John Hall Responds to
Rickenbacker Guitar Pickup Questions

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John Hall's Responses Posted on alt.guitar.rickenbacker:

This page is comprised of a number of John Hall's responses to questions regarding Rickenbacker Pickups. It is important to appreciate that some of his responses are based on circumstances at the time of the question. For this reason, the interested reader is advised to check with Rickenbacker International Corporation regarding the current corporate policy or the availability and production of specific instruments.

John Hall's Responses: Dec. 30, 1997 to Jan. 14, 2000

Subject: Scatterwound Pickups

Date: 2000/01/14

Question:I'm sure by now, you've all seen the "specifics" about the soon-to-be-released Carl Wilson Signature model, either at the Beach Boy site or the RIC Registration Page. The 7.4k pickups are described as "scatterwound." I don't know whether this is RICs "official" nomenclature and description, but it is said to be a method that simulates the pickups being "hand-wound." While it may be a more accurate attempt to replicate the process that was used back then, it certainly gives the impression that this method opens the door to there being more sonic variation between pickups, and ultimately between guitars, than normal.

Answer: Rather than have the coils wound perfectly uniformly, i.e. row by row and layer by layer, the computer controlled coil winder was given a random sequence, just as someone would imperfectly wind a pickup by hand. But because it's computer controlled, this same "scatter" pattern is used for every pickup, so they are identical to each other. They are perfectly imperfect, giving us the best of both worlds.

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Subject: Toaster Bass Pickup

Date: 1999/08/12

Question: Is it true that the toaster bass pickup is actually a guitar pickup and that it has 6 pole pieces?

Answer: It's the same pickup as in a guitar. Unlike humbuckers, for example, this type of unit has a very wide bandwidth . . . it's high fidelity, if you like. It works well both for bass and guitar. The six individual magnets don't act as polepieces per se, but exist only to provide the magnetic field to the whole width of the assembly. It could be made with one big magnet, or 8 or 12 little ones, but this configuration seems to have worked quite nicely since the 1960's.

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Subject: Rickenbacker Humbuckers

Date: 1998/12/22

Comment: The Ric humbuckers don't lack brightness, they just don't have the scooped out mids that give the ES guitars that woody/hollow kind of sound. Since I have a 345, getting that sound out of the Ric isn't a priority, but I believe Seymour Duncan may be able to rewind the Ric buckers or possibly come up with something that wouldn't require routing the guitar. I've seen a few Rics routed out for PAFs - very sad site right up there with putting a Floyd Rose on a Tele - IMHO.

Answer: I believe it would be impossible to rewind our humbucker. The unit is completely encapsulated following manufacture to seal it against moisture and mechanical damage. But all four leads plus a separate shield are available on the circuit board on the back of the pickup. The possibilities opened up by this feature for hot rodding are pretty wide ranging, including coil splitting, phase reversal, active-differential circuits (like we did on the John Kay model), and so forth. Few other humbuckers offer this convenience and make you disassemble the pickup to get to the various leads. I also designed it this way so you have plenty of area to solder on without having to touch the delicate coil leads.

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Subject: Minimizing Pickup Interference

Date: 1998/11/16

Comment: Another thing you can do with the single-coil equipped Ricks to help some with the noise, is to take the pickguard off, completely remove the wiring harness from the lower pickguard, and cover the entire underside of the pickguard with aluminum foil tape, the sticky-backed stuff with peel-off backing, that you can find in 2" wide rolls at the local hardware store in the dept. where the heating/ductwork supplies are.

Response: Done right (and preferably with coil foil tape) this can help . . . a bit. Unfortunately, if you leave the wiring harness intact with its daisy chain ground, and then also short out the pot and switch shell with the tape, you'll have a wonderful ground loop, likely to make the problem worse than better. Cut the foil back around the pot mounting and make sure the foil only touches ground in EXACTLY one place. The far better solution is to remove or otherwise eliminate the source of hum in the environment. My studio is right on the ocean, for instance, and I pickup the radar of ships in every piece of gear (especially in bad weather!). The trip is to have one central ground point to which everything is connected, even if you have to have to rewire the plugs in the recording area. In my studio I make sure that I and other guitars players are also personally grounded with a clip lead to a watch strap or something like that, but you must be sure that all of your wiring is correctly polarized and grounded, otherwise you run the risk of electrocution.

