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Myths Busted

1) Scatter wound coils sound better than machine wound.
2) American made pickups have American made magnets.
3) DC Resistance is a good indicator of sonic character.
4) Hum is part of the sound.
5) Aged magnets are responsible for aged sound.
6) Overwound HOT pickups are necessary for Heavy Metal
7) Extreme Compound Radius fretboards (10” ~ 16”) are necessary
8) Everything about a pickup contributes to the sound.
9) The neck pickup is carefully positioned under harmonic nodes.
10) Jimi Hendrix’s sound is the result of reverse magnet stagger.
11) Heavy bodies promote sustain.
12) Locking tuners improve tuning stability.
13) Strings set with extremely low action don't rattle or buzz
14) A guitar’s neck should always have a significant bow (more than .005”).
15) Brass Nuts and bridge saddles improve tone
16) Priceless vintage guitars have great sound.
17) Famous companies always get things right.
18) Fender’s Tele neck pickup has a very dark unresponsive sound
19) Wax potting lightly so allowing only good microphonics.
20) Compact pickup sound good.

1) Scatter wound coils sound better than machine wound.
Make no mistake, no guitar pickup is 
scatter wound because the bobbin is not round (as it must be) and the plastic coated winding wire used in pickups is not suitable.  True Scatter winding is a highly organized form of coil winding with cotton covered wire originally designed for Radio Frequency coils used in vintage Vacuum Tube Radio’s.  See picture below.  It was developed in the early 1900’s to minimize capacitance in the Pico farad region which adversely affect Radio frequencies in the 50+ KHz band. The impact on audio frequencies, even at 20KHz, is non existent or is so tiny as to be inaudible.  Anyone who believes so called scatter wound pickups are superior to expertly machine wound is deluded.

The so called scatter winding in guitar pickups is really nothing more than cheap and nasty random, haphazard traversing known in Electrical Engineering circles as Jumble winding.  It is almost impossible to have meaningful control of the winding pattern because there are 140 turns per layer and approx 60 layers which take approx 10 minutes to wind …. no human can precisely maintain the feed rate of the traverse, the precise reversing points and the number of layers during winding.  More importantly the winding tension is not known or even measured and is not precisely controlled since the wire is guided and tensioned with the operators fingers.  This kind of traverse has been given the name Scatter Winding solely for marketing purposes, often because the deluded maker will not afford let alone appreciate a predictable and controllable precision computer controlled machine.  Busted well and truly and we have proved it by comparing so called scatter wound and machine wound pickups.  There ain’t any difference provided the highly important winding tension is the same!!!   Also read what Wikipedia has to say about Scatter winding.


2) American made pickups have American made magnets.
Some years back, circa mid 2000’s, a customer bough in a new US made Strat Deluxe to have the pickups upgraded to Kinman’s. We listened to the US made pickups first and were shocked at how woeful they sounded. Sometime later we noticed a forum post from Bill Turner (Fender’s pickup engineer at that time) stating that Fender use Chinese magnets as the rest of American pickup makers also do. Suddenly we understood the reason those American made Deluxe pickups sounded so bad. The abandonment of American magnet manufacturers en masse ultimately led to the entire US magnet industry’s demise. Today there is not one US magnet maker left operating and hundreds of knowledgeable and skilled staff were retrenched. Really Busted and shameful!

3) DC Resistance is a good indicator of sonic character.
There are many aspects and elements in the construction of a pickup that determine sonic character. Comparing Resistance is virtually useless unless the pickups are identical in all other ways, which is rarely the case. There is no electrical measurement that gives a sure-fire indication about sonic character, especially with Kinman pickups because there are 2 coils in series and different technology where the coils are very different to equivalent non-noiseless single coils. Some things are beyond measurement. Narrative descriptions, sound files and YouTube demos are far more meaningful but even then variables such as player skills, strings, amplifiers, speakers and a bunch of other stuff can cause very different results. There is nothing like first hand experience through your own rig. Really Busted!

4) Hum is a desirable part of the sound.
There are some people who have closed minds, unwilling to accept or unable to comprehend the truth of some matters like the Flat Earth fraterinty. Those are the kinds of minds that proclaim that Hum and Buzz are natural and part of the sound. But the whole point of making music is using concordant frequencies to create harmonious sounds (that’s why we tune our guitars). Who would argue that the dissonant sounds of a E and Eb notes sound good when played together? That’s the effect of hum because it has a fixed unwavering frequency of typically 60 Hz and it’s harmonics of 120, 240 and 480 Hz and so on up the frequency spectrum. So it is quite evident that most notes played on the guitar occur at frequencies that are not concordant with the fixed frequency of Hum and buzz. How un-musical is that. Busted!

