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Improving Your Volume, Tone and Sound Tags: sound tone volume improving improve

IMPROVING YOUR VOLUME, TONE and SOUND

One of the issues faced by musicians-- especially those just starting out in assembling or building their own equipment-- is achieving the sound they're looking for. 

CONCEPTS of SOUND

Sound is made up of many components, ranging from a pure musical note-- to the environment it's played in.   You can play the same instrument configuration in a small bedroom and the resulting sound will be totally different than playing it in a garage... or ultimately a performance hall.  It's not just about the equipment.

In addition, sound is subjective.   What sounds good to one person might not sound as good to another.  Some people like heavy metal... while others prefer smooth jazz.  Some like deep and mellow while others prefer "jangly and twangy".  The goal of the musician is to find your niche, discover your audience, and provide what the listeners wish to hear.  Or alternately, produce what you like, and let the resulting sound collect those that it attracts.

 

VOLUME

One issue instrument builders / modders sometimes deal with is achieving the proper volume.   Interestingly, volume is probably the easiest part of sound.  It's either loud enough or not loud enough... and there's always a reason for volume issues. 

Oddly enough, volume is not always achieved in the manner one thinks to be obvious.   Consider as an example Heavy Metal.  Off the cuff, we must use hot humbuckers, a heavy-wattage amp, and overdrive pedals... right?  

Well... maybe not.  Because while a heavy humbucker provides a lot of signal up front, such a pickup often loses diversity of sound and nuance that might be found in a lower-power pickup.   Overdrive pedals differ greatly in quality and output.   And amplifiers may be big and large and produce a lot of volume-- at the sacrifice of sound quality.   Sometimes a lower-power pickup that's properly boosted into a medium-wattage amp will produce much more satisfying results overall.  In short, metal isn't all about volume.  It's about the final output quality.

 

I CAN'T GET ENOUGH VOLUME

A very common misconception with new musicians is "This pickup doesn't produce enough volume".    Fact:  It's not the job of the pickup to produce volume.  It's the job of the pickup to pick up vibrations from the instrument and strings and transfer that signal to whatever awaits it.   Volume is controlled by other equpment:  pre-amps, mixers, guitar pedals, and ultimately the amplifier.  Volume is even determined by the strings you use. 

If your volume is too low, don't pick on the pickup.  Volume is produced at the amplifier. 

Blaming a pickup for low volume is like blaming your car tires because you can't get the car engine past 30 mph.  Yes, different pickups will produce different levels of volume, but that isn't their job.  Their job is to produce quality tone.

FACT:  You can produce significant volume from even low-power pickups... if you're using the correct post-instrument equipment and amplifier. 

Professional musicians know from experience that a low-power pickup along with a quality amplifier can rattle the windows.  Keeping this in mind, let's examine what volume is, and how to achieve it.

Reality:  rather than using super-hot humbuckers, some metal players will instead use lower-power pickups... because those pickups produce a wider, more satisfying range of tone and overall sound.  Those players know that if the signal is pleasing, it can be boosted to whatever levels they desire by external equipment.   It's not the job of the guitar and pickup to produce volume.  It's the amplifier that amplifies.

If you're building a guitar and you just can't get enough volume, the problem can be due to several issues.  These are:

1. Improper phase.   It could be that the wires from the pickups are in the wrong locations, causing the phase of the pickups to fight one another.  This will result not only in considerably lower volume, but lower-quality tone.  (Note: some musicians use alternate phases purposely, to achieve unusual tone.  That's totally fine... so long as it's intended.)

2. The guitar cord.  Believe it:  guitar chords go bad, often at the worst time.  Have plenty of extra cords on hand.   The first thing to check if sound goes bad... is the guitar cord.  Switch it out and test with another cord.

3. In-between equipment.  Guitar Pedals. Power supplies.  Bad mixer board.  Anything that is between your guitar and amp.

