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Thread: "Vintage" Strat Pickups for Compound Radius Necks?

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    "Vintage" Strat Pickups for Compound Radius Necks?

    I'm interested in hearing peoples' success/failure experiences about fitting single coil strat-type pickups to a partscaster with a compound radius neck.

    I have one of the "Warmoth Radius" strat necks (10" to 16" compound radius) and it's just not playing well with traditional "vintage stagger" pickups. The string to string volume balance is just awful -- the D and the plain G are just way too dominant, and the B and E are so quiet it's ridiculous.

    I think that more than anything else, this is a problem where the "vintage stagger" of the pickup magnets just doesn't work on a modern compound radius neck. I think that Fender has to have their head in the clouds, marketing "vintage stagger" pickups to everyone that were designed in the 50s for a wound G string on a 7.5" radius neck, when they don't even sell guitars like that today. Just about everything coming out of Fender now has a 9.5" radius as a minimum and a plain G. It seems as if Fender is more interested in selling "vintage" gear to people who are impressed by "vintage" marketing, rather than by making pickups that actually work well with modern guitar designs that use flatter neck profiles.

    I'm thinking that I need to find a traditional, low-output stratty sounding pickup with a flat stagger to get something that will provide string-string balance with a flat radius neck. I'm amazed that a product like this is so hard to find, but Fender and Duncan don't seem to be very interested in selling a flat-radius type of product unless you're willing to go with a noiseless design, which IMO takes you away from the classic strat tone. I think it's crazy that my only option seems to be to custom order something from a boutique winder, when all I want is a set of generic set of strat pickups that have flat alignment of the poles.

    Right now the situation is looking so bleak that I might just have to bite the bullet and wind up some of my own.

    Is there an easier solution?

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    "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

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    Supporting Member mozz's Avatar
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    Want me to wind you a set? Any stagger you want or flat as flat can be. Click image for larger version. 

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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    The string to string volume balance is just awful -- the D and the plain G are just way too dominant, and the B and E are so quiet it's ridiculous.
    I have that same neck on a early 90s strat (USA) has stock flat pole pickups and still same problem you describe. found that the tusk nut was cut sorta low so raising the b and e .0015 in the nut helps some, .. but maybe its not the same problem.
    If you find a real solution I'd be Interested in hearing about it!.

    EDIT LoL 15? no .001 !

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    Last edited by dstrat; 05-19-2018 at 12:38 AM.

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Well... It's a risk, but I've done it a dozen times and only killed one pickup (who would take those odds?!? STILL)

    You can actually warm the pickup and tap the magnets higher or lower. I'd suggest trying to only move lower since moving higher may position the but end of the pole inside the bobbin. Then if you wanted to move it back down it's very easy to clip the wire. Use a shim on top of the form to prevent moving too far since it's not a real graceful operation. And DO use a wooden dowel or similar against the pole piece/s you move. Nothing metal. Oh, and you do this at your own risk. The way I see it you would have to pay near the pickup value to have a pro adjust them (which they would probably do about like I described, at THEIR own risk) or you'll want to replace them anyway. So what do you have to lose?

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Thanks for the offer, Mozz. I may have to go that route. I was thinking that unless I'm able to find a reasonable off-the-shelf option then I may just have to order in some parts and commandeer the sewing machine to use it as a winder! It's funny, but I've never given any thought to winding my own pups before, but now that I'm being faced with the problem out of necessity, I might end up being pushed into it.

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dstrat View Post
    I have that same neck on a early 90s strat (USA) has stock flat pole pickups and still same problem you describe. found that the tusk nut was cut sorta low so raising the b and e .0015 in the nut helps some, .. but maybe its not the same problem.
    If you find a real solution I'd be Interested in hearing about it!.

    EDIT LoL 15? no .001 !

    Dstrat, I'm interested that you have the same problem with "flat" pickups. As far as I can tell at this point, there are 3 main contributors to the problem:

    1. Vintage Stagger Isn't a Good Idea on Flat Necks.

    I mentioned this in the previous post. It doesn't make sense to manufacture "vintage spec" pickups that have a high G pole in an era when people play plain G strings. It also doesn't make sense to stagger the pickups for a 7.5" neck when Fender is making 9.5" and 12" necks, and the rest of the industry goes up to 16".

    2. Inconsistency in Manufacturing is a Problem.

    I'm beginning to think that Fender's year over year manufacturing consistency is pretty bad -- so bad that a set of what they sell as "Texas Specials" in 2017 isn't very close to the "Texas Specials" that I bought in the mid 1990s.