5) Aged magnets are responsible for aged sound. There are some pickup makers who claim they degauss magnets in order to produce aged sound. It’s simply not true because it’s the Formvar coating on the wire of old Strat pickups that produce aged sound, nothing whatsoever to do with less strong magnets. Read the Blog article Aged Sound Explained Really Busted!!!

6) Overwound HOT pickups are necessary for Heavy Metal and other types of distorted sounds. Over-winding coils does increase the output & loudness but simultaneously kills touch sensitivity and dynamic range. Why? Parasitic Coil capacitance is the arch enemy of guitar pickups in that it has the effect of dramatically reducing the expression factor of a pickup. It’s like turning the Tone control down and sounds like speaking hand over mouth. Over-wound coils cause a great loss of expression and openness (air). Minimizing Coil turns count minimizes Parasitic coil capacitance and promotes touch sensitivity, dynamic range and the all important expression factor. Heavy Metal players like explosive and rapid attack and therefore invariably use Gain Fx devices which help overcome these losses to an extent. But there is nothing like using low capacitance pickups to achieve the much vaunted maximum expression factor and Kinman humbuckers have taken expression to new levels, it’s a much desired and achieved goal. Busted!!!

7) Extreme Compound Radius fretboards (10” ~ 16”) are necessary
to eliminate string choking in the upper register (12th to 22nd fret). Experience has demonstrated that a uniform fretboard radius of 11 inches is ample to achieve choke free performance in the 12th to 22nd fret register. Gibson guitars have 12” uniform radius and do not choke unless there is a truss rod adjustment issue or a localized kink in the neck or loose frets.

Pickups with staggered magnets will have unbalanced string levels, the middle strings (D & G) will be annoyingly louder than the outside E strings when used with excessively flat fretboards. Kinman offers a Flat Magnet Stagger designed especially for excessive Compound Radius 10 ~ 16 inches. USA Custom Guitars offer a compound radius 9 ~ 12 inches which works quite well and avoids the problems. Busted!!!

8) Everything about a pickup contributes to the sound.
Broadly speaking only metallic elements such as magnetic material, copper wire, covers and baseplates of the pickup have any impact on the sound. However dimension and shape of the coil exert a strong influence so in that sense the bobbin parts (plastic or fibre board) do have an impact on the sonic character, but it’s not the material itself, merely it’s dimensions. Bobbins can be made of any convenient non-magnetic and non-conductive material and not have any impact on sonic character. Single conductor Hook-up wires exhibit very little capacitance and so do not influence the sound. Shielded cables come in a variety of sizes and inner insulation thickness with varying capacitance and so have the potential to impact on sonic character. Busted? Almost but not quite correct!!!

9) The neck pickup is carefully positioned under harmonic nodes.
Harmonic Nodes are not relevant to pickup placement because they are not in a fixed position. Nodes shift position according to which note is fretted so there is no persistent relationship between nodes and position of pickup, and when nodes do occur over the pickup pole the effect tend to be negative since some relative upper harmonics do not exist at nodes.
The sound of pickup positions is more a function of the distance from the bridge ..... the greater the distance the less sharp (attack and bass content) and less focused the sound becomes. It's a sliding scale of change. There is no technically optimum placement for pickups, it’s simply a matter of what sounds good or even more so, what looks good. Busted!

10) Jimi Hendrix’s sound is the result of reverse magnet stagger.
Jimi was a virtuoso player with great sensitivity and playing skills. His reverse magnet stagger tended to make the A-5th string weak and the B-2nd loud however he developed a picking technique that overcame this and his strings sounded balanced. He also overcame the extreme loudness of his G-3rd with the same technique. Jimi sounded like he did in spite of the adverse issues, not because of them. Busted!

11) Heavy bodies promote sustain. In circa 1978 Chris Kinman discovered the primary cause of loss of sustain is resonances in the neck (the neck flexes in response to string vibrations and at the critical resonant frequencies energy is sucked from the strings dramatically shortening sustain resulting in dead notes. Seeking to understand the reason the 1st (G) string on a Fender bass always suffered a very short sustain envelope (dead notes) on the 5th to 7th frets area he pressed the headstock of a Fender Bass into a corner of a door jamb. The headstock effectively became inert and unable to respond to resonances with the result the dead notes instantly came alive and full sounding with sustain the equal of the best sustaining notes.

