work for ya, email it to me to post Vaughn@wgs4.com .
See y’all next week :-)
Hello my tone-addicted buddies! As some of you know, I’ve been in development on my own pickups for about the last two years. I’m not QUITE ready to announce anything of a terribly official nature yet … but soon! So … I’ve been spending hundreds and hundreds of hours dissecting pickups. Carefully measuring values, painfully unwinding coils, comparing the most minute of details, and I have come to an overwhelming conclusion: Most current production pickups SUCK. Let’s talk about that.
I’m not quite sure just EXACTLY what’s happened … but in the last 50 years or so, pickup technology has gone from good to bad. Now, I’m not always the smartest guy in any room, but isn’t that the wrong direction? It’s a widely accepted fact that the pickups Leo Fender and Seth Lover were designing and producing in the 1950s-1960s are STILL the industries high-water mark, tone-wise. That just doesn’t quite make sense, I mean, with all of our technological achievements and improvements, why don’t we make better sounding pickups NOW? Okay, where guitars are concerned, I get it, it’s all about the wood, and nothing beats the no longer available tone woods of pre-1969. But pickups, man that’s a TECHNOLOGY item, right? Maybe. Kinda.
The pioneers of electric guitar got it right; they FULLY understood the significance of the PICKUP in an electric guitar. In electric guitar tone, the pickup accounts for about 70-90% of the actual amplified tone. That’s HUGE! Forget the subtle differences between woods or the material a nut or bridge are made from … the PICKUPS are where the bulk of your tone actually happens. Shoot, to make his point, way back in about 1946 Les Paul made his famous “The Log”, an electric guitar with a body comprised only of a rough-cut leftover piece of 4x4 salvaged from a construction site. His point: the BODY doesn’t really matter much on a solid-body electric guitar … it’s all about the PICKUPS.
And so, as solid-body electrics were being developed in the late 1940s and through the 50s, MUCH attention was devoted to pickup design. The result: simply amazing sounding guitars. I have a set of 1959-1960 Gibson “PAF” humbuckers that are to this day the “holy-grail” tone that I compare all my humbucker designs to, same goes for my ’62 Strat for single coils. That kind of hits me as a little crazy. I mean, with all the “active” designs, stacked singles, neo-magnets … and the list goes on … why can’t we make pickups that sound better than they did in 1960? Well, first off, that’s kinda like the idea folks had in the 70’s that solid-state amps should be superior to those antiquated vacuum tube designs … and we all know how that played out. As it turns out, technology and TONE seem to be at odds with one another more often than we think. Who out there can argue the fact that a hundred+ year old Steinway Grand sounds better than most anything being produced today, or that a 1940 Martin D-28 can’t be beat with a modern guitar … or, more to the point: that a ’62 Strat or ’59 Les Paul just plain can’t be bested by anything currently in production.
So … why? I think it comes down to two things:
First: humans make art (ie music), machines don’t. Sure modern CNC machines can achieve tolerances no human could ever boast, but that just plain doesn’t produce “art” … and electric guitar is most certainly art in its absolute truest and most basic form. If you don’t believe me, just swing by my shop and watch me make a few pickups; you’ll soon be a believer. Oh, and neither can a “non-artist” produce fine “art”. The idea that a worker in some place with cheap labor can suddenly be transformed from someone who makes bra-straps to a guitar pickup builder is downright appalling.
And last: the materials. Honestly, it just turns out that, like with my vacuum tube analogy, often what may be more “high-tech” just doesn’t sound good. Take magnet material, the first permanent magnet speakers, as well as the first guitar pickups used a magnet referred to as AlNiCo for its composition of Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt. By today’s standard, it’s considered a pretty archaic magnet composition … but it STILL produces the best TONE from a speaker or pickup.
Lately I’ve been pulling and trashing a lot of the pickups put in the Fender “standard” Stratocasters (Made in Mexico) to replace with my works of art. It’s absolutely appalling the utter trash pickups they are putting in these guitars that still carry the name of my personal hero, Leo Fender. They may look like a Strat pickup from the outside, but they ain’t. They are made on an all-plastic bobbin (wrong) with steel slugs for “pole pieces” instead of AlNiCo magnets, they are wound with the most inexpensive wire they can source, and then they stick a couple of the cheapest little bits of ceramic magnet material to the bottom of the pickup with a couple of spots of hot-melt glue. I think I’m goanna throw up.