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Subject: Piezo Pickups

Date: 1998/11/06

Question: Are there any piezo bridges available for the 330/360 series Ricks ? I love the sound of my 330/6 MG, even unamplified ! It has the feel and sound of an acoustic guitar (obviously, with lighter action, and much lower volume). I have been toying with the idea of experimenting with piezo pickups (like the ones for acoustic guitars, possibly mounted under the metal plate that supports the bridge), but I would prefer an "integral piezo" bridge made specifically for a Rick, if one was available.

Answer: Unfortunately, the light weight 300 bridge design (which is certainly an anachronism these days) does not lend itself well to piezo technology, hence the use of a completely new assembly on the 380 Laguna.

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Subject: Piezo Pickups

Date: 1998/11/06

Question: Is there any chance of RIC offering the saddles or bridge assembly and circuit pack for us do-it-your-self-ers who already have a 650 series model? I would not want to put a completely different bridge assembly (like in the stew-mac catalogs) on my Dakota. Is it true that Schaller makes these bridges and piezo saddles?

Answer: Frankly, it's unlikely we'd offer this specifically as a retrofit kit, although spare parts are always available for order. But it requires a specially routed slot under the bridge for the circuit board and associated wiring.

No. Schaller does not make these parts, although the bridge itself is made in Germany. The saddles, piezo components, and circuitry are made and were designed by Lloyd Baggs here in California. These piezos and the saddle material are very special indeed . . . much higher tech than you might imagine . . . and made under a patent of Baggs. They are completely unlike the piezo devices made by other well known firms.

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Subject: Piezo Pickups

Date: 1998/11/05

Question: From looking at the brochures I have noticed that the 380 Laguna's bridge looks identical to the bridges used on the 650 series. Can anyone confirm this? This leads to my next question. Could RIC offer the 650 series with the Piezo option? Would there be any interest and could I add piezo saddles/electronics to my 650 dakota? I mean does anyone know if the conversion just involves finding appropriate saddles and swapping them out and adding a knob or two? And where would I find these saddles. I've seen some in my stew/mac catalog but don't know if they would work. Thanks

Answer: As it happens, I have a prototype 650S PZ hanging on my office wall right now! However, it (or any other new model) can't be produced until we catch up with standard production a bit. These piezo saddles are proprietary, so unfortunately it would be unlikely if you can find someone else's that will fit, although you may be able to obtain a complete bridge assembly with integral piezos. In the case of our bridge, you'd also need the associated circuit pack to make it useful.

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Subject: Re: Different PUs in 360WB?

Date: 1998/08/28

Question: Are the pickups different in a 360WB and a regular 360? The description seems to indicate that the pickups are "high output," but isn't clear whether they are different from the normal 360 pickups.

Answer: Assuming that someone didn't special order the VP (Vintage Pickup) option, the pickups are identical.

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Subject: Toaster pickups

Date: 1998/10/13

Question: John Hall while we are talking the toasters here, what are these PUs actually called as far as the Rick company is concerned? I did not actually hear the phrase "toasters" till the mid to late '80s.

Answer: Vintage Reissue pickups. Guess that would be a problem if we were to release some of the other vintage style pickups made in the past! Don't know where and when the term originated, but it seems very apt to me!

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Subject: Rewinding Toaster Pickups

Date: 1998/07/10

Question: What happens if the reissues are simply unwound to the DC resistance of the originals, obviously keeping the reissue #46 gauge wire as opposed to the #42 of the 60s instruments?

