Pickup Artist

We catch up with Fen­der’s pickup guru Tim Shaw in his Nashville lair to learn more about the process be­hind the Amer­i­can Per­form­ers

Guitarist - - Fender / American Performer Series -

De­sign­ing a new pickup and mak­ing it in your shed can be a fun pas­time. But de­sign­ing a pickup that will be part of the big­gest elec­tric gui­tar com­pany’s Big New Launch is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mat­ter al­to­gether. Tim Shaw seems to take it all in his stride. It cer­tainly helps that he’s been do­ing it a while and, based in Nashville, he has some help­ful and tal­ented friends – such as Grammy Award-winning pro­ducer Dave Cobb who un­wit­tingly helped Tim onto the trail that would lead to the new Fen­der Yosemite sin­gle coils.

“Fen­der wanted stuff [for the new Per­former se­ries] with flush pole­pieces, which I thought, ‘Okay, that de-com­pli­cates a bunch of stuff, but aside from that I was pretty much given free rein,” Tim ex­plains. “It oc­curred to me that, pretty much, Al­nico 4 had never been ex­ten­sively used be­fore as rod mag­nets; there is no rea­son it couldn’t have been.

“As you know, the var­i­ous grades are recipes, mix­tures of dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als, so Al­nico 4, in terms of its power and its recipe, ends up some­where be­tween Al­nico 2 and 5. For in­stance, Al­nico 2 is 17 per cent nickel, 10 per cent alu­minium, 12.5 per cent cobalt and the bal­ance is iron. Al­nico 4 is 28 per cent nickel, 12 per cent alu­minium, 5 per cent cobalt and, again, the rest is iron. Al­nico 4 is a bit more pow­er­ful than 2 – some mea­sure­ments are higher, some lower – but it’s kind of in the ball­park. Gib­son used Al­nico 4 on the Fire­birds be­cause they didn’t want some­thing as bright and clanky as Al­nico 5.”

So what part did Dave Cobb play? “In the world of coun­try-mu­sic pro­duc­ers, he’s a god,” as­serts Tim. “About 18 months ago he comes by my ’shop and he has a ’69 Esquire with a pickup that had been re­wound three or four times and he hated it. So I made a Tele bridge pickup us­ing Al­nico 4 rod mag­nets and he re­ally liked it. The Esquire is back in use in Dave’s stu­dio and in the en­su­ing months I had artists come in and say, ‘Oh, I played the Esquire – it re­ally sounds great!’ The gui­tar has be­come its own thing and that led me to be­lieve I was on to some­thing with this, so I started mak­ing up a se­ries of pretty much all flat-top Al­nico 4 pick­ups and just learn­ing how the ma­te­rial worked. Son­i­cally, it’s brighter than Al­nico 2 but not as bright as 5.

“Joey Brasler [vice pres­i­dent prod­uct devel­op­ment for Fen­der Elec­tric Gui­tars and Basses] came to us from Gui­tar Cen­ter and he’s an ex­cel­lent gui­tar player with re­ally good ears. He came here for a week, a lit­tle over as year ago, and we worked through al­most the en­tire se­ries. We played and he ap­proved most of the pick­ups that week. The mid­dle and neck Yosemites ac­tu­ally hap­pened rel­a­tively quickly for the Strat, but the bridge ac­tu­ally ended up with Al­nico 2 mag­nets rather than 4 be­cause the 4 sounded a lit­tle too harsh in bridge po­si­tion. Joey asked if we could knock a lit­tle bit off – I didn’t want to put any more wire on it so we changed mag­nets. What do you think of them?”

We re­lated our ex­pe­ri­ences, not least that the Yosemites sound al­most ‘en­hanced’. We ven­tured that – com­pared with other Strats we have as ref­er­ence – with the Per­former Strat it’s al­most like we’re lis­ten­ing to a quite classy Strat post-EQ, whereas our ref­er­ence Strats are pre-EQ. The Per­former in iso­la­tion, then, sounds as if it’s en­hanced to max­imise how it sits in a record­ing, for ex­am­ple, where many of us will give our Strat a lit­tle sheen to max­imise the sparkle, some com­pres­sion and trim the low-end.

“Ac­tu­ally, I find that re­ally in­ter­est­ing,” Tim re­sponds. “Re­ally in­ter­est­ing. As Joey was play­ing the new pick­ups he said, ‘These sound like you’ve recorded them in a great stu­dio with a good amp and you’re hear­ing them back in post-pro­duc­tion.’ Pre­cisely what you said.”

Cer­tainly, if you ‘lis­ten’ from a spec sheet, you’re go­ing to strug­gle with these pick­ups. Along with the ‘wrong’ mag­nets they have a high DCR. We asked Tim if he was us­ing a finer wire. He replies: “Yes, it’s a lit­tle bit finer. The first ones I made, which were en­tirely stock, were a lit­tle brighter than I’d like, so, yes, there’s a lit­tle more wire on them than vin­tage pick­ups have, but that’s kind of what it seemed to want. A lot of times when you’re us­ing an al­ter­na­tive mag­net ma­te­rial you wind some­thing with a spec you know, then you see what it does and make changes. So, in this case the added wire gives me more in­duc­tance and put sim­ply, yes, I am rolling off highs.”

And the shel­lac ‘pot­ting’? “We used it in the 60s [at Fen­der]. We know the ’63 P-Bass-era is shel­lac, [but] we don’t know why. I shel­lac’d for years in­stead of wax­ing and now I do both. It’s not used hot; it’s Zinsser Bulls Eye Shel­lac, about as generic in Amer­ica as it gets. So the coils get a five-minute dunk.

“Un­like a vac­uum wax pot­ting process, which pen­e­trates the whole coil, this doesn’t do that,” Tim ex­plains. “Some peo­ple use lac­quer, but that tends to be more vis­cous than shel­lac – it de­pends on the type. If you’re us­ing a catal­ysed lac­quer, then that cures like ce­ment. Shel­lac ba­si­cally doesn’t. It gets hard, but to rate them in de­scend­ing ‘sparkle mod­i­fi­ca­tion’ or­der there’s noth­ing, shel­lac, most lac­quers, and then wax. The wax will chop off more high-end than the lac­quer, which chops off more high-end – to my ear – than the shel­lac, which chops off a lit­tle bit more than noth­ing at all. So, it’s some­thing that has his­toric prece­dent at Fen­der, and it’s some­thing I use all the time.”

“Al­nico 4 had never been ex­ten­sively used as rod mag­nets; there is no rea­son it couldn’t have been’”

Tim’s pick­ups for Fen­der’s new Amer­i­can Per­form­ers are dif­fer­ently voiced to the Amer­i­can Pro­fes­sion­als

Aside from the flat Al­nico 4 pole­pieces, once in­stalled on the Amer­i­can Per­former Strat, the neck pickup looks stan­dard…

Pull it out and take the cover off, how­ever, and you’ll see the dif­fer­ent shel­lac-dipped coil wound around moulded coil for­m­ers

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.