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Thread: Bobbin Flatwork Material... does it really matter?

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    Bobbin Flatwork Material... does it really matter?

    I am an avid woodworker, and am brand new to looking at making a guitar pickup. I was watching an interview with Jason Lollar on "The Doug and Pat Show" on YouTube, and they talked about how old 1950's and 60's PAF pickups, when you take them out now to have a look at them, a lot of the time the flatwork has just rotted away like cardboard or the foam inside an old speaker cab.

    I was wondering...
    A.) What IS modern day pickup "flatwork" like from StewMac made from?
    B.) Could it be made from wood, or anything rigid, or is there some targeted reason the old guys used this material?

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    Typical Fender-style flatwork is vulcanized fibreboard- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcanized_fibre- which is an excellent material for the job for a variety of reasons.

    That being said, you could use a variety of other options. Pretty much any reasonably stiff non-conductive material could be used: most types of plastic, circuit board materials like phenolic or glass-epoxy composites, formica, etc. Wood could be used, but I'd be concerned about movement with humidity changes putting stress on the windings. Also, in a typical single-coil where the magnets are a press-fit, I'd worry about getting a hole drilled cleanly and accurately enough in wood to provide the correct fit. And again, the movement with humidity could easily see the wood cracking, or the magnets falling out. Essentially then, solid wood looks like a bad choice. No reason you couldn't use something like very thin birch plywood, but it would cost more than the fibreboard.

    I'm not a winder myself, but the fibreboard seems almost ideal. It is easy to work with, not brittle, inexpensive, and available in various thicknesses and colours. If you don't keep it in a damp basement it won't rot, especially if the pickups are potted in wax or similar.

    Andy

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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelscottPerkins View Post
    I am an avid woodworker, and am brand new to looking at making a guitar pickup. I was watching an interview with Jason Lollar on "The Doug and Pat Show" on YouTube, and they talked about how old 1950's and 60's PAF pickups, when you take them out now to have a look at them, a lot of the time the flatwork has just rotted away like cardboard or the foam inside an old speaker cab.

    I was wondering...
    A.) What IS modern day pickup "flatwork" like from StewMac made from?
    B.) Could it be made from wood, or anything rigid, or is there some targeted reason the old guys used this material?
    I have never seen or heard of rotten PAF bobbins. The material was polybutyrate, a rather soft plastic. Maybe they talked about old P-90s. Their polystyrene bobbins get brittle over time and often show breaks.

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    To attempt to answer the OP question?
    Doe it matter, yes and no.
    You want a material that is not conductive.
    A material that is fairly thin, and stiff, and doesn't break easily.
    Something reasonable in price.
    Wood can be used, but it is hard to make it thin, and still keep it durable.
    Forbon, and plastic, is hard to beat, they can be mass produced, and low cost.
    T

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    If we or I said PAFs rot- I dont know why! Certain years of P-90s rot. Gibson also made alot of bobbins out of tortoise shell celluloid and that rots too. They also made dog ear P-90s in the 40s? that were built up from pieces made from laminated plastic instead of injection moulded and those built up ones are bomb proof.

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    Let us distinguish between "flatwork" and "bobbins". Flatwork is generally vulcanized fibreboard or something equally robust, and, while not entirely indestructable, pretty damn close to it. Bobbins, on the other hand come in a variety of plastics, some of which lose their robustness with time. I've seen and owned P90s, Melody-Maker pickups, japanese ceramic-mag single-coils, and gold foils whose bobbins were past the point of no return. PAF-style bobbins, on the other hand, tend to be pretty hardy. I'm uninformed about whether the bobbins on original wide-range humbuckers (which were a softer plastic) held up over time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lollar Jason View Post
    If we or I said PAFs rot- I dont know why! Certain years of P-90s rot. Gibson also made alot of bobbins out of tortoise shell celluloid and that rots too. They also made dog ear P-90s in the 40s? that were built up from pieces made from laminated plastic instead of injection moulded and those built up ones are bomb proof.
    Thanks! You may have said P-90's and I thought you meant PAFs. Thanks for the reply. It really clears this whole thing up for me.

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    Wide range used nylon- never seen those deteriorate but they only go back to the 70's. IMO bobbin means assembled pieces or one piece moulded widgets that you wind a coil around. I laser cut "flatwork" to assemble a wide variety of bobbins- custom size humbuckers are cut as flat bits and glued to a core which could be acrylic or wood etc. Every P-90 we have made- thousands or tens of thousands of them at this point - are made that way just like Gibson did in the 40's. ! believe traditionally "Flatwork" refers to typical Fender construction where 90 % of the time magnets are the core but they also used forbon flatwork glued to a hollow cardboard or plastic tube on thier lap and console steel guitars from the 40's and early 50's. Just being contrary

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    Not at all! You're being specific, which is a good thing.
    And yes, now that you mention it, your noting of WR HBs using a nylon bobbin jives with my recollection of the one I used to own, 40+ years ago. I guess they needed to use that so that the bobbins weren't destroyed when the super-hard threaded CuNiFe polepieces were screwed in or adjusted.

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