Here’s a really entertaining video from ElectroBOOM about inductance. He only hurts himself once!
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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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.
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.
I’ve gotten a little sidetracked from my usual pickup and bass building. My 15-year-old nephew, who is learning to play guitar, wanted a stompbox. I figured it would be a fun surprise to build him a little distortion pedal.
Being more of a bass player, I’ve build plenty of envelope filters and preamps but I’m not really well-versed in the world of guitar-effects such as distortion, fuzz and overdrive. I asked around, and a few people recommended the Electra Distortion. After doing a little research, I built one up on the breadboard and added a Baxandall tone stack and a buffered recovery stage to the end of it. I upped the gain a little bit as well. It sounds really good!
Here’s a little clip:
I designed a little PCB board in Easy EDA and sent the files off to the fabricator. I should be getting those in a few weeks. In the meantime, I designed some graphics for the face of the pedal. I took an image from the Mexican Loteria game. The li’l lady is Mexican and friends and family come over all the time to play Loteria. She and my nephew’s side of the family consider themselves Native Americans, so my nephew will get a kick out of the artwork.
This is a really cool pedal. I’m really excited about this little side project. I can’t wait to see this one come together. I’ll have a couple extra boards as well, so I’ll probably build up all three pedals.
Over the last couple months, I’ve been immersed in developing my neodymium multi-coil sidewinder pickup. The idea was to make a bridge pickup that can do it all, but take up a smaller space than a traditional pickup. I figured that the entire width of the pickup would be used a the sensing area as there are no coils wrapped around the poles. It seemed to do the job pretty well. The relatively large neodymium magnets reproduce a lot of bass, while the naturally extended highs of the sidewinder design work together. I voiced a little onboard preamp to bring it up in a live band situation.
The first two big problems to solve were the small amount space for the multi-coil assembly and keeping the magnets from crashing into each other. The neodymium magnets are really strong and somewhat difficult to manage. So, I designed a little base and had Bruce over at X-Strange machine a master that I could use for prototyping. The base has little trays built in that I could use to place the magnet assembly. I had to use a combination of press-fitting and glue. From there, I came up with a design for my bobbins. The trick was to be able to fit the terminals within the walls of the bobbin itself.
The bobbins are a combination of cast polyurethane and paper. I file grooves for the wires and attach them with CA glue. I figured that once they get encapsulated inside a block of epoxy, the paper and CA clue will be strong enough. They are pretty fragile, however t I only had one actually fail during the prototyping process – and that was purely due to operator negligence.
I wound these on The Funktronic Coil Genie.
I encapsulated the pickup in white polyurethane, but I wasn’t happy with the results. So, I bound and capped it with some nickel silver scraps I had laying around. Using various cements to affix the metal, I had better luck with the softer adhesives like E6000 or Gorilla Glue. For some reason, CA or epoxy wouldn’t hold the metal down. I’ve never had that problem – usually epoxy will do it.
After gluing, I soldered the cap to the binding with my soldering iron. In another life, I used to solder little structures like this all day long. Back then, I used a propane or oxy-acetylene torch. This was the first time I’ve done it with a soldering iron. It wasn’t too bad! The nickel-silver is really forgiving; I had a sand-through that I patched with a blob of solder (it’s really thin metal). Once you sand it, the patch is barely perceptible. At the very least, my cap and binding job will provide some shielding.
Despite the seemingly complex multi-coil assembly, the build process itself was pretty straightforward. It’s really a long series of many simple steps. Here’s a few images of the assembly process.
So far, my preliminary have been promising. It sounds really good! I’m really anxious to get it installed in a bass so I can test it out in the field.
My circuit boards finally came in from the fabricators a few days ago. They’d been delayed and sent to the wrong address. Also, I’ve since made some slight changes to the circuit, but I was able to easily hack the board with a jumper wire to make it work.
Last night, I populated the board and wired up the pots, the switch and the jack. At this point it looks kind of like a mess of wires; this is my first circuit board design and I wasn’t too sure what was going on while I was doing it. Really all that matters is that I can fit the electronics into the cavity with no problems, and it does fit no prob. The next iteration will be much better, and for now, with 3 circuit boards running me about $7, I’m not sweating the costs or anything.
Next, I’m going to install a pickup I built a while back. I have some ceramic magnets on order from the fabricator, but they won’t ship until mid-October. Coupled with the fact that my original design used 16 small cylindrical magnets instead of 2 larger bar magnets, I’m going to have to make a few changes in my manufacturing process. In the end, I’m faced with a choice between installing the older neodymium magnet design today or waiting until mid-November for the newer ceramic design. The neodymium pickup sounds fine, but I prefer the character of the ceramic magnet design. I can just swap out the pickup when I finish with the improved design.
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
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:
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
Moving right along here…
As far as names, I’m thinking it really needs an appliance name. I’d say it’s definitely resembling a toaster!
Anyway, all the parts are made, except I have to actually get the mounting hardware to work. I polished the steel blades by hand, which was long and tiresome.
The dog ears came out pretty good. The surfaces need a little work, but for now, I’m going to leave it. Most of them will be inside the body of the guitar. Eventually, I’m going to have to make a new mold. Ill worry about it then.
However, I wanted to point out a cool detail with the dog ears:
I cut these little channels in the original so that they’d lock into this little joint on the coils…
OK, so the next thing I gotta do is figure out how to glue the danged thing together! That is going to be a really cool trick once I figure it out!
On a side note, I decided I’m going to sell my wide format inkjet printer to my work and use some of the dough to buy something like this:
It seems like there’s a lot of them around for about $100 – $150. There’s about 3-4 time a week I find myself thinking, “It sure would be a lot easier to do this with a sheet metal shear instead of using a hacksaw and file to clean the edge.”
I Think I’ll Call It The Toaster
Instagram filter used: Clarendon
Photo taken at: Fillmore, California
Bass Sidewinder Partially Assembled
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Photo taken at: Fillmore, California
Here’s a coil for the Funktronic neodymium sidewinder bass pickup fresh out of the mold. I think it looks pretty good for the first try!
#basspickups #handwoundpickups #madscientist #guitarpickups #funktronicpickups #resincasting #westsystemepoxy_
Instagram filter used: Ludwig
Photo taken at: Fillmore, California