I got a little snippet of the some of my work out in the wild. It’s an iPhone vid the li’l Lady shot at a House Arrest gig in Santa Barbara the other night. She missed the intro, but it sounds OK. Anyway, I’m playing the orange Uno I built earlier this year and it’s loaded with the Funktronic Sidewinder and my 3-band preamp. The backline was a Fender Bassman 1200 Pro and an SVT cab with an indeterminate number of blown speakers. The Fender Bassman controls were confusing at best, but I think I managed to get a fairly representative tone out of it. I’d bust out the big speakers; the bass is pretty sub-sonic. Hope you enjoy.
Research and development – my desk has been a real mess! I’m finalizing my bass sidewinder revamp. I built 6 new versions along with a whole new preamp design. I should have the new version of the pickup singled out and built early this week. I got the new circuit boards in a few days ago.
Stay tuned for more updates! I can’t wait to clean off my desk!
OK I’m just going to post a weekly update – no pix today.
I’ve been working on the pickup and preamp. Using my new cardboard bobbins I wound a couple of coils with 44awg wire and increased the wind count. I after casting them I mocked up a pickup with the new ceramic 8 cores. From there, I rebuilt my preamp using a James tone stack instead of the Big Muff/Tilt tone stack.
1) On one of the cast bobbins, I somehow didn’t add enough hardener to the epoxy resin. I think that’s a pitfall that comes with mixing tiny 10ml quantities – if you’re off by just a tiny bit, that turns out to be a lot. Anyway, the piece didn’t cure and came out kind of rubbery. It’s good enough for testing, but not for a finished pickup. In the process of experimenting with various ways to build and cast my modular coils, I used all the pre-cut cardboard flatwork (I only ordered 14 pc to start). I ordered some more – it should be on its way soon.
2) I changed the preamp to a James/Baxandall tone stack because while the one-knob preamp was kinda cute, there just wasn’t any real control over the tone. Once you added any treble, you started to cut bass and vice-versa. With the James/Baxandall I’m able to fine tune the amount of highs and lows. I was even able to fine-tune the circuit itself by bumping 400Hz up by about 2dB. I also upped it to 18v much more headroom.
I know I’ve said this before, but this new pickup and preamp combo is a huge improvement. Keep in mind, pickup design is kind of a long process of experimentation that isn’t all that straightforward. In any case, the C8/44awg sidewinder rendered a much more controlled-sounding pickup. No more crazy high mids from the neos and with the ceramics wrapped in all that stainless steel, the biting highs are in the right place – nicely placed on top of a big cushion of clear lows and warm mids. With the neo versions, I felt like I was always struggling to contain this beastly pickup with these upper mids that just didn’t want to behave. Now I can really dig in to the strings without having to worry about it topping out.
I think it’s possible to design a really good-sounding neodymium pickup. I don’t know that the sidewinder design is the best application. I think maybe a more conventional humbucker with a steel core and the magnets placed on the bottom of the pickup might be a better approach with the neos. That keep the super strong neos away from the strings would make the magnets have to permeate all the way through the steel core. I dunno, just theorizing.
Here’s a quick iPhone demo of the Neodymium Bass Sidewinder Pickup. Please excuse my horrible playing and sound quality. Doing monologs in front of the camera is pretty awkward for me at best. I suppose if I spent a lot more time doing videos and did edits as well, my demos would be better. However for this, I just wanted to do a quick demo.
I bolted the pickup into the body the other night and I’ve been rocking out on it for a few days now.
With the StingRay pre I have, it can go from really deep to really bright and has midrange to spare. I’ve dialed a little bit of the mids back on my amp and I got it sounding pretty good. I may look into building up a 3-band version of the preamp just to have some more control on-board. This pickup puts out a fair amount of information, so I’m feeling like the 2-band is a little limiting.