Answer: I'm going to quote from a message I previously posted on this topic: I don't know about the late 50's . . . I'm not going to destroy one of those pickups to find out . . . but from the early 60's until today we've only used #44 wire. If you have measured otherwise, you're looking at a rewound pickup. The modern reissues measure about 11.2K with a lab grade ohmmeter. As I said before, you'll find genuine vintage pickups which have a variety of specs . . . sometimes as high as 16K and as low as 7K ohms DC resistance. The modern one is indeed a compromise between output and a particular type of sound, but not any greater of a compromise than many of the original, unspecified or less-than-consistent units. Now let me say it again . . . SINCE THE EARLY SIXTIES, WE HAVE USED NOTHING BUT #44 MAGNET WIRE. If it's not #44 on your pickup, it's NOT FACTORY WOUND. We have never used #42 or #46 wire as stated. During the vintage pickup "redesign" phase, we tested close to 100 pickups fro a variety of parameters and the current product is essentially an average or composite of all these units. But beyond this, we even looked through all of our old production and purchasing records to make sure we are using materials of the genuine specs. I can tell you that again that nothing other than #44 wire has been purchased, although several different insulation materials and other wire coatings have been used through the years.

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Subject: Pickups: Ceramic or Alnico?

Date: 1998/05/28

Question: Are RIC pickups made with ceramic magnets or alnico magnets? Or, does it vary depending on the type of pickup (single vs. humbucker vs. horseshoe...etc.)?

Answer: The vintage reissue guitar pickups use cylindrical Alnico magnets . . . like the originals. The vintage reissue bass pickups use tungsten steel "horseshoes" as polepieces. . . like the originals . . . coupled to ceramic magnets (instead of the tungsten being magnetized like the originals). Our humbucking pickups use Samarium-Cobalt magnets. The modern guitar and bass pickups use "rubber" magnets . . . which are actually a zillion magnetic bits supported in a synthetic block. Each has unique properties for which they were selected to optimize performance in a given application.

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Subject: Humbucker Pickups

Date: 1998/05/23

Question: John Hall,Can you tell me if the humbuckers found on the John Kay and Hoffs models are electrically identical to the ones found on all the non-vintage solid-bodies you make,and what about the HBs found on basses like the Cheyenne? While I'm asking, what are all the wiring capabilities of the HB pickups?

Answer: Through the years, there have been three humbucking pickup families. The first was used on the model 481, the second on the 200 series, and the current on a variety of instruments including the 350SH, 381JK, the 4004, and 650 series.

This third series of pickups share the same coils, cover, and printed circuit board. But the hookup lead varies somewhat depending on the application. What is nice about this pickup is that both sets of coil leads, plus the shield lead are accessible from the PC board on the back of the pickup, allowing any number of hot-rod possibilities. The second family as used on the 200 series, including the current Glenn Frey model, also have this same connection arrangement.

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Subject: How do I use RIC-O-SOUND?

Date: 1998/04/28

Question: I receintly acquired a 1966, model 370, 6 string. It has 2 output jacks. I don't know which is a stereo jack and which is mono nor do I know which one to use for normal operation (mono). The neck position pickup doesn't seem to be working. Does it only work with the RIC-O kit?

Answer: For normal, non-ROS mono use, you should be using the jack nearest the tailpin of the guitar. If the treble pickup still appears not to be working, 999 times out of 1000 it's the switching contact on the jack that's been bent, rather than a problem with the pickup. Simply remove the four screws from the jack plate, slide the assembly out of the guitar where you can see the contacts. Insert a guitar plug and make sure the one little switching contact you see move makes contact with its opposite number. If it doesn't, use needlenose pliers to bend it slightly so that it does, but still disconnects when you remove the plug. All guitar cords . . . or the plugs, more specifically. . . are not created equally. Unfortunately, many of the cheaper ones are inconsistent in size and shape and tend to bend the contacts when inserted. The guitar is actually always working in stereo but when you insert a plug in the mono jack, it shunts the signals together. When no contact is made, it makes it appear like the treble pickup isn't functioning.

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Subject: Vintage Pickups

Date: 1998/03/11

Comment: From my studies the late '50s and early 60's pickups were about 5000 ohms of number 42 wire. the middle to late 60's were about 7000ohms of number 43 wire. The new reissue are about 10,000 ohms of number 45(smaller yet) wire. As you go smaller in wire gauge and higher in number of turns and ohms you get less clarity, less brightness, more grain in the sound. the AC current that a pickup produces follows the skin of the wire not the center like DC thus the degrade in sound with smaller dia wire and greater number of turns. Of course more turns means higher output but it is a sacrifice. The good news is that the bobbins can be rewound easily and for a small fee by Fralin pickups or Duncan.

