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An emergency pickup transplant for Skeletonwitch


Issue 126 November 11, 2010

An overnight pickup transplant for Skeletonwitch

Photo: Erick Coleman and Gene Imbody

We were thinking TGIF, but this heavy metal player needed new tone ASAP. Looks like we’re workin’ this weekend...


My shop partner Gene Imbody and I were about to head home after teaching at the Purdue Guitar Workshop when we got a phone call from guitarist Scott Hedrick of the the band Skeletonwitch.

That band’s from here in Athens, Ohio, and they're making a big mark in the world of Heavy Metal. Scott had an urgent need: Skeletonwitch was about to hit the road for a string of OzzFest dates, followed by a European tour.

That's big time, and his guitar needed an urgent pre-tour setup. He also wanted to replace its factory-made pickup, maybe with a custom-wound humbucker. It was Friday night, and of course Scott needed the guitar to travel Sunday.

We had just 24 hours to get home, get the guitar, do the setup, and come up with custom electronics.

We jumped in the car and took our chances with the speed limit through the mountains, picking up Scott’s guitar as we rolled into Athens

Gene agreed to handle the setup work after I took care of the electronics. I didn't want to hog all the working time, so I got on it as fast as possible. I didn't even take the time to drive to the shop: I rolled out of bed Saturday, set up my winder on the dining room table and got to it. That table was my workbench back when I was getting started in lutherie, so this was like old times!

Driving

Gene agreed to handle the setup work after I took care of the electronics. I didn't want to hog all the working time, so I got on it as fast as possible. I didn't even take the time to drive to the shop: I rolled out of bed Saturday, set up my winder on the dining room table and got to it. That table was my workbench back when I was getting started in lutherie, so this was like old times!

A quick exam

says this guitar's in good shape for having just been through over 350 shows. It was built here in Athens by Elliot John-Conry, and it's holding up great. The frets and nut need a little attention, but not much — Gene won't have too much to do when he sets this up later today.

Plugging it in

The control pots sounded scratchy. A little DeoxIT spray took care of that.

Cranking it up

I heard what Scott was unhappy with: this pickup sounded... generic and stale.

Skeletonwitch plays heavy, heavy metal—the real stuff with lots of gain on cranked-up Marshall amps. (Check out their LP, Breathing the Fire if you dare!)

Scott needs something loud and dark. After talking with him, I started winding.

How I got the Skeletonwitch sound:

I wound the pickup’s slug coil with 5,666 winds of AWG-43 coil wire. The coil gave me a strong reading of about 5.7K.

I gave the screw coil 1,000 turns more than the slug coil, and got a reading in the high 6K range. Here’s more wire:

CHECK IT OUT:

This AWG-43 wire has a fine diameter, so you can pack more wraps on the bobbin. You get a louder pickup, with more bass and less highs. (Perfect for that evil Metal music!)

I secured the coils with paper tape, then potted the coils in hot wax, using my glue pot. When the wax cooled off, I gave the coils a final wrap of cloth coil tape (shown at left). This cloth wrap protects the coil, and I like to think I'm giving Scott a bulletproof pickup.

Schatten Pickup Winder
Pickup Wrapping

The pickup read a whopping 12.4K on the multimeter. Awesome!

I installed it, and handed the guitar off to Gene for a speedy setup.

Assembling Pickup
Multimeter

Next stop: OzzFest!

And here’s our man Scott Hedrick tearing up the rock & roll stage. Bring ’em back alive, pal!

OzzFest!

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