El Apache Distortion. It’s an Electra distortion with a Baxandall tone stack and a buffered recovery stage. I built this one as a gift, but I have a couple more PCB’s to build up.
The Quest to Build Something Different
The Funktronic Bass Sidewinder is one of my earliest pickup designs and was basically born out of my personal desire to build a pickup that looked different from other pickups on the market. When I first set out to build a pickup, I was just starting to get into luthiery, and I was building my basses of my own design. When it came to spec’ing parts, I quickly became frustrated with the pickup choices out there. Most of them were either based on Fender designs or were featureless black soap bars. It just didn’t makes sense to me to spend the time to design and build a unique instrument and just drop a P-bass pickup into it. Instead, I found myself drawn to more unusual guitar pickups like lipstick tubes and gold foil pickups. I wanted a pickup that reflected my design sensibilities and had lots of chrome.
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Building the Funktronic Bass Sidewinder
Stainless Steel Blades
My primary goal being to design a pickup that was both functional and visually arresting, I was immediately drawn to the sidewinder concept. The look of a central metal blade completely bisecting the face of the pickup would lend itself to an unusual and iconic look. The outer blades, while serving as magnetic pole pieces, would also add a bit of extra pizazz to the look of the pickup.
In my initial attempts, I made the blades from chrome-plated pieces of 1018 steel bars. Unfortunately, the plating process turned out to be pretty expensive and I wasn’t sure how well the epoxy would stick to the plated parts over the long term.
After doing something research, I found that 430 stainless steel shared similar magnetic qualities to 1018 steel. However, being commonly used for appliances and countertops, the 430 stainless steel could only be found in sheet form. Luckily, I was able to have my pole pieces cut with a waterjet by a local fabricator. Do-Rite Fabrication is located in Ventura, CA, and pretty great at turning these parts around.
One thing I did find was that the 430 stainless steel doesn’t polish up very well; it is is fairly soft and is prone to scratching. Instead, I give my bass sidewinders a lightly brushed finish not unlike the finish found on major kitchen appliances. It looks great and is easy to repair.
While cardboard is not typically a material one would associate with custom bass pickups, there is actually a long tradition of making pickup bobbins out of paper products. Some of the earliest guitar pickups were made with paper bobbins. Using very thin cardboard for the bobbin flanges, I am able to fit as much wire as I possibly can in a small space. Most other materials, such as Forbon or Garolite are too thick or difficult to cut. I have my cardboard bobbin parts laser cut for consistency and ease of manufacture.
In the process of making the Bass Sidewinder, I designed and developed an Arduino-driven winder to wind narrow coils for the pickup.
Once the bobbins are encapsulated in epoxy resin, they become really solid. In fact, the cardboard is really absorbent and soaks up a lot of the epoxy during the encapsulation process.
In order to emphasize the natural beauty of brushed metal, I decided to leave the outer blades exposed. To do so, I designed a unique layered construction. After encapsulating the bobbins in black epoxy resin, the bobbins are epoxied between layers of stainless steel.
The pickup ears are glued to two “nubs” on the outside of the pickup. This not only allows for a secure joint, but also helps to register the pieces and ensure that they are all perpendicular.
The Funktronic Bass Sidewinder has a bright, twangy sound and a neutral-sounding midrange. While not the bassiest pickup out there, it’s narrow and focused design gives it a natural hi-fi sound. In addition, when used in conjunction with the specifically voiced Funktronic Bass Preamp, it is capable of producing a big, deep and clear bottom end.
Originally designed to be placed in the bridge position, the Funktronic Bass Sidewider will also work in the middle and neck positions.
Funktronic Bass Sidewinder in the Wild
I’ve been gigging with my 7-piece R&B band using the Sirena Modelo Uno Bass since 2019. Featured as “Bass of the Week” on NoTreble.com, the Sirena Modelo Uno comes with the Funktronic Bass Sidewinder as option. You can take a look and give a listen to the pickup in action below.