This pickup has a lot of kick! It’s pretty sensitive and seems to pick up pretty much everything that comes out of my fingers. If I play softly, it sounds soft. If I hit it hard it hits. Overall, the attack and responsiveness I think I can attribute to the neos. Did I say it has a lot of kick?
On a side note, I tried wiring it in both series and parallel – interestingly enough, they sounded pretty much the same, just the series version was quieter. It didn’t get that scoopy sound I usually hear from a parallel HB. I think that may be because a majority of the action is coming from that center bar.
At some point down the line, I may try a few other versions of this pickup, specifically:
- Same gauge wire with a lower wind count
- 1 or 2 larger wire gauges wound to match the size of the current coil
I’m really happy with this pickup. I’ll be posting a quick iPhone clip in the near future. In the meantime, I’m going to start thinking about some other aspects of this project.
Instagram filter used: Juno
Photo taken at: Fillmore, California
I managed to epoxy the pickup pieces together last night. It came out OK. Once I clean it up a bit, it’ll be fine.
As far as my pickup assembly, I just took all the loose parts and glued them together. I didn’t get a chance to take many photos photos because it wasn’t exactly and orderly process. The dog ears didn’t fit as well as they did in the dry run, and one of them was slightly askew. I’ll be able to sand it in such a way that it will work, and most of the problem spots will be inside the guitar and won’t be visible anyway.
One thing I’d really like to do is eliminate the process of gluing the blades and coils together. I’m thinking if I put a little groove on those nubs on the sides of my coils, I might be able to make the dog ear serve as a snap-together part and use spacers to set those pieces apart. I don’t have the machining capabilities for something that refined, but it’s something to think about. I have to really fine tune all the parts so that they all fit together and ensure that they are straight and parallel.
Gluing the baseplate to the bottom of the pickup wasn’t bad at all. Everything seemed to survive OK. I could easily make that process easier by making a simple jig to hold the baseplate in place with the rest of the pickup. I attached a photo showing my wire terminals. I have hole behind them where I’m hoping to attach a ground wire. I stuck a piece of copper tape that stretches across the blades.
Overall, I’m happy enough with this as a prototype for my neodymium sidewinder design. However, I’m torn; there’s a lot I would like to do to refine and perfect this design and perhaps make it more of a production piece but I would also like to move on and build a bass and put this pickup in it. In addition, I’m also starting to come up with more pickup designs that I’d like to start working on as well. In conclusion, I’m at a point where I have take a few minutes to relax an do some prioritizing. Refining this design is pretty high on the list, but to a certain degree I’m constrained by what I can execute using the limited tools I have at my disposal. I may have to invest in more tools or tooling to take this one to the next step. In the meantime, now that I have a working prototype in my hands, I can get back on track and start cutting some wood.
I didn’t want to jump the gun and reveal my progress with this pickup build too early, but at this point I have more than a year into this design and after today, this felt pretty good. Besides, I prolly won’t get to the ears and the base until Sunday. Here’s an image of my neodymium bass sidewinder pickup:
I sanded and polished the epoxy parts. I basically sanded it up to 2000 grit. It polishes OK, but I don’t know if I can get it up to a gloss. I think that’s where CA glue would come int. The bars are just roughly sanded and need sanding and polishing. I’ll get to that this weekend as well. I’m really envisioning them in chrome.
Once I cleaned up my epoxy resin cast bobbins, they looked pretty good. I’ve been talking a lot of smack about Garolite as a bobbin flange material lately, but I gotta say it worked great. It feathered right into the epoxy.
In addition to the base, my next big quandary is going to be this: I’m going to need to “pot” the space in between the coils and the bars. I left about .005″ gap on either side – not a lot, but enough to see daylight through it. There has to be some space in order to assure that the magnets are making full contact with the bars. We’ll see. Dripping the clear penetrating epoxy sealer would make kind of a mess. I don’t know if I even want to think about pouring potting wax in there.
I wound the new bobbin with the more closely spaced poles the other night – definitely a better approach than building the bobbin around the neodymium cores. Basically, I glued the blank flanges to the keepers and using the keepers as a drill template, I bored the holes in the blank flanges.
