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 Gillis 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.