Posts Tagged ‘pickups’

Summary: If you’re looking for a great amplification solution for your classical guitar, look no further. This pickup not only has a great, natural sound, it requires absolutely no modifications to your guitar!

Pros: Super-easy to install. Just loosen your strings, then literally slide the pickup under them on the tie-down bar. It takes less than 10 minutes! The pickup is also super-sensitive and even picks up subtle harmonics. The volume control on this model is VERY helpful to dial in gain.

Cons: The ONLY thing that’s even remotely negative is that you’ll need to run this through a DI box before you plug into an amp or PA system as this pickup can be a bit noisy if plugged directly into an input. But any performing musician using an acoustic guitar should have a DI in their bag already, so this is practically a non-issue. But for those that don’t have one, you’ll have to spend the extra cash.

Price: $99

Tone Bones:

Despite that single con, I love this pickup! Once I ran it through my Radial PRO passive DI, the pickup was absolutely quiet, whether I plugged it into my Katana Artist (which required using an XLR to 1/4″ converter), my JBL Eon One PA, or my M-Audio M-Track interface. The sound it produces is incredibly natural, and as you’ll hear in the clips below, just a dream to work with for recording!

It Doesn’t Get Any More Uncomplicated Than This

To the left is my vintage 1972 Hiroshi Tamura classical guitar that I received as a gift from a friend a few years ago. This was part of a three-guitar set she gave me that belonged to her late uncle who passed away in 2003. The guitars sat in her storage shed for 15 years, forgotten until she and her mom cleaned it out. Her mom wanted to give the guitars to the Salvation Army, but my friend suggested that they give the guitars to someone who’ll play them.

I’m a bit ashamed to say that I while I fixed up and played the acoustic and electric guitars, I didn’t touch the classical guitar until a few weeks ago when I had an idea for a new song whose solo would be great using a classical guitar. Then I remembered the P40.

I had only looked at it once or twice since I got it. It had a couple of strings missing but was in otherwise great condition. But rather than work on the guitar myself, I took it into Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, CA to have it set up and strung. In the meantime, I started researching classical guitar pickups.

One requirement that I had for a pickup was that I wanted to get one that didn’t require drilling a hole at the butt of the guitar to install a jack. That didn’t leave me with many options other than soundhole pickups.

But fortunately, I ran across a review someone did on the Kremona (now KNA Pickups) NG-1 pickup a few years back. The big selling point of that pickup was that it didn’t require any modifications to be made to the guitar. And unlike under-the-saddle piezo pickups, didn’t require sticking contacts inside the guitar. It was literally a flat, wooden stick that slid under the string loops on the tie-down bar. And the sound quality in the reviews of that first version of the pickup was fantastic!

Still, my only nit about it was that it didn’t have a volume control. Being thorough, I surfed over to the KNA Pickups site, and saw that they had an updated version of the pickup, the NG-2, that had a volume control! But the best thing about it was that it only cost $99.00! That was far less than other solutions.

Technically, I could’ve gone the soundhole pickup route. Several manufacturers have them. I even have one installed in my Gibson J-45. But having a wire coming out of the soundhole is a bit annoying as it gets in the way. I had my Seymour Duncan installed that way and used painters tape to secure the wire to the body of my guitar. But I got nervous about the adhesive eventually ruining my guitar’s finish so I had it installed permanently.

But with NG-2, because it sits on the tie-down bar, the cord is completely out of the way. You can see that in the picture of my guitar. Plus, you’ll notice that the jack elevates the cord above the soundboard, so there’s no worry of it contacting the soundboard and vibrating while playing. The KNA folks really got this right!

How It Sounds

Now, as far as sound is concerned, I couldn’t be happier. The pickup is incredibly sensitive and as I mentioned above, manages to pick up even subtle harmonics. Look, it’s not going to be nearly as good as miking the guitar, but then to really capture the sound of an acoustic instrument, you have to have a hell of a good microphone, or use a couple of them.

