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The Terrible Telecaster Ice-Pick

by vaughn skow December 29, 2014 3 min read

Telecaster Ice-Pick Pickup CURE!

Hi gang!  This blog marks a bit of a first, as it is the first time I am officially blogging about the pickups that bear my name!  When I began making guitar pickups, I firmly believed that the best pickups ever made were in fact made from about 1952 to 1965, and my intention was to painstakingly reproduce these mid-century works of art.  Where Stratocasters and Humbuckers are concerned, I was dead-on the bull’s eye.  However, the Telecaster players were giving me something further to consider.  The Strat players were on a magic carpet ride to Nirvana with my 1954-1964 sets, and “les Paul” players consider my Alnico II and Alnico IV PAFs to be truly “Holy Grail” tone.  But those pesky Tele players. . .

 When Tele players talk about “Holy Grail” tone, the usual statement made is something like this: “Well, I love the sound of a vintage 50’s Tele bridge pickup … but they CAN get a little ice-picky sometimes, and …well, I really don’t use the neck pickup much, it’s just too dead and woofy”.

Okay, y’all, think about this for a second.  There are top-shelf touring Tele-masters out there gigging with vintage Telecasters worth tens of thousands of dollars saying, in essence “I’m not really in love with my tone”.  Wow!  That sucks, and I couldn’t help but feel as though something NEEDED to be done for these folks.  Now, I could have gone the route of some, and simply thrown in the towel and conceded defeat on the neck pickup … and focused on the bridge pickup (can you say “Esquire”?).  But, that would be against every bone in my body.  I LIKE multi-pickup guitars for the tonal versatility they offer, and especially for the complex and uniquely gratifying tone that can only result from a fantastically combining pair of pickups!  And so it was that I set out on a path that was already littered with the wreckage of past failures.  Could I succeed where so many others have failed?  Could a set of Tele pickups be made that truly left Tele players wanting for NOTHING?  And, for the record, I strictly desired to keep to “true” Tele sets … I’m talking drop-in replacements here … not some crappily conceived humbucker or other aberration; plenty of folks have went down that road and wound up with the most God-awful sounding Tele pickups ever!  My goal wasn’t to remove “hum” or to produce a pickup that looked good on an oscilloscope … no, I wanted tone to die for, true Holy-Grail tone.

I will admit that, living in Nashville, I have an advantage over many other pickup designers and builders.  Here in Nashville, I have at my disposal what is probably the largest assembly of top-shelf Telecasters and the Tele-Masters who play them available anywhere in the world.  And so I began quite a process of comparing everything that I tried to the “best of the best”.  Guess what?  It seems as though I did it.  Rocket science?  Nope, not at all.  The recipe I landed on really isn’t that far from Leo’s first designs, in fact.  Here is what I found:

  • Alnico II magnets: These are what I call the “sweetest of all magnets”, and man, they REALLY work their magic in Tele pickups.  And, that goes for both the Bridge AND neck positions!  SWEEEET!
  • Careful consideration to how strongly the magnets are “charged”:  This is NEVER a consideration on mass-produced pickups … it’s just not something an automated process can accurately achieve … but each and every single pole-piece must be charged to optimum levels to achieve perfection in TONE.
  • Stick with the 43-gauge wire on the neck pickup … but abandon the pre-conceived ideas about how it should be wound.  Sorry, I can’t totally give THIS secret away!
  • Get rid of that neck cover (or at least the part of it that stands between the pole-pieces and the strings.  Sure, it’s true that modern covers do not deaden the tone as much as early 50’s chrome over brass covers … but they DO still suck tone to a very notable degree!

Telecaster Ice-Pick Pickup CURE!

So there you have it; almost all my secrets revealed.  Nearly a year’s worth or R&D thrown out there for anyone to copy as they see fit.  Why on earth would I divulge this?  Well, Leo Fender is kinda my hero … and the man never even patented the Stratocaster or the Telecaster guitars; so, I guess you could say I’m following in Leo’s footsteps … and hopefully adding a little to his legacy.

Convinced?  Be sure to check out these pickups … that we’ve named “Vaughn’s Velvet Telecaster” set.

Here is a video discussion and demo.  If it doesn’t play, follow this link:

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