He reasoned that a stiffer neck or adding mass to the headstock would achieve the same result. To prove the point he clamped a small steel Toolmakers vice to the headstock and this had the same result. Of course the weight of the vice made the instrument neck heavy and unbalanced with the consequence the neck had to be held up by the player or else it pointed to the floor.

Searching for a practical solution he added 2 carbon fiber stiffening rods to a Fender Bass neck and this too caused a dramatic improvement. Steinberger basses and guitars had a headless design as well as Carbon Fiber necks which went way beyond what was necessary to solve the problem. These radical instruments became well known for their uniform sustain over the entire fretboard due to the in-flexibility of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic. Thick brass plates added to the back of the headstock appeared on the market in the 1980’s, these things worked in the same way as Chris’s Toolmakers vice with the same unbalancing problem.

Sustain is not derived from the body but by inhibiting mechanical resonances in the neck. Heavy bodies contribute nothing to promote sustain. Busted!!!

12) Locking tuners improve tuning stability. Chris Kinman proved that even old world split shaft tuners can keep the strings in tune even with heavy whammy bar use (see >Technical >Perfect Guitar >Keeping it in TUNE). The problem is not with the tuners but with friction between string and the Nut slots and or material. CK fashioned Nuts from low friction Teflon material and found all strings returned precisely pitch except the 3rd G string, and that was not because of Nut friction but rather because the diameter of the core of the G string is too stiff and inflexible to straighten after being bent when pulled through the Nut slot and across the crown of the bridge saddle during string stretching or heavy Vibrato bridge use. Avoiding bending of the strings core is the ONLY reason a locking Nut and Bridge improves tuning stability. Busted!!!

13) Strings set with extremely low action don't rattle or buzz ..... In our experience strings set too close to the frets may appear not to buzz or rattle BUT ..... a lot of sound goes missing when the strings crash into the frets after being picked, especially the wound strings. After the crash robs a lot from the sound, the strings do continue to quiver, as distinct to fully vibrate. What goes missing is the entire bottom end and along with that goes a lot of volume and the sound takes on a honky, nasal flavor. Busted!!!

You can try a simple experiment, the results might startle you. With the action set very low play a few notes with the neck pickup on the low E-6th to get the sound fresh in your mind. Then raise the saddle so there is a 2.2mm gap between the underside of the string and the crown of the fret. Adjust the bass side of the neck pickup so suit. Then repeat the same notes to hear the full sound of the string. If there is a huge different it illustrates the sound lost to string crash. Really Busted!!!

14) Priceless vintage guitars have great sound. Or so I thought. In the mid 1980’s a 1959 ES335 came into my possession, it had Zebra pickups bobbins. This guitar should have magic or mojo, right? My excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I plugged it in. I sold it a week later for a little more than I had paid for it. This is the sort of instrument that abounds in vintage dealers lists for breathtakingly high prices. I have since learned that vintage guitars have become collectors items, collectors like Stockbrokers, Accountants, Doctors and the like who don’t even play guitar let alone appreciate fine sound. They buy guitars like an Art collector buys paintings, to be sold for huge profits. Busted!!!

15) Brass nuts and bridge saddles improve tone Brass is not a resonant material, in fact it’s as dead as a lump of lead. Banging two chunks of Steel together results in a bell-like ring. Banging two chunks of Brass together results in a dull thud. Also when used to make nuts and saddles it causes extreme tune-ability problems because it’s soft nature causes a lot of friction when the strings try to slide over it’s surface when tuning, stretching strings or using the whammy bar. Steel is a much better material for saddles and Graphtech is good for nuts. Busted!!

16) A guitar’s neck should always have a significant bow (more than .005”). Practically speaking a neck should have a very slight bow (curve) but it’s not for any other reason than to know it is not curved backwards (over adjusted). A perfectly straight neck is the most desirable, however using the fret-crown-comparison-to-string (under tension) method of determining correct truss rod adjustment it is impossible to tell when the neck is over adjusted or dead straight. Introducing a slight positive curve indicates positively the truss rod is correctly adjusted. Also be aware that the amount of neck curvature must be added to the adjustment height of bridge saddles for the upper register to play without buzz or choking and that’s another good reason to adjust the truss rod so the neck is almost straight. Excessive bow (more than .008”) will result in bad intonation that can not be corrected with bridge saddle adjustment. Busted!!!

