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.


23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very intersting story about the PJ Marx pick up. My son has a custom shop Zion guitar from the early 80,s that we are trying to determine a value on. It has PJ Marx pickups HSS. It has an amazing sound but non of his pickups look like the one you have here. I would have to say it is unique.

Clint Searcy said...

Thanks for checking out the Searcy String Works blog. Your son has a fine guitar it sounds like. Zions are very nice instruments. The best way to figure the value on such a great but unusual guitar is to check past auctions on Ebay. Fine out what guitars like it have actually sold for. I can tell you that Zion Teles are very popular in Nashville.

kickaxeguitars said...

I have a PJ Marx H-S-S set and the bridge 'pup has a sticker on the back that says "Brad Gillis". So YES, Their is such a PJ Marx "Brad Gillis" pickup that just screams!
BTW, the two single coil pups are noiseless and sound "OK" but that GIllis humbucker peels paint off the walls!

Clint Searcy said...

Thanks for adding to the discussion. I was sure there actually were some Brad Gillis pickups from PJ Marx out there. We may never know why this dummy was made. I'm guessing it was something they made to see how the epoxy worked with the plastic covers. Some types of epoxt will warp a plastic cover.

I would love to talk to PJ Marx about his work someday if anyone knows how to contact him.

Anonymous said...

Clint I've just picked up A PJ Marx Humbucker (marked SS on the back). I've tried Hamer but no joy about wiring it up. It has 1 red 1 white 1 black and a bare wire would you have an idea what goes where?
Stu

Anonymous said...

hey stu,
i have a few but mine only have 2 wires with a shield..i take it off your hands and give it a try.
bob

Clint Searcy said...

Hello Stu,

If I had to guess I would say that your lead configuration is a standard "3 wire" system that was common in the 80's.

The bare conductor is ground. Now all we have are the three colored wires. One of those must be the start of coil #1. This will be connected to the hot output. Another must be the end of coil #2. This along with the bare wire will be connected to ground. If I am right the the third wire is connected to the junction between the coils. This can be connected to a switch that, when engaged, connects the wire to ground. This will kill one coil and render the pickup a true single coil. This is sometimes called "coil taping" but a better name is "coil cutting".

The tricky part is figuring out which wire is which. You would need a multimeter to solve the puzzle. If you would like you can send the pickups and $10 to me shop here in Nashville and I'll sort it out for you. It would allow me to study a new type of P.J. Marx pickup and perhaps do a video on how it's wired.

Anonymous said...

With a little bit of detective work I figured out and wired -
White is hot output the red is for splitting the coil (coil cutter)and can either go to the middle of a coil switch or taped and left. The black and bare go to the bottom of the pot as ground. I've wired it with 2 split coil switches and a phase switch on my BC Rich assassin so it's white to 3 way switch, red to middle lug of coil switch and black and bare to third lug of same coil switch and it is a Monster of a pick up. It's a shame these pickups aren't available apart from scouring ebay. The version I have is covered in expoxy (no metal strip on bottom)with a label marked SS.

Anonymous said...

I have a PJ Marx Stiletto humbucker in a Charvel Fusion Plus. It is a double-blade type. I remember Andy LaRocque (King Diamond) using them & I remember the guitar-mag ads: "Hot as hell, Clean as glass, Quiet as death"! Very true for a pickup that only measures 9.75k. I would love to find another or have this duplicated. This guitar sounds every bit as thick as my Les Paul and is EXTREMELY musical. I bought the pup new from a S.Carolina shop in 1993. Never had a problem! One of the best pickups I've ever used!

fuadmonster said...

I was a speed metal guitarist "lord Symphony" band, from indonesia, I wear pj pickup Marx series brad gilis that I used to buy from a friend who always will support me in playing the guitar in the wilderness of speed metal music, and when I use pickup pj Marx this result is very chilling recording of the results of my new album, mad!, pj Marx is very impressive and I made the pickup is in the spirit of work to make songs, not both of them I really like this pickup and I will use until I can no longer play guitar, I will keep well until the end of my life

fuadmonster said...

I was a speed metal guitarist "lord Symphony" band, from indonesia, I wear pj pickup Marx series brad gilis that I used to buy from a friend who always will support me in playing the guitar in the wilderness of speed metal music, and when I use pickup pj Marx this result is very chilling recording of the results of my new album, mad!, pj Marx is very impressive and I made the pickup is in the spirit of work to make songs, not both of them I really like this pickup and I will use until I can no longer play guitar, I will keep well until the end of my life with my guitar custom that i was made by my self

Anonymous said...

I have a PJ Marx P/U in my Fender Strat. I think I installed it back in the hair metal days... I miss the 80's.

jaime said...

Hi, i have and 91 Robin medley that hacd H-S-S. PJ Marx, i dont know the model or the output can somebody help, for me are medium output but i read that they are suppose to be high output can the pickups lost their magnetism in 18 years.

fuadmonster said...

the pj marx pickups is a monster pickup hahahaha like my nickname monsterfuad hahahaha very nice hahahahaa

Anonymous said...

Baddest pickups ever made, IMHO. Met PJ years ago. Bit of a recluse but genius. Goes hand-in-hand, doesn't it?

I can't tell you how to contact him but rumor has it that he still lives in the Nashville, TN USA area.

There's at least a clue for ya....

Anonymous said...

ive owned a p.j.marx active sa humbucker it was wired to a 9 volt great p.u. very clear

Anonymous said...

Well I have just grabbed one of these pickups after a long long search....and i have to say i'm very very happy with it...it has the dc resistance of my single coil pickups (6k)but what it puts out is alot alot more (keeps up with my jeff beck seymore no problem).....its a very brown sounding item....the closest I have ever came to that genre without question...and with a 250k pot it cleans up like nothing I've had with the volume rolled back...its very classic sounding but has zero harsh or brittle overtones......its all warm and spongy
I'm a pro player.....currently have this is in one of my stage guitars and it cuts thru the mix with confidence.....and looks great on my bc rich mockingbird...

when i got it I thought it was trashed due to the low output....but man did it prove me wrong plugged in

Anonymous said...

I had a PJ Marx Brad Gillis that I bought Back in '86 at Hot Licks Guitars in Honolulu. I installed it in a custom shop Charvel. Really great pick-up. I remember that there was also a Jeff Watson model as well.

jimbo83 said...

I currently work for PJ in another industry and we're actually seriously talking about restarting the pickup company possibly as early as late 2012. I'll keep you posted.

jimbo83 said...

I currently work for PJ in another industry and we're actually seriously talking about restarting the pickup company possibly as early as late 2012. I'll keep you posted.

thecharmingnorth said...

jimbo83, please let me know what happens to that mate.

I have been searching for a pj marx 812 bridge pickup for years..and well...my search continues!

very interested in those pickups coming back.
get me on j.natik@yahoo.com.au

jimbo83 said...

I went through PJ's storage unit and found a box of original unused unopened pickups. I'll see if I can convince him to release them into the wild. I'll keep you posted.

Reverend Sid Slack said...

Cool To hear Jimobo,
Marx pickups are GREAT i have three of them two 412 bridge pickups and a 412 neck i guess i also have two Marx micro Preamps which just scream with theses pickups.
Drop me a email Jimbo83 i would love to buy a big lot of theses pickups.
Sid
at jacksonshredder at comcast dot net