When I began making guitar pickups, I firmly believed that the best pickups ever made were in fact made from about 1952 to 1965, and my intention was to painstakingly reproduce these mid-century works of art. Where Stratocasters and Humbuckers are concerned, I was dead-on the bull’s eye. However, the Telecaster players were giving me something further to consider. The Strat players were on a magic carpet ride to Nirvana with my 1954-1964 sets, and “les Paul” players consider my Alnico II and Alnico IV PAFs to be truly “Holy Grail” tone. But those pesky Tele players. . .
When Tele players talk about “Holy Grail” tone, the usual statement made is something like this: “Well, I love the sound of a vintage 50’s Tele bridge pickup … but they CAN get a little ice-picky sometimes, and …well, I really don’t use the neck pickup much, it’s just too dead and woofy”.
Okay, y’all, think about this for a second. There are top-shelf touring Tele-masters out there gigging with vintage Telecasters worth tens of thousands of dollars saying, in essence “I’m not really in love with my tone”. Wow! That sucks, and I couldn’t help but feel as though something NEEDED to be done for these folks. Now, I could have gone the route of some, and simply thrown in the towel and conceded defeat on the neck pickup … and focused on the bridge pickup (can you say “Esquire”?). But, that would be against every bone in my body. I LIKE multi-pickup guitars for the tonal versatility they offer, and especially for the complex and uniquely gratifying tone that can only result from a fantastically combining pair of pickups! And so it was that I set out on a path that was already littered with the wreckage of past failures. Could I succeed where so many others have failed? Could a set of Tele pickups be made that truly left Tele players wanting for NOTHING? And, for the record, I strictly desired to keep to “true” Tele sets … I’m talking drop-in replacements here … not some crappily conceived humbucker or other aberration; plenty of folks have went down that road and wound up with the most God-awful sounding Tele pickups ever! My goal wasn’t to remove “hum” or to produce a pickup that looked good on an oscilloscope … no, I wanted tone to die for, true Holy-Grail tone.
I will admit that, living in Nashville, I have an advantage over many other pickup designers and builders. Here in Nashville, I have at my disposal what is probably the largest assembly of top-shelf Telecasters and the Tele-Masters who play them available anywhere in the world. And so I began quite a process of comparing everything that I tried to the “best of the best”. Guess what? It seems as though I did it. Rocket science? Nope, not at all. The recipe I landed on really isn’t that far from Leo’s first designs, in fact. Here is what I found:
Alnico II magnets: These are what I call the “sweetest of all magnets”, and man, they REALLY work their magic in Tele pickups. And, that goes for both the Bridge AND neck positions! SWEEEET!
Careful consideration to how strongly the magnets are “charged”: This is NEVER a consideration on mass-produced pickups … it’s just not something an automated process can accurately achieve … but each and every single pole-piece must be charged to optimum levels to achieve perfection in TONE.
Stick with the 43-gauge wire on the neck pickup … but abandon the pre-conceived ideas about how it should be wound. Sorry, I can’t totally give THIS secret away!
Get rid of that neck cover (or at least the part of it that stands between the pole-pieces and the strings. Sure, it’s true that modern covers do not deaden the tone as much as early 50’s chrome over brass covers … but they DO still suck tone to a very notable degree!
So there you have it; almost all my secrets revealed. Nearly a year’s worth or R&D thrown out there for anyone to copy as they see fit. Why on earth would I divulge this? Well, Leo Fender is kinda my hero … and the man never even patented the Stratocaster or the Telecaster guitars; so, I guess you could say I’m following in Leo’s footsteps … and hopefully adding a little to his legacy.
Convinced? Be sure to check out these pickups … that we’ve named “Vaughn’s Velvet Telecaster” set.
Here is a video discussion and demo.
If it doesn’t play, follow this link: http://youtu.be/oCJ9xAL2Ltg?list=UUqz2jjVBQhBK3oCSyp1UE9g