Sonny's Custom Shop
Custom made electric guitar pickups, accessories and service.

Shop Tour

I make my custom guitar pickups using the classic time honored designs, and to a great extent I use the old methods. But when appropriate I also take full advantage of the many technological advances that have happened since the 1950’s.  Let's walk through the making of a typical single coil pickup such as would be used in a strat or similar guitar.


I start with traditional vulcanized fiber flatwork (forbon) that I get laser cut from a vendor.  I use gray or black depending on the vintage style needed. I rubber stamp a date code on some styles, just like in the 50's.  In fact, the stamp set I use is actually from the 50's. 

Then the magnets are pressed in using an arbor press.  If appropriate to the design, I hand grind the bevels on the magnets. I usually have these magnets made up to my specs and order them in quantity to get the quality and price I need.  I typically have around 7,000 to over 10,000 magnets in stock at any one time, but even so, I can order up just about any special Alnico alloy or sizes needed for a custom job.

After the top part of the flatwork is pressed on, the bobbins are dipped in lacquer.  I dip them twice.  This is to prevent shorting and to seal the flatwork against moisture. Some pickup makers skip this important step.

Next, I use a layer of special PVC tape to further insulate the magnets. I want my pickups to last a lifetime. This bobbin is now ready to be wound to specifications with magnet wire.  Notice the eyelets that are installed for connecting the magnet wire to the leads.  This model has my own design magnet stagger pattern optimized to modern string gauges and fingerboard radius.  Depending on the model or customer options I wind them either by machine or by hand.

Here is my classical handwinding setup. Yes it is a sewing machine. In fact, it is my mom’s sewing machine from the 1950’s. I have modified it to include a digital turns counter. Yet this is very similar to something that might have been used by Leo or Seth in the 1950’s but far more accurate as far as counting is concerned. I use this for my handwound strat type pickups, or anything else that needs to be handwound. I have other handwinding machines, but I like this one a lot, and use it often. Handwinding is good for some strat and tele pickups. A certain amount of skill is involved to get the best tones.

Here's my other handwinder.  No it isn't made from an amp head. This is a winder that I built myself. Actually the main part of the guts of it are pretty old though- the frame from a 70's video terminal's aluminum card cage and an ancient 1 megabyte hard drive's ultra precision spindle. Yes, one MB. The analog counter is from the 1960's.  I originally made it to use when I needed to wind in reverse, such as for a RWRP middle pickup, but lately I have been using it more than the sewing machine, which is starting to get a little cranky in its old age. 

This is my CNC coil winder. I'm winding humbucker bobbins with it in this shot but the process is similar. The machine can be programmed to duplicate any winding pattern that is needed. For example, I have studied good sounding handwound examples of single coil pickups and carefully programmed in various layers each having the right amount of scatter to match what a handwinder might have done.  Machine winding is less costly and more repeatable than handwinding.  I use different types of magnet wire, depending on the design.

Next the leads are soldered on. For these, I use vintage style cloth covered pushback wire, just like the originals. The wire is from the same vendor that made it back in the 1950's.  The overall construction and look is very vintage, but we're not done yet.  I use a commercial magnet charger to charge up the magnets to the proper specifications, which I check with a gauss meter. I also pot them with a mixture of beeswax and paraffin in a temperature controlled vat.

Here's the magnet charging station. The larger gray box on the left is the charger. It is powerful enough to charge up an alnico pickup to full strength in about 2 seconds.  No pacemakers allowed here when it is in use. On the left is a very accurate hall effect gaussmeter, which I use to measure the magnetic charge.  I measure and record the charge at each string pole or polepiece. The smaller gray box on the right is a demagnetizer.  It can reduce the magnetic charge by up to 98% if needed, but if the charge on the pickup is too much for the design I can use it with various combinations of the three small black fixtures to adjust the charge by smaller amounts as needed, to match vintage examples or specs.

Last, here's my electronics bench. I do extensive testing of each model to verify that the pickup's characteristics match the intended design.  I use an oscilloscope, signal generator and audio spectrum analyzer and several specialized handheld meters for this testing. I measure every important characteristic that I can. Then I make an individual test report and provide all the data to you. If you have chosen a comparison pickup for your custom model I show the data for both. Otherwise I will pick an example from my library to compare to. I will also often install samples from each production run in a guitar and listen to them. Only then am I willing to give each one a serial number and sign it.

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