    I have a 1990s Bonnie Raitt strat that came stock with Texas Specials. It wears plain-G 11s in standard tuning and I've never been bothered by any sort of volume output problem. For this partscaster experiment I picked up a new 2017 AmSpl body, which also has pickups that Fender says are "Texas Specials" but don't look the same or sound the same. My 1990s vintage TS have a very mild "vintage stagger" where the pole pieces barely protrude above the pup covers and the difference between the pole heights is not that significant. With the pups mounted low I've never had a volume problem or any "Strat-itis".

    Things definitely changed when I tried playing the new AmSpl body with the 2017 TS pickups. To start off, the 2017 TS look nothing like my 1990s TS. The magnets protrude high out of the pickup covers and the stagger is highly exaggerated to the point that it looks comical. The new pickups just look wrong to me. When I mounted the neck on the Am Spl body (with the bridge unaltered from it's setup for the stock 9.5" neck) the string balance was just awful. I didn't know what to make of it at first -- I thought it might be a radius problem but then I also thought those crazy-looking pole pieces could be the culprit. I tried lowering pups, not helpful. I figured that changing the bridge to flatten it out to match the cone for the CR neck could only make the problem worse by raising the outboard strings even farther from the pole pieces, so I didn't even bother with that.

    What struck me as odd is that I went back to my 1990s Strat with the TS pups, and suddenly I was aware of a very minor/insignificant volume discrepancy between G and B/E strings on it too, which I think is attributable to the vintage design being referenced to a wound G. On the old TS the B and E volume difference was so minor that I never paid attention to it, I just adjusted my B and E picking to accommodate. But on the new TS the difference was just HUGE and there was nothing I could do to compensate for the diminished output. I think that had to be attributable to the pole piece positioning being so exaggerated. I left with the conclusion that Fender manufacturing consistency was so bad that they couldn't manufacture a set of Texas Specials in 2017 that were like the original Texas Specials from the 1990s, so I sent the body back.

    3. Non-Adjustable Pole Pieces

    I had hoped that a "modern stagger" would fix the problem. Theoretically, the flat poles on modern pickup designs should fix the problem, but I haven't had a chance to try any. All of the modern designs by Fender that have flat staggers seem to be noiseless designs, which isn't really what I want. I'm looking for a plain-Jane quacky strat pickup that will work with a flat fingerboard and give good string balance. I'm not encouraged to hear that a flat stagger didn't fix the problem. Do you know the exact model designation for your pups? Now I'm worried that the only way to get around the problem is to go with a pickup that has adjustable pole pieces.

    4. Am I missing anything else?

    Am I missing anything else? I'm beginning to wonder if finding a set of vintage-style strat pickups with adjustable pole pieces may be the answer. They are surprisingly hard to find. Duncan makes a set of flat-stagger vintage Strat pickups (SSL-2) but they are not adjustable. I think the G&L CLF-100 is adjustable. I haven't found anything else, as Fender and Duncan seem totally disinterested in the problem. Are there any other good options out there, short of diving into custom winding?

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    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

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    Senior Member SoulFetish's Avatar
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    The compound radius neck just makes too much damn sense not to utilize. For the life of me, I can't understand the resistance or push-back against it.
    Not to steer this thread too far off course, but I've been putting off having a custom neck neck made for me for way too long. Warmoth offers a 10"-16" compound radius as their only offering. I prefer a more round radius to begin with near the headstock. I could live with the offerings from USACG and Guitar Mill, but does anyone know any other sources/indy builders who could build me a strat style neck with a custom radius?

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    Well... It's a risk, but I've done it a dozen times and only killed one pickup (who would take those odds?!? STILL)

    You can actually warm the pickup and tap the magnets higher or lower. I'd suggest trying to only move lower since moving higher may position the but end of the pole inside the bobbin. Then if you wanted to move it back down it's very easy to clip the wire. Use a shim on top of the form to prevent moving too far since it's not a real graceful operation. And DO use a wooden dowel or similar against the pole piece/s you move. Nothing metal. Oh, and you do this at your own risk. The way I see it you would have to pay near the pickup value to have a pro adjust them (which they would probably do about like I described, at THEIR own risk) or you'll want to replace them anyway. So what do you have to lose?
    Yeah, I know about pushing down on the pole pieces. It's a calculated risk. Did you do it with American Fender pickups, Mexican Fender pickups, or something else? From what I've been able to read, pushing down on the poles seems to be safest on those pups that have a wrapper placed around the pole pieces before they get wound, but not so well on those pups that have the wires directly wound onto the pole pieces. In other words, should be fairly safe on a set of Mexican ceramic Strat pickups, likely to break the wires on a set of American AlNiCo Strat pickups, and guaranteed to waste a set of Duncans, because Duncan uses GLUE to hold the wires in place on the pole pieces.