4. The amplifier itself.   The primary device that produces volume is the amplifier.   A properly-functional, quality amplifier can produce tremendous volume even when a low-yield pickup is sending the signal.  At the same time, the amplifier is the one piece of equipment (beyond a broken guitar) that is most likely to malfunction-- resulting in a variety of poor output.

5. Strings.  One customer reported getting no sound from his system, and we worked together scratching our heads trying to figure out why.   Finally as last resort he replaced his strings.  He had purchased "nickel" strings, which should have worked fine.  But when he replaced his strings he stated, "Wow!  I had to crank the volume way down.  What a difference!"   Simply put: the strings he had first purchased were likely counterfeit (made of stainless steel or some other inferior metal)... or maybe something happened on the factory line and strings got put in the wrong package.  Bottom line, electric guitar pickups require electric strings.  Some customers have tried to use Phosphor-Bronze strings, unaware they are not intended for use with mag-based electric guitars.  So if you're getting low or no volume, it's always worth checking your strings.

ONE WAY TO TEST your strings and the pickup itself is to tap the pickup (lightly) with a known-ferrous-metal item... such as a steel nail, fingernail clippers (which are almost always made of ferrous metal), or a screwdriver. Be careful not to scratch the surface during such test.   When you tap the pickup you should get a very audible tapping sound through your amp.  That will tell you whether or not your strings are the problem.  In addition, if you hear an audibe tapping sound you know the pickup is working. 

A lot of beginning guitar players (or experienced players who are not equipment techs) tend to blame pickups for low-volume sound, but this is the reality:

A failing pickup will usually produce inconsistent sound, noisy sound (static), or NO sound.  A failing pickup is highly unlikely to result in low volume.  That's just not part of the equation:  the signal either gets through (at full power) or it doesn't.   That's how pickups work.  Low volume typically is not a symptom of a "bad pickup".   If your volume is low... the problem lies elsewhere.

People are often loathe to consider the amp as the problem, because that means it's either a poor amp choice (mis-matched to their needs and equipment), that their beloved amp needs repaired, or their beloved amp is dying.   In all instances, usually money is involved.   No one enjoys having to repair or replace an amplifier.

Yet... if you're experiencing low volume, your amplifier is one of the primary places to look.   Bottom line:  equipment goes bad over time.  Sometimes it comes off the factory line defective.   So if your volume is too low, check the amp. It is the amplifier that amplifies.  Even a low, low-output pickup (2 ohms or less) can produce very satisfactory volume if you're using a good amplifier.

PRE-AMPS EXIST FOR A REASON.   It's surprising, but people tend to ignore pre-amps.   But preamps exist because they're often needed to boost a signal before it reaches the amplifier.  A pre-amp may not improve the overall quality of sound (especially if being used with a dodgy amplifier), but a decent pre-amp will cleanly increase a low signal coming from a guitar.  So if your amp is working and your guitar is working but you're just not getting enough volume, consider a pre-amp.  These are available in the form of pedals, pre-amp boxes, or powered mixer boards. You can also purchase "active booster" circuits for the guitar itself, which turns a passive pickup to active signal at the push of a button or turn of a dial.

Summary:   Low volume?  Don't blame the pickup.  If you're getting satisfactory sound that's not loud enough, the pickup is working fine.  Look at the parts of your equipment that have the job of amplifying... such as your amplifier.

 

TONE, TONE, TONE

This is the tricky part of your performance... because every single bit of your equipment affects tone.   Tone is basically the elements of sound quality that result when you play.  It involves bass, mid-range, treble at the simplest levels.  But far much more is involved.

Tone can be mellow, it can be distorted, it can be twangy, it can be surf.  Tone can be blues or jazz or country or metal or acid.  Tone is everything... and achieving the proper tone involves everything from the nut and bridge on your guitar to your pickup to your amplifier to your environment.

Naturally we can't cover everything about tone here.  You can read entire tomes on tone-- but there are some basics.

