Pickups

Got an interesting email from Curtis Novak

1

Curtis Novak is making his version of the Fender Wide Range Humbuckers that were designed for Fender by Seth Lover. These pickups are brighter than the traditional humbuckers and featured threaded CuNiFe (Copper-Nickel-Iron) magnets instead of the typical screws/slugs. CuNiFe magnets are basically unavailable these days so I emailed Curtis to ask him what magnets he used and got an interesting reply. This is what he said:

Hi Don, I use threaded rod magnets the the alloy I use is FeCrCo. The thing is an old pal of mine who was an engineer at Gibson, and was pals with Seth said that Fender had contracted with Seth to design a humbucker, that would compete with Gibson's but still sound like Fender's sound. Their whole goal was to have a humbucker, with adjustable pole pieces that still sounded like a Fender pickup with AlNiCo magnets. They choose CuNiFe, NOT b/c it had any mystical sonic properties, but rather b/c it sounded closest to AlNiCo AND could be machined into a screw. In my former life I spent 16 years working at one of our National Laboratories, and was pals and worked with a number world renowned metallurgists, and physicists. They all confirmed that in a sensor such as a guitar pickup, there is NO special sonic characteristic that the alloy CuniFe would have over AlNiCo, or FeCrCo other than their grade strength, and their orientation to the coil. All 3 alloys being equal in strength, shape and orientation to the coil would give the same sonic results. Outside of factual data there is much hype that starts putting this pickup in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot designed to create an artificial fervor and demand for it and to attempt justify an astronomical price. In my personal experience working both in high level research science and my many years with pickups, I have seen when people get way too wrapped up in their data, assumptions, goals, desires, and their egos. In the end they are only researching and accepting results that confirm their desires. They tend to lose focus and get way off track of their original goal and with pickups they start listening with their eyes, and stop using their ears.

Glad you like them. Curtis

Maybe some will find this interesting.

2

Very interesting, I love learning something new.

3

Thank you for sharing. The only problem now is that I want a Thinline Tele with his pickups.

4

so why not just use the original cunife magnets then???... because they ain't the same!!! and cost a lot more $$$!! if you can even get'em!!

copper!...nickel!...iron

copper and nickel are expensive!! that's the real caveat!!

accept no substitutes...good tone is beyond measurements

cheers

6

I think he's talking common sense and real science. Good for him not to perpetuate spurious tone myths just to flog his pickups. There is often very little objective reasoning in the guitar world 'tone quest'. It's almost all subjective opinion and self fulfilling prophecies. Magnets don't have a 'sound' unto themselves, they have gauss and it's the strength of the gauss that affects the working of the pickups. If the same dimension magnet has the same gauss and it's used in the same manner in the pickup(location orientation etc) it very likely doesn't matter what it's made of.

7

Thank you. It is interesting and probably true. Of course the variations in tone, if any, would not be recognised by most.

I bet these pickups sound every bit as good as the originals.

Regardless, there is a comfort in having the real thing and knowing it will sound as it’s meant to cause it is the thing itself rather than a remake of the thing using different materials (deemed not to be of sonic relevance.)

Curtis is highly qualified and , from all reports, a true blue honest kinda guy. But confirmation bias may be a factor in his findings too. You would look for research that supports your premise... especially after making significant investment in manafacturing based on your findings.

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Regardless, there is a comfort in having the real thing and knowing it will sound as it’s meant to cause it is the thing itself rather than a remake of the thing using different materials (deemed not to be of sonic relevance.)

It's like the allegory of the cave applied to pickups.

9

take any electric guitar...that has the standard nickel or nickel plated steel strings on it...and now change those to the exact same gauge of bronze phosphor strings..all else the same...huge difference in volume & tone!!!..the way the materials of the strings interact with the magnets of the pickups radically changes the sound

why wouldnt a change in the materials used in the magnets make a difference as well?? certainly in the way they react with various strings!

and as far as gauss...tricks can be played with magnets by not fully charging them to make the gauss what you want..but they are really not the same! a powerful ferrite magnet degaused does not make it an alnico v ... people hear differences just between the various alnico mags ie alnico II, III,V , VIII etc etc

with guitars every detail matters

cheers

10

Had to look up the allegory of the cave to understand. Thanks for sharing was an interesting read.

