Making the ultimate sounding pickups is our goal at Bare Knuckle and we don't do that by cutting corners. All of our pickups are completely hand-made, one at a time, and nothing but the highest quality is acceptable. We make each pickup to withstand a lifetime of playing and that life starts out with handwinding.
We use vintage-correct materials in the manufacture of the majority of our parts simply because they out perform anything else and sound the best. This isn't an 'extra' or 'custom option', it's our build standard, irrespective of the voice of the pickup. So when you fit a Bare Knuckle to your guitar, you're fitting a pickup made with the best components in the world.
We make our own humbucker baseplates as a faithful reproduction of the original PAF humbucker baseplates with 21 AWG solid nickel silver, ½" long legs, 49.4mm pole spacing all correct right down to the original tooling marks. The pole screw holes are tapped for a really solid fit enhancing treble response, reducing microphonics and, together with maple spacers, make for a really strong construction. Utilising the same materials we are also able to offer modern wide pole spacing and short ¼" legs to accommodate all humbucker applications.
Where we bring a little something extra to the table, is with the use of specially annealed mild steel for pole shoes along with original electric steel for slugs and pole screws in humbuckers and P90s. Again all made to original dimensions, both slugs and pole screws are nickel plated to prevent corrosion while the effect of the heat treated steel is more magnetism conducted towards the string for increased power and definition.
Humbucker bobbins are made from celluloid butyrate to the same '50s PAF specification, exact in every detail and in authentic vintage colours and finish while 6 string humbucker covers are made from solid German nickel silver, again as an exact reproduction of an original '59 PAF humbucker cover. We also make 7 string humbucker covers and, just like the 6 string covers, these are all available in a wide range of plates and unique finishes. Likewise the copper or zinc plated steel Tele grounding plates, deep drawn Tele neck covers and Strat covers are all true to their originals and all produced with our own tooling by our own engineers.
Our #34 AWG/2 end braided jacket with 7/30 stranding of tinned soft copper hook up is made to genuine 1950s specification by the same factory that made it originally in the '50s, likewise the 7/30 stranding of bare bunch tin wax cloth 'push-back' cable used for both Strat and Tele single coils. Nothing beats these vintage hook ups for durability and tone however we also offer modern 4 conductor wire for maximum flexibility with our humbuckers.
The Alnico II, Alnico III, Alnico IV and Alnico V magnets we use in our humbuckers and P90s are individually sand-cast, left unpolished and cut to vintage length along with a variety of custom-size alnico and ceramic magnets all magnetised for optimum balance of power and tone. As well as Alnico III, IV and V rod used in Strat and Tele coils we also produce the original generic low output Alnico used in the early '50s based on original samples we've had analysed and recreated. All Strat coils are available in '54 or '56 vintage-stagger and flat-profile options and Strat, Tele, P and J bass single coil formers are put together by hand, in-house with vintage-correct fibre board flatwork and hand-bevelled magnets.
We scatter-wind the coils of each pickup one at a time with a variety of different gauges of enamelled copper wire; the gauge and type of wire insulation we use being dependant upon the sound we're after for each particular pickup. The majority of our pickups are wound with the traditional plain enamel wire (or Heavy Formvar in the case of single coils) used originally in the early days of pickup winding, although we do wind with modern polyester and polysol wires too.
Scatter-winding can only truly be done by hand and represents a high degree of skill by the person winding the coil. Although time consuming, it has many advantages over conventional machine winding and mass-production, not least the far superior tone and dynamics produced. We deliberately scatter the wire as we build up the windings of the coils so the wire isn't as even turn on turn, layer on layer, as with the more uniform wind of an automated machine with pre-tensioning. This lowers the distributed capacitance that exists between the turns of wire. Lower capacitance means improved high-end clarity, the resonant peak increases slightly and frequency response is greatly extended. The tension of the wire is also varied as it moves through the operator's fingers reflecting the ability to control the tension within the coil by the person winding the pickup. The result is a clearer, more open tone that has the impression of being louder purely by the amount of extra detail and dynamics present.
Unpotted coils have a very dynamic and touch-sensitive feel with a brighter edge which is well-suited to low gain playing, while potted coils have better feedback rejection and are much more practical for any playing style where high amounts of preamp gain and loud volume are used. We do make pickups with unpotted coils as an option, although we lacquer the magnet and use paper tape inside the cover to help reduce squealing, just as in the early humbuckers.
Historically, not all pickups were potted but with modern high gain amplifiers and performance this isn't always practical. Nearly all our finished coils are potted in a mixture of paraffin wax and bees wax to remove unwanted air trapped in the coil, solidify the windings and prevent microphonic feedback. All of our high gain models or any pickups that require metal covers are wax potted a second time to eliminate any chance of microphony.
Winding and constructing our pickups by hand allows us to be extremely meticulous in our quality control. We take continual DC resistance readings throughout manufacture to guard against a possible short or break in any of the coil windings and ensure consistency in performance from one pickup to another. Testing for microphony, correct phase and tone take place in a special test guitar before a final visual check and packing. Ultimately this means we can confidently guarantee our pickups for life because that's how long we make them to last.
Is this extreme level of attention to detail worth it? We honestly think so, as it represents a colossal amount of extra work on our part researching, manufacturing and developing the parts and skills involved in creating what we believe to be the best pickups in the world. If it didn't make a seriously better sounding pickup, we simply wouldn't do it!