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Handwound/Machine wound

5/11/2005 3:55 AM
Deviant Handwound/Machine wound
i've been reading some things about Hand-wound and Machine-wound pickups. A question has arisen.  
What is the difference and what makes a pickup hand wound as opposed to machine wound? i.e Machine wound is, obviously, a pickup wound with no human intervention, but what makes it hand wound? it could be argued that if you used a motor to run a winder, and hand fed the wire it could still be seen as machine wound.  
Is this the general consensus?  
Thanks in advance, and please dont hurt me for my somewhat nieve question.  
5/11/2005 4:06 AM
Dave Stephens
OK guys lets lets hurt this guy BAD :-)  
Machine wound pickups are wound on a computer controlled CNC machine and generally they are designed to lay down each wind of wire right next to the preivous wind. This makes for efficient use of wire and repeatability for mass production. Unfortunately it can result in pickups that just don't inspire you to play your guitar.  
Hand wound pickups, or more properly described, HAND GUIDED WIRE pickups have windings that are completely random because a human can't wind a perfect coil.  
OK, there is a third class of pickups in my opinion. machine wound pickups wound by crude methods. Jason Lollar's book shows you how to build a pickup winder that uses a cam to guide the wire back and forth . Alot of older widing machines use cams and gears so they don't wind perfect coils either, but the more repetitive the winding is the more lackluster the pickus me anyway. My pickups I wound using the Lollar cam didn't sound that great to me until I threw the cam away and used hand guiding, I did notice I was getting what I wanted to hear when I did that. There are some old pickups like some fender strat pickups that were machine wound in the 70s but if you have ever seen one of these coils they are really sloppy and crude and they sound good. So a machine CAN wind a good pickup, and some really expensive computer winders have a "randomize" function button you can play with, but I kinda side with the Leo Fender opinion that the best sounding pickups are wound by hand. Even when he formed G&L they still hand wind their better pickups, they really believe in the touch of the human hand in pursuit of tone.....Dave
5/11/2005 10:11 AM
Mark Hammer
Think of it like sewing machines. The sewing machine makes the needle go up and down, and feeds it thread, via a motorized system. The user steps on a treadle to actuate the motorized system, BUT the guiding of the material and placement of stitches is ditated by the sewer's hand movements. In this sense, it is still "hand sewn" even though the sewer didn't sit down with a thimble, spool of thread, and 4 weeks of idle time to piss away.  
The machine can certainly speed up production time, and if there is anything tonally distinctive stemming from the more specifiable coil parameters (i.e., THIS many turns of THIS gauge), then the machine can assure some consistency across production runs. And certainly, whether one is talking about consistent-across-50,000 or one-off pickups, loose turns that generate microphonics are generally undesirable, so mechanical systems that maintain good wire tension are preferred.  
As Dave wisely (and to my mind, correctly) notes, though, unique tonal properties, with lots of interestign resonances and nuance can come from the way the wire is distributed on the coil. To the extent that machine control-algorithms can mimic that, they should, in theory, be able to replicate "hand wound tone". On the other hand, "pickup personality" can often come from variations that are very hard to describe and replicate.  
Certainly there is nothing in wire and magnets that comes close to what happens with wood, simply because the wood is organic material and the wire and magnets are fabricated. The wood has inherent properties that need to be understood and optimally used or expoited. A master luthier can look at a piece of wood and guesstimate that the tone might be thus if the wood was cut at this point or joined along that edge, etc. In other words, in contrast to a highly mechanized system where the wood is approached in a fundamentally "blind" way, and just cut, prepared, and joined following the same prescription, "hand-built" instruments where the luthier is conscious of the properties of the building materials themselves, can result in a better-built and perfectly (or at least interestingly) tuned instrument. In the case of wire and magnets, though, there is nothing really for the hand-winder to be conscious of. The first 1000 turns are made up of the same stuff that the next 1000 turns are, and its not like the winder works with the materials the same way one "sees" a scuplture shape in a piece of driftwood. I doubt whether even Abigail Ybarra thinks to herself that THIS stretch of wire coming up really needs to be moved around to the top of the coil if its going to sound decent. She moves her hand around in a way that keeps decent coil tension, results in a coil that isn't lopsided, and avoids cramping up. The machine contributes its part, and her hands contribute their part. What comes out of that sounds interesting to our ears, and that's pretty much all that matters. The same way that a master couturier has machines to assure the thread is placed onsistently but relies on good judgment to make good use of that consistently-placed thread.
5/11/2005 2:51 PM
Machinewound got no soul
5/11/2005 3:43 PM
Rudy Fanucan
Quite a few souls out there will argue that machine wound and hand wound sound exactly the same or that machine wound are better. Check out Bill Lawrence's website for that little gem. Saying that, he doesn't want to go back to hand winding now does he?  
There are people out there who talk about hand winding as if there's an element of wizardry about it. Some of the threads on this forum seem to be written by people who are legends ( in their own minds mostly ) but the general public do seem to buy all these myths and legends.  
Personally, I find most handwound pickups made with quality materials to be breath-taking. Machinewound seem sterile and clinical to me so let the mythology continue even though it's mostly bollocks!
5/16/2005 2:45 PM
ok your against the cnc / micro controlled machines BUT with the tech thats out there it wouldn't be hard to add sensors to allow you to lay your patterns by hand really a simple thing so if you "record" your motion and find that special pattern for the sound you just can't live without wouldn't you be happy ??? or would you rather just try to remember what and how you did it ... never to get that special move again .. face it computers are a PITA but they can be very very handy and helpful... just my opinion but like a$$holes everyone has one doesn't really make one better then the other
5/11/2005 3:53 PM
Dr. Strangelove

It's about the man, not the machine.  
Is a luthier's product any less desirable because he uses a bandsaw and router instead of a handsaw?  
If you blindly set up a CNC winder for pickups, you'll get a very consistent result but it won't sound very inspiring.  
If you use your handwinding skills to inform your CNC winding, you'll get a good-sounding pickup and good consistency.  
John Suhr's V60 pickups are wound on a Tanac, but until he'd refined the pickup to his satisfaction, his guitars usually had customized Virtual Vintages with beveled and staggered poles.  
A few years back, Suhr stated that there were something like 15 different patterns used in alternation on the V60. Now, people don't want to hear about machine winds, no matter how good they are, so Suhr's only mention is the weasel phrase "hand wound pattern".  

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