Legendary Pickup Builder Explains How Tonewood Can Impact Your Electric Guitar Sound

In a new interview with Guitar World, Jason Lollar, who’s well-known for his Lollard pickup brand, discussed what one needs to know if they want to get into the pickup-building business. During the chat, Jason discussed the current state of the business and how plenty of smaller pickup makers emerged in recent years. Asked about whether it’s good or bad to have competition these days, he replied:

“Well, I think it would be more difficult to start something new, now, with that many people out there. There are thousands of people making pickups – and I got into it at just the right time, you know?”

“As far as small pickup makers went, there was Lindy Fralin [who got started] a couple of years before I came out – we were about the same time – so there was me and Lindy and then TV Jones, who makes Gretsch Filter’Tron-type stuff. But now it’d be really hard to stand out from everybody else.”

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Nonetheless, Jason adds that, despite things being difficult for new emerging brands, he thinks that the industry is benefiting from this:

“But I think it’s helped the industry. I think what really opened it up was when places like the parts suppliers started selling pickups and advertising that they were selling pickups.”

He also believes that the book he wrote, titled “For The Guitar Enthusiast, Basic Pickup Winding & Complete Guide To Making Your Own Pickup Winder,” helped inspire people to start making their own stuff:

“I wrote a book about it [way back then it was the only book that showed the mechanical process of how to unspool the wire and how you could make a machine that would automatically wind it back and forth.”

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“We sold several thousand copies. I still hear people say today, ‘I got started winding pickups because I read your book and realised that the mechanics are not that difficult.’ There’s other subtle things that are very difficult [when making pickups], but not the basics, like how to get the wire onto the bobbin.”

Going more into the matter, Jason was also asked about the skills beyond just the basics that one would need in order to master this craft properly. He replied:

“Whatever you’re making, you want to make sure there’s a consistency across all of that particular design. So if you wind one and come back a month later and wind another, you want them to sound almost exactly the same. It’s hard to do and a lot of people don’t really know how to achieve that.”

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As Jason also adds, in the pickup-making business, there are many things that can easily fool you into thinking that a certain design trait affected the tone while, in reality, it’s actually something completely different:

“You have to know what affects the outcome and what doesn’t – and it’s really easy to fool yourself by comparing pickups in two different guitars. If you don’t have the volume and tone pots all matched and the same amount of wire and everything, you’re gonna get a variation just from that.”

“You’ll think, ‘Oh, well, I wound this pickup this way, and this one that way, and this one sounds better than that one,’ but it’s actually just the pots. That gets overlooked a lot. Knowing what affects the outcome takes a while to understand.” 

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He then recalled a particular set of problems that they had and how it took some time and effort to actually realize what caused these issues:

“For example, one time we were getting weird results… There’s a counter on our machines that shows how many winds are on it. Most of them I have now are digital counters, but these old ones were electromechanical and had gears in them.

“After you’ve wound 100,000 pickups on it, the gears will wear out, and then the numbers start just flipping around. So we were getting these weird results, like ‘What’s going on?’ but we didn’t realize the counter was stripped out. Eventually, I figured that out. So there’s a variable right there you wouldn’t necessarily think about.”

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“We have our wire made specially for a certain diameter because the industry, over the years, has made the diameter a little bit on the smaller side. To be [rated as] a certain gauge of wire, it has to fall in between two different numbers: one’s a little lower, one’s a little higher. But as long as it’s in between that, it’s supplied as that gauge [of] wire.”

“So we have ours made slightly bigger, and they also change the formulation of insulation on the wire. Even the way the wire is laid makes a difference in how much output you get, how snarly the pickup is, or how tight and percussive it is.”

“If it’s scattered more, you don’t get as much output for the same amount of turns. So you can manipulate the outcome that way.”

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And then he came to one of the most passionately debated topics in the world of electric guitars — the effect that tonewood has. Continuing his thorough explanation, Jason said:

“There’s also a lot of debate about whether woods in the guitar make any difference – believe it or not, it’s hotly debated – so we have a whole wall of guitars.”

“We have five or six Teles that are made on an alder body with a maple neck, for example, and we’ll put pickups in them and we’ll match the pots. Everything, electronically, is matched. We even adjust the pickup height with a scale so we can see how far they are [from the strings].”

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He also added:

“We can match everything up, put new strings on both guitars – because just having old strings will make a difference in how it sounds. And, by the way, you can fool yourself into thinking, ‘This pickup set sounds darker’ because it’s got old strings on it. So we do everything.”

“A lot of times, there’s still a difference in the sound and it’s just the density of the guitar body. We have some guitars that are noticeably darker than others; everything else is the same. So that’s another factor.”

Photo: Paulo Guereta (Electric guitars – Expomusic 2014)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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