Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wax Potting (did you just double dip?)

Wax potted pickups, vacuum potted pickups, double wax vacuum potted pickups, potting wax, bees wax, paraffin wax, pickups potted with magic beans... What does all this mean?

Pickup makers are always looking for technical explanations of their product that makes it sound fancier then the next guy. Take the simple act of wax potting a pickup for example.

Potting a Pickup is the process of solidifying a coil against microphonic vibration by submerging it in a 130-F (54-C) to 140-F (60-C) degree bath of wax comprised of 80% paraffin and 20% bees wax. This ratio is something of an industry standard. It’s a good mix that insures the wax will saturate the coil well and will harden yet won’t become brittle.

Double Potting a Pickup is the same thing as above accept that the pickup is potted a second time after it's had metal parts added like the chrome covers of a PAF or the steel base plate that's on a Tele bridge pickup. This insures that the metal parts can't vibrate and cause microphonic feed back which has been known to happen. Teles bridge pickups are bad about this and some folks like to have the entire bridge potted with the pickup to prevent rattling springs or screws.

Vacuum potting is potting the pickup in hot wax in a vacuum chamber . This can speed up the potting process and some believe it allows for better saturation of the coils because the vacuum forces the air out of the coil and wax into it.

While there are some rules to fallow it isn't rocket science.

Now... what to use to melt the wax. I have seen many people over the years claim that this is a simple matter and you can just heat the wax up on your stove....


Hot wax is very combustible and heating it on a stove is a good way to burn your house down. Using a stove burner to heat wax also allows no good way to control the temp of the wax and over heating your pickups can destroy them. Wax should only be heated in a device specifically designed to melt wax like the one in the picture here. I have about 8 of these wax pots of different sizes and types. The best ones have built in temp controls that prevent the wax from over heating. If your not willing to use one of these pots to do the job then send your pickup to a pickup maker that can do it right. Even if you don't burn your house down you could ruin your pickup by potting it incorrectly. I charge $19.99 to pot a pickup including shipping. A pound of bees wax is about $12... Paraffin wax is about $6 a pound. Then you need to get the wax pot. How many of these are you going to do? It's probably cheaper to just let me do it. Drop me an email if you think your pickup needs to be potted. I will help you decide and let you know if Searcy String Works can pot your pickup.

Ever Learning
Clint Searcy

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bah Humbucker!

This week has been a humbucker week. I sent out a Neo Rocks P-Bass set to Benford then made another set for Antonella Mazza. I would like to have her system finished by the end of the month. It's taken a lot of strange turns to figure out what to make for her but I finally have all the parts and it's starting to really come together. Then there's a few Obsessions a Bolero and a new hotter humbucker all for Benford. One other humbucker project is the super secret new humbucking P-90s that I'm working on for a new client. If he likes them you will be hearing more about those.

I'm bad about getting more ideas in my head than I can actually get done. I'm conducting a few experiments with some two part rubber molds to try to improve my epoxy work. It's something I have been putting off for too long. I'm getting excited about where this new idea may lead.

There have been a lot of E Mails lately about the "wal" pickup and when it will be ready. Honestly it's on the back burner as I rush to bust out some money making orders. I don't really think many people are going to be all that interested in paying for the "wal"so it's not first on my list of projects to fallow through on. I will get back to that someday but not right now.

Think about this until next week.

Ever wonder what those little switches do on some of the guitars at the store? Well, chances are if you see one it's one of the fallowing tricks they are using. These are a great way to expand the sound of your 4 wire humbucker.

All you need is are some switches and a soldering iron.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gretch FilterTron

The Gretch Filtetron. The Gretsch line of guitars were well received in the 1950's but was soon eclipsed by the likes of Gibson and Fender. Since then it has always been a bit of an obscure and rare bird despite enjoying the attention of the likes of Chet Atkins, Brian Setzer, and even the Beatels. Recently Fender bought the company and is trying to return it to it's 50's glory.


A little while back I was sent the neck pickup from a 1998 Gretsch. It had a dead coil and was only reading 4K Ohms. I rebuilt it to the vintage 1950s specs.


First thing we gotta do is pull the cover off. It's not so different that a Gibson PAF construction wise. But it's much smaller. This 1998 version also used a huge ceramic magnet. In the 50's this would have been an Alnico magnet.

Perhaps one of the most unusual aspects of Gretsch pickup construction is their use of these top plates. The top plate uses the pole screws to hold the bobbins together.


The original Filter trons were very low output pickups. Because of the small bobbins about 4K ohms was all they could reach with 42GA wire. In the 90's they started using 45GA wire and made pickups that read about 8K ohms.