TYPE OF PICKUP.    This is where the pickup really can make a difference.   It is widely known by guitar players that different  brands of pickups, different types of pickups, and even different styles within the same brand and type will produce different tone.

Most people are aware of the different types of pickups, so I won't re-hash this widely-avaialble information here.  I will mention...

Specialty Pickups.  Pickups such as the FlatCat don't fall into standard pickup categories.   They are designed differently, act differently, and produce a different type of sound.  There are countless specialty pickups, ranging from FlatCats to Inductive pickups to Dual Rails... and far more. 

The FlatCat produces a very accurate, mellow sound often referred to as "Delta Swamp"... sound straight from the gutiar.  The sound can be very satisfying and smooth... or at the opposite end of the spectrum growly and distorted, depending on the equipment it's used with.

Bottom line: the type of pickup used definitely and significantly influences the tone of your performance.  It's my goal in producing the FlatCat to create a tone that fits a wide variety of music needs.  It can play from mellow blues to metal overdrive, depending on accompanying equipment.  The same can be said for many types of pickups... so choose your pickups wisely and with research.

Achieving desired tone is really one of the most difficult tasks of the musican... and even those with decades of experience often try something new to see if they can find a new perspective on the sound they produce.  Tone can be affected by the material your guitar body is made of, the type of neck, the material used in the nut and bridge, the quality of guitar cable you use and yes... the pedals, mixer and amplifier you employ.

There are no "rules" to tone.  Even extensive books can only offer statistics and suggestions... but in the end, to be frank, tone boils down to the skill and experimentation of the musician.

 

THE SOUND

Every musician is looking for "the sound"... the overall results of their hours of experimentation.   Sound is subjective.  Our ears themselves are as individual as our fingerprints.  Sound waves literally sound different to different people, depending on how their ears are shaped, their perception of sound, the formation of their brains as they were growing up, and the sounds/music they've been exposed to in formative years.

There is no "recipe" for sound.   Some achieve it easily... some never do.   I can't define how to achieve quality sound for you except for some simple guidelines:

Use quality equpment: This doesn't necessarily mean expensive equipment.  I own some very inexpensive guitars that produce great sound.   The FlatCat pickup sold by Wishbringer produces terrific sound, and is nowhere near the most expensive pickup on the market.  There are some very nice amplifiers out there that won't break your bank account.

The important thing is that the equipment works and works well.  Don't cut corners on equipment.  Replace bad equipment (you'll be glad you did).  A poorly-produced guitar can be difficult to play and produce unpleasant sound, ruining the music experience.  A few bucks more may get you a lot more guitar or a better-sounding pickup.

Remember this rule-of-thumb:  Low quality is remembered long after low price is forgotten.  Good quality is appreciated long after the price is paid.

Beyond price and quality of equipment, there is the matter of what you're trying to achieve.   If you're wanting to play country music, a super-hot humbucker is probably not the best pickup choice for you.  You don't need a 150 watt amp to play in coffee shops; a good-quality 20 watt amp will likely produce all the sound you'll need.  (At the same time, if you want to dive in for that $1000 pole amplifier system... go for it.)   

A super-expensive guitar is not required to produce good sound.  A high price tag has no more bearing on guaranteed sound than a label of "Vintage".    Common sense and your ear can tell you more about equipment than any elite price tag or hype claims on a label.  Trust your ear... and your instincts.

I hope this brief blog page helps.  It is in part designed to help you locate problem areas in your equipment... and in part intended to discuss equipment concepts overall.  You're the musician.  In the end... what you achieve all comes down to you.  Your volume not loud enough?  Check your amp, intermediate equipment, control pots, jack and guitar cord, and your strings.   Not getting the right tone?  Check everything.   That's all part of the craft... and the art of being a musician.

