Here are some tips on achieving more performance from your trusty guitar and for those of you who are about to embark on putting a project guitar together from parts. I amassed the knowledge displayed on this page over the course of many years I have spent in the guitar industry.
How to age Kinman Strat covers
The rogue 3rd string
Magnets the differences between Alnico, Ceramic and Samarium Cobalt
Sustain (plus Live & Dead notes)
Harmonic nodes and pickup placement
Pots - all about them
Tone control capacitors
VOLUME control control (Treble by-pass filter)
Soldering tricks n tips (different page)
Magnet/String alignment improved
Mixing different brands of pickups (new Jan-08)
Mixing Single coils with a Humbucker
Phase (or output polarity) test method (new Jan-08)
Shielding for newer guitars
Shielding for older guitars with vintage value
Irritating scratchy noises
Keeping it in TUNE
Strat Bridge topics (IMPORTANT)
A simple experiement with Twin Pivot bridges
Retrofitting a Traditional Strat bridge
Strings - my experiences
Click here to learn how to remove covers safetly from Kinman Strat* pickups
You can order your pickups with covers pretinted from my factory for an additional cost. These are moulded with the colour and so are permanent and non-bleachable colours.
DIY tinting of covers: Kinman's current Strat pickup covers are moulded in a special plastic that can be semi-permanently tinted with water based dies such as Tea, Coffee, Curry, Henna hair dye etc. Some colours that can be made this way are .......
- Mint (a light green tint seen on early 60's L Series Strat pickguards, made from Peppermint Tea)
- Cream (similar to Gibson P-90 cream covers, made with ground espresso coffee grounds - Vittoria brand)
- Aged White (use 2 spoons of instant coffee, International Roast brand)
You simply degrease the covers first with kitchen detergent or lighter fluid and then soak the White covers in the above (boiling temperature) food solutions for anything from 10 seconds up to several minutes. There is no need to keep the solution on the boil. If stronger colour is desired simply allow more time, up to several minutes. If the colour is still not strong enough than add more coffee/tea/stain. If you make a mistake then reverse the process by soaking the cover in Laundry bleach and start over. The resulting colours may change with time and exposure to light.
Do not attempt this with old Kinman covers as they will simply melt. The old covers can be identified by the notch taken out of the bottom of the cover, in other words the bottoms of those covers are split into two planes.
Caution: we can not guarantee all covers that have Logo will stain satisfactorily as the stain might not work due to the application of a conditioner intended to allow the logo to stick. In this case the covers can be reverted to original color by bleaching as above. Covers without Logo will stain without difficulty.
Covers are Standard with Burgandy printed Ink logo. Covers are also available without Kinman logo by special request (same price). Logos sometimes wear off the covers and will leave a white witness mark if the covers are tinted.
The new covers also do not have sharp edges at the top (but it's not rounded over noticeably), covers the lower coil completely and is more flexible than the previous cover. These new covers conform to early Fender specs in every way so it's no longer necessary to fit old covers to my Strat pickups for that authentic old look.
NOTE: Covers from other manufacturers can not necessarily be tinted this way, and neither can pickguard materials or knobs.
G or 3rd plain string – taming a rogue.
The cause of some really horrible, nasty sounds from Fender Stratocasters and to a lesser degree other type of amplified guitars too. Ideally it should always be a wound string (like on acoustic guitars) since wound strings, like the other four strings, behave in an orderly manner and almost never causes disagreeable sounds. However, since the mid 60's it is usually a non-wound (plain) 3rd because modern rock and blues players want a string that is easy to stretch sideways for vibrato and pitch raising effects. There is a price to pay for this though because the pitch of the open G note calls for a wound string for good behavior. Non-wound's require lower string tension to attain correct pitch which is lower tension than optimal and this causes excessive string crash, unstable pitch and a rather unpleasant rasping chain-saw effect through tube amps. Strings with lower tension are more adversely affected by magnets tugging on them too, compounding the problems of Stratocasters with fixed strong magnet poles. I use the word compounding because non-wound 3rds produce more output and therefore require magnet stagger compensation to achieve a loudness balance with the other 5 strings. Problem is most Vintage reproduction pickups have a 3rd magnet setting designed for a wound 3rd string thus the 3rd string is invariably too loud and dominates the other strings. Consequently this overly loud string amplifies string crash, Strat-itis and the rasping chain-saw effect causing disagreeable sounds. So there you have the three reasons the non-wound 3rd string is a rogue string. Mercifully guitar players often find subtle techniques such as always stretching the 3rd to raise pitch and increase tension or always using vibrato when playing the the 3rd string. Avoiding playing the 3rd string in it's natural state minimizes these unpleasant sounds, often this is a subconscious reaction that many are not aware of and habitually incorporate these techniques into their music.
Kinman went a long way towards solving these problems by developing firstly a proprietary low strength Alnico-5 magnet and secondly a special magnet stagger with a short G magnet. This has the twofold effect of balancing the loudness of a plain 3rd as well as minimizing magnetic pull which thereby minimizes the primary and secondary causes of disagreeable sound. The offset magnet stagger is the reason Kinman fixed magnet pickups are made for either Left or Right hand players as well as for wound and non-wound 3rds.
For Acoustic and Jazz guitars it is usually a wound string because the kinds of music played on these instruments does not call for extreme vibrato or pitch raising.
Hearing is believing, click on these to hear my point: & These are the detailed and complex sounds and colours of Alnico, from my Sounds page in the Media Center section. And viewing a ' Spectral analysis graph ' comparing a Kinman AVn-56 to another Big Brand noiseless will confirm visually what you hear. This is the sound of the same Big Brand noiseless In particular listen to the wound strings and low notes. A Strat should growl and bark with rock solid lows that have authoritive Thwack, definition and clarity.
Intro: The properties of magnets are rooted in physics and while I do offer Scientific evidence such as the 'spectral analysis graph' and the 'sound files' above, I write this mostly in plain language
The debate: Extreme gain / distortion tends to obliterate the sound of a pickup, but even then some desirable characteristics of guitar and pickups are needed to provide an edge, feel and definition. Less discerning ears find it hard to differentiate between pickups under extreme distortion. But consider the reason that countless Artists, who want real Tone, demand Alnico magnet pickups regardless of the 'gain' they use. If any old pickup would do why are they so picky? This is educational piece not an attack on anyone or any pickup design. But I certainly set out to dispell some popular myths that seem designed to confuse. This is a rant about magnets and in particular how magnets relate to the legendary Fender trademark guitar sound.
Background stuff: The whole thrust of this article is to dispel the myth perpetuated by some that Ferrite or Samarium Cobalt pickups can duplicate the characteristics that Alnico imparts to the sound.. I am not against other types of pickups that use alternate magnets per se. However it is a fact that Ferrite (Ceramic) magnets play absolutely no part in tone shaping of a guitar pickup simply because they are non-conductive, non-metal magnets and do not influence the electrical behaviour of the coil, and exchanging these with Samarium Cobalt magnets has similar sonic results; in other words these magnets are completely toneless / soundless (ie they play no part in tone shaping in themselves). On the other hand we have Alnico, the magical magnet. Alnico is unique because it imparts a TONE flavour and certain dersirable performance characteristics into the sound. It does this because it is metallic and conductive and does influence the electrical behaviour of the coil. There are those that will tell you that a clever designer of Samarium Cobalt or Ferrite magnet pickup can somehow, miraculously, compensate for the missing Alnico by clever magnetic circuit design, this is simply not so. Magnetism is just magnetism, but ' coil core ' material is a whole different story. Core material and behaviour is one of the BIG subjects that old time Electrical Engineers (not the modern electronic variety of engineer) had to study during their education. You have probably heard about Inductance (measured in Henrys), it's one of the most important and revealing specifications that a guitar pickup possesses. Did you know that Inductance is primarily derived from the core material? Steel had high inductance, Alnico has low inductance, about 1/4 that of steel. Fender sound demands just the right amount of inductance derived from the core.
