Thursday, December 20, 2007
Scarab Single String Pickups ( Back where we started...)
As I mentioned in an earlier post I didn't start out trying to be a pickup maker. I just wanted to make guitars and basses. The first bass 100% original instrument I ever built was the 5 string DragonFly bass. A vitality part of this basses design was a pickup system that would allow me to switch each strings out put independently.
This meant that I needed a small pickup for each string but one one was selling them at the time. Determined to see the project through to the end I started looking for information on making my own pickups. Back then there wasn't a lot of information out there on how to design or make pickups. I didn't' know where to get parts or what parts would work best so I had to feel my way around in the dark.
My first attempt (1) was a bobbin made out of a yellow Bic pen. I melted the ends and mashed them into flanges to hold the wire and ran a set screw through it to act as a pole. Then I needed some magnet wire. I found some at my local Radio Shack. I think it was 32GA wire or something huge like that. To wind the wire onto the bobbin I used an old cassette tape recorder and just glued the bobbin to the little spinning hub and away we went. I might have gotten 200 turns on that first bobbin. When it was done I wrapped the whole thing in Scotch Tape to keep it from coming apart Then I soldered a lead to it and stuck a ceramic button magnet on the bottom. Finally I went into my studio and plugged the thing into my amp and turned it on. It buzzed like a bee hive. I plucked the E string on my Fender P bass and held the mutant pickup up to it.... it was there.... if you listened through the buzz and the hum there was a sound that was an E note. I was stoked!!! I had made a pickup!! The thing was crap and would need to be developed but I was on the right track. Over the next 6 months or so I spent ever second I could refining the design and hunting better parts. My second (2) try at making a pickup was closer to the mark I was looking for sound wise. It used 44ga wire and a small Neodymium magnet at the center of the phenolic bobbin. I potted my windings with blue nail polish as I went to kill any microphonic feedback. It sounded good but I still wanted more low end for the bass that I was getting from it and it looked bad. This led to design #3. This time I used a cover from a CD case to make the flanges for the shorter and fatter bobbin. The pole was a bigger steel screw with a wide head on it. The Neo magnet was attached to the screw under the bobbin much like a P-90 does. The new bobbin design allowed more wire to be used. This was it!! This was the sound I was looking for. Now all I had to do was make it look like something... But how? I would cast it in plastic that's how. The next few months were spent mocking up dummy pickups to get the look right . Then I started learning to make rubber molds and experimenting with casting agents. Finally I decided on black Epoxy as my casting agent and I was on my way to realizing my idea.My wife decided the new pickups looked like little bugs... like Scarabs. And thats how the(4) Scarab Single Sting pickups were born. The bass came out fine. I showed it to some people and was having fun playing it and recording with it and planning the next one....
Then the orders started coming in....
There is an MP3 called Scarabs on the sound files page of Searcy String Works of me playing this bass in a touch guitar style, something I'm not very good at, to show the string separation and clarity. It's just a sloppy demo of the G and D string running through one effects chain and the other strings running dry through an amp to show what could be done with such a rig.