Strange pickups


Hey Steve,

With your extensive gear knowledge, I thought I’d ask you about your preferences regarding lesser used pickups (gold foils, Kleenex box, Charlie Christian, etc). Any thoughts?


George, Colorado Springs, CO

2 Thoughts on Strange pickups
    1 Apr 2022

    cool topic, thanks for asking. .
    Interestingly enough DeArmond seems to have been responsible for a lot of the non-standard cool pickups, at least as far as I’m concerned.
    The acoustic sound hole models associated with Lightnin’ Hopkins and Gabor Szabo, Vic Flick’s 007 theme monkey on a stick, most of the vintage Gretsch and Guild stuff, endless misc Harmony and Silvertone guitars and the repurposing of those gold-foil type pickups as aftermarket replacements.
    Lots of iconic Rowe DeArmond pickups.

    I like the little 60’s Harmony Rocket style low profile pickups, easy to mount on almost any type of guitar, dobro, etc. relatively loud and flat, not too pricey.

    The old Rickenbacker horseshoe PU’s are exceptional, as are most of the older steel guitar pickups.
    The Lindley/Cooder style Supro steel PU’s are probably my fave string-thru design, I have six of those on various guitars and steels, they work great.
    Brutally expressive and humbucking so there’s no end to the gain and volume you can get away with.

    I’ve been using lipsticks for so long I forget they’re not standard for everybody, but the Danelectro – Silvertone stuff is super useful.

    I’m not entirely sure which pickup you’re referring to as Kleenex Box, but if it’s the clear plastic cover with oval design, those are cool and awesome for lap steel application because the single coil null orientation on those is face up.
    Charlie Christian pickups are fantastic too, but I’d take any of the modern “cosmetic CC” stuff with a grain of salt.

    I sure wish it weren’t true, but so far the best versions of any of these pickups are the early or original versions.
    It doesn’t seem possible that wrapping a freakin magnet with wire could qualify as “lost art” but in my own experience the 50’s P90’s all sound better than the 21st century versions.

    Anyway, the big issue with hunting “different PU” at the replacement level is it’s hard to get any real departure in performance with the same size pickup in the same size hole in the same location under the string.
    You can push the output around, you can push the Q around in the mid range at least, but it’s hard to shake the window/location signature.

    Window and location are critical to the sound so if you’re looking for something different sometimes it’s easier to start with a fresh design.
    The flip side to non-standard PU locations is there’s always a chance you’ll just hear them as wrong, so be prepared to do a lot of experimenting.

    The pickups I’ve had the most success with over the years are Gibson full-sized humbuckers PAF era thru T-tops, Gibson mini-hums from the 60’s, including the Epiphone and Silvertone variants, the early DiMarzio’s on my Explorer, Dano Lipstick tubes, Supro string-thru, and early flat-pole Fender single coils like Mustang or lap steel PU’s.

    There were and still are plenty of misc weird pickups in rotation for me, lots of DeArmonds as mentioned earlier, but special mention to the 60’s and 70’s DeArmond humbuckers which are scarce but super fk’n cool. Unfortunately, not a drop in replacement.

    Fender Wide-Range humbuckers are great too, they really do sound “Fender”. .

    The Teisco blade single coils like the stock 60’s Spectrum II pickups are really close in sound to my lipsticks, so I like those a lot too.

    Any of the 60’s National PU’s are worth a listen, special mention to the “focused power” lapsteel PU’s, sidewinders I believe. Bell-like, sweet, clear. the opposite of the string-thru Supro/Coodercaster routine.

    The best of the modern commercially available pickups for me have been the Lollar Low-Wind humbucker, the Lollar Johnny Smith mini,
    and the Harmonic Design Z-90 single coil.

    The Z90’s are ridiculously good, good as anything. I got mine very early on, I assume they’re still working with their original winning formula.

    Final thought: The guitar makes the pickup, not the other way around.
    Some guitars are just dogs that no pickup will rescue, and some pickup locations on even the best guitars just don’t respond to change.
    The bridge pickup location on my #1 Explorer is like that; it’s just a weak, bright, hole. Sounds the same with a real PAF or a Super Distortion.
    Happy Hunting!

      2 Apr 2022

      Thank you Steve! Super awesome response.

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