I took a break and helped the li’l Lady rearrange our living room. She’d been asking me for a while to hang a few of my guitars on the wall and I just got around to doing it. I’ve always thought of guitars as being functional objects, not decorative objects! Now that I see it, I can see why she wanted to do this; musical instruments bring peace to a home.
We used StringSwings. They were easy to install into drywall and they are solid. They come in several different colors.
I installed the electronics last night and gave it a whirl. It sounds pretty good, but I’m still waiting for the ceramic magnets to come in before I call it a wrap.
The li’l Lady sent me this pic this morning. She likes to put my guitars on this shelf for some reason.
I still have some more work to do on it. I have a rogue fret up by the 12th fret, and I need to get some new strings and do a proper set up. I might bring it to rehearsal tonight just for kicks.
Overall, I’d say it was a success. Most of the fellas didn’t know at first that I had actually made the whole thing myself and had assumed it was a new bass. I got compliments on the colors, while our drummer said he loved the Jetsons look.
It plays and handles really nicely and for a semi-hollow it feels really stable and solid. It’s about the right weight and is well balanced. I still have to address the fret noise, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t play around it. I’ll take a look at that over the weekend. It may be as simple as adding some more relief to the neck.
Now, granted are these two things: the bass amp at rehearsal is this old 100w Yamaha 115 combo that basically sounds like crumpled paper and the neodymium pickup is a placeholder. That being said, I got a lot of compliments on the tone. The neodymium version of this pickup sounds kind of plain and nondescript to me, but where it excels is in playing dynamics. It really responds really to touch, and I really liked that I didn’t have to really pull on the strings to get a lot of tone out of it. However, the amp wasn’t really able to render those dynamics as well as my Markbass.
The one-knob preamp is a cool feature. When it’s turned all the way to “treble” the bass is cut way down and the highs are boosted. Turned to bass, the treble is cut and the bass is boosted. I had it somewhere in the middle, give or take a few clicks. While it’s not a very sophisticated preamp, it gives you a really quick way to dial in your tone. The pickup and electronics are dead silent when you are not playing.
We had a great rehearsal, and without getting into specifics, there a few pretty good jokes passed around about me being the white guy from Oakland. Our drummer went as far as saying he wants to commission one of my basses for his studio, but he was probably just being nice.
I went home that night and A/B’d it with the ceramic pickup in the test bass. The step boy was there and he plays guitar in a local band as well. We both agreed that while the neodymium version sounds good, the ceramic version is better. The ceramics bring a faster low end response and the ceramic version is generally fatter, warmer and punchier sounding. The neo is much brighter without sounding harsh, but that’s not to say the ceramic is not bright. Using a set of well-broken flatwounds, the ceramic pickup is definitely bright sounding. Brightness and bassiness aside, what really sets it apart is its well-defined upper-midrange. I think that while the neodymium version puts out wider more even tone, that is ultimately its undoing – it has no emphasis on anything in particular.
The good news is, I think my ceramic magnets will be here soon. I just got a shipping invoice from Magnetic Hold this morning.
I haven’t updated this site for a while mostly because I’ve been working on building a bass to for the neodymium sidewinder.
This image is actually my trial run which I ended up retiring – this one had some issues that I felt I could resolve with a second iteration. I’m in the process of finishing the body right now, so hopefully I’ll be done with that sometime in the next few weeks. I’ll start adding updates about the instrument as it is a vehicle for these Funktronics.
Last week was a really busy week for me, so I didn’t get a lot of work done making pickups. The li’l lady organizes the Mexican Day of the Dead Festival here in town and that pretty much took up all my time. It’s a pretty big event for us and the whole town participates in the festivities. We usually have dancers, food, live music and a lot of art work. I spent the week working on projects for the event. I made these skulls that we put in the big room where we had the shrines.
First I took these huge 36″ balloons and covered them with paper mâché. Because they were so large, each one took a long time to cover with paper and took a long time to dry as well. I also wanted to put on as many layers as I could because they needed the extra strength.
Once they were dry, I just painted them up.
The li’l lady also made a sparkly, life-sized cutout of Selena. I spent an afternoon making the base for her so it would stand up. The funny part is, Selena is usually the most commonplace shrine at these events. I think the li’l lady was just having some fun.
So there we have it.
Every day I inch a little closer… Picked my poles up from the fabricator today. Set me back about $6 and some change each. Not bad. I’ll have to start running some tests with these once I get that guitar body off my desk. #funktronicpickups #basspickups #bassplayer #madscientist #madeinfillmore #handwoundpickups #hechoenfillmore
Instagram filter used: Slumber
Photo taken at: Ventura, California
This week was mostly busy work. Most noteworthy, I took a few beginning steps to start a small production run of my Neodymium Sidewinder Bass Pickup. I dropped off some drawings of the parts with Bruce over at Johnson’s Extremely Strange Musical Instrument Company. Bruce is going to machine some nice masters that I can use to make molds for my parts. Basically, I decided that I have reached the point where I want to refine the design of my pickup and develop my production model. In the meantime, I’ll call around and get some quotes for getting the blades water-cut out of 430 stainless. I will start off with a few samples and see how they work with the molds. I’m feeling excited about it and I think it will be good to “finished” with my first design. As things progress, I’m sure I’ll be more excited about it.
On another note, I tried to take a few days off and give my brain a rest from pickup making. However, I failed spectacularly and came up with a drawing of a new sidewinder pickup that I think I can make reversible.
I’d like to introduce you to The Funktronic Coil Genie Mk 1:
This is my Arduino-driven pickup winder. I started work on this back in October 2016 and I just finished it in February 2017. Basically, a motor spins the winding plate that triggers an optical sensor. The sensor sends a pulse to the brain, which then tells a stepper motor to advance 1 increment. The stepper drives a 20:1 gear box which then drives a 1/4 20 screw. The screw serves as as the feed guide and traverse mechanism for the pickup wire. The traverse limits are set via joystick and the stepper advances and returns. A local luthier, Bruce Johnson, helped me with the initial concept of the winder and machined a couple parts for me. I designed, fabricated and built the machine and I wrote the software as well. There’s still a few quirks I have to work out, but so far, I’ve wound some really nice coils with it.
The most difficult part of building this machine was affordably sourcing the gears and such. Some of the sizes were odd, so I had to bite the bullet and shell out some cash for those. Others were more common and I could pick them up for a couple of bucks.
I built a little base from oak to house the electronics. By the time I finished, the breadboard was gone. I had to shield everything – the stepper was 2A and it was throwing a lot of electrical interference around. I added a Schmitt trigger and that pretty much took care of that.
Here’s a picture of the build process. I cut all the aluminum parts with a jigsaw and shaped them with a file. I don’t have a CNC machine.
Most of the gearing is housed internally. I hope I don’t ever have to repair or replace the timing belts. Replacing them would require tearing the machine down. I’ve done it a few times already. Mark II is going to be easier to disassemble.
Here’s another picture of the build process. I’d never designed my own machine before. It wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined it to be, and I could totally see doing it again if I had to. I kept thinking of all the things I could build that could be driven by an Arduino.
A short video of the Funktronic Coil Genie in action:
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.