When it comes to fixing a dead pickup there's nothing like a good set of dikes and an Exacto Blade.


Once it is loaded up with the 42ga wire and taped it's time to solder the connections back.


Ray Butts invented this thing. He and Chet Atkins worked together on the design for the Filter-Tron. It seems that Ray came up with his design without any prior information of Seth Lovers work at Gibson. His claim was that he knew about hum canceling coils because of his work making transformers for his line of amps. So it's possible the Ray invented the humbucker.


Once it's all back to normal it gets a test ride in "The Booger". My pickup tester guitar.


Then it goes back to Cali to the tech that sent it to me so it can be returned to the guitar it came from.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Willow Guitars

My buddy "Hurricane" Andy Barth at Willow Guitars way up there in Canada is a mad man. When looking at his art work you are captivated by his astounding ability to look into a hunk of wood and pull out sculptures that you didn't know where there. His masterful eye and skilled hands work to intertwine carved lines, natural imperfections, inlays and wood gains into works that are so at home in an art gallery that it's sometimes easy to forget that these are fully playable guitars. When most luthiers build a guitar thay call a trusted wood suppler and place an order for dried and properly dimensioned wood but not Andy. He is in the heart of Rock Maple territory so he picks, cuts, dries, and dimensions much of his own stock. His eye can pick a board that will render a neck that will sustain for days. His ears know the sound of a body blank that will have a singing soul. When it comes to hardware he uses only the best parts and in some cases custom orders the parts to his exact specs. That's how he and I came to work together. I sent him a big pile of humbuckers a little while back for some of his new guitars. He winds his own single coils so he knows what he's talking about when he places an order. I was only too proud to know that my pickups would be a parts of some of Andy's master creations.

If you are looking for a rare work or art or a tone monster get a hold of Hurricane Andreas Barth at Willow Guitars

Friday, January 4, 2008

The PJ Marx "Brad Gillis" pickup ( Builting a mystery)

Brad Gillis is a kick ass guitar player. Famous for his ability to use a tremolo bridge to create sounds and riffs previously unheard of. He jumped to guitar god status when he joined Ozzy Osborn's band replacing Randy Rhodes. But he is best known for his work with (Don't tell me you love me) 80's smash hit makers Night Ranger. The success of this melodic hard rock band eventually led to endorsement deals for the the band. Pointy guitars being the rage of the day Brad worked with Hamer guitars to produce his own pointy master ax complete with signature, high tech looking pickups from PJ Marx.

I'm always a geek to learn about old and strange pickups. That's why when my friend Steve Benford told me he was having trouble figure out how to wire one of these 80's artifacts I gave him a few suggestion on how to figure it
out. Steve reported back that none of my ideas had helped. I set about trying to track down some information on the web about PJ Marx and his pickups. Wow! Talk about a hard guy to track down!! There was little information about the pickups and even less about the man himself. I asked Steve to send the pickup to me so I could check it out.

The first thing I noticed was how light it was
. I have been making "black lump of plastic" pickups since day one and this thing just didn't seem right. I checked the wires for resistance and got nothing. Very strange... I asked my friends on the MIMF what they thought and no one had any ideas. I asked my Old Friend who advises and mentors me of these matters sometimes but he didn't know anything either. I decided to check the magnetic pull of the pickup... nothing! A compass set next to the pickup didn't move at all!! Did it have some sort of electromagnet in it? The mystery was growing but one thing was sure. This was no regular pickup...

I was starting to suspect that perhaps there was a sort of preamp under that cover. Maybe it was a part of some type of sustainer hidden away under all that epoxy. I wanted to saw the thing in half and see what
was inside but it wasn't my pickup and Steve would be pissed if I did that. Finally I had an idea. My friend Jim has access to some X-ray and MRI gear and was willing to take a peak inside this enigma for me.

So I sent it off to the other end of the country. While I was waiting I decided to write to Hamer guitars president Jol Dantzig and see if he remembered anything about these pickups. He did! He wrote me a letter back that recounted how he had personally wired the guitars for Brad Gi
llis and the pickup I was trying to figure out was nothing but a 4 wire humbucker in a plastic cover and potted with epoxy. No mystery magnets.... No magic preamp.... I was starting to suspect that this "pickup", for what ever reason, was a dummy, a mock up of some kind.

Finally the images and report came back from Jim. My final suspicion was confirmed. The pickup was a dummy with the wires going to nothing at all inside.
All I can figure was that this was some sort of mock up to get approval from Brad or Hamer on the look of the pickup.

I sent the pickup back to Steve with the story of what it was and how this was determined. He was disappointed that the pickup was a dummy but intrigued that what ever he had it was unique.