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Lipstick Pickups and Classic Rock ‘n Roll Sound
Great Scott! Marty! You’ve got to come back with me! We’ve made a mistake!
We had to go to 1954, not 1955! We must get the best guitar pickups of all time – The original lipstick pickups! Turn on the Alnico 6 field generator. We have a meeting with Mr. Nat Daniel…
It was a few years ago when I found an original
intact late 50’s Silvertone 1303 u2. This divine rocknroll machine is the purest form of simplicity.
For those who don’t know the story: This guitar was the work of Nathan “Nat” Daniel, the founder of Danelectro, and it was his take on the then-new electric guitar.
Danelectro was founded at Red Bank, New Jersey in 1947, as a guitar amplifiers manufacturer for the catalogs of Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck. Before that, Nat Daniel created Epiphone’s Electar amp series, and as a genius innovator, he even created the Tremolo effect, the reverb unit, and the first 12 string electric guitar, among other innovations.
The two major national retail chains, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward sold Danelectro products under their respective brand names, Silvertone and Airline.
The story of Danelectro guitars began in 1954 when Sears approached Daniel to make an affordable electric guitar. Nat Daniel came up with what I consider the best formula or the essence of a great electric guitar.
He used pine frames with glued Masonite for the front and back of the body. This saved time-consuming work of routing and shaping the body, and of course, the expensive lumber.
Instead of binding, he used vinyl tape for the sides, and one of the models had Formica.
Instead of using an adjustable truss rod, the bolt-on necks had two heavy-duty steel bars installed under the fretboard. The bridge was just a piece of metal with six slots for the strings, and instead of saddles with compensation, he used an offset piece of rosewood.
But it worked flawlessly.
When I got my Silvertone guitar more than 60 years after it left the factory, it was perfect, and the neck was straight after all these years.
But the thing that caught my attention was the sound. It was unique, had this bell-like tone, and with a slightly overdriven tube amp, it was pure early RocknRoll.
Using a slide created phenomenal sounds, and that made me wonder- what if I’ll take the pickups and enhance everything else.I’ll use high-quality tonewoods while designing a hollow body construction like the original Danelectro, high quality handmade brass hardware, and better overall quality – a Dano on steroids or a high-end Silvertone.
An original ’50 lipstick pickup
The Alnico 6 magnet with the 42awg wire wrapped directly around it on this original ’50s Lipstick Pickup.
Discovering a unique and enhanced sound – Original 50’s lipstick pickups and The Thunderchild Custom Guitar
That was the beginning of the journey that ended up with the Thunder Child guitar. It took almost a year to come up with the selection of unique tonewoods, design, unique hardware, and eventually, when I put two original lipstick pickups from the 50’s I was hooked.
Unlike the original Danelectro with its lipstick pickups great and recognizable bell-like / glass chimes tone, the enhanced version had a fuller frequency spectrum and much more openness, response, and bottom end.
Danelectros are part of almost any classic guitarist arsenal, from Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton to Rory Gallagher. Still, it was always used only for specific tracks, not as their primary instrument because of its unique tone.
The Thunder Child guitar turned out to be a completely different animal.
The Hollow body construction with the thin super responsive top and the lightweight Mediterranean Cypress neck gave it a sweetness and an added acoustic tone that didn’t exist in the original ones. It made it a versatile instrument that can and should be one’s main guitar.
I used the same pickup combination of the original Danelectro guitars with the lipstick pickups wired in series.
The bridge position and the neck position are single coils while the mid-position combines both pickups, so you get higher overall output, and the lipstick pickups act as a humbucker pickup.
Now, there was one little problem.
Where can I get an accurate replica of the original lipstick pickups?
I mean, you can lay your hands on various similar lookalike lipstick pickups from multiple manufacturers. Some of these sound nice and pretty close to the originals but all of them were designed with shortcuts to make it easy to produce with the rest of the various pickups they make.
For instance – the original ones were made from Alnico 6 magnets., whereas modern copies use Alnico 2 or Alnico 5. All of these manufacturers use plastic bobbins around the magnets, whereas in the original ones, the copper wire was wound straight on the magnet (and it must be a 42 AWG wire!).
The total output should be 3.2-3.9k, while the modern ones have much higher output.
So basically, besides the similar looks, these copies are a far cry from the original ones.
I started to search for someone, anyone who can recreate these unique guitar pickups in their original form to no avail.
Then, one day I’ve found a podcast with different lipstick pickups comparisons. Some were made by famous pickup manufacturers, some by unknown Chinese factories, and they all sounded nice, but there was one pickup that sounded right. It was created by a boutique pickup maker by the name of Doug Tulloch. Doug, as I later discovered, is a Danelectro aficionado and a worldwide Danelectro collector and expert. He is the author of “Neptune Bound,” which is the ultimate Danelectro guitars and history guide.
And so, a few weeks later, a package arrived with the best and most accurate 59′ lipstick pickup replica on the market. The only upgrade I’ve made was creating my own brass lipstick covers. The original ones are extremely thin, and after a few decades, they simply crack-not exactly heirloom quality.
The glorious Dynamite Sticks humbucker lipstick pickup. The heart of the Thunder Child Veloce handmade guitar.
As for the tone – it was sublime, and here’s why
During the ’50s, when these guitars were designed, most of the amplified guitar tones were clean or at least aspired to stay clean as possible though o course at full throttle those tube amps were distorted… The guitars were plugged straight into the amp, and the only guitar
effects were reverb and tremolo.
The original lipstick pickups are “weak” pickups in the sense that their output is only 3.2-3.9 k ohm. An original 52′ “Blackguard” era Telecaster bridge pickup is about 7.7k, almost twice.
The output of a pickup is a result (among other things) of the type of magnet, the size of the magnet, the number of windings, and the gauge of the coil’s copper wire.
As a rule of thumb – more windings will increase the pickup’s output, but it will decrease the higher frequency range.
That is why lipstick pickups are bright – fewer windings and less output which, in turn, provides a lot of headroom
Why should you care?
Well, during the past decade the original beautiful tone of a guitar plugged straight into an amp became almost a lost art. During the reign of the pedals, guitar effects, and processors, players started playing heavily distorted guitars almost exclusively so the demand for pickups with higher output became the industry norm. Some of these pickups are rated at 16k, so plug straight into a clean tube amp, and well…
When you use original lipstick pickups, you can enjoy the best of both worlds
The first one is a clean, beautiful, unique tone which, when placed inside a hollow body, Thunder Child will give you a super-responsive full sound with a bell-like ringing.
Raise the volume to an early amp breakup, and you get a classic blues and early rocknroll.
Add a Tone bender or a treble booster, and you get the best classic rock tones of the late 60s early 70s, because of the ability to maintain and generate higher frequencies.
Those stunning results also encouraged me to create a humbucker version. Realizing that the fuller frequency range and higher output will give me the best classic guitars tones of the ’60s and ’70s I designed a special version of a lipstick humbucker pickup based again on all the original specs.
The glorious result can be heard in the Thunder Child Veloce, which can easily compete with any classic LP burst.
This version, for me, is the ultimate Sonic Time Machine.
With the six-position rotary switch, one can use both classic single-coil lipsticks and the Dynamite Sticks Humbuckers for the best classic blues and rock tones available.
Thank you Nat Daniel.
Back to 1969 with the glorious Dynamite Sticks-our unique Humbucker lipstick pickup.
Back to 1969 with the glorious Dynamite Sticks-our unique Humbucker lipstick pickup.
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