Pickup lines

In the first of two in­stal­ments, we talk to Marc Rans­ley of Mojo Pick­ups about the dawn of gold foil pick­ups in the land of the ris­ing sun…

Guitarist - - Contents -

The term ‘gold foil’ is one of the most broadly en­com­pass­ing la­bels of pickup clas­si­fi­ca­tion in to­day’s mar­ket and has its roots in both Ja­pan and Amer­ica. The con­struc­tion of gold foil pick­ups varies so much, in fact, that the only com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of­ten ap­pears to be the gold-coloured mesh shim lo­cated un­der­neath a ge­o­met­ri­cally en­hanced chrome cover. How­ever, for the sake of con­ve­nience, the ex­pres­sion also refers to the style of pick­ups com­monly found on rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive vintage gui­tar mod­els from the likes of Har­mony, Sil­ver­tone, Kay, Teisco, Guy­a­tone and Fu­jiGen Gakki.

In the US, Rowe In­dus­tries’ DeAr­mond pick­ups had be­come ubiq­ui­tous with the com­par­a­tively af­ford­able and hugely pop­u­lar Har­mony gui­tar brand since the 1950s, and by the early 1960s, de­sign-savvy gui­tar builders in Ja­pan had be­gun to take note of their eye-catch­ing aes­thet­ics. The first Ja­panese gold foil pickup ap­peared in 1962 when Fu­jiGen Gakki of Mat­sumoto en­listed the help of one Mr Tezuka – a lo­cal sparky who had pre­vi­ously worked on the fac­tory’s light­ing. Af­ter por­ing over the con­struc­tion of US-made gui­tar elec­tron­ics, the fruits of Mr Tezuka’s labour bore more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to a “Golden Tone In­dox” DeAr­mond and ap­peared to kick­start a trend as the gui­tar mar­ket ex­ploded in Ja­pan.

With count­less de­signs of quirky vintage rar­i­ties orig­i­nat­ing from the likes of Maxon, Shin-ei, Guy­a­tone, Hi­tachi, Hoshino, Kawai, JVC, Sakai, Teisco, Tokai, Yamaha and Zenon, the niche of Ja­panese gold foil pick­ups is as di­verse as it is ob­scure. In re­cent years, a re­vived in­ter­est in this mot­ley crew of by­gone odd­i­ties has cre­ated an un­prece­dented surge in de­mand, prompt­ing some mod­ern pickup builders to step up to the plate and of­fer in­quis­i­tive gui­tarists a high qual­ity and con­sis­tent al­ter­na­tive to the mine­field of the vintage Ja­panese pickup mar­ket.

Spe­cial­is­ing in a range of high qual­ity recre­ations, Marc Rans­ley of Mojo Pick­ups is one of the UK’s best-known devo­tees to Ja­panese-style gold foil pick­ups and was al­ready a fan when he re­ceived his first re­quest for them. “I al­ways liked the Teisco gold foils,” says Marc. “I used to pull them off old Ja­panese guitars and put them on a Strat or a Tele for a dif­fer­ent kind of sound, much like Ry Cooder and Blake Mills. By chance, I had a few peo­ple start ask­ing me about them and I thought, ‘there’s not many peo­ple do­ing this,’ so I got some parts made and within a few months it went crazy.

“As far as gold foil pick­ups go, I tend to spe­cialise in the Ja­panese end of things; US-made gold foil pick­ups are a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent in terms of de­sign, but both types are low-out­put pick­ups in terms of vol­ume. The three styles I’m do­ing – Teisco, N Foil [Mojo’s orig­i­nal ’62 Fu­jiGen Gakki reis­sue] and Guy­a­tone – vary in sub­tle ways. The Guy­a­tone pick­ups are slightly fuller sound­ing than the Teisco ones, and the N Foils are brighter. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Ja­panese gold foils have a lot of midrange, even though they’re fairly quiet and have a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally hol­low sound to them. I think peo­ple like them be­cause they’re quite trans­par­ent sound­ing and they break up re­ally quickly, which is where some of their grit­ti­ness can come from.

“The orig­i­nal Ja­panese gold foils vary in terms of DC re­sis­tance from around 4K to 7K ohms and are gen­er­ally wound with thin 44-gauge wire, but some of them – like the Guy­a­tone – are wound with 43-gauge wire. The early ones are about as ba­sic as you could pos­si­bly find. They used re­ally crude bob­bins that were some­times made out of pa­per, or in­deed no bob­bin at all – they just wrapped the wire around the mag­net! The mag­nets were of­ten rub­berised, al­though they tended to use what was avail­able at the time. They aren’t usu­ally pot­ted, and can be very mi­cro­phonic, but re­tain­ing some el­e­ment of that can be quite nice.

“Ja­panese gold foils aren’t as clean and hi-fi sound­ing as a typ­i­cal Fen­der pickup, but if you have a de­cent gui­tar and want to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, they can be a re­ally good choice.”

Slide mae­stro Ry Cooder’s gold foil-equipped Strat has a unique sound

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