The challenge: Designing a good circa vintage sounding Alnico noiseless is a lofty challenge. See, Alnico presents some formidable technical difficulties when phase opposed coils with Alnico cores are stacked. This is the technical reason very few have met with any kind of success at all. It's a very difficult challenge and one which I have dedicated a good part of my life exploring new technology to solve, I know what I'm talking about.
Hearing is believing: Remember that the Human ear is MOST sensitive in the midrange frequencies, that's no co-incidence because that's where speech frequencies are concentrated. It's significant that hearing loss begins in the upper midrange and is accompanied by loss of clarity and intelligibility. Alnico is the traditional (and preferred) magnet material for Fender pickups because Alnico imparts important detail in the midrange frequencies, in precisely the same range as the human voice and it also imparts a thwack in the low midrange that gives the wound strings a clean metallic cutting edge, a crisp edged bitey twang, crisp (almost metallic/brittle) highs as well as beautifully flavoured complex midrange detail and character. Alnico give the sound an entrancing captivating character, a depth and dimension and the projection to be easily 'heard' in the mix. Alnico is rich in midrange complexity and upper midrange bite and grit that makes playing an interesting, stimulating exciting and deeply satisfying experience.
The differences: You don't have to be an electrical engineer to understand the simple, undeniable, scientific fact that the core of the coil (be they steel alloy poles or Alnico magnets) have a BIG effect on the sonic tonal texture the pickup produces. Alnico also has more upper midrange bite and grit to cut and drive through the mix. For live on stage performances you simply can't beat Alnico for presence, guts and projection. UPDATE: I played a 50th Anniversary Deluxe Strat with Fender's SCN pickups this week and at first I was thinking "these SCN pickup's sound better than I expected, scary." But then I discovered that someone had turned the EQ level of the parametric equalizer up to maximum boost on 2.5KHz. When I first saw the 50th Anniversary I was struck with the beauty of this handsome guitar with Gold plated parts. After a few minutes of playing and then comparing this guitar side by side to a regular Strat with my pickups and another Strat with a set of Fender CS-54's, other differences became obvious. Everything I say in this article was confirmed, acknowledged and agreed by several other players including the owner of the 50th who observed that Alnico pickups have remarkable clarity, presence and sparkle.
side-by-sideside comparisons with Fender CS-54's and other single coils reveal how pleasing my Alnico pickups are. After this experience I am happier than ever with my products. And my optional Gold plated pole pieces really add a nice finishing touch to these beautiful instruments. Click here to see a photo of the latest Deluxe with S1 retro-fitted with Kinman's. Upon request with order for pickups I can provide special wirogram and fitting instructions developed especially for the S1 system.
Artificial tone: There is a kind of midrange thickness that is really just a form of mud. This comes about when coils are over-wound, resulting in an increase of coil capacitance. This is the same kind of toneless muddy midrange that most side-by-side humbuckers have to some degree. It's a low cost way of filling in toneless empty midrange of overly transparent pickups. On the other hand the kind of midrange complexity and detail that Alnico imparts is not muddy, rather it's Tone-FULL and interesting, with loads of charm and character. It's what I call ' real TONE '….and it can only come from one source… Alnico. If you want legendary, authentic, genuine Fender tone then you must have Alnico magnets in the CORE of your noiseless or non-noiseless single pole pickups. Once you hear what I'm talking about and lock onto the difference, actually discover it for yourself; it becomes pretty difficult to accept something else. Re-discovering TONE and the Alnico difference is a rewarding experience.
The Black and the White: Let me put this in BLACK and WHITE >>> "Magnetic circuit (or coil) design can in no way be compensated for what is missing when Alnico magnets are NOT used in the core of the coil to provide magnetism and mutual inductance". Alnico and Steel have vastly different compositions, characteristics and properties that govern the way they behave in a magnetically inductive environment. The suggestion that Ferrite or Samarium magnet designs can reproduce authentic, genuine Fender sound is ....well.... lets just say some folks are convincing wishful thinkers who mischieviously thrust their unfounded opinions on others. No amount of debate, speculation, marketing or promotion can change the facts.
Meet the contenders:
- Alnico is an alloy of 4+ different metals (iron, nickel, aluminum, and one or more of the elements cobalt, copper, and titanium), is hard and brittle with a crystalline structure. It can not be drilled, turned or milled. It can only be machined into shapes by wet grinding. If hit with a hammer it shatters. And when magnetized retains it's magnetism permanently. Is said to be Magnetically hard. Imparts just 1/4 the inductivity of equivalent volume of steel into an associated coil. Most significant Sonic characteristics regardless of vintage are>> midrange bite and grit, colourful complex upper-midrange harmonic structure, cutting edge twang, crisp metallic slightly brittle highs, growly/twangy lows. Alnico tone has true grit and is not a smooth sound at all, that's what makes it so interesting/satisfying. Kinman's unique sonically high performing Alnico is outstanding in *all* respects.
The P-90 pickup has enjoyed a massive resurgence over the past few years, primarily because of the Alnico flavour in it's sound. The P-90 has 2 Alnico bar magnets, it's like a double dose of Alnico.
Steel is iron with carbon. It's flexible, malleable, can be drilled, lathed, milled and hammered into shape. It can be magnetized by close proximity of a permanent magnet but will not retain that magnetism by itself. It is said to be magnetically soft. Imparts 4 times more inductivity than Alnico to an associated coil per given volume. Most significant Sonic characteristics are midrange deficient, overly transparent with not a lot of twang or grit, smooth silky highs. An overall silky smooth, uncoloured non-metallic buttery sound with a whole lot less less grit than Alnico.
I have tried using different steel alloys as pole pieces, Nickel steel, case hardened steel etc., but none had the colourful sound of Alnico.....and what's a guitar pickup if it's got no Tone colour?
Ferrite magnets are composite materials that are not metal. Ferrite is in fact a type of fired pottery clay with dispersed magnetic particles. Not being metal these magnets impart no induction to the coils like Alnico does and therefore do not contribute to the sonic tonal texture. That's why Ceramic humbuckers sometimes sound brittle. They are technologically advanced magnets and very powerful, designed to increase the efficiency of electric motors and other electromagnetic devices that require powerful magnets. Guitar pickups do not require powerful magnets, in fact magnets that are too strong are positively a bad thing....even regular Alnico-5 is a bit too strong.
Samarium Cobalt sintered magnets (SmCo) are composed of samarium, cobalt and iron. A metal powder is compressed into a die and heated until fusion occurs. It is metallic but it's very different to Alnico. It is extremely brittle and and fragile. Inductively speaking SC magnets do not influenece the sound because they are not in contact with the coil. The magnetism is collected and channeled by steel bars which do influenece the coils behaviour, see Steel.