    As it turns out, I've never liked the tone of high output ceramic Mexican strat pickups, so I've never had a set. That kind of takes me out of the game when it comes to pole-pushing, as the only Strat pickups I've ever had are the American/AlNiCo ones that wrap the wire right onto the pole pieces. That makes the risk go up.

    If I had a set of American pups on-hand for the experiment then I'd likely take the risk. Chances are that if all I need to do is to lower the G and maybe the D, they're in the middle and they're more likely to be loose-fitting inside of the wire. but if it comes to raising the e, that's a guaranteed pickup-killer. My problem is that I don't have a set of pickups to experiment with -- I sent back the loaded body that had the new Texas Specials in it, partly because the pickups sounded like they were defective, partly because the body had a shaping defect on the lower horn such that the pickguard stuck out beyond the body's radius creating a gap between them. (How that body passed Fender QC I'll never know. That makes me wonder whether the Stratosphere is selling Fender Bodies that are Factory Seconds.) So I'm in the situation where I don't have a set of pickups for this guitar to experiment on. I have to buy a set of pickups to do any sort of experiment, so now the question is more of what to buy.

    I really like the feel of the CR neck, and although I thought that 10-16" would be too flat, it doesn't bother me. It fees just like 9.5" down in the cowboy range, but then starts to feel Gibby in the middle and Ibby up top. A good compromise, IMO.

    I really like the neck, but I hate the pickup problem that it's causing. I'm thinking that adjustable pole pieces might be an answer. But I don't know where to find them. I would have thought that this pickup / neck radius problem would have been worked out a long time ago. It's crazy that it's still a problem and that anyone who buys a CR neck has to go through this BS. Like SF says, it's almost as if the powers that be are pushing back against the idea.

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    Last edited by bob p; 05-19-2018 at 01:46 AM.
    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

    "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

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    I really have liked this compound neck since I got it like ~5 years ago its been good, its the fat boat neck.
    The problem with the b and e was there from the beginning, but might of got worse over time. Slipping a 1/4" doubled slice of paper under the nut
    did help my situation some but did not eliminate it. I also have my pickups set where the bass side is low 1/4" and about 3/16" below the e b strings.
    Not too bad balance wise but still its there.

    I can not comment much on TS other then I personally am not a fan of over wound pickups.
    All I know about these pickups is they came in the guitar new.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    I've pushed the poles around on both wrapped and unwrapped pole pickups (but never a Seymour Duncan). Warm it first. Good and warm.

    I haven't done it in a long time though. I use "modern stagger" pickups (the plain G pole is dropped) and lower the low E side a tad at the adjustment screw. Since I usually play with aggressive tones that works for me. If you play clean a lot then you're going to need to adjust your poles.

    Glad you're liking the compound radius. I fully agree with your assessment. I promise that after a few months on it you literally won't even notice it's radiused. IT will feel "normal" (or normalized as it were) and other necks will seem to lack the refinement. I've been playing on mine for well over two decades (time for new frets!) and I would never consider using anything else. I'm worried about ruining it with the refret. I've done a stellar job maintaining the frets (in all immodesty ). But they're just too beat up at this point. I'll probably buy a replacement before attempting the refret so the guitar DOES have a neck. But the original neck is important for this ax because it's "Dead mans wood". So it's sentimental. I would never let anyone else touch it either for the same reason. If something $h!t$ the bed on this one I wouldn't want to end up in the paper. So I'm stuck doing it myself, though I haven't done it before.

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    I'm not a big fan of high output pickups. But then I'm not a big fan of overdrive stomboxes either. I find myself moving away from the cascaded gain preamps in favor of cleaner vintage amps for blues and jazz. And unless I'm specifically trying to sound like I'm from Texas, I typically keep the Strat's volume below 5 and turn up the amp. Sometimes I even use the #2 input on a Fender to avoid overdriving the input. I'm really more interested in a clean tone for my Strat pups.

