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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest column : Jim Wagner from WCR Pickups

Guest column : Jim Wagner from WCR Pickups

Greetings everyone!

First, let me thank Tony for his generosity in supplying the column space here for me to share some thoughts on guitar electronics, namely guitar pickups, with ya'll. I thought that this first article should give you some background on myself.
Myself (Jim Wagner)and my reason for living, Carol Hadden, do the R & D, and building of pickups for WCR Guitar Pickups. Most people are probably unfamiliar with the name, as we do most sales through the various guitar forums on the web, and a mag or two (Vintage is one of them). It is very easy to see what we are all about simply by typing our company name into your search window, and hit ye olde enter key.

We have been having a fabulous time of it, and never could have dreamed what a great job this has turned out to be. We have music and musicians 24/7. How much better can it get?
10-12 years ago ( I really don't remember....) I was playing in a local band (another one) and for years had been using an old beat-to-hell '69 Gibson SG Special with some P90's in it. We did a ton of ABB music, and that was as close (it seemed then) as I could get to that kinda tone. What finally got to me was the terrible buzzing I got in the clubs. Some far worse than others. Knowing nothing about guitar electronics in general, I surmised the smartest thing I could do was switch to humbuckers. So, I got out my router, and installed a set. What brand, I don't remember. Cheap. I remember THAT part! HA! Well, it was a lot quieter all right, but had nowhere near the tone I wanted. Bought another off-the-shelf set. Same thing, I was just not satisfied at all. In shear desperation, I decided this could get real expensive, and did a little reading. I found out that the best sounding pickups were of course the PAF. But only SOME sounded good, most did not. Turns out they where basically hand-wound. And by a lot of different people. Some experienced, some not. Consequently, some where great, most where not. I believe this was due to the fact that some were made by experienced winders, and most were not.

Hmmmm. Hand-wound. That was a starting point. So, I bought a roll of wire, and am still doing that to this day.
It takes a long time to get what you want that way, and I do not advise people to consider doing it lightly. There are a lot of expenses involved, and the more you get into it, the more you will spend. A lot of trial and error comes into play.
Hand-winding (that's what I do) is like a fingerprint. You can get 2 guys, put them on the same machine, same materials, give them the same specs, and you will get 2 different sounds. I have just been a real lucky guy in the fact that a lot of people like what *I* believe to be great tone. I spent the first 5-6 years just winding, trying, and winding again to try to get what I was after. All of the early work was just rewinding existing stuff I could get my hands on. The good part was, I saw a lot of examples of what NOT to do.

It finally began to come together a few years ago. I had a few guys close to me tell me my work was starting to get some great sounds, and would occasionally ask me to rewind their existing pickups. Finally, one of them, a guy named Brian Haseldon, asked me why I was wasting my time rewinding, and that I should make my own and sell them instead. So I did, and have never looked back.
I had spent most of my life as a machinist, Millwright, fabricator, etc., and so had a lot of experience in building whatever it took to do the job. I built my first winder out of a hospital bed motor. It turned 40 RPM. It took me over 2 hours to wind a single coil. But that was OK, as it forced me to see what the wire did, and at a very slow speed.

The next one I built (and this sounds crazy, but was a LOT of fun), I made from a 10-speed bicycle. It took no power except for a good meal and some water to run it.
But it was still a little to slow, and involved some more hit-and-miss. So I really got serious, and built a really nice one that gave me absolute control over every single turn, and at almost any given speeds. I use it to this day.
Anyhow, the word spread through a few forums about the tones I was getting, and it finally got so crazy that Carol noticed how much work I had going on. She got in on it full-tilt, and I couldn't have been happier about it. I could not have come this far without her, and thank her everyday. Maybe not out-loud like I should, but I do anyhow.

So here I am, a happy guy, doing work I love, have great company and help from Carol, and now even writing a COLUMN about it!!! I get calls and orders from musicians I could have never hoped to meet or talk to in normal life. And I try to help people as much as I can in trying to figure out how to get the sound they have looked for years to achieve. Very satisfying indeed when I get e-mails and phone-calls telling me how they couldn't stop playing until their fingers fell off, or the wife made them let their kids get some sleep...........
The entire story is a lot more complex of course, but should give you an idea where WCR came from. I hope it gave you a little insight to me and what I do. I am very dedicated to this work, and never plan to quit.
Next time, I will start talking more about the pickups themselves, and how they work.
Thanks for your time, and I'll talk to you then.
Jim Wagner