--o--

 

 

An Alternative to Volume & Tone Knobs Tags: alternative volume tone

This article is a basic "think about it" commentary.  I do not herein propose industry wide change.  It's just food for thought... and explanation of some of my latest projects.

 

MY ZERO-KNOB GUITAR

I built an electric guitar for myself that has no control knobs...  straight pickup to jack.   Let me explain why.

IT'S NOT REALLY WHAT THEY DO

As guitar builders know, volume and tone knobs are potentiometers.  There are different potentiometers:  250k, 500k, 1M, Type A and B.  But in the end game they differ not in tone itself, but tone potential and in the way they produce it.  A 500k pot contains all the sound potential of a 250k pot but allows more treble.  An A or B pot either one produces the same sound output... just at different speeds of getting there. 

But what's more interesting is that a volume pot really isn't a volume pot:  It's a "tone cutter".   It starts by cutting out the high tones, then cuts out mid tones,  and then on the low end cuts all tones completely.  It seems to be a volume pot because it does indeed reduce audible sound.  But it does so by simply grounding out specific ranges of sound, starting with the high tones until it cuts out all the tones completely.

The downside to this:  if you use your guitar volume knob to turn down volume slightly, you're in reality cutting out part of the guitar's treble range.  Is that really what you're wanting to do?

A tone pot does change the sound coming out of a guitar... but in most  instances it tends to muffle sound rather than accurately change its tone. 

Do you really want to "muffle" your guitar?

Don't get me wrong;  there's nothing wrong with volume and tone knobs.  They're used industry-wide and people like them.  They do offer utility and convenience and sometimes you can get the exact sound you want by using guitar controls.  But that doesn't mean they're absolutely required.  They are not essential to producing good sound... nor are they even the best way of doing so.

 

PROVE IT TO YOURSELF

Adjust the volume and tone knobs on your guitar to different levels.  Listen to the results.  Then crank all your guitar knobs to "10" (full pickup output mode)  and change the volume and tone at your amplifier.  Chances are you will notice a significant difference, with the amplifier alterations sounding much better. 

Why is this?  Because a good amplifier has circuitry built in to adjust volume and tone properly, beyond the basic capabilities of a simple potentiometer.

So this leads us to ask:  Which is better, to adjust volume and tone at the guitar, or at the amp?   If the amp does it better... why not use the amp?

This concept is why professional musicians often use equalizer boards, pedals and sound boxes.  It's why amps have all those fancy settings in the first place.

The truth is, many professional guitar players crank both volume and tone knobs to "full 10" setting and then adjust output at their amp. (Alternately, some use their control knobs only for "special effects"... such as using the volume knob to create a slow warble or vibrato.)  Bottom line:  these knobs can be useful, but they're not "absolutely necessary". 

Think about it this way:  if a guitar volume and tone knob were sufficient, why would an amplifier need such?  Why wouldn't the amp have no knobs, and just let the player control it all from the guitar? 

 

OUTPUTTING PURE SIGNAL

Wishbringer FlatCat™ pickups produce beautiful sound when wired straight to the jack.  This is the case with many quality pickups... but commonly beginning guitar players aren't aware of this because they never give them the chance to do so.  Many players are under the impression that volume and tone controls on the guitar are essential to getting the "perfect sound".  In reality the opposite is true; you will achieve the most precise, accurate sound by bypassing all controls entirely, sending the pickup signal straight to the amp without any controls interfering with or altering the sound in anyway.  (Even 500k knobs take out significant top end treble from a pickup signal.)

By sending pure signal to the amplifier, with no potentiometers getting in the way, no pots to go bad, no interference with the current and no potential grounding issues... straight-to-jack can also help reduce potential "hum" problems, especially if you use shielded or twisted-pair wire.  The fewer the connections, the cleaner the sound.