These two statements appear contradictory

“Magnets don't have a 'sound' unto themselves”; and

“They choose CuNiFe, NOT b/c it had any mystical sonic properties, but rather b/c it sounded closest to AlNiCo AND could be machined into a screw”

If it was chosen for its sound as Curtis suggests then it stands to reason that FeCrCo would itself have a unique sound that may be close to CuNiFe but not identical. ( I’m not suggesting it’s a noticeable difference. I have no idea)

But most of the decisions x from pickup magnets, wire, transformers, speaker box design etc weren’t based on an assumption of ‘mystical sonic qualities.

However, the result of these decisions created the instruments and amps that created and defined a sound. And this is the sound/tone we chase

11

I know that Novak is a winder. But I have heard other winders directly disagree with those statements. Not only that, but there are UMPTEEN sources online that describe the sonic differences in the Alnicos: 2,3,4,5,8.... "all else being equal".

"Hearing a difference in magnet composition" is no doubt the same as "hearing a difference in resistor/cap composition"... but I have personally experienced the latter.

The guy who is The Creamery will even replace the hidden FeCrCro poles with A2 poles upon request... because the A2 doesn't have quite the high end transients the FeCrCro does. Amongst those of us who have experienced all 3 (CuNiFe, FeCrCro, Alnico), it's pretty widely agreed upon that the FeCrCro has a spikey ultra-high end compared to the other 2. Not that that's bad, FeCrCro makes good WRHBs. So does A2. Neither are CuNiFe. Think of it like tubes: tubes amplify signal. So it shouldn't matter if it's a 6V6, EL84, or 6550, right? But it does.

I have owned WRHBs made with Alnico 2 (which is the closest alnico in strength to CuNiFe)- they were unthreaded poles because alnico is too brittle to be threaded- and WRHBs made with FeCrCro. The latter are in my thinline. I can't really compare them directly because they were not wound to exactly the same DC resistance. They both sound good.

Anyone who is making WRHBs today with threaded poles is using FeCrCro, because it's the ONLY option. Only ONE builder ever went to the trouble to acquire actual CuNiFe threaded magnets, and that was Telenator. He sold the only WRHBs that could truly be considered as "reproductions" of the originals. And they were VERY expensive. He has since depleted his store of CuNiFe, and closed shop... not enough people out there willing to pay that kind of money for a pickup.

12

A metallurgist I ain't -- I'm just a guitar basher. But isn't it accepted in the guitar playing world that different alnico grades used in pickup magnets will sound different? Similarly, alnico v ceramics? And as for those 'fridge magnets' used in old gold foils....

I have a current Tele Custom with a modern Fender branded WRHB at the neck. It's, er, OK, but I would like it to be better than just 'OK'. I've been thinking of buying a WRHB from UK maker The Creamery but maybe I'll hold on until I hear Mr Novak's pickup.

13

Having just said all that, I can't find anything wrong with this guy's tone -- well, at least the clean stuff. As it's an official Fender video, maybe they've worked some sonic magic.

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A metallurgist I ain't -- I'm just a guitar basher. But isn't it accepted in the guitar playing world that different alnico grades used in pickup magnets will sound different? Similarly, alnico v ceramics? And as for those 'fridge magnets' used in old gold foils....

I have a current Tele Custom with a modern Fender branded WRHB at the neck. It's, er, OK, but I would like it to be better than just 'OK'. I've been thinking of buying a WRHB from UK maker The Creamery but maybe I'll hold on until I hear Mr Novak's pickup.

– Dave_K

The Fender WRHBs aren't bad at all. They are like low-wind PAFs (8-8.5K)... maybe they are REGULAR wind PAFs?