The volume control is very nice, though it does seem to have a logarithmic taper to it, so little movements of the knob at the upper end of the volume sweep make huge changes in the volume. But that’s not really a big deal. Luckily there’s a nice resistance in the action of the knob, so you won’t have to worry about knocking the knob and changing the volume. Then again, the pickup is really out of the way of the playing area so that should never be an issue.

Below is a set of clips I put together to demonstrate the pickup. The first clip is the raw sound of the pickup with no EQ or any kind of signal processing. The second clip is the raw clip, but with a slightly scooped EQ, with super light compression (1.8:1) and with a touch of reverb and room ambience. The third clip pans the processed clip to the left and I play a solo with a longer tail reverb and deeper room ambience, keeping the compression and EQ the same.

I’m simply beside myself with how natural this pickup sounds. The raw recording is incredibly close to how my guitar sounds naturally. It really sounds like the guitar is right in front of me. Just amazing! And when I add just minimal processing, it takes the sound over the top!

It’s not common to get this kind of sound at such a reasonable price. The value proposition of this pickup alone makes it worth getting. But the ease of installation plus the sound quality makes this pickup – at least to me – the best choice for amplifying a classical guitar.

For more information, visit the KNA Pickups NG-2 page.

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The NG-2 installed on my classical guitar

A few years ago, a friend of mine kindly gave me three guitars that belonged to her late uncle: A 1990 Simon & Patrick PRO acoustic, a 1993 Godin Artisan ST v5, and a 1972 Hiroshi Tamura P40 classical guitar. I fixed up the S&P and the Godin and have gigged with both since I got the guitars. But I didn’t touch the Tamura because I’m not a classical guitar player. So I kept it in its hardshell case, out of the sunlight.

But a few weeks ago, I started envisioning playing and recording solos with a classical guitar to get that natural woody sound that only a nylon string can produce. So I brought the P40 to my local guitar repair to have it set up and strung. When I got it back, I couldn’t believe just how gorgeous it sounded and just how well it projected its sound (I’ll do a review on the guitar at a later date).

The only problem was that if I wanted to gig with the guitar, I needed a pickup. Unfortunately, the soundhole is too small to fit my pickup of choice, which is a Seymour Duncan Mag Mic. Plus, the Mag Mic is really optimized for steel-string guitars. So I had to do some research.

One thing that I didn’t want was something that required me to drill a pickup hole in the guitar. The P40 is a real vintage guitar, and while it doesn’t have a big street value, it carries with it a lot of sentimental value for me and I didn’t want to be drilling holes in it, lest I alter its sound or mar the memory of my friend’s uncle. So I needed a good, portable solution. My search led me to the KNA Pickups NG-2.

The incredible thing about this pickup is that it sits on top of the tie block right behind the saddle. You loosen your strings so that you can slide the pickup right under them. It’s ingenious! It literally took me ten minutes to install it, with most of the time spent loosening my strings enough to be able to slide the pickup into place.

I do have to admit that I was a little leary of the pickup’s sound because it’s a piezo and they’re notorious for producing that “piezo quack.” But all my concerns were laid to rest once I plugged it into my amp. Once I dialed in the EQ, I couldn’t believe just how natural the pickup sounded. It really captured the woody tones of my guitar!

To be honest, the pickup does have a slight hum plugged straight into my amp, but I was able to get rid of most of the hum by dialing back the volume on the pickup, reducing the input gain on my amp, and controlling volume with the master volume. I should be able to eliminate it for the most part with a notch filter. And when using it to record, I can just isolate the frequency and take it out of the mix. Yeah, it’s a bit more work, but for how it sounds despite that hum, I couldn’t be happier.

When I do my full review on the pickup, I will include sound clips.

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I know what you’re thinking… yet another new PAF pickup manufacturer; and you’d be right. But I’m pretty intrigued by what Deacci is offering based on what I read in their “About” page:

And this is where something special started to happen… taking inspiration from the mathematical sequences that underpin so much of nature’s seemingly random distribution, from flower petals to seed heads, Deacci created a winding distribution methodology based on the Fibonacci sequence that’s resulted in a range of pickups that deliver the very best of those vintage sets but with a consistency and purity that’s hard to achieve with hand wound pickups.