 

A WONDROUS NO-KNOB ELECTRIC GUITAR

The guitar I recently major-modded is an old archtop which was unplayable.  The surface looked terrible. I spent a few months on it, taking it down to bare wood, re-gluing where needed, re-finishing in ivory white, replaced the fretboard with a mother-of-pearl inlay board, and then replaced all the hardware with gold-tone to make it pretty.  For the electronics I used a  FlatCat™ pickup near the neck. I wanted the purest, richest sound I could get to go to the amp, so I ran the FlatCat straight to the jack.  I can adjust volume and tone at the amp with better results, with no potential distortion from basic pots.  

The resulting sound is awesome, undistorted, clean as it can be, "Delta Swamp" with incredible acoustic overtones.  There are no unsightly knobs to get in the way of playing.  Quite a bit less wiring involved as well, with zero hum or noise.  And I can get any tone I want out of it by adjusting my amplifier.

Just something to think about.   It's an unusual idea, but with sound reasoning behind it.  One might be surprised how many musicians "bypass" their guitar controls by cranking them full-on "ten" and letting the amp do its job.  Bypassing controls might work for your project as well.

 

--o--

 

BUILDING A BOX GUITAR Tags: box guitar cbg cigar box guitar how to build building

BUILDING A BOX GUITAR

     I build and sell "cigar box guitars"-- or as I prefer to call them: "box guitars"... because they can be made out of just about anything.   I've built guitars out of cigar boxes, cardboard boxes, license plates and even Altoids Mint tins.  I've seen them built from silverware boxes, wine boxes and more.  They have all sounded great.  The trick is:  it's not so much what they're made from, as how they're made

    I enjoy helping people learn how to build their own instruments.  If you're going to build it yourself it's good to know the pitfalls ahead of time.  If someone can't build one (for whatever reason) or doesn't have the time or tools, that's where my store comes in.  Either way, the idea is to get music in the hands of the people.  

    In addition to instruments I also offer the popular FlatCat guitar pickup as well as other accessories.   People buy these to put on guitars they have built themselves.  Some are experienced builders, some are just getting started.

   For customers who are building their first CBG, here are a few hints to help avoid "beginner errors".  I hope these help.

* The neck should be no thicker than 1" total (3/4" + 1/4" fretboard),  A standard 1x2 board works fine for the neck base.  (A 1x2 actually measures 3/4" x 1.5")

* The neck is the most important part of a CBG.  If you're just making a 3-string guitar and two of those strings are trebles, poplar wood can work okay for the neck.  But I recommend using oak, hard maple or similar hardwood.  Although poplar is common for use on CBGs because it's easy to carve, drill and finish out... it can warp over time.  If you're using heavier strings or making a 4 string CBG, you'll definitely want hardwood.  If you're building a 6-string, you'll need a pre-built guitar neck or make your neck with a tension rod inside.

* If you want to make a basic CBG, try the design at the top of this page.  It is easier to build than a neck-through-the-box design but still sounds great

* If you decide to run a board inside the box.. make sure the bottom of the fretboard is level with the box top... and a full 1/4" above the surface of the CBG.  Otherwise you won't have room to install even a flat pickup.  Your aim is to have at least 3/8" string clearance above the box.  If you glue a 1x2 board to the underside of a cigar box lid and place the fretboard directly to that, it will be too low for proper string clearance.  There are many ways to bring the strings 3/8" above the surface of the box.  Again, neck  placement and level will be the most important design element on your guitar. 

* If you're installing a FlatCat, you can run the neck through the box, and then cut a hole in the top of the box the precise size of the FlatCat, so the pickup sits on the neck instead of the box top.  This is fairly easy to do:  draw an outline of the FlatCat on the box lid, then  use a Forster bit and hand file to perfect the edges of the hole.

* Make sure the tuning gears are facing the right direction. Otherwise the pull of the strings can pull the two gears apart and make tuning difficult.   The string peg should be toward the bridge, with the tuning key toward the top end of the neck.  That way when the strings pull on the peg it connects the gears rather than separating them. 

