Picking Up Where We Left Off

You have probably guessed by now that I love old catalogue guitars. Manufacturers such as Danelectro, Harmony, Kay, Teisco Del Rey and Valco, to name but a few, built some pretty cool and iconic instruments back in the day. What made those guitars special were the pickups. Danelectro had the lipstick-tube. Kay had the “Zippo”, “Blade” and “Speed Bump”. Harmony fitted the DeArmond “Hershey Bar” and Gold Foil. Teisco Del Rey had their version of the Gold Foil and Valco manufactured the legendary “Brontosaurus”. Not only did these pickups look great, they had tone by the truckload. These old school pickups are considered by many enthusiasts to be among the finest guitar pickups ever designed and produced, and are revered and collected around the world. They reflect the era of discovery when the electric guitar was new and experimental. I knew that if I wanted to design and create modern day reflections of those pioneering pickups it would require support from the best builders within the industry.

The first pickup guru I approached was legendary Seattle builder, Jason Lollar. I asked him if he would like to build a blade-style single coil pickup for a Jimmy Reed influenced guitar I was designing for British Blues great, Ian Siegal? I was greatly honoured when Jason agreed to work with us and “The Big Boss Man”, as we have named the pickup, surpassed both our expectations. The pickup is powerful, the tone seductive and, when fitted, aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Its polished nickel-plated blade has been designed to protrude up through a slot in a conventional pickguard or body top. The photograph shows “The Big Boss Man” centrally mounted and wired directly to the concentric volume/tone pot. When I gave the prototype guitar to Ian, he immediately took her out on tour with his band. The BBC recorded one of their concerts, which was later aired on the Paul Jones Show. There is a photograph of the concert with Ian playing the guitar on Paul’s BBC Radio 2 homepage. If you are going to have your guitars recorded, there is nobody better than the BBC! “The Skinny”, as we have named the guitar after Ian’s album of the same name, has been subsequently modified and aesthetically improved. “The Big Boss Man” pickup is an integral component and bespoke to The Raw Guitar Co.

Ian Siegal, “The Skinny” And “The Big Boss Man” Single Coil Blade Pickup

The second pickup guru I approached was Bob G. Harrison. I was looking to find a builder who was “in tune” with my way of working and thinking. Bob fitted the bill perfectly. He was born and raised in Texas and has been making pickups for over forty years and one of the greatest accolades bestowed on him by his peers was the title; “Father of the art pickup”. Working from his workshop in San Diego, he specialises in making 1930s era pickups that look and have the sound of the Mississippi Delta Blues. They are hand-wound, finely crafted works of art, and are the perfect complement for anyone looking to play authentic fingerstyle and bottleneck Blues. One of Bob’s greatest attributes is his desire to work with other designers and explore new ideas. This can be noted on our first collaboration, the “Stegosaurus”, our contemporary “P-90” interpretation of the Valco “Brontosaurus” single coil.

When I started out on my journey of discovery and enlightenment, I fell in love with a guitar called “The Ozark” an instrument manufactured by Valco in the early 1950s. She had a powerful black vinyl-covered “PAF” styled single coil neck pickup that was often referred to as the “Brontosaurus”. There was something magical about this guitar and pickup, while discussing it with Bob, the penny dropped. “Why don’t we re-create the “Brontosaurus” but reverse the colour combination using a P-90 style mount?” What Bob created was the “Stegosaurus” prototype single coil. Our modern interpretations were built using Alnico V 5mm diameter rod magnets, Bakelite bobbins and scatterwound in 42 AWG copper plain-enamel wire for increased clarity and tone. In order to road-test the “Stegosaurus”, we fitted two of them onto one of our prototype guitars, “The Prowler”. This instrument has made a big impact since she was unveiled and caught the eye of legendary Texan guitar hero, Jimmie Vaughan, who proclaimed “The Prowler” to be “very cool”.

Having enjoyed working together on the design of the “Stegosaurus”, Bob accepted my invitation and joined The Raw Guitar Co. as Head of Pickup Development and Fountain of Knowledge! We are on a roll and focused. Our brief is simple: to develop a series of retro-vintage pickups that look and sound great on any guitar, including Mainstream. After a period of reflection, we began with a modern interpretation of the Teisco Del Rey Gold Foil. I shall post further details regarding “The Vigilante”, as we have named the prototype, in my next post. As always, thank you for your time and support. SR