But that's what they are: Gibson-style humbuckers. Nothing "wide range" about them. Steel poles over a bar magnet. WRHBs are POLE MAGNETS - no bar magnet underneath. They are like 2 Fender single coil bobbins wrapped with wire.

If you buy ANYONE's "wide range humbucker"- as long as it is an ACTUAL WRHB in CONSTRUCTION- you will hear a pretty big difference. For example, the GFS "wide bodies" are like the Fenders- just PAFs under a larger cover. But Mojotone, Lollar, Novak, (and all the other winders) WRHBs are actually constructed correctly - and with FeCrCro magnets.

I'm sure Novak makes a great WRHB. But so does the Creamery. If I ever buy another set, it'll be from the Creamery, with the hidden poles replaced with A2. Maybe that'll help get them a little closer to CuNiFe. Having talked with players who have extensive experience with all of the them, the 3 types could be summed up this way:

CuNiFe- strong, but "polite", compared to FeCrCro. Low-mids focus.
FeCrCro- also strong, with higher transients than CuNiFe; more high-mids focus.
A2- somewhere in-between.

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A metallurgist I ain't -- I'm just a guitar basher. But isn't it accepted in the guitar playing world that different alnico grades used in pickup magnets will sound different? Similarly, alnico v ceramics? And as for those 'fridge magnets' used in old gold foils....

I have a current Tele Custom with a modern Fender branded WRHB at the neck. It's, er, OK, but I would like it to be better than just 'OK'. I've been thinking of buying a WRHB from UK maker The Creamery but maybe I'll hold on until I hear Mr Novak's pickup.

– Dave_K

Despite being a lifelong guitarist, professional and semi-profesional, I would have to say that just because an idea is accepted in the guitar playing world doesn't at all translate to it actually being factual and or real. There is a wealth of sonic misinformation out there largely based on subjective opinion and speculation.

It's good to remember that a lot of these ideas regarding magnets, capacitors, resistors and vacuum tubes have sprung up mostly in the past 20 years and generally weren't actually considered in the heyday of many of the designs we love and idolize. It's a comparatively recent development, largely connected with the rise of the internet.

What do we know as players now that the players of the past didn't?

16

It's good to remember that a lot of these ideas regarding magnets, capacitors, resistors and vacuum tubes have sprung up mostly in the past 20 years and generally weren't actually considered in the heyday of many of the designs we love and idolize. It's a comparatively recent development, largely connected with the rise of the internet.—Toxophilite

I agree that many of our beliefs on what influences tone are based on us accepting the collective wisdom of forum discussions and our own experience rather than any scientific data.

And that these things weren’t fussed over, to this extent, at the time.

However, these component choices are, in part, responsible for creating the sound and tones that we all chase. Make sense that we are analysing them at a component level and that an industry has arisen to cater for this

I know I spend far to much time a and b’ing sounds. I can notice a difference between ceramic and alnico speakers . Also in the C.C. rider pickups when I change magnets( came with a2, a5 and ceramic) however, I have no way of knowing if this is to do with the magnet alloys or other factors...

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In my personal experience working both in high level research science and my many years with pickups, I have seen when people get way too wrapped up in their data, assumptions, goals, desires, and their egos. In the end they are only researching and accepting results that confirm their desires. They tend to lose focus and get way off track of their original goal and with pickups they start listening with their eyes, and stop using their ears. -- Curtis Novak

Oh my goodness. Do NOT allow Tavo Vega to read this. His head will literally explode.

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In my personal experience working both in high level research science and my many years with pickups, I have seen when people get way too wrapped up in their data, assumptions, goals, desires, and their egos. In the end they are only researching and accepting results that confirm their desires. They tend to lose focus and get way off track of their original goal and with pickups they start listening with their eyes, and stop using their ears. -- Curtis Novak

Oh my goodness. Do NOT allow Tavo Vega to read this. His head will literally explode.

– Ric12string

I like the listening with their eyes bit!

I love JBL speakers, they look (and sound) so cool. And old alnicos with bell caps, so pretty!!

Then I realized that no-one can hear how cool my speakers look!