    My understanding of the Fender product line is that there 3 basic types: a) Mexican/ceramic pickups are wound on plastic bobbins,that have the flat bar magnets on the bottom. They tend to have higher output and but they are hack-adjustable by pole-pushing. Tonally these are too high output and not really what I'm looking for; b) Vintage-style American/Alnico types are typically wound on vulcanized fiber with the awful vintage stagger. These are typically wound with the wires directly onto the magnets and are high-risk when it comes to pole-pushing. The CS69 is something that I like the sound of, though these "b" group pups all have the problem of vintage stagger and direct winding of wire on the pole pieces, which I'd rather avoid if I can. I'd hate to buy some CS69 pickups just to waste them; c) Modern American-type AlNiCo magnet pickups that are staggered, but are wound on Mexi-type plastic bobbins with the plastic sleeves around the poles. These are likely to be the safest when it comes to pole-pushing and seem to be my best bet -- they'd directly reduce the likelihood of wire shorting when doing the push down on the pole pieces.

    Does anyone know which specific models of Fender pickups fall into the "c" category? All things considered, I'm thinking that I can probably get by with a plain old set of vintage-sounding low-output Strat pickups, but I prefer AlNiCo over ceramic, flat over staggered, and hack-adjustable plastic bobbins, like the "c" types I described earlier. I'd rather start this project by buying some cheapo Fender products if that's an option, rather than shopping boutique or gearing up to DIY wind. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

    FWIW, here's a video that demonstrates push- modding what I'm calling the "c" category pickups, starting at 5:00. thanks.


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    Last edited by bob p; 05-19-2018 at 11:00 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    Well... It's a risk, but I've done it a dozen times and only killed one pickup (who would take those odds?!? STILL)

    You can actually warm the pickup and tap the magnets higher or lower. I'd suggest trying to only move lower since moving higher may position the but end of the pole inside the bobbin. Then if you wanted to move it back down it's very easy to clip the wire. Use a shim on top of the form to prevent moving too far since it's not a real graceful operation. And DO use a wooden dowel or similar against the pole piece/s you move. Nothing metal. Oh, and you do this at your own risk. The way I see it you would have to pay near the pickup value to have a pro adjust them (which they would probably do about like I described, at THEIR own risk) or you'll want to replace them anyway. So what do you have to lose?
    Please only try this after you made sure you have plastic bobbins. With real vintage construction the wire touches the magnets and chances are high to break it. And even if it does not break, there is a risk that the applied heat melts the wire insulation and causes shorts between turns via the magnets. I have seen several examples of both failure types.

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    Last edited by Helmholtz; 05-19-2018 at 02:03 PM.

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    Supporting Member mozz's Avatar
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    I've bought some chinese plastic bobbins but never wound any pickups on them yet. I should measure the spacing, i think the forbon is 52mm? Also i hope they take the .187 magnets.

    I was experimenting with magnet height and came up with a few variations. I would need to make a set of each on it's on pickguard, that's a big project i will never get to though. Some heights i compensated for radius, some i compensated the height due to the string thickness, with the wound strings measuring the core only.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Didn't fender in the 70's use flat pole pieces? Stolen from the web sometime.
    Strat polepiece staggerskeep in mind even modern manufacturing tolerances are normally +- .005")
    up to '56: E .690 A .690 D .719 G .690 B .636 E .656
    '56-aprox '69: E .690 A .690 D .719 G .719 B .636 E .656
    '70's on, flat .656

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    ToneOholic! big_teee's Avatar
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    Here's the stagger attachment kept on the Pickup Resources thread.
    http://music-electronics-forum.com/a...magstagger.pdf
    T

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    On Rio Grande Tele bridge p/u's that have all the pole pieces raised I've ground down the ones I wanted lower. May take some of the magnetic out of that pole piece but that would help with string volume as well, I imagine.

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    But can someone recommend an off-the-shelf pickup model of the style Bob calls "type c" (the style shown in the video in post 11)?

    My Squire mini-Strat (converted to a 5-string octave mandolin) has "Bob Type A" pickups with steel poles and a pair of ceramic magnets. I've misplaced my calipers, but the poles eyeball close to 3/16" diameter and probably could be replaced with alnico poles. That could be somewhat of a PITA- but on the other hand, I bought the whole (B-stock) guitar for, like, forty bucks.

    -rb

    PS- Bob, did you ever get that G&L Strat sorted out? What type pickups does it have?

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    Last edited by rjb; 05-20-2018 at 02:00 AM. Reason: "know" -> "recommend"
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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Thanks for those measurement specs! That's pure gold!

