Tym FMF pickups
Way back in 1961 Leo designed a pickup for the then upcoming Fender Jaguar that was both a standard pickup and had something a little special. Leo, who knew a thing or 2 about pickups had decided to take his "standard" Fender style pickup (ie: slug magnets wrapped in wire) and add a metal "claw" to the bottom and sides of the coil. He had made several different pickup designs by this stage but this new idea had something .... new.
The idea behind the "claw" or cradle is one of much debate and conversation. If you look at Fender catalogues from back in the day it doesn't specifically mention a purpose for the claw although an understanding of electrics and magnetism would suggest, as is the most common opinion, that the claw reduces hum and focuses to magnetic field of the coil. There is also much talk about inductance, brightness and feedback associated with the claw but, from my experience making these new T-90's I would personally say it's all about focus and noise.
Well, to change tack a little it wasn't even really Leo's Jaguar pickup that inspired this Tym pickup, well, not directly anyway. At the beginning of this year I rewound a few vintage Japanese pickups for a friend down south. Now, I've rewound plenty of vintage Japanese pickups over the years but I hadn't really noticed how many used the claw INSIDE the cover. Guyatone especially, but also Matsumoku (and others) appeared to make a huge array of pickups for their guitars, especially in the mid to late 60's. When you start to poke around in them for a while you realize, as I've written about before, that they would use the same "pickup" with a different cover and surround to suit the guitar they were making. They weren't the only ones doing this but there are a lot of 60's Guyatones with everything from thin single coils to P-90/Mosrite looking to "humbucker" pickups that were ALL exactly the same pickup inside a different cover.
And I love these pickups. I have always loved this period of Japanese pickup as sometimes the pickups far outshine the guitar they're attached to. Seemingly "cheap" guitars with really nice sounding pickups with great response, output and feel that sometimes "sound the same" as another guitar of the same, or different brand. Well, the reason might be because under that cover is exactly, or in some cases an almost exact replica of the same pickup.
So I started looking at my favourite vintage Japanese pickups I have around the workshop and taking a look under the bonnet. Claws ...... claws everywhere. Not exposed outside of the cover like Fender but included inside the cover and usually as the base plate of the pickup itself. Some have holes in the bottom where the slug magnets are, some don't. Some are very magnetic, some not so much. I started to realize a lot of these pickups that sounded "better" than they looked had claws inside.
Because of how my brain works I had to find out for myself.
I'm not a particularly clever guy and I don't have thousands of dollars worth of test equipment or a degree in electronics or ..... magnets, but I figured it couldn't be too hard right? Just make a few and see how they sound.
I tried making claws out of anything I had lying around. Measuring their magnetism by .... holding it near a magnet. If indeed the magnetic properties of the claw affected the pickup, then it would matter what I made them out of? I tried steel, something that looked like steel, brass, aluminium, something else that looked like steel. I essentially wound a single coil, and dropped it into varying pieces of metal to see what it sounded like.
Well, it did indeed make a difference and the magnetic quality of the metal made a difference. To my ears, the "MORE" metal and the more magnetic that metal was, the brighter the pickup got, to the point of becoming brittle. The mass of the claw affected the bass response of the coil. Too much mass and it sounded thin, not enough and it didn't appear to do anything.
I mentioned before how I don't have lots of expensive test equipment. I'm a very visual person so I tend to use oscilloscopes and multimeters for visually confirming stuff when I experiment. If you need to "see" a magnetic field, buy some oxide cement colour (or cut up some steel wool into small pieces) and use some scrap paper. You'll be able to see where your magnetic fields are without much trouble, I also have a gaussmeter which I use for some confirmations but this will show you EXACTLY where your fields are.
So then I cut triangles out of the tops, like a Jaguar pickup and it did indeed seem to "focus" the field/string sound as apposed to just a flat top (half box section) claw. I guess Leo knew what he was doing?
The holes in the bottom didn't seem to make much or any difference that I could hear? Maybe Leo knew that magnetic field would move down through those holes and catch the metal claw easier? I put holes in the bottom of mine simply so I can use longer slug magnets, which I prefer the sound of.
I did a bit of research and found that grade 430 stainless steel IS magnetic and reasonably corrosion resistant so I went for 1mm plates cut and folded into my claw to fit inside a P-90 cover.
I got a bunch of these cut so I could start experimenting and after winding a few different coil sizes and wire gauges I settled on these now fitted to my "pickup tester" guitar.
The bridge pickup is almost a full P-90 size bobbin wound with #44 wire to just over 14K. The lower output versions tended to have more "bite" due to the claw which would work nicely for some people. I however like a less trebley pickup with lots of punch so, this was it.
The neck pickup is a standard hunbucker sized bobbin wound with #43 to nearly 8K. The claw keeps this nice and clear in the neck position as even the under-wound (in comparison) P-90 bobbin sounded "thinner" but a little muddier with this set up. The double standard P-90 set up might indeed work better in a Gibson which tends to be "less trebley" anyway. I have a Gibson LP Special here that will be getting a set soon.
I'm going to keep playing around with bobbins and possibly claw dimensions and materials to see where this goes. These cheap mass produced vintage Japanese pickups can sound better than the sum of their parts so maybe "the claw" is the missing ingredient?
Now, with all the debate over pickups, magnets, wire and even the very point or reason of the claw in the first place I'm not trying to start an argument. My brain needs to DO SOMETHING for it to believe the "facts". Kinman (a VERY clever pickup maker) uses NON magnetic claws for his Jaguar pickups, which throws a lot of what I just said straight out the window. I found non magnetic claws made little to no difference to my pickups. I'm sure Chris knows what he's doing with his.
I like this pickup a lot. It's probably one step closer to my perfect set up, which is why I do this anyway. To my ears (and eyes) the claw does focus the magnetic field and make the pickup "sharper" with more attack, without loosing any other things I like in a slug style P-90, and, they fit straight into any P-90 guitar. These ARE quieter than a P-90/T-90 without the claw. Especially at 14K this should be a pretty hummy single coil, not that hum has ever really bothered me.
These will be fitted to "most" of my TMI guitars when I get time (and lack of pandemic) to start making them properly again.I'm working on a similar Jazzmaster variant and working on some other ideas based on the claw when I get time.The P-90 (and Mosrite single coil, based on it) have always been my favourite pickup and if a small piece of 1mm stainless steel can make me like them even more, I'm in.
My "pickup tester" will be in the shop from this weekend for anyone who wants to try them out.