* If you use volume and tone controls, make sure the holes are drilled far enough away from one another.  Consider the size of the pots inside the box and the total size of the cord jack, and position the holes accordingly.  It is a common mistake to drill holes in the wrong place, so think carefully about parts placement prior to drilling.

I hope these tips help.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.  I enjoy helping people and advice is free.  : )

-- Best wishes from Wishbringer

 

 

 

 

--o--

 

 

Customer Photos Tags: customer photos

"Battle Axe" 4-string FlatCat-based guitar by Lucas Melton

CBG-model pickup. Customer appraisal:  "Excellent pickup. Sounds awesome!!!"   I take it he plays this guitar very carefully.  : )

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FlatCat on a "Gretch 1883" guitanjo by Lee M.

Notice the common-sense installation methods in the photo below.  The FlatCat wires were run through the guitanjo head and over to the control pots, which are installed in the upper top side of the instrument.  The outer drum tuners are grounded (good choice) as are the strings.  The wires running to the extended, through-body jack are wrapped around the central metal support to reduce RF/EM interference, significantly cutting potential hum and noise. 

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FlatCat on a Traveler Bass-- a guitar that has hardly any room to add a pickup.  Customer reports: "This pickup worked very nicely for me on my traveler bass. Solved the problem where the old piezo pickup was too quiet and wouldn't work with my Rocksmith guitar game. Looks nice as well!" - Greg

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On a 60s Gretch Clipper archtop.  Beautiful instrument, and the FlatCat fits in perfectly.

 

 

Customer Comment:  Worked out great. This is an original 60s Gretsch Clipper. The problem with all of these guitars is that the pickup is too high - leaving even the smallest amount of clearance between the top of the pickup and the strings makes the action too high to be easily playable. They were like this from the factory. Your pickup fixes a problem that's been there for sixty years. The guitar did not play this good the day it left the factory.  -- Matthew S.

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FlatCat Bass Assist on a Gibson by Phillip Krzankowski

Phillip used a CBG FlatCat to emphasize the lower three strings on his Gibson guitar by offsetting the smaller-than-normal pickup to one side.  He reports being very pleased with the results.

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FlatCat-based Shovel Git by Rockets Instruments

This dandy guitar uses a Molten Iron FlatCat and cranks out some amazing sound. 

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FlatCat on Jim Hillis CBG

The Molten Silver color goes well with the palm rest.  Beautiful job.  Cigar boxes can be difficult to come by in some areas; Jim uses a cake pan for the back of his guitars.

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Brooks Williams with his FlatCat-based resonator.  Brooks is a professional performer with decades of music history.  He upgraded his prized dobro to the FlatCat and has used it as well as a FlatCat-based CBG in numerous performances.

Here is a video from this fine performer, using a FlatCat-based CBG:

https://youtu.be/iSoIOyOOJBw   

Another on his resonator.  Suggest starting at 13 minutes:

https://youtu.be/fQzSzoR6ryw

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4-string CBG by Kevin.  - Old canning Ball Jar opener for the tailpiece (handy bottle opener at the end!), drawer handle for the bridge, walnut neck, skeleton Key nut.

 

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Nicolas Savaria Vintage Kalamazoo Archtop installation

 

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Shovel-based guitar by Ken C.

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John Sime's FlatCat-based Michale Messer Blues Resonator

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FlatCat Altoid Pickups on shovel guitars by Jeffrey

These antique collectors-item tins were supplied by the customer and turned into guitar pickups.  Customer review:  "This pickup is perfect for my slide shovel guitar, fit like a glove n extremely clear n loud, lowest setting on my Peavey Amp will wake the dead."

Shown:  Standard 3-string and bass 3-string

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Vintage 1960 National Guitar with FlatCat by Mike

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Mark T. Custom Electric composite photo.   This guitar body was made from poplar (a softer hardwood that is relatively easy to work but offers excellent resonance).  Customer reports superb sound with the FlatCat pickup.

