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Leo's bizarre inverted product cycle (MHO)

5/2/2005 12:24 AM
Andrew C
Leo's bizarre inverted product cycle (MHO)
I am away from my winder for a couple of weeks, and its given me some time to think about things. Here's one:  
As far as my knowledge of Fender pickup history goes, the humble strat used 0.197/5mm Alnico III poles for a couple months after its inception, then switched to 0.197/5mm Alnico V poles, and then finally settled on the smaller diameter 0.187/4.8mm poles.  
Stagger and tolerance aside, what was Leo's logic? My personal favourite pickups actually use the original Alnico III specs - they sound awesome - chimy, quacky and with plenty of juice for a blues player like me. If I had one complaint it would be the bass strings on the bridge don't have quite enough grunt, but swapping in Alnico V for those positions solves that.  
What was it Leo was unhappy about?  
Following this bizarre change, he then reduced the polepiece diameter. I believe that many of the highest rated aftermarket pups in history - Fralins and Suhrs, both utilise the larger vintage polepiece diameter. In my experience the sound is richer and fatter - but you do have to be very careful with gauss values and pickup height. Further, they really don't sit well with cheaper guitars that don't have the same resonance to smooth out some of the treble bite. Swamp ash, if you can afford it, suits these pups really well.  
At the end of the day he was left with the relatively uninspired choice of the 4.8mm alnico V flat pole pickup. The pickup that just says "standard, boring strat tone available here!".  
Any thoughts?  
Andrew C.  
PS Hijacking of this thread will result in precision bombing of your outhouse.
5/2/2005 1:10 AM
Dave Stephens
I wouldn't say Fralins are among the highest rated pickups, I personally thought the five I bought all sounded sterile and boring, for what its worth, and there's many Harmony Central reviews that say the same thing. OK, I'll shut up.........  
What you are forgetting is that Leo had working musicians testing his product every day out in the field. There's a great story George Fullerton tells of the first tele prototype they took to a bar to see if they could convince someone to play, so some young kid came up and asked to play the thing. He played for over an hour and a huge crowd gathered around was Jimmy Bryant! Would have loved to been a fly on the wall back then!!!  
Also don't forget that all you could buy for strings in those days was stuff like Black Diamon strings, twelve gauge if I remember right. So I'm thinking that the musicians didn't like those pickups or he wouldn't have changed them so rapidly. And what were they using for amps too....very early Fender stuff that was already fat sounding, maybe the musicians asked for more twang?  
The fatter magnets to me seem to be somewhat of an acquired taste. I have one set like that and no one hasn't not liked them but to me their fatness takes some getting used to. I am finding I like them quite alot but I also like the skinny magnet sets too. They all have their place and their fans, so what Leo did and present modern day tastes all boil down to the individual's judgement call.
5/2/2005 1:30 AM
Steve A.

Andrew said:  
My personal favourite pickups actually use the original Alnico III specs - they sound awesome - chimy, quacky and with plenty of juice for a blues player like me.  
    I love the sound of Alnico 3 in my 51 Butterscotch Blonde RI. In researching Alnico 3, "Taking Care of Business" by BTO is mentioned as having the stereotypical sound, but I think it goes much deeper than that.  
    So why did Fender switch from Alnico 3 to Alnico 5? Maybe the magnet suppliers were phasing out production of Alnico 3 and encouraged use of Alnico 5? I wonder if there were problems with Alnico 3 losing magnetic strength back then, and it was thought that Alnico 5 would retain its magnetism better.  
    Here's another thought: Fender was closely associated with C&W music in the 50's (being based in Fullerton) so maybe the country pickers preferred the sound of Alnico 5 to Alnico 3 or Alnico 2. Gibson was making their guitars in Kalamazoo, and probably aiming more at the blues and jazz players...  
Steve Ahola
5/2/2005 1:51 AM
Andrew C

The idea of "phasing out" alnico three, it like the same as a diner phasing out "sunny side up" eggs on the breakfast menu. Both III and V both use very similar base materials that are put into a large crucible - which each crucible being one batch. There is no magnet supplier in the world that cannot make all the alnico's, provided they have enough order to open a new batch. The supplier I use requires an order of about 5,000 strat rods to open a new batch.  
The difference are just in the recipe.  
Did you retain the wiring in your 51? I help a guy convert to regular tele wiring a couple of weeks ago, he found the 51 wiring not very user friendly. Amazingly the bridge (although sounding great - maybe hand-winding would have added something more) had a flared top flatwork! A real banana. Amazing what fender pass off on a three thousand dollar guitar. Sorry, don't want to hijack my own thread.  
Andrew C.
5/2/2005 1:55 AM
Greg Simon

Your outhouse just got bombed!  
I'd chime in but I'm not really sure if I have anything useful to add to this one.  
5/2/2005 10:04 PM
Steve A.

Andrew C. asked (hijackingly, while watching his outhouse explode in flames):  
Did you retain the wiring in your 51? I help a guy convert to regular tele wiring a couple of weeks ago, he found the 51 wiring not very user friendly.  
    To Fender's credit the $1749 MSRP 51RI included parts and instructions for wiring up the selector switch either way, and included both a vintage 3 barrel bridge and a modern 6 barrel one.  
    Of course when I wired up the selector switch I flipped the control plate around so that the switch is at the back... less likely to hit it by accident. I wonder why more people don't do that... :o (BTW I went with the Custom Shop 4 way switch.)  
    I was very happy with the way the guitar was built, after having bought 3 different MIM teles, none of which were truly outstanding. :(  
Steve Ahola
5/2/2005 3:20 AM

I use flat poles a lot. This is mainly because I get most of my rod magnets from SK. I've had one customer phone and complain that his early sixties Tele had quite a small radius on the neck and he thought that the pickup I supplied would have some serious flatspots. It turned out that he had only played the guitar quietly in the house. I asked him to try it live before making his final assessment. The results were better than I could have hoped for and he's a happy repeat customer.  
I can't really tell a difference between the pole piece sizes on the weaker magnets ( sounds that is ) and certainly don't have any problem getting bottom end grunt.
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