So, if you’ve got a Mexi-Fender, Squire, Epiphone, or the like be warned: the image you are about to see is graphic and grotesque. Here is a pic of a Mexi-Strat’s stock pickups, as I found them when I removed the pickguard for an upgrade. Look close, yep one of the ceramic magnets had actually came unglued from the neck pickup and fallen off. Like I said, it’s grotesque.
I’m so jazzed to announce the formal release of a speaker that has been in the rumor-mill for quite some time: The WGS12L.
Yes, this is the WGS take on the fabled Electro-Voice WEVM12L. Rreleased way back in 1973, this was the speaker that allowed folks like Randall Smith to build amps like his Mesa-Boogie 1x12 100-watt combos. Before this time, that amount of power was strictly the domain of multi-speaker rigs. In its day, the EVM12L was a real game-changer. The 12L was a direct descendant of speakers designed for high-power PA use, but it was re-engineered to sound good as a guitar speaker while retaining its extraordinary (for the time) power handling ability. I’ve called Tennessee home for for nearly the last 30 years, and I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the EVM12L because it was made exclusively at the E-V plant in Newport, Tennessee from its inception in 1973 until that plant was closed in 2002. Yea, that was a sad day; and it could be argued that the EVM12L (and its big sister the 15L) have never been quite the same since. This may be a small part of the impetus behind the development of the WGS12L.
To this day, some contend that no one has ever made a guitar speaker capable of over 100-watts RMS that can hold a candle to the tone of the EVM12L. That may have been true YESTERDAY, but not TODAY! Enter the WGS12L. The WGS12L can compete head-to-head against an authentic Newport, TN made EVM12L on any possible level, and boy-howdy is the WGS12L a looker! Sporting a hammered black & silver powder coat finish on its massive frame, this speaker is one serious sight to behold. Like the E-V, the WGS12L is massive, but it’s also GORGEOUS at the same time; no one’s ever said that about an EVM12L.
So, how does this bad-girl sound? Well … it just so happens I’ve got a video to answer that question! You all saw that one coming, didn’t you? I’ll give you a quick summary: clean, they almost can’t be told apart … they’re THAT close; dirty they start to sound just a LITTLE different … with the WGS12L having just a SLIGHT bit more upper “edge” than the EVM. But shoot … y’all take a listen & let me know what YOU think. Keep in mind that the WGS12L is straight out of the box with zero break-in time.
Okay friends, I’ve gotta let y’all in on a closely kept secret … even though I still look 19 ;-) … I’m a bit of an old-timer in the music biz. I began performing at age 13 in the late 1970s, playing through a brown Fender Deluxe and singing through a Shure Vocal-Master PA with two big, tall, skinny speakers out front, and no monitors what so ever. For the youngins reading this with astonishment, what follows is sure to be on the verge of simply un-believable … but I promise, every word is TRUE! Our drummer played a 100% acoustic and un-miced drum set; our keyboard player played a Fender Rhodes and a Roland SH-1 synth through his Fender Twin-Reverb, and our bass player actually played through … get this, a bass amp!
And my God, it was awesome. Fun! Yea. Nothing in the world is quite as great as playing with other like-minded musicians. The true awesome beauty of all of you together compressing & refracting air molecules through time & space to create one coordinated amazing localized atmospheric disturbance … man, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
So, why this particular trip down memory lane? Let’s talk about that. It all started when I CUT CABLE TV and started watching everything either “over the air” or via Roku & Apple TV boxes or directly on iPads & iPhones. Not following me, are you? How could a switch to MODERN technology bring out nostalgia for vintage technology? Simple answer: Heartland TV. For the long answer, keep reading! (Warning: this is looking like an epic-length blog … but man, it’s INSPIRED … so it will be worth your investment in time.)
This morning I turned on the television and did what we all used to do in the good-old days, started scanning through channels. I hit the Heartland TV network and a classic 1970’s performance by Merle Haggard (Playing his Tele through a silver-face Deluxe Reverb) and that’s when the channel surfing abruptly stopped. Holy Crap. He was good. REALLY good. Then came a pre-facial hair Waylon Jennings (complete with leather-clad Tele through a black-face Twin Reverb), and then a 1980’s performance by the Charlie Daniels Band exploded my musical world for the first time in years.
