Dirty tricks for a modern Firebird pickup (pics..)

Discussion in 'Pickups' started by Dougie, Apr 1, 2012.

  1. Dougie

    Dougie Senior Member

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    The modern Firebird pickup is something of an anomaly to me, for as much as Gibson prices these cool guitars, it would seem that they would listen more to the players that would buy them than whoever it is at Gibson that dictates how they should build them. Not the case.

    In the beginning the raw and biting tone of the original Firebirds put them on the map with a unique sense of identity as well as a unique tone. Now nearly half a century after their introduction into the music world, Gibson has made some downright eye popping and accurate reissues of these legendary guitars, but why didn't they continue to refine and re-create the pickups that powered the sound of players like Johnny Winter, Dave Mason, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton and a host of others?

    Instead, they choose to use the same minimal bobbin form, and wind it with thinner wire to arrive at some of the hottest DC resistance levels ever measured in passive pickups. The tone of these modern pickups is harsh and very trebly, turning down the volume knob doesn't help them much at all, and swapping the ceramic magnets for vintage alnico doesn't really make them sound like the old ones.

    Seymour Duncan and company are very keen to the input of users, several really good pickup designs were taken into the production floor straight off the pages of the users forum. Way to go Seymour! Maybe the powers that be at Gibson ought to take a hint?

    Anyway, I'm not ranting, just couldn't live with the stock Firebird pickups and set out to do a little home brew research to see what could be done about it. Turns out there is quite a few really cool things you can do with one that sound really good. Not trying to get into the box that the boutique/vintage builders like Jason Lollar, Curtis Novak, Chris Klein, Skatterbrane, and others are already in, they make some really fine firebird pickups and mini humbuckers on their own. I wanted to do something a little different, a little more outside the box than what's typically available right now.

    Winding the stock bobbins with plain enamel wire is a huge improvement and paired with alnico magnets puts the lowly mini humbucker and firebird pickup squarely in the tone zone, it makes a WORLD of difference. Hands down this is the single biggest improvement of all.

    Using the mismatched or asymmetrical coil winds really widens the tone palette of these pickups by adding a multi-dimensional quality to the basic toneprint, it allows for a vintage Gibson tone overall but with some very nice highs and harmonic overtones are somewhat on the wow scale compared to symmetrical winds, even with vintage style wire. About a month ago I made a hybrid based on stock size firebird bobbins. This was an idea I carried from the Seymour Duncan Hybrid humbucker, and implemented it in a firebird format. It worked really good, I had a lot of fun building and playing this pickup. One coil being wound with 42ga plain enamel to 3.6k, the other with 43ga plain enamel to 5.1k gave a total DC resistance of 8.77k, with the tone overall somewhat comparable to a vintage Pat # sticker humbucker, but with a cool cutting, edgy bite on the top end. This was using stock firebird bobbins, taken from a modern Gibson pickup. The limiting factor with these, is that you can only get a certain amount of wire on them, by the time they are full they still leave me wanting a little more out of them.

    Enter yesterday's project pickup build. How much can you cram into a stock Gibby firebird cover? Can you get enough wire in it to really make it kick major butt? Yep, it can be done, but not by using stock bobbins and certainly not by using thinner wire to make up for the limited space on the stock bobbin.

    This project uses some blade style bobbins from Mojotone, carefully machined down small enough to fit inside the cover. These bobbins are intended to take a steel blade in the slot, with a magnet underneath the pair of coils, but with a little tweaking they will gladly accept a bar magnet in the center, they are basically a firebird bobbin on steroids!

    Here is L-R a pair of firebird hi-output coils with ceramic magnets as removed from the modern firebird pickup, a Mojotone mini hum/firebird bobbin, a slug side PAF style bobbin, and the Mojotone blade bobbin.

    [​IMG]

    The height of these Mojotone bobbins is the key element in allowing more wire to be used, even cut down they allow for enough 42ga wire to reach nearly 5k. They easily dwarf the stock firebird bobbin..

    [​IMG]

    The slot in the bobbin allows for nearly 3/16" longer magnets.

    [​IMG]

    Stock firebird bobbins laid in the cover. Look at all the unused space!

