How we make them
Making the ultimate-sounding pickups is our goal at Bare Knuckle. Every pickup is completely hand-made, one at a time, and we will only accept the highest quality materials, craftsmanship and builds.
We make each pickup to withstand a lifetime of playing.
To us, that life can only start with handwinding.
Here at Bare Knuckle 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 and 49.4mm pole spacing, all correct right down to the original tooling marks. The pole screw holes are tapped for a really solid fit, which enhances treble response, reduces microphonics and, together with maple spacers, makes 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. As well as all that, Bare Knuckles brings a little something extra to the table with the use of specially annealed mild steel, used for pole shoes, along with original electric steel for slugs and pole screws in humbuckers and P90s. Again, these are 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 are all produced with our own tooling by our own engineers.
The Mechanics of a Bare Knuckle Pickup
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 is 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 creates an 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.
We work with potted and unpotted coils at Bare Knuckle Pickups. Unpotted coils, which aren't put into the hot tubs of wax, have a very dynamic and touch-sensitive feel with a brighter edge, which is well-suited to low gain playing. Potted coils, which are pickups that have been soaked in melted paraffin wax and beeswax for a predetermined length of time, 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 our paraffin beeswax mixture to remove unwanted air trapped in the coil; this also helps to 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.
By winding and constructing our pickups by hand, we have the ability to be extremely meticulous in our quality control. We take continual DC resistance readings throughout the manufacturing process to guard against a possible 'short", or break in any of the coil windings, and to ensure consistency in performance from one pickup to another. Testing for microphony, correct phase and tone take place in a specially made 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.
THE BARE KNUCKLE COMMITMENT
Is this extreme level of attention to detail worth it? We know so. Although the process represents a colossal amount of extra work on our part in 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.