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Digital "Breadboard" Project guitar by Shanedrix

 

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Dan T. Shovel Guitar "Flat Cat"

 

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Archtop bridge mount by G. Wosto

 

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Phil's Nanobass guitar:

 

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David Ferbrache's dual-pickup acoustic. Dave comments:

"Super cool. Fits perfect. Sounds great. Thanks again!"

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I'd like to thank these customers for taking the time to photograph their finished instruments so we could all see the results.  Fine looking work.  There's just nothing like personal creativity to enhance an instrument... or make something totally new!

--o--

 

 

History of FlatCat™ Pickups Tags: flatcat history pickups

THE HISTORY OF FLATCAT™ GUITAR PICKUPS

From the owner of Wishbringer Music

    Around the end of 2014 I became aware of flat pickups when I noticed a brand called Thinkbuckers.   Looking further I found another brand called FlatPup, another by the Lace company, another brand by National.  I was already building guitars by hand and was fascinated by the concept of flat pickups, but could find very little information on how they were built. Even the cigar box guitar communities seemed very secretive (at the time) as to the process.

    Research revealed that flat pickups were nothing new; they'd been around for decades.  Lace and National produce off-the-shelf models, but they are very pricey. 

    Gaining little or no cooperation from the community in understanding flat pickup design, I went to the Net and did some research.  Very little was found there. So I started experimenting by the seat of my pants, beginning with only a slight inkling of how these were made, based on non-specific photos.  Existing pickups were wax potted and wrapped in cellophane packing tape-- a process that didn't appeal to me. I wanted something sturdier and more resistant to environmental changes.

    Factory-made flat pickups were pricey, starting at $145 each.  I wanted to build a pickup that was especially sturdy and had a wide-range of sound ability, but at a price affordable to the everyday guitar player.

    I started developing an unusual design, significantly different than prior designs I had seen.  Not a quick process.  Hundreds of hours were involved in basic R&D. Dozens of trial pickups. Detailed records were kept on all attempts-- gleaning the best features from each and discarding failures.  Eventually, the FlatCat pickup was born.

 

    By mid-2015 the R&D sessions had accomplished several things:

    * Considerable improvement over existing design concepts both in construction and resulting sound.  Testers stated it sounded better and was more versatile than other pickups.

    * FlatCats are fully potted and encased in solid PolyResin, which makes them very sturdy and more immune to elements and the environment.

    * Because of their design I was able to create and offer the first low-cost 6-string flat pickup on the market, intended for use on standard electric guitars.  Where factory-produced pickups started at $145 and up, FlatCats are priced at $50 to $55.   FlatCats extended beyond the realm of cigar box guitars. 

    *  Flatcats were significantly more powerful than existing CBG-type flat pickups.  Despite that gain in power, FlatCats remained wonderfully rich in tone, without distortion.  They work well with pedals, including distortion and overdrive models.

    *  FlatCat was released in  Cigar Box Guitar and Humbucker footprints.  Both models are aboout 1/4" thick and designed to be mounted to the surface of a guitar.

    FlatCats were released to the market and over the next several months earned solid 5-star reviews.   They were purchased by professional luthiers, cigar box guitar builders and customers  modding their own off-the-shelf guitars.  Repeat purchases by existing customers proved their effectiveness.  

    FlatCats are often specified as the "pickup of choice" by people who order custom guitars from Wishbringer, with those guitars receiving top reviews as well.  

    Today the FlatCat is available in a variety of colors.   Their sturdy composition assures their continued function over decades-- the wonderfully unique sound available to you for your special guitar projects.

--o--

 

How to Play a Cigar Box Guitar Tags: how to play

Wishbringer music store:  http://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

HOW TO PLAY A CIGAR BOX GUITAR in ten minutes or less!

What first attracted me to cigar box guitars was how easy they are to play.  I have played 6-string classical/folk guitar for years, written dozens of songs, produced and marketed three CDs... yet the simplicity of this instrument fascinates me.  