The Chocolate cake analogy: If you want to make a genuine rich delicious moist Chocolate cake you gotta put chocolate in it, right? If you make it with Banana instead of Chocolate it may be a very nice Banana cake and taste good but it isn't a chocolate cake. Same with magnets, if you don't put Alnico in the recipe then you haven't got Alnico sound. How can the cook make Banana taste like Chocolate? He can't. How can a designer make steel poles sound like Alnico? Same answer, it's impossible.
Does Marketing reflect Truth and Facts? These are scientific facts, that's F-A-C-T-S! You can hardly find 2 more different metals. Facts can not be debated, only peoples perceptions can. In the end it's up to you to decide what is truth, what is marketing, what is omission and what is deception, and indeed if you are prepared to spend the little extra to get genuine legendary authentic Strat or Tele tone (would you deprive yourself of that to save a mere $100 or so ? Hell, I spent an hour with my dentist last week and it cost me $420 and my grocery bill was more than $200 this week, and those only lasted a few days. We are talking about sonic pleasure that will last for donkeys years and serve you well during that time. Surely a difference of $100 or so shouldn't be the deciding factor. If it is then I suggest you leave this site now, there is nothing here for you. I set out to achieve maximum sonic performance regardless of cost.
The simple Ferrite / The challenge of Alnico: I don't make Ferrite or Samarium Cobalt pickups because I don't want to, not because I can't. If I did my customers would be quite justified in accusing me of *selling out*, and I'm not about to do that just to make a few dollars. But if I did make this type of pickup I would market it correctly for application in extremely high gain use only, not as a pickup having a Fender trademark sound. Click on these links to see what's inside my Strat and Tele pickups (press your Back button to return here). That's what it takes to make Alnico work properly in a stacked noise canceling design, nothing less. I have 4 US Patents (and more coming).
The final analysis: So do magnets help shape the tone? Alnico magnets most definitely do; Samarium Cobalt and Ferrite magnets play no part in it whatsoever and their attendant steel poles can not mimic Alnico's electrical and magnetic behavior under any circumstance, FACT! End of meaningful discussion....well almost....
Remember the Chocolate Cake analogy!!! Alnico alone has the most desirable of qualities and characteristics. Words are cheap but hearing is believing! My Alnico designs cost more but have you ever regretted buying the best?
Solid body electric guitars are every bit an acoustic instrument as a fine old violin is, so different woods make an important difference to the sound of a guitar. After all, it's where the tone comes from in the first place. Poplar and Northern Ash (heavy) are brighter body woods. Swamp Ash body (light) is warmer sounding. Basswood is blander and a bit gutless in the midgrange. Alder is in the middle of the spectrum but is my personal favorite because it has a nice balance of treble, bass and midrange grit for great definition.
Most people underestimate the contribution that the neck makes to the sound of an electric guitar. It is as important as the body in shaping the final tone. Traditionally Fenders have a brighter tone than Gibsons not only because of the pickups but also because of the Maple neck. Putting a guitar together with alternative woods will have an effect on the sound, sometimes with pleasant results and othertimes with disastrous consequences. Before leaping in do some research by talking to the suppliers and guitar makers who have had some experience in mixing and matching woods. Full maple necks sound somewhat brighter and more transparent than Roseboard necks which tend to accent the middle frequencies. Neither is better, just different, it's a personal preference thing. Also remember that big fat (boat) necks are great for tone and sustain, and are more comfortable than you might imagine.
We're talking strictly electric's here, Acoustics have different requirements, see Melville Guitars on my Links page . Personally I dislike anything other than the single-bent-truss rod used on traditional Strats. The double expander or under-and-over rod as it is sometimes called presents a number of disadvantages. Firstly, by the nature of the beast it may tend to reverse kink the neck at the first fret position resulting in a low fret with attendant string buzz. This happens over a long period of time and is often not apparent for maybe 2 or 3 years. Secondly they over-stress the neck in certain areas and can contribute to neck breakage at the nut area AND can contribute to popping the fretboard off the neck. Thirdly, because they exert no compression stress on the neck it behaves different with respect to vibration. Since the neck is very important to tone production you can't expect one of these to sound like a single curved rod like the good old Strats had. Finally, the design of these double rods means that the adjusting nut has to be positioned low in the neck making it more difficult to access with the adjustment tool. NOTE: Fenders Bi-flex truss rod is a single curved rod engineered to bend both ways, it's not a double rod. Single curved rods are not perfect but for my money they are my favorite type. It would be great if someone could figure out how to stop the kink that sometimes happens in Fender necks at the 14th fret position due to string tension.
In 1978 I discovered that pressing the headstock of a guitar or bass against a solid object such as a door frame I could get notes to sustain a lot longer. From that observation I deduced that most sustain losses occurred as a consequence of secondary vibrations in the neck (resonances), not as a consequence of body mass. I also noticed that dead spots, where certain notes decay rapidly due to excessive resonances that are co-incident with those specific notes, disappeared. Full carbon fibre construction like Steinberger necks or carbon fibre stiffening rods embedded in a wooden neck address the cause of sustain losses at the point they occurr and are the best solution. Adding mass to the Headstock has a similar effect by damping overshoot or secondary vibrations of the headstock. The problem with that is adding enough mass to be effective in the form of a brass plate can unbalance the guitar, making it neck heavy. This results in a painful shoulder where the strap crosses it. The extra thickness also makes it look ugly and interferes with the tuners.
Sustain is also affected by magnetic pull exerted by the pickup magnets. There are 2 ways this happens: 1) Direct magnetic attraction causes damping of the strings. 2) The magnetic attraction causes the strings to crash into the frets, the consequent rattling or buzzing thereby robs them of energy and thus shortens sustain. Most single coil pickups use Alnico-5 magnets that are quite strong, actually it's excessively strong. A Stratocaster, and some Telecasters, use 3 magnets under each string and so are the worst affected instruments. Most Telecasters use 2 magnets under each string and are less affected. Side-by-side humbuckers exert very little magnetic damping. Magnetic pull on the strings can be allievaited by adjusting the pickups away from the strings but that reduces output and adversly affects signal/noise ratio. Kinman's special Alnico-5 magnets that exert 40% less magnetic pull on the strings actually allow maximum Sustain. You also get less rattling and buzzing and consequently a cleaner sound. Many players are simply astonished when they hear the pristine, uncluttered pure sound from Kinman's for the first time. My low-gauss magnets allow the pickups to be adjsuted close to the strings but because they are noiseless it doesn't matter if you prefer to adjust them away. The signal to noise ratio remains excellent regardless.
Harmonic nodes and pickup placement
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 sonic timbre, and when nodes occur over the pickup pole the effect is negative since relevant harmonics are cancelled.
The sound of pickup positions is more a function of the distance from the bridge ..... the greater the distance the less sharp (attack) and less focused the sound becomes. It's a sliding scale of change.
There is no optimum placement for pickups since players have different preferences, and anyway will usually adjust to the sound the instrument is delivering.