19

It's good to remember that a lot of these ideas regarding magnets, capacitors, resistors and vacuum tubes have sprung up mostly in the past 20 years and generally weren't actually considered in the heyday of many of the designs we love and idolize. It's a comparatively recent development, largely connected with the rise of the internet.—Toxophilite

I agree that many of our beliefs on what influences tone are based on us accepting the collective wisdom of forum discussions and our own experience rather than any scientific data.

And that these things weren’t fussed over, to this extent, at the time.

However, these component choices are, in part, responsible for creating the sound and tones that we all chase. Make sense that we are analysing them at a component level and that an industry has arisen to cater for this

I know I spend far to much time a and b’ing sounds. I can notice a difference between ceramic and alnico speakers . Also in the C.C. rider pickups when I change magnets( came with a2, a5 and ceramic) however, I have no way of knowing if this is to do with the magnet alloys or other factors...

– eCastro

When you compare alnico and ceramic magnet speakers, do you have 2 perfectly identical specially constructed speakers (the only difference being the magnet composition), in perfectly identical amps or A/Bed from the same amp, with seconds between switching?? Do you have other objective listeners present?

If not then I would respectfully point out that in my opinion there are far too many factors at play for you to give a proper judgement. This is not even taking into account the variables that can come about with what you are playing into the amp and how you are playing it at any given moment.

The folks at Eminence say that the only time the magnet composition comes into play with speakers is when the speakers are driven past their design limits., Alnico magnet speakers generate heat and compress a bit. Otherwise , they said there is no real sonic difference.

The older speaker guru guys (now sadly passed) at the local highly esteemed speaker repair place used to say to me that gauss is gauss whatever your magnet is made of.

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Yes, Toxophilite . As I stated - “I have no way of knowing if this is to do with the magnet alloys or other factors” including the ones you mention.

I never claimed to be conducting scientific tests nor state that I had a belief one way or the other in relation to whether the alloys used in the magnet contributed to any sonic quality .

21

Let's sum it up this way:

Magnet type doesn't matter... all else being equal.

In reality, all else is NEVER equal.

(however, my point stands that the different types of alnico sound different, even the pickup builders agree.... does Novak I wonder? Because all the rest of them do. If "a magnet is a magnet is a magnet", they would just make ALL pickups out of ONE magnet. They DON'T.)

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God forbid anything on the GDP cause a head to explode...

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If "a magnet is a magnet is a magnet", they would just make ALL pickups out of ONE magnet. They DON'T.)—Ruger9

It’s a good point - but on the other hand they might make it out of whatever they thought would reconsile with popular beliefs to make it saleable .

As I said - i have no idea but I am fascinated by this thread. It’s the first time of heard it suggested that there is no sonic difference between magnets ...

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I wasn't banging on you ecastro and my apologies if it seemed like it. I was just pointing out that a lot of the belief systems around guitars etc are based upon subjective opinion.

I think you raise the best point . They sell Alnico magnet speakers because people want to buy them and they can sell them for much higher prices because of perceived special qualities. i think they look cool! In my opinion guitar pickup construction, amount of windings and likely magnet orientation and strength have more to do with the end result more than magnet composition.

Does anybody have any science showing that Alnico and ceramic magnets of exact same strength, size and orientation produce different magnetic fields?

The older speaker guys that debunked that for me were serious speaker enthusiasts and the best repair guys in town. For guitar, bass etc and Hifi stuff. Practically institutions around here and known on forums worldwide.

I don't think just because someone makes something and is able to sell it justifies it's existence, function and quality. There are endless examples of that not being the case

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No apology necessary, Toxophilite. Did not take it that way just wanted to be clear As the post you commented on may not have been.

Its interesting cause when I think about it - If I saw a ceramic and alnico repro of a dynasonic I would still choose the alnico even if I paid more.

And if I saw the repro was made with exactly the same components be it a fuzz pedal, speaker or pickup I would always go for one with original specs( components inc) even at a higher cost.

So I guess , without any supporting evidence , I do believe it makes a difference. it’s a faith based claim


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