I was browsing YouTube one day and came across this video:

(Go ahead and watch it.  It's only 4 minutes long.)

So the CBG is an instrument that just about anyone can play regardless of musical background.  This delighted me because we've all heard someone say "I wish I could play an instrument but never learned how."  Maybe you've said that yourself.  The CBG offers an introduction to music without years of practice... and encourages improvement of skills as you learn more songs. 

Cigar box guitars are a foot in the door that can bring years of playing enjoyment without requiring rigorous study.  They are truly the heart of folk music... but versatile enough to play any style from blues to jazz to rock n' roll.

 

 

 

 

VERSATILITY

Most of us have seen a dulcimer, a lap-instrument that is played using a wood peg and a pick.  I've always liked these instruments, but they use a diatonic scale (7 whole notes).  The CBG is chromatic (all musical notes) and can have from 1 to 6 strings (most have 3 or 4).  These are tuned so that a "chord" can be played by placing a finger across all strings at the same place (called "barring" the chord).  The instrument is so versatile that almost any song can be played using this method. 

 

NUMBERED FRETS

This method is so easy that CBG players often "write" their music using numbers rather than notes or chords.   No matter what your git is tuned to, you can play a song literally by the numbers.  On the neck we start with the nut as zero, followed by fret 1, 2, 3 and so on.  

This in mind, see if you can figure out what song this is by playing it on your CBG (answer at the bottom of this post)

** means pause, 0 means open string

9-9-7 ** 9-9-7 ** 9-9-7-5-3-3-3-3-3 * 0  

 

PICKING OUT YOUR SONGS

It is easy to pick out songs by ear.  Just sing the song and bar different frets until it sounds right, changing chords as the song seems to need a change.  It can seem tricky if you're just starting out, but gets easier as time goes along.  For those who suffer from being tone deaf, there's always guitar music---

 

"READING" GUITAR MUSIC

You can tell what chords are on the CBG by the fret number.  In the key of G (where the thickest string is a G note) these are:

O    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12

G    G# A   A#  B    C   C#   D   D#  E    F     F#    G

Most guitar music has chord signatures above the music.  These signatures will look something like this:

C     D     G7     Am    C    D    F    Em   C

All of these represent full chords that are played on a 6-string guitar.  

On a CBG however, because of the harmonic tuning you can drop the secondary signature (7, m) and just play the main chords:

C   D   G   A   C   D   F   E   C

It usually still sounds right.  So that simplifies things to start with.  

When you know where the chords are on the CBG (it doesn't take long to learn them; there are only 12), you can actually read and play standard guitar music books... without the months or years of practice necessary to learn standard guitar chord fingering.  Just place your finger across all the strings at the positions shown above, and there are your chords.  It's like a dulcimer on steroids!

MOVE IT UP A NOTCH

Now that you have the bascs, you can expand your tuning and playing skills with one little, fantastic trick:

Tune your guitar to D-A-F.  Alternate tunings are C-G-d# or G-D-Bb

Here is a really neat video that shows why this works.  It's well worth watching.  The link below starts playing at 2min 16sec to avoid the unnecessary stuff.  Note this video is in regard to 4-string tuning, but can be just as easily used for 3-string.  It is my personal favorite tuning and playing method.

https://youtu.be/i9_mVi_pS-c?t=136

 

THAT'S THE INTRODUCTION

There is of course a lot more you can learn about playing a CBG.  You can learn fingered chords and rifts and all sorts of things as you gain experience.  But to get started, to my knowledge there is no easier stringed instrument in the world.  Not only that... but cigar box guitars sound wonderful (especially when amplified), they are great conversation pieces, and they're just plain fun.

https://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

--o--

 

* The by-the-numbers song shown above is "Proud Mary" (Rollin' on the River).

 

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January 2022 (2)

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