For those who are getting a guitar made and have the opportunity to specify the fretboard radius I recommend that a uniform radius somewhere between 9" and 11" is ideal. In general, I prefer a uniform radius anyday over a 10"-16" compound radius which have real problems with staggered pole pickups and slightly less problems with flat pole pickups.. Recently I became aware of USA Custom Guitars who make a 7-1/4" to 9-1/2" compound radius ... this is a highly intelligent solution in my view because you can have all the benefits of no string choking, hand comfort and excellent string volume balance with staggered pole pickups. Good on ya USA Custom Guitars....well done. Interestingly, Fenders 9.5" radius works quite well in the majority of cases although I settled on an 11" radius for my own guitars back in the 1980's just for extra reassurance. In fact I find some necks are just too flat and have no advantage over an 11" radius in addressing the string-bend choking problem in the upper register. Moreover I have found excessively flat radii or excessive compound radii to restrict choice of pickups to flat pole configurations. That means you can't use staggered poles to compensate for the extra output of an non-wound 'G' string" and string output balance in general will be far less than desirable with less flat radii. For more info about Fretboard radii go to the Magnet Staggers page in the Tech Support section.
UPDATE Nov-2008: I now offer a special Flat Stagger to suit flatter fretboards, it replaces the old non-staggered magnets.
Also help shape the tone. My personal favourites are Maple and Indian Rosewood. Not just because they're traditional and sound great but they just happen to have all the right properties for a fretboard. They are resilient and slightly springy so frets are held tight. Rosewood also has resins in it that help prevent decay and wear but Maple must be protected with a coating of lacquer to prevent wear and decay by fungus attack. Ebony is too rigid and brittle to hold frets and also shrinks and cracks with age, often leaving the fret ends protruding from the edge of the fretboard (Braille frets no less).
Dimensions: As of mid Nov 2000 I am supplying a new pickup cover with my Strat pickups. It can be ordered with or without a logo and is made of a special plastic that can be stained with Tea or Coffee for that aged look. Follow the link to a full description.These are available in two magnet spacings as illustrated below. Before ordering please determine which spacing your pickups are.
Tinting: No need to spend thousands of hours in smoke filled clubs to get that authentically aged look. Kinman's beautifully made Strat pickup cover is moulded in a special plastic that can be permanently tinted with water based dies such as Tea, Coffee, Curry, Henna hair dye etc. Some colours that can be made this way are .......
Mint (a light green tint seen on early 60's L Series Strat pickguards, made with Peppermint Tea)
Parchment (not too long in solution of instant coffee)
Aged White (similar to the New Fender colour) Same as for Cream but less time.
Cream (similar to Gibson P-90 cream covers, made with strong Instant coffee plus a bit of Red food dye)
Old Strat (a mixture of Mint and Cream)
You simply soak the White covers in the above (boiling hot) food solutions for two minutes or less. If stronger colour is desired then add more coffee/tea. If you make a mistake then reverse the process by soaking the cover in Laundry bleach and start over. You can order your pickups with covers pretinted from my factory for a small additional fee.Do not attempt this with the old covers as they will simply melt. The old covers can be identified by the notch taken out of the bottom of the cover, in other words the bottom of it is split into two planes. Covers are standard with Kinman logo printed in Burgandy ink. Covers are also available without Kinman logo by special request (same price). Logos sometimes wear off the covers and will leave a white mark if the covers are tinted. Tinted covers ordered without Logo will have a watermark logo, click here for details.The new covers also do not have sharp edges at the top (but it's not rounded over noticeably either), covers the lower coil completely and is more flexible than the previous cover. These new covers conform to early Fender specs in every way so it's no longer necessary to fit old covers to my Strat pickups for that authentic old look.
UPDATED 2-Sept-04. Click on " How to remove covers " to see a Adobe PDF file pictorial sequence. Begin by inserting 2 mounting screws into the screw holes from the opposite side to normal ie from the back. Just screw them into the baseplate so the ends protrude a tiny distance out the other side of the baseplate. Then gently and slowly wriggle the cover straight off the pickup keeping the cover parallel to the pickup, or damage may result. The two half-round ends of the metal shields should press lightly onto the inside of the replacement cover to prevent microphonic whistle. With the advent of my NEW Covers it is no longer necessary to use other Brands of covers because my new ones can be aged artifically (follow this link for more info pickup cover ), and can even be ordered already aged. BEWARE of non-Fender covers as these are often smaller than original Fenders. Tokai and other Japanese covers for example are a very tight fit onto a Kinman bobbin and may destroy the upper coil upon removal. Return to us for repair if damage results.
I currently favor the 'OAK' brand that's made in USA. CRL quality and price has caused disappointment in recent times. Ernie Ball has been packaging CRL switches as accessories but to be sure look for the distinctive diamond shaped CRL logo stamped onto the side of the switch and avoid it. OAK switches can also be ordered by name from Allparts and WD Music Products (see Links page) along with many other useful guitar parts and materials.
Pot values: Ever heard the old guitarist proverb..."if it ain't got it in the first place you can't boost it later"?
Shafts: Pots used in most guitar have a serrated shaft called a Knurl that grips the inside of 'push on' knobs. American pots have a fine 24 tooth Knurl while metric pots (Japanese etc) use a coarse 18 tooth Knurl with a slight smaller diameter, as shown in this photo.
Kinman Harness use American knurls and knobs.
Metric knobs will often break when pushed onto an American shaft. Bear this in mind when buying replacement knobs or pots. If a knob is loose the split shaft can be opened up a tiny bit so the knob grips better, however be very careful and open the split only a tiny amount because some shafts are made of brittle Aluminium and will break easily.
NOTE: Telecaster, Jaguar, Mustang and P and J Bass pots use a plain shaft and the knob is secured by a grub screw.
Taper (or curve): 98% of guitars use 'A' curve pots (also known as Audio taper or Logarithmic taper) which means they behave in a manner when rotated so the human ear detects a corresponding and gradual change in loudness or tone. Log or ‘A’ taper pots are great for finger swells and feel ‘right’ when rolling back the volume. However there is an emerging trend towards Linear taper by those who use high gain and want less sensitivity when rolling back the volume to clean up the sound. There is the disadvantage of making finger swells (violinning) feel uncomfortable and somewhat unresponsive though because the pot must be rotated a lot further to achieve the same reduction with a log taper. There is no difference in sonic character between both types at any setting, only the feel.
Higher value pots and capacitors cause the pickups to resonate at a higher frequency and develop more output and presence with the result that the sound is noticeably brighter. Lower value pots and capacitors have the opposite effect and push the sound towards the duller end of the spectrum with lower output. Knowing this is helpful if you want to experiment with pot and capacitor values to change your sound.The value of the Volume pot is crucial to pickup performance. A lot of pots, although labelled as 250K, actually measure much less (Eg 217K, and recently I measured 3 new Fender CTS pots at 117K) but very ocasionally they measure more (Eg 265K). Players should understand that a great pickup can be muffled by a pot that measures low, causing a dull, less responsive sound. The first thing that suffers is the AIR and Presence of a pickup. Since these are two of the most important performance aspects of Fender pickup sound it's actually a minor tragedy when these are sacrificed.
NEWS ! My new NoSoldering Harness for Strats (prewired harness) comes with specially made pots that I guarantee to have a minimum value of 250K and make Kinman pickups sound at their best. Click on the above link to the Strats products page for more detailed information.
