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Author Topic:  Pickup/Tone Advice/Opinion
Kenneth Mennen


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 5:13 pm    
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Hi all. I have a problem, and I’m hoping for some advice. My first guitar, 3 years ago this October, was a Fender 800, which was an “I always wanted to try PSG” impulse buy off of Craigslist. I absolutely loved the tone of that guitar. Rich, warm, single coil Fender-y, played through my Divided by 13 CJ11 amp (think boutique Fender Deluxe clone) - perfect… but, it wasn’t a modern steel, with no knee levers, etc.. I had no idea about this when I bought it, and instead learned from reading on the forum. Fast forward a year, I had sold my Fender and ordered a brand new Williams. I’m in my 50s and could afford it, and I didn’t want o deal with the hassle of inheriting someone else’s problems. However, when I got it, I really did not like the tone. No matter what I did, it wasn’t close to the Fender. So, like many of my regular guitars, I tried some different pickups. I replaced the BL705 pickup with first a Wallace True Tone, and then a George L E-66. Better/different, but, not good enough. I then reasoned that since my new guitar didn’t have a tone circuit like the Fender did, that loading/shaping the tone was due to something missing downstream. So, I tried a passive Goodrich volume pedal, then a Sarno Free Loader, and finally a Sarno Black Box (OMG, what great products Sarno makes!) and the tone got much better. But… still not good enough. I now have other amps for comparing - a NV112 and a Milkman half and Half, and the tone is still just ~OK. If I had to describe what I don’t like about it, I’d say it always sounds “cardboard-boxy”, like there’s something missing that EQ’ing alone can’t fix/restore. So, can anybody suggest anything else? Could it be the guitar itself? (all-pull? Mechanicals? Physics?) I’m getting good enough to record now, so it really stands out to me now - that and a 3rd string zing I can’t seem to solve (that’s for another post!). Thanks for taking the time to read this!!!

Ken
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Williams SD10, Milkman Half and Half, Peavey NV112, Divided by 13 CJ11, Fender Pro Reverb, Strymon Iridium, Sarno Black Box, Goodrich Volume Pedal, Umpteen Guitars and Effects, Eastman Mandolin
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Tucker Jackson

 

From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 5:30 pm    
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Without hearing your rig it's hard to assist over the internet.

Having said that, few modern guitars sound like a Fender. It's a pretty different animal.

Do you ever experiment with moving your picking-hand position further to the left? This will give you a rouder tone. As will using a heavier bar. As will using old-style cheaper instrument cables versus George L. or other high-capacitance cables. A little bleeding off of highs can be a good thing on some rigs. But then, maybe 'boxy' means you have enough midrange and need more sparkle?

On that Sarno Black Box, don't be afraid to turn that dial to the left to tame some of that 3rd-string rasp you mentioned. Works for me!


Last edited by Tucker Jackson on 27 Jul 2020 5:38 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Paul Sutherland

 

From:
Placerville, California
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 5:35 pm    
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You need to play some other steels. Also, have a good picker play your steel as you sit back and listen. Do you like the tone he or she is getting on your guitar?

It could be that your ears have gotten more refined in what they want to hear, and your hands have not caught up yet to your ears. So that's a technique issue.

Or it could be the Williams is just not the right guitar for you.
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Gene Tani

 

From:
The Pacific NW,
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 5:42 pm    
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First, a couple listening tests:

plug in from volume pedal to audio interface or mixer and listen on good headphones, no other effects/processors except VP. That's what it really sounds like and it should be pleasing (you can do this w/o VP also).

You can also have somebody else play your rig and you stand back from the amp and listen.

If you want to throw more gear at it try borrowing a channel strip which is preamp, EQ and compressor/limiter in 1 or if you're going to get a cheap one, dbx 376 or presonus studio channel. But throwing more gear at it is really not the answer except i bet the limiter will improve 3rd string.
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- Rukavina and Sonny Jenkins laps, Carter
- The secret sauce: polyester sweatpants to buff your picks, cheapo Presonus channel strip for preamp/EQ/compress/limiter, Diet Mountain Dew
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Scott Swartz


From:
St. Louis, MO
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 6:05 pm    
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I have both a Fender 400 and a couple Williams, and they will never sound exactly the same, the Williams is the thicker sounding maple body modern steel sound with tons of sustain, and the Fender is completely different in wood, changer design, scale length, etc. And the pickup matters as well as you have experimented with, the Fender is a lower inductance about 5 Henries compared to the 10 - 15 Henries of the modern pickups you listed. Not trying to be a cheesy salesman, but I am manufacturing a pickup that I think is closer to what you are looking for, you can hear it in action here:

https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=359960

It will give you more of the snappy response and extended highs you get from Fender steels, but once again it will not make your Williams sound like a Fender.
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Scott Swartz
Steeltronics - Steel Guitar Pickups
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Kenneth Mennen


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 6:16 pm    
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Thanks already for the quick responses!

@Tucker: A different animal indeed - maybe then not possible to achieve what I had before? Also, I have not tried a heavier bar but it's something I've wanted to so maybe it's time. My RH position has been all over the place - especially now since I'm doing Jeff Newmans right hand alpha. The zing - for recording I'll try Black Boxing it down.

@Paul: I did have a pro player play my guitar and it was ~OK for him too through his rig. With that said, his MSA also didn't seem to have what I had/am looking for either. Maybe a clue I'm unrealistic? As for my ears, it could be I know more now - but if you saw my reaction immediately after having the Fender one week, and the Williams the next, it'd be obvious.

