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


Sonny's Custom Shop - Custom Vintage Style Guitar Pickups Made to order.

All my guitar pickups are handmade by me in my small shop.
  My goal is simply to supply a few affordable high end custom guitar pickups with superior quality that you can hear and see. By custom, I mean pickups that are designed and made to your unique requirements, that you won't find in every store. I do tend to specialize in the vintage toned types. I got into making pickups when restoring some guitars for myself.  I wanted the classic styles to use in them, as close as practical to the originals that hardly anyone can afford these days.  For example, like trying to match the tonal character of the pickups in my vintage ES175. Stock pickups I've tried don't really get all the way there.  I became obsessed with it, and learned to build pickups that compare well to those time-tested vintage designs, by years of searching out the best materials and carefully researching the manufacturing techniques used in good sounding examples. Along the way, I've learned many of the factors that affect tone, and how to control them.

One of the things that really helped me was lucking into an online forum way back in 2008 that just happened to be where many of the big name pickup makers hang out and still do discuss their ideas freely. That's unusual these days, but these guys are unusual too.  At first, I didn't realize the caliber of people I was interacting with, on purpose, they don't all use their real names. But they are the real experts, know this stuff inside out and backwards, and many of them have helped me greatly in understanding this complex subject. It's not the kind of thing you could pick up on first examination, it takes a lot of thought.  I have to give the people on the forum credit, they have helped me a lot. I've spent a lot of time there over the years, it is a storehouse of expertise like no other. I've also read just about every book that has been written on this and done a lot of independent experimenting and study. That includes reading all I could find written or online on the history of pickup makers like Fender and Gibson, and reading all the memoirs and old patents etc. From this reading and experimenting, with help from the pickup maker forum, I've tried to get an accurate as possible idea in my head of how things must have been done back in the days.  So based on that knowledge is how I make them now.  Most of all I've built a lot of pickups and tested them every one plumb to death in every way I know how, and freely invited any and all criticism from my customers.  I still do that.  Another thing that has helped is rewinding lots of authentic vintage pickups that have failed.  That gives me a firsthand look at how they were made and of course how to fix them.  But I can then use that knowledge to make more authentic reproductions of them that are spot on. I've been lucky to have some guitar shop customers that deal in rare and vintage guitars that send me their rewind business, and individuals do too. So I get to see a lot of rare, unusual, and sometimes very rare and valuable pickups up close and personal, that many other pickup makers might not get to examine. I rarely fail to take extensive notes and testing on them.

These pickups aren’t just copies for the pure sake of making the closest possible clone, the important thing is the tone. For the vintage models I strive hard to make sure those original tones and the vintage look are accurately reproduced.
 For the custom models I do my best to move the tonal spectrum in the direction the customer wants by using updated designs and materials.  I admit getting carried away with details, but many of those do affect tone. A lot of that means using the best available materials and sometimes that means making my own parts, or searching endlessly for the closest to the original parts I can find. Trust me that is a constant struggle, as suppliers come and go.

I've also gone to the expense of acquiring or building the necessary sophisticated winding and testing equipment that is needed to really get down to the best practices for making the most common types of pickups. This includes things like my CNC winding machine, spectrum analyzer, commercial magnet charging machine and so on.  I may not be able to keep up with production quantities with the biggest makers but they don't have much advantage on me in technology, and maybe I'm a little ahead on that. Plus I'm the only one here so I can control quality much better than any of the bigger makers.

Is all that detail so important?  For you as a performer, no matter whether you are working a gig at some smoky club or playing in church, - not really. It’s not too likely that anyone is going to rush up to take the pickguard off your guitar and check to see if you have cloth covered lead wires or look inside your humbucker for plain enamel magnet wire -- they just know the tone they want to hear. They don’t care much what you have in there, as long as you sound good. But if you are lucky enough to own a vintage instrument to restore, or simply just appreciate quality and details for upgrading the gear you have now, then you as an owner or collector probably do care about those things. I offer lots of custom options to let you pick and choose how much of that detail you prefer, or work with you to modify the tonal response in various ways and / or get an appearance you want. Choose vintage models that respect the smallest classic details, or updated and custom models that have more options to serve different needs and budgets.  Much research and testing has gone into each design before I will sign them, sell them, and stand behind them.

I use sophisticated electronic gear to test that my pickups match the base design’s characteristics, allowing for your options, then serialize and sign each one, and give you a detailed test report. 
Offering lots of options means too many varieties to keep in inventory, so expect some lead time because it’s just me here to make them, and I build them to your order. But that’s a big part of what makes them custom. That's the gist of it, I just work hard to make them like they used to be and ought to be made and work with you much more than many others on how you want them done.  Look, listen, then let your ears and eyes decide if the result is for you.

Besides making pickups, I still like to do guitar setups, modifications, and repairs on both electric and accoustic models. I enjoy working on guitars and making them play and sound the best they can be. 
        I have been collecting guitars and doing my own restorations, and setups, pickups, and repairs for myself and friends for years.  Enough of them liked the results that in September of 2010 I decided to take it commercial as a part time business. Then at the end of 2011, I retired from my day job after 37 years as an industrial engineer and IT manager at a high technology company. Now I can spend more time doing what I enjoy -the challenge of being creative and working with my customers to make something unique, and personalized to their needs that isn't available everywhere.

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