Every guitar player should have and learn to use a multimeter, they are so inexpensive these days. They are invaluable for checking leads, pots, speakers, pickups and a host of other items but I recommend restraint from messing around with mains voltage because those can KILL you. I urge you to check your volume pot with a multimeter and if it measures noticeably less than 250K chuck it out and replace it with one that measures 235K or more. ( NOTE: Pots can be measured in-circuit but have to have either the switch or the ground connection disconnected). My pickups are designed to work into traditional Strat 250K volume and tone pots. Several pickup makers recommend using higher values such as 500K or even 1Meg to reduce the choked, strangled, compressed and constricted feel in an attempt to bring their pickups to life. They try to increase the presence, output and dynamic range because their pickups lack these crucial elements of Fender tone. As many players have discovered, it's impossible to resurrect a pickup that was born dead in this manner as the extra brightness is artificial and the sound is shrill and empty with no real air and no real dynamic range. However I encourage you to experiment and find what it is you like but don't be surprised if you find that my pickups respond favourably working into 500K pots. If it's built right in the first place it has a degree of flexiblity in choice of Pot loads.
Problems with high value Volume pots:
when you turn the volume control down a lot of hum/noise is introduced. This is because the amplifier input is becoming progressively unloaded and is effectively floating (like when the cable is not connected to your guitar) which results in hum/noise. 250K pots also exhibit this characteristic but not nearly to the same extent as 500K or 1Meg pots do. The higher the value the worse the problem becomes, it's part and parcel of high impedance circuitry. Also be aware that 1Meg ohm pots (and to a lesser degree 500K) have an unpleasant ramp-up characteristic that a lot of high-gain players won't like. When turning up from zero, instead of a smooth transition back to full volume there is an unpleasant turn-on transient or 'crack' as it comes off zero. The 1Meg pot (and to a lesser degree the 500K) just can't deliver a smooth ramp up, only a 250K pot can deliver the performance that many guitar players expect when violining or swelling from Zero.
These also have a small effect on tone even while turned fully up to 10. Once again, to achieve aged tone my pickups are designed to operate into a 250K pot with the standard .022 capacitor. Increasing the value to 500K or 1Meg will certainly result in more presence/brightness if that is desired.
No load pots
Fender use these as a tone pot on their Delta tone system and some other modern Strats to very slightly increase brightness. No-load means when the pot is set to 10 there is no connection of the capacator via the pot; that is to say there is no capacator load on the pickup via this pot when set to 10. With the pot set to 9 the capacitor is connected and brightness and ice-pick edge will begin to soften.
Tone control capacitors: The value of the tone capacitor will determine how much attack/brightness/presence will be cut by the tone pot. The higher the value, the less bright or more dull the tone will be when the tone control is turned down. The tone capacitor on early Strats was 0.1mF, this was changed to .047mF in the 1970's and later changed again to .022mF. The voltage rating is not important, however 63 volt caps haves thicker wires that are easier to work with. The common Polyester cap (aka Greencap or Mylar or Epoxy) works well but some Tone Connoisseurs prefer the old original Waxed paper type even though the difference is so small in 'passive circuits' as be insignificant. It should also be understood that the capacitor has an effect even when the pot is set at maximum (10). This is because the 250K resisitance of a pot allows some signal to pass through the cap to ground thus sucking a small amount of the highs. A 500K pot allows less effect when set to maximum, and a 1 Meg or No Load almost no effect at all. Changes in tone might be heard when the cap values are changed, even when the pot is set at maximum (10). Remember the lower the value of cap the brighter the tone, even with the Tone control is set to 10.
The resistor and capacitor are included for FREE with every set of Kinman's. UPDATE: as of November 2009 we no longer include these with pickups.
I get asked a lot about how to stop losing treble/presence when the volume is turned down. Kinman Hx pickups don't suffer from this phenomena to the same degree as regular single coils, in fact many Kinman owners tell me they noticed the problem disappear when they fitted their Kinman's. This device, when used with Kinman Zero-Hum pickups, might actually increase the brightness slightly as the volume pot is wound down, making it great for volume reduced rhythm chops. When used with regular non-noiseless single coils it attempts to preserve the amount of brightness as the volume pot is wound down. But if you have this problem and want to reduce it I devised a little circuit that helps. It is simply a .0012uF (1.2nF) 63* volt Polyester capacitor in series with a 130K Ohm resistor (1/4 or 1/2 watt) that is wired across the two hot terminals of the volume pot (*the voltage rating does not impact the performance of this device, any voltage cap will work fine but 63 to 100 volt caps have lead wires that are easy to work with). A rudimentary way of looking at it is the cap allows some of the high frequencies to pass around the volume pot direct to the output and the resistor limits the amount of them that get past. The capacitance can be varied slightly from .001 to .0016 to fine tune the circuit to your cable, but you will have to increase the resistor value with the larger cap values and decrease the resistor value with the smaller cap values or else you will notice the curve of the pot starts to become noticeably different with the larger cap values. It's a delicate balance so deviating from the nominated values may excessively flatten the operating curve of the pot unless you compensate with the resistor value. Read more technical guff about this on the FAQ page Q24 . Rule of thumb is the *amount* of brightness that is gained is determined by the resistor's value (less Ohms = more brights) but the frequencies that are present is determined by the Cap value (lower the value the higher the frequencies, the higher the value the lower the frequencies).
By the way, this design works better than a 'capacitor' only -or- the parallel 'resistor/capacitor' design that some makers fit to their guitars, so if you didn't like theirs try this one. These circuits, including mine, are quite crude and won't suit all conditions. They leave very little latitude in deviating from the nominated cap value. You will have to experiment to arrive at the perfect value for your cable. To save time in experimenting you can run some wires out from the volume pot under the edge of the pickguard then you can connect various value caps and resistors to the ends of those wires in a matter of seconds. When you get the right combination they can be soldered to the pot terminals.
It is not necessary to use it on active circuits such as Eric Clapton Strats where the volume pot is 50K or 25K.
Will it also work with the 500K pot? In general YES, but a certain amount of experimentation might be required with this because it's not particularly related to the pot value although that might affect it to a degree. It's more about balancing the capacitance of your cable, so obviously there are many varied operating conditions that I can not possible know about. The cap value of .0012 balances my cable which is typical of many but it won't suit all. The cap value should ideally be varied according to the cable in use. Change your cable and possibly that means changing the cap. The resistor determines the intensity to which the cap does it's job and helps preserve the pot curve. Without the resistor the pot curve turns almost linear.... i.e. it looses it's taper and 'swell' effect as it approaches maximum volume. NOTE: The drawing below shows only the relevant components, there are other wires connected to the pot but they have not been shown.
Treble by-pass filter:
What is Output Polarity?
Phase (aka output polarity) is only important when pickups are switched on together. To sound in-phase when switched on together pickups must have the same phase (or output polarity, not the same as magnetic polarity and/or coil polarity). There is a 50:50 chance that out-of-phase sound will be the result when mixing different kinds or different brands of pickups.
Follow this link to learn how to determine and compare Phase or Output polarity of different pickups before you do the install. If different, one pickup must be reversed, either with magnetic polarity or connection polarity to bring the output in-phase.
Mixing Single coils with a Humbucker: There are several fundamental problem with mixing single coils and humbuckers. One is there is a huge output difference between the different types of pickups. Another is because they require different value Volume pots for optimum performance. However if you really want to do this and have optimum performance from both types of pickups you have to accept this situation and be prepared to provide separate volume pots for them. One solution is to fit a dual ganged Volume pot that has one 250K track and one 500K track (Stacked or Dual Concentric 'A' curve pot 500K/250K is available from Allparts (USA) Part ID EP4585-000). Another way to do this is to reassign the middle Tone pot to become the second Volume pot and then make the remaining Tone pot operate on the single coils only (don't make it common to all pickups as it will muddy the humbucker even more). I will provide a special Wirogram for these configurations only to Kinman customers.....(Contact me).