Fibonacci numbers? Those are nature’s magic numbers! 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13… Creating a ratio between adjacent numbers in the Fibonacci sequence form what the Greeks called the “Golden Ratio” or “Golden Mean,” (0.61538461538462…) the perfect balance. You see the Fibonacci numbers everywhere in nature! For instance, the number of clockwise rows of “eyes” on a pineapple versus the number of counter-clockwise rows are adjacent Fibonacci numbers. The length of your hand versus the length of your forearm create a Golden Mean. Pretty amazing stuff.

So if it works in nature, why not apply it to technology? Apparently, Deacci has devised a scatter-winding methodology that employs the Fibonacci sequence. Who knows how this will make the pickups sound? But it definitely is a unique approach, and frankly, since they’re going after discrete numbers, it would mean that there will be much less variation and much more consistency between different pickups of the same make as you find with PAFs (imagine the winders that were originally used to wind PAF pickups were made for winding yarn).

Of course, there’s no guarantee, except for hearing them, and from the sound clips I’ve heard thus far, these are very nice-sounding pickups. I’m going to be getting a set of the their “Green Faze” pickups based upon Peter Green’s ’59 Les Paul’s PAF’s. Very excited about that as I will be putting them into my ’58 Re-issue to brighten up its naturally warmer tone – especially in the neck pickup. I’ll be doing a review in the next few weeks! Stay tuned!

For more information, visit the Deacci Pickups site!

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imperialI just put down “Katie May,” the wonderful guitar I just reviewed from Perry Riggs’ Slash L Guitars. From the first time I plugged her in up to now, one of the most striking things about the guitar that I shared with Perry was the incredible tone and dynamics from the Lollar Imperials he installed. Having played Les Pauls for years, one thing I’ve become accustomed to is the “bloom” from the pickups when sustaining a note.

It’s hard to characterize exactly what “bloom” is and unfortunately it’s difficult so record. But when a pickup “blooms” I hear and feel it as a subtle change in character of the note being played. The overtones and harmonics seem to take over, creating a sweet-sounding tail-end to the note. With a Les Paul, the overall experience of the note is a distinctive “honk.” It was a very pleasant surprise to hear the Lollars do that.

Apparently, the Imperials are PAF-style pickups, and from what I’ve been able to gather from other sources, many people have found them to be great replacements to the BurstBuckers in their Les Pauls. After my experience with them, I’d tend to agree with that. But we’re talking about Katie May, and in Katie May – excuse the cliche – they’re a match made in heaven!

One thing that is notably different in the Imperials compared to BurstBuckers is the smooth top-end. There’s just enough high-end sparkle to provide a great balance to the tight low-end these pickups produce, but it’s not ice-pick sharp. I wouldn’t call them warm which, especially with a Les Paul, often translates to a muddy tone in the neck. The Imperials, on the other hand, whether in neck or bridge are extremely balanced. Of course, the neck pickup is warmer than the bridge pickup; that’s to be expected. But it’s not muddy as this clip illustrates:

For more clips, check out the review of Katie May.

This is a simple riff but what I wanted to demonstrate with it is that while there is a definite emphasis on the low-end, it isn’t so much that it muddies the tone. When I hit the lower strings, you can hear the notes clearly.

Another incredible thing about the Imperials is their incredibly wide dynamic range and sensitivity. For instance, I can set an amp at the edge of breakup, set the volume on the guitar at about halfway, and easily roll overdrive up and down, setting it to exactly the amount that I need. Could be the pots that Perry has used. Volume changes are very even throughout the entire sweep of the pot. Irrespective of that though, the pickups respond beautifully.