17) Famous Brands always get things right.
    1. Gibson’s fretless wonder         

  • exclusive to 1970’s Les Paul and SG Customs small frets that have no significant height make string stretching extremely difficult because finger tips slide over the tops of strings instead of getting a grip on them. Also due to dissipated pressure of finger tips (being lost onto the fretboard) getting all notes of a chords to sound properly is also difficult. One has to wonder at what Gibson were thinking about their fretless wonder models that were premium priced. Players often had their tiny frets replaced with Gibson’s much better jumbo frets which were perfect for sideways stretching and making chords. Unbelievable!!!

  •     2. Gibson’s inaccurate fret positions
  • Google “gibson innaccurate fret positions” and you will be shocked to learn the awful truth. All model Gibson guitars made from early on up until at least the 1990’s had inaccurate fret positions, some being 1.5mm out of whack. To top this off the nut was also positioned approximately 2mm too close to the bridge end than is optimum. Discerning Gibson players spend a lot of time tempering their tuning trying to get their instruments to play in-tune in different keys but it’s a loosing battle. Hopefully Gibson acquired a new fret slotting machine when they moved to Nashville.

  •     3. Fender’s TwinPivot Strat bridge
  • Has the two E saddles 4mm closer together (52.4mm as distinct to 56.4mm of vintage 6 point bridges). While this provided more space between the outside E strings and the edge of the fretboard one of the two E strings misaligns with the magnet of the neck pickup causing a severe loss of volume. Many hundreds of thousands of Fender Strats issued with Twin Pivot (2 point) bridges suffered this horribly annoying problem. This flaw has been ignored by Fender to this day.  How could they?
    In 2002 Kinman solved the problem with the introduction of Narrow Magnet Spread (49.5mm) neck pickups and Intermediate (51mm) middle pickups. No other pickup maker has attempted to solve it.
  •     4. Gibson’s P-100 & P-90H pickups
  • Intended to silence the glorious P-90. It succeeded in getting rid of the massive amount of hum and it also succeeded in totally destroying the P-90 sound. And now they try again with the P-90H, a Sidewinder, and still don’t succeed. How could they?

  •     5. Noiseless Sidewinder P-90 pickup
  • Sidewinder coils arrangement are the most inferior hum-cancelling design of all. The design has a huge electrical engineering flaw whereby string signal is cancelled almost as much as hum is cancelled. This happens as a result of magnetic coupling between the coils which are wired out-of-phase. String signal cancellation robs the sound of the aliveness and openness and wonderful dynamic range a P-90 has. The huge amount of over-winding and consequent high Resistance needed to derive satisfactory output contributes to the choked, un-responsivness just as much (see point 6 above). Such pickups are look-alikes, not sound-alikes. How could they? Busted BIG TIME.

  •     6. Stacked pickups
  • Suffer from the same problems as Sidewinders but to a slightly less degree, being a variation on a flawed theme. Stacks coils are fully coupled magnetically, there is no magnetic shielding separating the coils as there is with every Kinman pickup. How could they? Busted BIG TIME.


18) Fender’s Tele neck pickup has a very dark unresponsive sound
Until recently Fender Tele neck covers were made of brass, the worst possible material for a pickup cover because it chokes the highs and impacts negatively on dynamic range and touch sensitivity, making the sound dull and unresponsive. Nickel-Silver is the preferred material since it does not have these problems, the sound is much more alive and open. Fender should have known better than to use a Brass cover on a guitar preferred for country twang. CONFIRMED.

19) Wax potting lightly so allowing only good microphonics. Microphonics occur at an unchanging and precise resonant frequency of the coil structure and the chances of that frequency occurring precisely at any harmonious note is virtually non existent. BUSTED.

20) Compact pickups sound good (size does matter so pickups need to be as big as possible). Compact pickups like dimarzios Area series force the coils to be squashed into a small space which impacts on dynamic range and high frequency response in a negative way. In the case of diamrzio compact equates to economy (cheaply made). Other pickups that suffer from small size are mini-humbuckers and Filtertrons. (see Mini Buckers and Filtertrons on another Blog page) BUSTED.