FORENOTE: There are two different types of noise, hum and buzz. Hum can be cancelled within the pickup but buzz can only be prevented from entering wiring with shielding.
Every electric guitar needs shielding to keep unwanted electrical noise from getting into the wiring and controls. But be aware that many players choose not to install shielding because most unwanted noise is kept at bay by virtue of the fact that they themselves act as a shield when in contact with the (grounded) strings. Letting go of the strings removes the shielding effect and noise will enter the wiring, BUT this doesn't happen often because most players turn the volume control down to prevent handling noise or risk having the strings break into feedback so noise is not a problem. If you are one of the majority of players who practice this then you may not benefit much from shielding. But if in your style of playing you cease to have contact with the strings or bridge while the strings are sounding then shielding may be a benefit.There are basically two types of shielding available. Adhesive backed copper or aluminum foil and conductive paint.
The most basic shielding that is absolutely necessary is (a) the strings being connected to ground (the grounded strings act as a basic shield for the pickups) and (b) a piece of metal foil applied to the underside of the pickguard (or floor of control cavity in rear rout guitars) in the control cluster area. This does not shield the exposed wiring of other parts of the guitar such as the jack socket and connecting wires.
First let's discover if your guitar has effective shielding: You can tell how good the shielding is by observing the increase in buzzing when you are not in contact with the strings or any grounded hardware and when you are in contact. You must be wearing the guitar in a normal playing posture to conduct this test. If the change is not significant it means the shielding is doing it's job quite well. Most all American Strats made before late 90's have very ineffective shielding but Fender improved it in subsequent years.
All Kinman pickups for Strats and Teles have included a shielded output cable to provide maximum immunity to noise (buzzing, as distinct from hum). However if the guitar is comprehensively shielded there is little improvement to be had by using the cable. Trouble is most guitars (Strats & Teles) are not shielded that well, and do not have shielding in the tunnel that the output cable goes through anyway.
- For newer guitars.
If you don't feel confident in this method go to the next section on Shielding for Vintage. I like conductive paint for newer guitars but there is often a problem in getting it to adhere to painted surfaces. I get round this by scraping the paint of the cavity surfaces by using a router with a dulled ½" bit (12mm). Since it's not sharp it will only remove a very thin layer of wood. The exposed wood is an excellent surface for the conductive paint to stick to. Test the paint on a painted section of cavity floor to see if it sticks satisfactorily before getting into this too deeply.
I also undercut the wall of the output socket cavity to prevent shorting of the socket terminals to the conductive coating, like in this drawing . Using a special T cutter, that has the corners rounded or chamfered off, undercut (by 2mm) the output socket cavity by letting the shaft of the cutter rub on the cavity wall. Provide just enough clearance for the terminals so it's not necessary to rout full cavity depth and it's only necessary to rout part way round the wall (from where the terminals poke out to the tip end and back, like shown. Then I link both the main control cavity and output socket cavity together by coating the drilled connecting hole with conductive paint (using a shaggy artists brush). After the paint has dried thoroughly test for continuity between the cavities with a multi-meter set to Resistance x 100. You should have no more than about 2,000 ohms between the output socket cavity and the neck pickup socket for an effective shielding job and with really good paint you will get as little as 3 ohms. If you don't achieve this then re-coat anywhere that looks thin or streaky. You can purchase conductive paint from Allparts or Stewart McDonald, see links page. WARNING: Conductive paint contains solvents that will dissolve lacquer finishes of older guitars. I always test for this on a covered portion of the painted surface with a little denatured alcohol (100%) on the tip of a finger. If the finish goes sticky then it's lacquer so be careful not to spill or drop any paint onto the guitar. If you do drop some paint onto the guitar wipe it immediately with your finger or a cloth. The smeared surface can be fixed later by cutting and polishing. Leaving it there to dry will result in an unsightly swelling of the finish that you may never remove.
Spilled paint on a modern polyester finish can be removed with solvent without any harm. Just don't rub too hard as it will scratch the finish.
For Guitars with vintage value there is only one choice and that's adhesive backed Copper foil (available from Allparts Part #EP 4991 Copper Shielding Tape 12" x 12" - see links page). This does not change the guitar in any permanent way and therefore the guitar will retain it's originality should the foil be removed. Aluminum foil is not suitable since it is very difficult to solder. First clean the surfaces to be stuck to with a clean cloth damp with solvent such as White Spirit, Mineral turps or other non-agressive type solvent that won't harm nitro-celluose finishes. Then cut the foil to fit neatly onto the floor of the various cavities and stick in place. Next cut some foil into strips .6" (15mm) wide for the sides of the cavities. You don't want the foil to come all the way up the side of the pickup cavity as this may minutely affect the sound of some regular single coil pickups (not Kinman's because they have immunity to outside capacative influences), in any case shielding full depth offers no advantage. Next; solder the floor piece and side pieces together with a blob at intervals of 1 or 2 " (25 - 50mm), just enough to stop it coming adrift should the adhesive backing fail. To prevent accidental shorting of the output socket terminals to the shielding cover the wall of the cavity with some kind of sticky tape. Ordinary household tape will do. Same applies to the wall adjacent to the selector switch terminals. Connect the output socket cavity shielding and main control cavity shielding with a tube of copper foil fashioned by forming it around a drinking straw (or similar object). Insert this tube into the drilled connecting hole. Splay the ends out and solder each end to the two cavity shieldings. Ground the completed shielding with a wire soldered to the copper and connected to the back of the volume pot (central ground point). Most pickguards require shielding only as a cap over the main control cavity (see strange noises below). This can be of adhesive backed Aluminum foil as it doesn't have to be soldered. It is grounded by virtue of pressure contact with the controls. When completed check for continuity with a multimeter between all the various sections of copper foil fitted to the body cavities. You will get a ZERO ohms reading if all is in order.
Once in a while I receive mail from distressed players saying they have a scratchy noise when their fingers rub on the pickguard. This is static electricity and can be cured by applying Aluminum or Copper foil to the entire rear of the pickguard but allowing a 1/4" (6mm) border around the pickups. The foil should be adhesive backed and stuck to the pickguard. It should also be grounded by contact with the volume pot so be sure to remove any surface coatings (clear lacquer) that Aluminum foil often has to protect it from oxidation.
A quick fix is to spray 'Static Guard' onto the pickguard. Static Guard is intended for soft goods like clothing and carpets and is available in spray cans from some Hardware stores, Pharmacys and supermarkets.
There are a few secrets to keeping your Strat with a traditional bridge (and twin pivot bridges) in tune and I'm going to pass these along to you here (some aspects also apply to Telecasters). Many players blame the bridge for failure to return to pitch when actually it's more likely to be the fingerboard nut to blame. When you bend notes or use the Vibrato bridge the strings must be able to slide freely through the 6 little grooves in the nut. If there is any friction in those grooves then there is a strong likelihood they won't return to the correct pitch when you have finished the bend or Vibrato. Same applies to the String guide (or string tree). The properties of the material itself is the primary cause but tight grooves can also contribute to the problem. Also, the modern roller and ball bearing nuts are just as troublesome as the old plastic (bone) ones. The rollers or balls seize and stop rolling causing string drag.