That’s when it hit me: I’d been horrifically musically “dumbed-down” by the decades of technology I’ve survived. My God, first we were taught that digital is superior to analogue technology, then we were taught that many tracks of highly effected digital sound was preferable to a few actual instruments played by inspired musicians. And where are we today? Yea, seriously, let’s talk about THAT.
Today one person (who probably isn’t even a decent musician) sitting at a computer often produces entire hit songs, without so much as a single musician or a single musical instrument actually disturbing so much as a single air molecule. Bad as it can get? Nope, then the worst of all possible musical atrocities begins: the vocals. Usher in the super-cute little boy or girl to caterwaul their way through a poorly written piece of electro-dance pop poop. And we all know, it doesn’t matter how they actually SING, cuz that all gets cut-n-spliced, tuned and quantized, and effected even to the point of “throat modeling” to make little junior sound like they’ve actually got some pipes. Wow, so is the carnage finally over? Is it safe for me to look now? Nope, better shade those eyes (& ears) a little longer, cuz we’re about to hit mixing & mastering … also known as the hunt to identify and eliminate any hint of musicality that may be found clinging to life.
Ever since the release of the first look-ahead digital limiter capable of “brick” waveform limiting, mastering has kind of resembled mountain-top removal mining. It goes like this: find the dynamics and remove them, then make every single split-second of “music” as loud as possible … in other words, find all the zeroes and turn them into ones. Now, the carnage is complete. The only thing left is to have a small posse of beautiful boys & girls in their underwear pretend to “perform” the “song” on video while having sex.
Now, let’s turn our attention to LIVE music.
Today, we, as guitar players are blessed with the greatest sounding and most diverse collection of guitar amps ever available. Not only have nearly all the wonderful tweed, brown, black, & silver amps of the 50s, 60s & 70s survived to continue beautifully singing, but a new crop of true tone craftsmen are producing the finest sounding amps ever to put air in motion. It SHOULD be the best time EVER for guitar players, but that’s often not the case. Why? IN-EAR MONITORING, and “playing direct”. Why on earth has this draconian practice of the 1990’s survived? Why on earth, in the day and age of low-watt boutique tube amps that can sound rich, juicy, and downright HUGE … even at whisper-soft volumes … are there supposed “audio engineers” out there insisting that guitar players play “direct”? Here is my theory, and since I’m as much an audio engineer as I am a guitar player, I think it’s a fair assessment. It’s because too many engineers either 1. Don’t know the first thing about playing guitar (or maybe ANY instrument) and/or 2. They’ve been burned by some idiot guitar thug who legitimately played too darn loud. What are we guitarists to do? First, gently educate the misinformed wherever and whenever possible, and second, don’t be “that idiot” who when given the chance to play through a good-old amp chooses to play TOO DARN LOUD!
Now, if we could just free those poor drummers from the Plexiglass cages imposed upon them by equally miss-informed or inept soundmen! Next would come the return of the floor-monitor. I mean seriously, singers, have you ever HEARD yourself sing through the best-in-class wedges made by companies like Meyer Sound? It will make you pull out your $800 custom-molded in-ears, douse them in gasoline and light those puppies up!
Of course, none of this matters until we start to fire the computers from their currently held positions as Drummers, bassists, singers, keyboardists, and of course guitarists.
For over a decade now the MTV networks (which for those of you who don’t know, includes Country Music TV) have attempted to musically lobotomize the human inhabitants of planet earth. In the late 90’s and into the beginning of the current millennium it appeared as though their evil agenda would be utterly and completely implemented. However, a few real hard-core musicians and music fans survived to completely resist the re-programing. So there IS hope, and WE must join the ranks of those who choose to be part of the cure, not just those who perpetuate the cancerous plague.
Join with folks like T-Bone Burnett and Jack White in the HUGE Roots Music Revival. In so doing, you will be in VERY good company, and, I believe, you will be at the forefront of the musical revolution that is just gaining critical mass. Guitar players (& bass players), start moving air molecules again through exceptional sounding amplifiers … darn it, think TONE. Singers: take those damn pieces of crap out of your ears, turn the computer off, and learn how to sing … better yet, learn how to ENTERTAIN! Drummers, blow the dust off of that real live kit, educate yourself in how to tune it properly, and learn how to control your own volume … and when they come at you with that plexiglass cage, send ‘em packing! And engineers, stop acting like it’s still 1999 and MTV still owns the minds of everyone in the western world.