    [​IMG]

    Modified Mojotone bobbins laid in the cover.

    [​IMG]

    Finished coils, top one is wound to 4.77k with 42ga plain enamel, bottom is wound to 6.4k with 43ga plain enamel. Total DCR for the pair is 10.88k.

    [​IMG]

    Coils fitted into the cover, I had to later move the series connection as there wasn't enough room under the reflector plate for even a lead wire.

    [​IMG]

    Reflector plate fitted to the magnets.

    [​IMG]

    Bottom of the finished and assembled pickup. There was no room for attaching the pigtail internally, as the bobbins took up nearly every bit of space available, so it had to be connected externally just like the P-90 pickups were done.

    [​IMG]

    Installed in the bridge position.

    [​IMG]

    This pickup kicks some serious butt! I was looking for two things in particular, one is a nice rounded even P-90ish tone when the volume is rolled off to about 8, and I wanted some of that legendary Firebird treble bite at full volume. It nails both requirements very nicely, it doesn't sound thin at all, it shares some tonal qualities with the P-90, the Firebird, and also the PAF pickups, vintage and full sounding when playing chords or single wound string notes, biting and stinging when you roll the volume full on and lay into some solos.

    I nicknamed this pickup the "dirtybird" not because it sounds dirty or distorted, but cause of the dirty tricks hiding under the cover..

    Lot of work having to modify bobbins but it was well worth the effort in the end. I started a thread a while back about just what was really in a modern firebird pickup, this thread follows that and could have been titled "Just what COULD be in a modern firebird pickup."

    Just felt like sharing, hope ya like it!:slash:
     
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  2. Ithamar1

    Ithamar1 Senior Member

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    What do you charge when I send you my pickup?
     

  3. kam4ff

    kam4ff Senior Member

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    seriously. I need new firebird pickups. How do I get in touch with you?
     

  4. tolm

    tolm Bigsby Junkie

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    Dude - those 'dirtybirds' sound like just what I'm after for my new Firebird. Was gonna P90 it but that turns out to be less straight-forward than I had hoped. :(

    Don't suppose you've gone into business with these yet? :)
     

  5. Dougie

    Dougie Senior Member

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    I'd like to be able to offer a few sets to forum members at some point in the semi near future but currently working 60hr weeks at the day gig keeps me from having much time for tinkering. Maybe this winter it might happen. I was just jamming on mine, nothing else I have sounds like it..
     
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  6. st.bede

    st.bede V.I.P. Member

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    You have piqued my interest. Clips would be fun to listen to.
     

  7. cooljuk

    cooljuk Transducer Producer Premium Member

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    Nice pictorial. What type of magnets did you use?
     
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  8. Dougie

    Dougie Senior Member

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    Those are polished A2 full size humbucker magnets which are carefully shortened without heat to fit in the bobbins.
     
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  9. HOT-BRIT

    HOT-BRIT V.I.P. Member

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    Well done!
     

  10. formula73

    formula73 Senior Member

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    This is just about the coolest thing I've seen in a while. I've played some guitars with the stock newer minis and really disliked them. You make me wish I still had my old Epi Olympic (Duncan minis).
     
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  11. 2004Bird

    2004Bird Member

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    Thank you for all that info! I have a 2004 FBV and have been frustrated over 'tones'. I've tried Gibson's Mini Humbuckers a few years ago and my ears still bleed periodically from all the treble:laugh2:

    Currently, she's loaded with Seymour's Antiquity 2 set. I'll say it's a VERY nice sounding pickup for the 'bird but it hasn't made wanna play all day like the classics in my 335.

    I've disassembled my bridge pickup and have purchased a roll of plain 42 gauge wire and am ready to literally 'hand wind' the bobbins in a real scatterwound way.

    My question to you is, how many winds per bobbin? Will I be able to measure resistance as I go? How is that done as one wire (the starter) is exposed but, the other end is on the roll?

    I have a number of Alico magnets laying around. How do I determine which ones are 2s or 5s? Thanks for the bobbin tip at Mojo ... I'm gonna order them now. Finally, got any sound clips of the finished product above?

    Thanks!
     