To prove the point with conventional nuts melt a little bit of candle wax into the grooves with the strings pulled to one side. For a good job use a soldering iron (not very hot) to make sure it has penetrated into the grooves thoroughly. Re-tune your guitar and try bending or Vibratos again. If the pitch return is better then you have the answer. Unfortunately candle wax is only a temporary solution.For a permanent fix Graphtech make nuts and string guides that work quite well but are quite soft and will not last such a long time. Remember that the nut grooves will be optimized for a specific string gauge so if you decide later to go to a heavier gauge then the grooves may have to be widened. Also keep in mind that excessive angle of strings as they pass over the nut causes inherent friction so keep the angle to a minimum and align the bottom of the groove with the string tree or termination point on the tuner shaft.
Next is the way the strings are terminated around the tuner shafts. Basically you need to keep the turns around the shafts to a minimum. In 1984 I developed a way of limiting this to half a turn and with no slippage, provided you have the split shaft tuners such as Klusons or Gotoh (my favorites because the split in the shaft allows you to lock the string on with an absolute minimum of turns). Many players believe that wrapping all of the excess string around the tuner shafts will prevent slippage but actually the reverse is true. All those overlapping turns provide a lot of scope for slippage and sudden re-seating. Same goes for tying strings onto the tuner shaft. First step, cut the E & A strings 25mm (1") past the corresponding shaft and poke the end into the hole at the bottom of the split. Then, after bending the string sharply out of the slot and with the string pulled tight with your fingers (see diag 3 and 4 below), wind the string around the shaft and up to pitch. Second step, cut the D, G, B & E strings cut 40mm (1 -5/8") past the respective shafts (shown in diagram 1 below). Poke the end into the hole and wind tightly around the shaft for 1/2 turn, then lead it back through the slot again (for a second time) and continue winding up to pitch. Take care to ensure that on the second pass through the slot that the string exits the slot underneath the first loop of string, not on top of it (see diag 2 below). This helps to maintain more break angle over the nut by providing a steeper exit angle behind the nut.
Diag 3. Keep the string taut during terminating and winding the string.
Diag 4.Keep the string taut AND angled down while winding.
If your guitar is fitted with Gotoh heads you will now have about 1/2 turn of string around the shaft at concert pitch. If you have Klusons you will have about 1 complete turn. Either is satisfactory for the purpose. Don't be alarmed, this is a tried and tested method and I have recommended it with great success on my Blueprint series guitars since 1984. Lastly the bridge itself. As long as it pivots freely on the 6 mounting screws without any binding or friction then it is best adjusted so that it floats off the body by about 3mm (1/8") at the rear of the bridge plate. This is the ideal position to allow Vibrato and facilitate returning to pitch since it reduces saddle-top friction by lessening the string break angle over the saddle. A floating bridge will return the strings to pitch better than if it is flat on the body. If it binds on the screws then obviously there is a problem that needs to be remedied by a good quality guitar repairer (see Links page) who should be aware of the next section dealing with bridge installation. Finally a few words about managing the system. Tune up to pitch string by string. Stretch new strings a little bit by gently pulling them sideways at mid point along their length. Repeat tuning until all strings are stabilized. (Stretching is important each time you restring as new unstretched strings have different intonation settings) Push the vibrato arm down almost to the body and let return. Check the tuning again and if any strings are sharp simple detune to pitch, do not go below pitch and then tune back up (this defeats the purpose) If any strings are flat then tune up to pitch, do not over shoot the mark. If you accidentally do overshoot and find the pitch is too high start the process over. It's important to sneak the string directly to pitch from either the sharp or flat positions. Overshooting is a No No. Now you'll see why I like Gotoh tuners. Having accomplished that step press the vibrato arm again as before and repeat the string tuning process. This may have to be done up to 3 times. If it takes more than 4 times to stabilize then there is something wrong in the system, perhaps a tight nut groove. When it's stabilized you should be able to deck the arm and have the strings return to pitch satisfactorily.Now when bending strings, particularly the plain G, they will return flat, but don't panic. Simple press the vibrato arm again, as you did before, and presto the G will pop back into tune as if by magic. So you have to remember that when bending the G (and to a lesser extent the B & E) it will always return flat so just remember to press the arm and continue playing. The severity of the push is dependent on the severity of the bend. This method works on practically all Strats irrespective of whether Traditional bridge or a modern Twin Pivot bridge is fitted.
In my humble opinion the very best Strat bridge is the original Traditional Vintage Strat bridge that Leo himself designed. The one with 6 mounting screws at the leading edge of the bridge plate. These are so important in achieving a real Strat sound. If your Traditional bridge is set up correctly it will return to pitch just as well as the twin pivot bridges that are fitted to many modern Strats (see "Keeping it in tune" section above). Fenders twin-pivot bridge such as fitted to their American Standard and American Deluxe series has a couple of design features that you should be aware of. The string spacing is a bit too narrow for regular Strat pickups (neck position pickup is worst affected) AND it has a slightly mushy tone (less crisp attack, less twang, less definition).
NEWS update-1: As of February '01 Kinman sets are being shipped with a special neck pickup (as standard) that aligns perfectly with both types of Strat bridges. It's known as the narrow spaced type. At the extremes the magnets are 3mm closer together.
NEWS update-2: Sometime prior to November 2004 it appears Fender made significant improvements their twin pivot bridge with respect to sonic performance but the saddle/string spread remains unchanged.
The difference between these bridges is often as dramatic as night and day. It depends on some other unpredictable factors about your guitars construction. If you are interested to know more then read the next section " A simple experiment ....". Floyd Rose (Genuine) bridges have a suitable string spacing for regular Strat pickups and don't sound too bad. While these are not my favorite bridges at least they are an acceptable alternative to the Traditional type. The examples I have seen have a radius setting that suits my staggered pole configuration. If you really want to get traditional Strat sound and performance I recommend that Fenders twin pivot bridges be replaced with a Traditional Vintage type. At my suggestion Callaham now makes a simple but very clever kit that utilizes the original pivot post inserts to mount the 2 outermost screws of a Vintage bridge (see below). The American Standard, Strat Plus, American Deluxe are a few of the models fitted with a twin pivot bridge. I am a perfectionist so remember these are my personal comments. Many players have been thrilled and delighted with my pickups when they fitted them to their American Standards and other Strat models with Fenders twin pivot bridge. It's just my personal view that ANY Strat with a Traditional Vintage bridge is more desirable than one with a twin pivot bridge. But also beware of some "Made in Mexico, Taiwan and China Strats" as some of these have a bridge that look similar to the Traditional type but actually have a very narrow string spacing that will not be compatible with most all brands of Strat pickups. (The poles will mis-align with the strings and you won't be able to upgrade the pickups to most popular brand, but Kinman's are OK because of the narrow spaced neck pickup). The traditional width between the two E strings on the bridge saddles is 56mm or 2.2 inches and the narrow bridges it's more like 52 or 53mm.