Having been around gear a long time, there seems to be a lot focus on tone woods when talking about guitars. Make no mistake about it, tone woods are important, but pickups are a huge factor in tone and I find that they’re often overlooked. I liken them to tires on a car. You have to have the right tires for the car. If you don’t, not only will they look funny, they’ll affect the performance. You wouldn’t put passenger tires on a Ferrari, would you? Or you wouldn’t waste money on Z-rated tires for your Nissan Versa (maybe a “ricer” would – worst I saw was a whale tail on a Corolla – but that’s an entirely different topic). So it is with pickups. You can have an absolutely gorgeous guitar that sounds like crap due to the pickups. I got lucky with my R8 which has BurstBuckers. I love ’em in that guitar, but I’ve played some LPs that sound horrid with the same pickups! The point to this is if you have a match between guitar and pickups, your world will be right. With Katie Mae, because of how she plays, I could sit with her all day long and never get tired of how she feels. Add to that the awesome sound of the Lollar Imperials, and all is right in the world!


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I know what you’re thinking: Oh no, another boutique gear snob. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve bought brand-name stuff in the past, and will continue buying it if I like it. However, given a choice between two similar types of gear, and similar pricing, I will invariably go with the boutique gear maker, and not because of the usual reasons such as: handmade, handwired, higher quality, etc.

The main reason is because I can have a personal relationship with the manufacturer. When I call them up, I almost invariably speak to the owner/builder of the gear I’m interested in or buying. I can hear their stories behind their gear, and most importantly, get their insights on how to apply their gear in the best way possible.

For instance, I just got off the phone with Jim Wagner of WCR Guitar Pickups, whose Godwood pickups I wrote about wanting yesterday. I have a few guitars that have ‘buckers in them, but I was actually thinking about swapping my Duncans out of Goldie once I get her. But Goldie’s ‘buckers are coil-tapped, so I was wondering if I’d be able to use the Godwoods with her. Instead of consulting with one of the online forums, I decided to give WCR a call.

Jim has a really engaging manner, and when I mentioned that I wanted the Godwood set, he actually recommended getting the “American Steel” set which includes one Crossroads pickup and a Godwood. He said it is his most popular set because it gives folks the benefit of having these two great pickups in their guitars.

That’s another thing I like about dealing directly with a manufacturer. They totally believe in what they’re doing, and stand by their work. Customer service isn’t relegated to a call center overseas. I get to deal with the maker – you can’t get better information than that!

And consider this: A lot of boutique manufacturers these days are cutting out the traditional middleman. You have no choice but to deal directly with them. But considering the personal relationships you can establish, and the much higher level of support and customer service, you’d be a fool to not seriously consider going boutique when looking for your next piece of gear!

In any case, if you’re interested in doing your latest tweak, you should consider WCR Guitar Pickups. I just can’t wait to get my set!

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WCR Godwood Pickups

Dammit! Every time I think I’ve covered all aspects of my tone, I come across or remember one more thing that ignites the GAS in me. This time it’s pickups; but not just any pickups. These are handwound pickups from WCR, a little company in Soulsbyville, CA, and owned by a guy named Jim Wagner. Jim has been winding his own pickups since the early 90’s, and has made a name for himself with the gorgeous tone his pickups produce. For Jim – according to his web site – it all started out with him searching for that classic PAF tone. But he was unwilling to pay the massive amounts of money for classic PAF’s, so he decided to make his own, and he has turned that into what appears to be a fairly successful business with a good following of artists.

I discovered WCR pickups awhile back when I was having one of my long gear conversations with Vinni Smith of V-Picks. In the conversation, he started talking about Schroeder guitars, and of course my curiosity got the better of me, so I looked them up. I discovered that Schroeder equips all their guitars with Jim Wagner pickups. Unfortunately, I only went so far with my surfing, and never went to his site until Vinni mentioned in a Twitter tweet (say that three times fast) that he was taking delivery of a brand-new Schroeder guitar. Curiosity got the better of me again, and I went back to the Schroeder site. This time though, I clicked through to WCR Pickups, and started listening to clips.

I shouldn’t have done that. 🙂

I randomly clicked on the various models of pickups Jim makes. Then my breath got taken away by the sound of his Godwood pickups. What tone! What clarity! What sustain! I HAD TO HAVE THESE!!! Listen to the clips, and you’ll see why I’m jonesing for these.

So now my GAS is fully ignited, and I’ll spend the next few months scraping together what little funds I have to get yet another piece of gear. I know, I’m incurable!

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