  12. Dougie

    Dougie Senior Member

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    No clips, but with the stock mini humbucker bobbins that came in the Firebird pickups just fill them up. Get one a little hotter than the other one if you can, 3-400 turns hotter, stick that coil at the back. OR you can wind that back coil with 43ga wire, which gives it greater mismatch and puts a little more single coil bite in the mix. You can get full charged roughcast A2 off ebay from seller addictionfx.

    The last one of these I did with the stock bobbins because the cover was too small for the Mojotone bobbins, you can find some pics of it here:

    http://www.mylespaul.com/forums/pickups/240651-dissecting-more-firebird-pickups-pic-heavy.html#post4791025
     
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  13. 2004Bird

    2004Bird Member

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    Damn .... I just ordered 4 of them white bar mag bobbins because of your posting and beautiful photography. My caliper says they will fit in my FBV covers. That's what you used, is'nt it?? Sure looks like it. Looks like you had to do a bit of sculpting on the bobbib ends. Oh well ...
     

  14. Dougie

    Dougie Senior Member

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    If it's a 2004 pickup, it will be the large cover as shown in the photos and they will fit. The '76 style pickup is almost 1/8" shorter as you can see, and once trimmed short enough to drop in, there isn't enough room for the wire and the tape on the ends of the coils. You should be good to go with the 2004 pickup.

    Another thing, if you are using 4 of those bobbins, I can assume you are making two bridge pickups. It is not necessary nor advised to put that much pickup in the neck position on a Firebird. The bridge pickup on those is close to the tune-o-matic, and there is not a lot of string movement that close to the bridge, and string movement in the magnetic field is what makes the coil have output, and so you need all the beef you can throw at it way back there to make enough volume and decent tone that will work with the neck pickup.

    The neck pickup has LOTS of string movement over it, because it is actually farther away from the bridge than it is on the full size humbucker equipped guitars. It's a narrower pickup, and so it's "voicing" is deeper because of that distance. That being said, the neck pickup will work fine with stock bobbins, and vintage style DCR resistance readings in the 7.0k - 7.4k range. Using 42ga plain enamel and winding until the coils are not all the way full will make a nice really toneful neck pickup and it won't override the output of the bridge, they will make a good match. You start stepping out much farther with the neck pickup and the bridge won't keep up with it.
     
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  15. 2004Bird

    2004Bird Member

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    Thanks Dougie! I'll never have enough bobbins as I've got a truckload of bar magnets coming as well as rolls of different gauge wire. Everything will be wound different with different magnets for different moods... nothins' goin' to waste! Let the fun begin :applause::lol::naughty:
     
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  16. DukeONuke

    DukeONuke Junior Member

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    Hey Dougie...
    I'm looking to build a split coil humbucker to throw on an old 1960's Hollowbody in the bridge position. I think I'd kind of like to get an older vintage style sound, so I'm thinking I should go with the Alnico 2 magnets.

    But I was also wondering if one has to match the magnets in each of the two bobbins, or is it OK to say use a A2 up front and an A5 behind it?

    Any suggestions on what housing to use? I figure I can use most any housing that will fit those big Monotone bobbins. What's the biggest cover/housing to use? Standard Humbucker Covers or what?

    Thanks for any and all help!

    Much Obliged!
    Duke
     

  17. Dougie

    Dougie Senior Member

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    You can mismatch the magnets any way your ears say they like it! You can put these mini hums together with masking tape and stick them under the strings to test them, then switch the magnets and tape them back without having the cover on there, makes it really easy. Also, a lot of magnets are stronger on one end than the other, whatever string you put the strong end under will be voiced louder overall. Want more bass? Stick the strong end of the magnet under the low strings.

    I have to cut the mojotone bobbins down to get them to fit in the modern firebird and modern mini humbucker covers, they won't fit in vintage covers at all. I don't know what full size humbucker covers they will fit in because I never used them in full size pickups, only the trick firebird pickups I make.

    They might not fit under any stock humbucker covers unless you cut them down some.
     

  18. bertrand4070

    bertrand4070 Senior Member

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    my 1996 FB sound very nice. don't know what's in the pu ? do you know ?
     

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