    In retrospect maybe I should have photographed and measured those 2017 Texas Specials that had the exaggerated stagger and sounded so imbalanced. I like to think that their stagger was worse than any of those specs, but I never took them apart to measure them. Since I wasn't going to keep the defective body I just sent it back.

    I'm still hoping to find a decent off-the-shelf option if one is available. What I'm really hoping for is to find a reasonably priced flat-stagger "modern" pickup set that's voiced to vintage tone if I can find something like that. If that's a unicorn, then I guess I have no option other than to start push-modding an off-the-shelf set of pups with plastic bobbins so that the only force I'm working against is some wax.

    Unfortunately I'm having trouble finding pickups that fit the bill -- so far the only "bob type c" pickup that I've noticed that seems to be available currently as a boxed set is the Tex-Mex. I don't know if other options might be available on current production guitars, or if they may have been discontinued. Fender web specs on guitars aren't all that revealing, and the non-attractive nature of the current line of Fender guitars is what got me into the partscaster project in the first place.

    The Tex Mex has a plastic bobbin, is staggered, has alnico 5 magnets and measures 6.5kR to 7.4kR (kind of hot). Is it even possible to take off some of the windings to render it more vintage sounding, or does the potting wax just mean that you have to cut all of the wire out and start over? If that's the case then home winding on a set of blanks is starting to look better.

    I'm resisting the temptation to ramble on about the Legacy. It really deserves it's own thread. Although it looks like a Strat none of the parts (neck, pickguard, tremolo) interchange with a Strat. I suppose I could pull the flat Alnico pups out of the pickguard and build a new Strat pickguard assembly around them, but even with circuit tweaks they're pretty shrill sounding without much bass response and ultimately not what I want for the partscaster.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    Is it even possible to take off some of the windings to render it more vintage sounding, or does the potting wax just mean that you have to cut all of the wire out and start over?
    I once "almost" successfully vintage-fied a hot Epiphone Dot humbucker. I betcha unwinding a plastic-bobbin single coil would be considerably easier.

    Most of the wax filling the covers was removed just by heating with a hair dryer and tapping the assembly on the workbench. With the Epi HBs, the real PITA was that the coils were potted with something like construction adhesive (think Liquid Nails). I had to repeatedly stop unwinding to heat the coil with a hairdryer and wipe and scrape adhesive with a shop towel and a 1/4" strip of old credit card.

    IIRC, my unwinding procedure went something like this:
    [Skip irrelevant details regarding disassembly & avoidance of coil wire breakage at "Start" lead wire junction.]
    Remove screws from bobbin to provide a flat front surface (slugs are already flush with their bobbin top.)
    Using double-sided tape, stick bobbin face-down to workbench top.
    With dominant hand, use "coffee stirrer" motion to unwind coil; with non-dominant hand, simultaneously use "mon back" motion to take up coil wire around fingers.

    I successfully unwound both coils using this method. Reassembled the pickup and everything ohmed out. Unfortunately, a loop of coil wire had pushed its way up along the inner face of a bobbin flange, and I couldn't resist the temptation to scrape off that damn glob of adhesive....

    Anyways, relatively speaking, unwinding a single coil should be a piece of cake.

    -rb

    PS - I used the "Cherokee" method to keep track of turns count: http://music-electronics-forum.com/t42276/

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    Last edited by rjb; 05-19-2018 at 11:25 PM.
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  19. #19
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    so I'd be looking at playing Cherokee about 30 times to get ~7500 winds for a single strat pickup? and do that 3 times to make 3 pickups?

    I like the song, but I don't think I could stand still for 90 replays without breaking into a Fox Trot. That starts to make sacrificing a calculator to make a sewing machine counter sound appealing.

    Still hoping for an off the shelf solution...

    PS - I recently had an Epi 335 Pro that I had to give back because the Slim-D neck was so painfully thin. I was amazed by how good it's pickups sounded.

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    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

    "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    so I'd be looking at playing Cherokee about 30 times to get ~7500 winds for a single strat pickup? and do that 3 times to make 3 pickups?
    No. You would use the Salvarsan coil estimator to guesstimate how many turns to remove from your too-hot pickups to get into the vintage zone. Coil Estimator

    A possible problem with the calculator/sewing machine combo is that the calculator will drop counts if you run the winder too fast; it will think that your impossibly fast "button pushes" are switch bounce.

    -rb

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  21. #21
    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    I recently had an Epi 335 Pro that I had to give back because the Slim-D neck was so painfully thin. I was amazed by how good it's pickups sounded.
    It probably had nothing to do with the thin, set neck and semi hollow body construction

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