Answer: I don't know about the late 50's . . . I'm not going to destroy one of those pickups to find out . . . but from the early 60's until today we've only used #44 wire. If you have measured otherwise, you're looking at a rewound pickup. The modern reissues measure about 11.2K with a lab grade ohmmeter. As I have said before, you'll find genuine vintage pickups which have a variety of specs . . . sometimes as high as 16K and as low as 7K ohms DC resistance. The modern one is indeed a compromise between output and a particular type of sound, but not any greater of a compromise than many of the original, unspecified or less-than-consistent units.

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Subject: Re: Vintage Pickups

Date: 1998/03/10

Question: Why aren't the "Vintage" Re-Issue pickups wound with the same wire and the same output as the old ones? The new ones have a much more prominent midrange ,breakup sooner and are less clear. Why did this have to change Mr. Hall?

Answer: They ARE wound with the same wire and number of turns as the vintage pickups. But the problem is WHICH vintage pickups? During the 50's, 60's, and 70's, the specs jumped all over the place, the pickups varied tremendously from model to model, and, regretfully, from one unit to the next. When we reissued these pickups, we analyzed every genuine vintage pickup we could find (dozens of 'em) and the current spec . . . which now is very tightly controlled with computerized winding gear . . . is what we subjectively deemed to be the quintessential sound that was within the range of all those pickups. As it turned out, this is virtually identical to the standard pickup used on a 360/12 of 1965. For the record, I even contacted Seymour Duncan, as he has for years kept records of pickups he's "met" and his recollection is a spec that's almost identical to standard production. If one doesn't like the sound of the new "vintage", then you don't like the sound of that particular old "vintage" either. And my taste might be different than yours too. None of this takes into account the effects of pickup aging either, which is noticeable over time. Do the modern pickups sound like the vintage ones when they were new? In 30 years, will the modern ones sound like the vintage ones do today?

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Subject: Humbuckers

Date: 1997/12/30

Question: Does anyone know how the humbuckers (found in the 650 series, 380 Laguna, etc...) came to be?

Answer: As someone else noted, we have made several diferent humbuckers over the years. However, we had some very specific design goals for these units. I and Bob Desiderio, a very accomplished guitarist and engineer (who now is an amp designer for Fender) designed these units to take advantage of the humbucking principle to reduce noise and increase overall gain. We also aimed to voice it such that much of the vintage jangle was present but with a warm overdrive. Finally, we wanted a pickup which had virtually no microphonics, i.e. you could tap it but not have mechanical noise, which also has the effect of eliminating feedback. Each unit is completely potted in an epoxy material, and also, during manufacture each wire is bonded to the wire lying next to it. For consistency, we purchased a special winding machine which mechanically wound each pickup to the exact turn required. More recently, we bought a computerized winder which also turns to precisely the correct turn but also perfectly tensions the magnet wire, with the result that every coil is identical. (This is now used on all models of pickups we make.) In the end, we found a magnet structure which worked nicely for us, the right magnetic materials, and perhaps most importantly, a special magnet wire. As a result, these are some of the highest output pickups on the market and certainly one of the very quietest as well.

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Subject: High Gain and Toaster PICKUPS

Date: 1997/12/14

Comment: The toasters are like Leo Fender's early '50s Telecaster bridge pickups...absolutely perfect at what they do. Whoever designed them deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Leo or Seth Lover. Maybe Rickenbacker noticed the increasing use of distortion by guitarists in the late '60s and early '70s and decided to create a pickup with a bit more punch. ?? Even so, the high-gain pickups are still fairly low output units. I'll take tone over volume every time.

Answer: My dad and Paul Barth cobbled these together. The date was late 1953 and their main design goal was to get rid of the horseshoe magnet used on other RIC guitars so that it would be easier to play. The Hi Gains were indeed directed to the changing trends in music and I, as a teenage garage band musician, had been pressing my dad for a louder pickup. I honestly don't know who was responsible for the Hi Gain, but it could have been the chief engineer at that time, Bob Rissi (later of Risson Amps). The idea was to preserve the tone but increase the output, with the capability to overdrive.

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