A simple experiment to partially gauge the negative effect your Twin Pivot bridge has. Take the back plate off to gain access to the springs and rear of the bridge block. Notice how the bridge floats and can be pulled up or pushed down (with respect to the body). This can happen because the block attached to the back of the bridge has clearance on both sides of it, allowing movement in both directions. The object of this exercise is to disable that movement and lock the bridge to the body. The simplest way to do this is to fit a little piece of wood or something similar between the leading side of the block and the side of the cavity in the guitar's body. This piece of wood should fit snugly in the existing space, and maybe even push the block away from the wood a tiny fraction. Once in place tighten the spring claw screws to increase the spring tension thus increasing the clamping force exerted onto the piece of wood. Position a little dollop of BlueTak (sticky plasticine kind of substance) onto the 'wood' and 'block' to prevent the piece of wood falling out when you press the Trem arm down. You should now notice that it takes quite a lot more exertion to press the Trem arm down. After re-tuning, you should also hear a difference in the sound, an improved difference. The result, although better than previous, is still not as good as a Traditional Vintage type of bridge (the one with 6 mounting screws at it's leading edge). Hopefully this little experiment will influence your decision next time you purchase a guitar. But it is possible to retro-fit a Traditional bridge without any modification to your Strat. This modification allows reinstatement of the original bridge at any time. Read the next section.
You can use a genuine Fender bridge but I highly recommend Callaham bridges as THE BEST. You can use a Gotoh which may or may not be cheaper and more available (depending on what country you live in), these are quite good. Gotoh make two vintage models, one has a die cast block; the best one has steel. The steel block sounds better and the arm socket thread won't strip out nearly so easy as the die cast one does. The model No. for the steel one is GE-101TS C or G (Chrome or Gold). It has American screw threads that are interchangeable with Fender USA bridges and the fixing screw spacing (56mm or 2.2") is accurate to the genuine old Strat bridges. In my opinion the best alternative is the Callaham (USA) vintage Repro bridge. Follow the link to Callaham on my Links page. These have an awesome reputation and many of my more discerning customers swear by these. Fender make a special vintage bridge with mounting screw holes that are closer together. These won't fit old guitars but are handy for the present purpose if the fret-end angle is too sharp. The sharp angle reduces the length of the fret and the strings need to be spaced closer together (see diagram below). Of course a refret will solve this provided the guitar repairman is of a high standard (beware of butchers and pretenders). You will now have a proper Strat with a classic Strat sound. Have fun and enjoy the NEW sound of your transformed guitar.
Strings - my thoughts and experiences.
Steel: (regular strings) are great because they are bright and loud because they are highly magnetic, but must be kept clean to last.
Nickel: Not as loud or as bright, in fact a bit on the dull side being not as magnetic as regular steel. This causes the plain strings to be louder and brighter then the wound strings. Last longer because they don't have the brightness to begin with so no noticeable difference is perceived as they age.
Round wound versus Oval or Half round wound: Any sort of surface grinding dulls the sound. Half rounds are extremely dull, almost thuddy not too different to flatwound Jazz strings. Even GHS 'GUS series' oval wounds are dull by comparison to regular round wounds. The problem with these types of strings is the plain strings are louder and brighter then the wound strings.
The bigger the better: Personally I like D'Addario .010 - .052 Round wounds, but really it's a personal preference thing. However I do think some players could benefit from a little more knowledge, experience and a different point of view and experimentation. Remember that the Set-up of your guitar begins with string selection. If you change string brand or gauge a minor Set-up adjustment will likely be required (see Tone page) to ensure the best playability.
Tension: Some high tension strings (Jim Dunlop) are appearing on the market, not only do these feel tight but reflect a tight sound (reduced expression) from reduced dynamic range. Some others (DR) have low tension and these produce more fret crash and buzz unless the saddles are raised.
Longevity: Grime and foreign material from fingers chokes the windings resulting in dulling off of sound. Cleaning after every session is of paramount importance. I advocate wiping the strings with a Blitz cloth on both sides at the finish of every playing session, meaning on the underside as well as the top side. This can be accomplished by inserting the Blitz cloth between the underside of the strings and the fretboard and dragging the cloth up and down the length of the strings several times, as well as on the top side. This cleans away any substance that can give rise to the corrosion that rusts strings. Simply cleaning the upper surface is not good enough because strings can be rusting away on the hidden side without you realizing it. Rusty surfaces are highly abrasive and wears frets extremely fast and causes severe intonation problems. Keeping your strings clean and rust free extends the life of frets dramatically and allows the strings to intonate for maximum enjoyability of your instrument.
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Magnet/String alignment improved
FORENOTE: Strat sets are issued with the 3 magnet spreads illustrated below. However at time of payment we send an email giving you the opportunity to customize you order by changing the magnet speads according to your requirements
Fenders modern twin-pivot bridge such as fitted to their American Standard and American Deluxe series has a narrower string spacing than a vintage 6 point bridge. The modern bridge is too narrow for regular Strat pickups and causes the strings to misalign with the magnets in the pickups, the neck position pickup is worst affected because one of the E strings is a lot lower in volume than the other 5 strings.
In mid March 2001 Kinman introduced a special neck pickup that has the E magnets 3mm closer together. This means that the magnet-poles of the neck pickup will align satisfactorily* with the strings on both modern Twin Pivot AND Traditional Vintage 6 point type bridges made by Fender and others. Strats with either bridge will have improved performance with no more dropouts on the E strings and better bending performance. *I consider it satisfactory when the strings align within the perimeter of the magnet. It's OK if the strings do not lie on the dead center of the magnets.
On 22-Oct-2008 Kinman introduced a further improvement, an Intermediate (51mm) magnet spread for the middle pickup. This provides a gradual narrowing of the magnet spreads from Standard bridge (52.5mm) to Intermediate middle (51mm) to Narrow neck (49.5mm). This means strings will align better with the magnets regardless of bridge saddle spacing.
The bridge magnet spread remains unchanged at Standard 52.5mm, the same as all Fender non-noiseless (the N3 is noiseless) and practically all replacement Strat pickups from Duncan, DiMarzio, Lollar, Fralin etc All of these Strat pickups have unacceptable string/magnet alignment of the neck pickup when used in conjunction with narrow bridges from Fender, Wilkinson and Floyd Rose. Kinman is the only brand of pickups to have this much needed refinement.
When ordering a 'Single' pickup, 'Two' pickups or 'Mixed set of 3 Strat pickups' you have a choice of any magnet spread. Click to view a PDF diagram of these 3 magnet spreads.
Covers (bold): Only genuine Kinman pickup covers will fit because only Kinman makes Strat pickups with Narrow and Intermediate magnet spreads.
More on string/magnet alignment (bold)
String/magnet alignment is not associated with fretboard radius as some believe. To understand string/magnet alignment you must be aware that the strings are not parallel but are wide apart at the bridge and closer together at the nut. This taper causes the primary alignment issues and can be compounded by saddle mis-alignment too.
Misalignment is most often caused by narrow bridges but the reason for excessively poor string/magnet alignment could be the saddles or it could be pickguard mis-positioning or neck/body mis-alignment.
Unfortunately saddles often drift to one side when they are not set horizontally. Make sure the grub screws are adjusted so the saddles sit horizontally. It is also legitimate to adjust the saddles with a deliberate lean to re-position the string in a more desirable alignment.
*Stratocaster and *Strat are trade marks of Fender Musical Instrument Corp. Kinman Guitar Electrix is not associated with Fender but they kindly consent to me referring to their marks. Fender have asked me to tell you that they do not endorse Kinman products (understandably :)
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