They came out pretty good! I think that drill schedule will work better. It certainly took a less time. Casting and sanding the keeper is still taking a while. I’ll have to work on that. I had a little more trouble with flaring. I think having the magnets in there added more gluing surface. If this magnet-less winding procedure works, I might look into making another plate for the winder that sandwiches the bobbin in there so it won’t flare.
Next, I epoxied the wire terminals to the bobbins.
I used those breakaway header pins. You can’t beat ’em for cheapness or convenience, although I’m still troubled by this joint; when I solder, the housing heats up enough for the wire to loosen. It hardens back up as it cools, but I can see this being problematic. I’m going to look into making some little mount out of stripboard and try using the right-angle pins instead.
Alright, little update.
First off, let me describe a little bit of my research and development process. At this point, I’ve wound a good number of coils and assembled a good number of prototypes. On my desk, I have about 20 different coils of varying size, shapes and materials. I’ll plop one pickup into the tester bass, rock out on it for a few days, make a few adjustments and if I like what I’m hearing, I’ll keep going with it. Sometimes, I’ll spend a few weeks with one idea, and decide for whatever reason it’s not what I’m looking for. But then, after trying a few other ideas, I may (or may not) come back to the previous idea.
In any case, for a number of reasons, I’m back on the neodymium sidewinder. Initially, and in closing a lot of it has to do with the form as well as the tone. Because the neodymium are so small and insanely strong, I can build a smaller pickup with lots of output. I found a shape I liked, and ultimately discovered that the geometry of the coil is one of the largest contributors to both overall output and tonal characteristics. From there, I was able to make variation after variation using different wire gauges and turn counts. At this point, I’m down to maybe 3-4 different versions of the same pickup that I like and eventually I will select the “final” pickup from this pool – or perhaps I’ll even make a slight variation based on one of these pickup. Overall, I like the sound – I have enough bass, mids and high end. The neos render an aggressive sound without being too stiff like the ceramic-based coils. I’d say that they have a lot more warmth than ceramic, but more attack than say, A5.
After attempting a few different styles of cast shells, I started kicking this idea around:
Basically, the coils will be cast individually and then sandwiched between the steel blade poles. The neos are so strong that it takes a considerable amount of effort to pry the pieces apart, so structurally, I think this will be pretty solid despite being held together primarily by sheer magnetism. The dog ears will then be epoxied on to the sides to really hold them together. The base plate (not pictured) will be also epoxied to the bottom, also adding extra security. I’ll wind and cast the coils without the magnets. I can then drill out the core and insert the magnets afterward.
This form also provides for and solves many esthetic quandaries I’ve been having throughout this project; first and foremost, there’s lots of cool-looking exposed metal. I also changed the spacing of the poles – previously, I had them two to a string like a Jazz Bass pickup. I moved them closer together because A) I’ll save about 1/4″ of width, and B) once the magnets are in touch with those steel poles, I don’t think that the magnet spacing will make much difference in the final outcome.
I made some originals for this over the weekend and hope to make molds later this week.
Lastly, on another bit of news, I started a little blog about my pickup making about week or two ago. I’ll be posting my big forum posts there as well as some additional stuff, like Instagram images, etc. It started as a convenient way for me to keep track of my notes, and it went from there. The look for now is completely stripped to just pictures and words – no layout. Part of my day job is in fact, building WordPress sites. I just wanted something to post pictures and a few words and focus on that and nothing else. I may build the theme out later. BTW, the site automatically ads my Instagram shots as individual posts, so those get updates a couple times a week.
These flanges were made with .030″ Garolite. Garolite is strong but is hard to cut and seems to chip easily. I’m going to use FR4 instead.
#guitarpickups #neodymiummagnets #madscientist #basspickups #handwoundpickups #funktronicpickups
Instagram filter used: Lo-fi