Guitarhacking

Handmade Fender style 'casters

Holocaster

In the 1990s Fender built some Stratocasters painted in a ‘holoflake’ style, which is to say a base layer of gloss black followed by lots of large metal flakes followed by a final clear coat. The finish sparkled with the colors of the rainbow and it looked really cool. My daughter and I are trying to duplicate this style of Stratocaster but with some upgrades.

The biggest upgrade, apart from totally awesome Schaller satin-finished locking tuners from France, is in the pickup department. But first, let’s check out these tuners.

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Now about those new pickups. I’d recently become interested in understanding the electrical characteristics of pickups. To this end, I thought I’d try analyzing the difference in signal between a humbucker and a single coil using one of the guitars I previously built. I designed this guitar in a way which subverts the tone control and uses it to infinitely vary the guitar’s only pickup between humbucking mode and single coil mode.

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I hooked up that guitar to my computer using the Scarlett Solo by Focusrite, which is an affordable and effective piece of kit. The guitar plugs in to this device and then this device plugs into the Mac USB port, from where it draws power.

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To analyze the signal I used Garageband on my Mac and added the plug-in ‘Blue Cat Freqanalyst’ which is pretty good for free SW. It takes an input signal and computes a Fast Fourier Transform on that signal to allow analyzing the various frequency components of the signal. This is what a typical screenshot looks like, while picking the open A string. The top blue line is the max value, the other line shows the signal degrading over time. Static and dynamic on one graph.

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I found the Seymour Duncan JB Trembucker I was using to show a pronounced difference when operating as a single coil as compared to when it operated as a humbucker. In humbucker mode, it produced a significantly reduced high end frequency response (where ‘high end’ is above 1.5 KHz). Sadly, I didn’t keep the screen shots to show here 😦

So from a frequency response perspective, the single coil pickup was noticeably brighter and this could be seen in the frequency response graph. Being able to see the difference which I could hear in the pickups was quite exciting. This got me thinking about  other aspects of pickup design and with some quick DuckDuckGo searching, I found the web site for Lawing pickups. On their site is a good blog which discusses some of the research they’ve done into pickup design, which culminated in a pickup design with a magnet and a coil of wire per string. As far as I know, nobody else designs passive pickups this way, everyone else uses a single coil of wire around a bunch of pole magnets, so I thought it would be interesting to try these pickups out.

Below is an exploded image of how most single coil pickups are built.

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And now here is an exploded image of a Lawing single coil.

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In this photo below you can see the six magnets on the real product. One of the advantages of this design is that signal strength does not vary significantly as the guitar string moves back and forth over the magnet.

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Since I am building a strat, there are two tone knobs. I’ve wired things so that one tone knob controls the neck pickup, one controls the bridge pickup, and the mid pickup runs wide open all the time.

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And what about the holoflake paint job? Here is a sneak peek!

 

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Finishing up the neck. Kurt Vonnegut books are just the right size to use as jigs 🙂

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All done and in the sun:

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I am not sure what caused that strange blurry blemish in the photo above – this is not a problem with the guitar. I suspect it is a bug in the iPhone post production depth of field adjustment or perhaps some strange interplay with the holoflake finish.

Categories: music

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1 reply

  1. Hello Patrick,

    Your work is impressive; are the French tuners locking?

    People like Roland make pickups that are one humbucker under each string, and it is typically done near the bridge to get great isolation per string (for pitch-to-MIDI, etc.).

    Your finish looks fantastic!

    kgk

    >

    Like

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