Your Cart is Empty

The Surprising Success of Vaughn’s Velvet Telecaster Pickups

by vaughn skow November 20, 2015 4 min read

Vaughn's Velvet Telecaster pickups no more ice-pick!

Hi Ya’ll!  I have a confession to make:  I’m not really a “Tele guy”.  So the phenomenal Success of my Vaughn’s Velvet Tele pickups might seem a bit surprising … but wait … you haven’t heard the REST of the story!

Let’s start with this little piece that accompanies the product description of my Velvet Tele set:

“Whenever I talk to "Strat guys" about tone, they say that if money were no object, they'd be playing vintage pickups from the 50s-60s. Same goes for Les Paul people, their "if money were no object" pickup would be a vintage 57-60 PAF.   But Tele guys are different. I keep hearing "I LOVE the sound of 50's Tele BRIDGE pickups ... but some can be kinda ice-picky, and I've never really heard a Tele neck pickup that blows me away.”

Okay, ya gotta agree: something’s wrong with this picture! 

I mean really, died-in-the-wool Tele players who readily admit that they really don’t LIKE Tele pickups.  It seems as though Tele players have long ago learned to accept the limitations of their pickups and work around them.  They LOVE the stripped-down serious 1940’s no-nonsense attitude of the world’s FIRST readily available electric guitar, but just ain’t equally smitten with the actual TONE of the Tele.  Over the decades folks have turned to many potential solutions for their Tele tone dilemma.  Let’s take a moment to discuss some of these attempts:

First, some Tele folks have just plain turned their backs on even the idea that a Tele pickup can sound good.

That’s why we see so many Tele’s with Humbuckers (full-sized and/or mini).  They make appearances in both the neck and bridge position.  We also see the “Nashville Tele” with a Strat pickup in the middle, and possibly neck positions.

Second, we see an amazing plethora of decidedly un-Tele-like pickups made as drop-in replacements for the standard Telecaster pickups. 

No other guitar has so many options available as drop-in replacement pickups that sound NOTHING like the originals.  Stacked humbuckers, single-blade pickups and twin-blade humbuckers, dummy-coils, shoot even no coils at all!  The list goes on and on.  It seems as though a bunch of folks have decided the only good thing to do with a Tele is to make it not sound like a Tele at all.   It seems as though most folks have just given up on Leo’s original design.  I wasn’t quite willing to do that.

I’ve been a member of the Nashville music community since 1985.  I’ve been a recording engineer, record producer, professional guitar player, and recording studio owner.  Oh, I should clarify …a “real” studio owner; from back in the days when owning a studio entailed reel-to-reel tape machines, huge consoles, grand pianos, and legitimate business locations, in my case on Nashville’s famous 16th Avenue.  I’ve spent a BUNCH of time with the greatest guitar players in Nashville; shoot some of the best in the world, many of them with legit claims to being a “tele-master”.  And, none of them would say they were 100% happy with their true Tele tone.

Here is where my NOT being a “Tele guy” became a true advantage. 

You see, I WAS a fully indoctrinated FENDER guy, and like most, I flat-out loved the sound of a great Strat.  And certainly I was also totally in love with the sound of a great Les Paul.  I just couldn’t accept the idea of someone “putting up with” the tone of their favorite guitar … or worse yet, giving up and making it sound like ANOTHER guitar!  So you see, it actually HELPED that I wasn’t a Tele guy … because of that fact, I had never learned to “put up with” or “work around” the sound of a Tele.   I had no prejudice against, or stereotype of, the TONE of a Tele!

So, what exactly DID I do?  First, I listened to all the greatest examples of TRUE Tele tone over the years.  From the classic Bakersfield sound of folks like Buck Owens and Haggard to the classic Stax Records/Memphis tones of folks like Steve Cropper and James Burton.  From the classic country tones of folks like Ray Flack and Redd Volkaert to the modern Tele masters like Brad Paisley and John “Elmo” Szetela.  And, of course so many more!  Then, I talked to as many Tele players as possible, and asked: “in a perfect world, what would you want from your Tele tone”.  It was surprising how many started out with something like “well, of course we know the neck pickup won’t sound good …”  I had to remind them that we were talking about a perfect fairy-tale world, with NO limitations!

Vaughn's Velvet Telecaster pickups no more ice-pick!

What I arrived at was that true Tele players wanted a Bridge tone that was the epitome of that great tone I just mentioned from folks like Burton, Cropper, and Volkeart; a good bit of Tele “spank”, but still nice and full-bodied and meaty with no “ice-pick” that is so common in the bridge position of Tele’s made in the last few decades or so.  On neck tone, folks often referenced decidedly non-tele tones.  Over and over tele players wished they could get the Stevie-Ray-Vaughn neck tone from their Tele, or a nice fat yet decidedly single-coil Jazz tone that was full-bodied yet still had some sparkle and definition.  And, given the opportunity to REALLY dream, Tele players really wanted a truly magical middle position, with the ability to get the sparkle and chime of a Strat in position 2 & 4, and also be able to roll the tone back and arrive at a nice humbucker tone with both the neck and bridge pickups working together.

In making Vaughn’s Velvet Tele Pickups, I accomplished all of these objectives.  It was most definitely NOT a case of throwing away Leo Fender’s original design and going with something new and golly-gee-wiz … I’ve heard too many of these awful sounding designs!  No, it was simply tweaking the design to augment all the STRENGTHS of the original Tele pickup design, while finessing out the weaknesses.  The result is 100% TRUE Tele tone … with everything you LOVE about the Tele … but ALSO with everything you dreamed of, but had grown to believe was impossible.  And, it took someone who was NOT a Tele guy to deliver it.

Vaughn's Velvet Telecaster pickups no more ice-pick!

emailVaughn   About Vaughn Skow 

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.