@Gene: You bought my True Tone and I hope it's working for you! Plugging straight in is something I can try. Thanks. I can look into the channel strip, which is something new to me. Zing, on any of my guitars drives me nuts, so that alone may make it worth it!
_________________
Williams SD10, Milkman Half and Half, Peavey NV112, Divided by 13 CJ11, Fender Pro Reverb, Strymon Iridium, Sarno Black Box, Goodrich Volume Pedal, Umpteen Guitars and Effects, Eastman Mandolin
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Gene Tani

 

From:
The Pacific NW,
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 6:38 pm    
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Oh yeah, i remember gteting the box from Wisconsin, unfortunately I can't remember where i put the p/u. But i love Truetones, unfortunately they're unobtainable now unless Scott Swartz comes up with something similar.

Obvious question: Did you talk to Bill Rudolph?
_________________
- Rukavina and Sonny Jenkins laps, Carter
- The secret sauce: polyester sweatpants to buff your picks, cheapo Presonus channel strip for preamp/EQ/compress/limiter, Diet Mountain Dew
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Kenneth Mennen


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 6:40 pm    
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Scott, that looks very interesting. ALL of my regular guitars, except one, have single coils, because I prefer the tone. You mention that your pickup is less noisy than a typical single coil? The True Tone I had would swell-in some 60Hz hum, so when I tried the next pickup I went back to a hum-bucker. I also like the adjustable pole pieces, which none of pickups I tried had.
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Williams SD10, Milkman Half and Half, Peavey NV112, Divided by 13 CJ11, Fender Pro Reverb, Strymon Iridium, Sarno Black Box, Goodrich Volume Pedal, Umpteen Guitars and Effects, Eastman Mandolin
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Scott Swartz


From:
St. Louis, MO
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 8:16 pm    
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Yes the two rows of magnets design has much less 60 hz hum than typical steel guitar single coils, this was well known regarding ZB pickups and my redesign keeps this advantage.
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Scott Swartz
Steeltronics - Steel Guitar Pickups
www.steeltronics.com
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Paul Sutherland

 

From:
Placerville, California
Post  Posted 27 Jul 2020 10:09 pm    
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What top pro player gets the tone you like?
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Tucker Jackson

 

From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 28 Jul 2020 9:23 am    
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You can ignore my prior comments. I think I now understand more what you're going for, and my suggestions were pushing you the wrong direction (other than the Black Box suggestion. Yes, turn that knob a little).

Paul asks a great question. It's hard to talk about tone without examples.

Reading Scott's comments about how hot the pickup is wound... yes, that's a big part of the Fender sound. Those old guitars' pickups were really different.

So, if you put a modern pickup in your Williams like an E-66, maybe try lowering it as far as you can in the cavity. That will emulate a 'weaker' 50's pickup a little. On your amp, try to scoop out some midrange (especially lower-mids that might be muddying the sound).

Really, I think you should just get a Fender and trick it out with 4 knee levers if it doesn't have them. A Williams is a killer guitar (someday, I'll own one). But it is designed to get a modern warm, full tone... while it seems that you are wanting the opposite, more of a classic late-50's, early-60's tone that's a whispier, more angelic sound.
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Leo Grassl

 

From:
Nashville TN
Post  Posted 28 Jul 2020 9:59 am    
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Kenneth,

It sounds to me like you suffer from a discerning ear for sound. A wonderful thing IMO but a blessing and a curse. Tone is subjective duh... You have done enough to see if the tone of that particular guitar is right for you. Your description of what you are not getting from your Williams sounds like a problem that cannot be fixed because you simply don't like it and cant get passed it. You cannot EQ out certain characteristics of some guitars, low range and mid range frequencies in particular. You have tried all the important things. Pickups #1, amps, volume pedals. I agree with what another member said. It's time to try some other guitars.

Another thing to remember is that no two steels will
sound the same. Even from the same make and model there will be subtle or not so subtle differences in sound. On top of that someone else's opinion on sound should only be taken so far. If you don't like the sound of it and cant get the tone you want after making your best attempts to change it, ditch it. Leave it!
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Kenneth Mennen


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 28 Jul 2020 10:13 am    
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Thanks again for more input!

A pro-player who's sound I like, and one of my favorite players in general is Don Pawlak. I know he's a Sho-Bud guy all the way. Not sure his guitar is exactly what I had with my Fender though. The gist of my question is really a before/after thing, where I'm trying understand why the Fender sounded so good, and if I have any other dials to turn on my Williams to replicate it. I should be careful not to imply that my Williams sounds bad - it doesn't (especiall now with my Black Box). It just isn't as good as something I had right away with the Fender, and I'm trying to understand why. So ideas already to try are plugging straight in to an interface, play through others' rigs, a channel strip, a pickup with a lower impedance, lowering my pickup, and some more scoop on my amp. Not a bad list! Also, I got some ideas confirming what I was suspecting, which is, maybe I'm comparing apples to oranges? Thanks!! Any more would be appreciated as well!
_________________
Williams SD10, Milkman Half and Half, Peavey NV112, Divided by 13 CJ11, Fender Pro Reverb, Strymon Iridium, Sarno Black Box, Goodrich Volume Pedal, Umpteen Guitars and Effects, Eastman Mandolin
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Kenneth Mennen


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 28 Jul 2020 10:50 am    
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Sorry Leo, I last responded before seeing your post. For sure you make a good point - I think I really do need to try some other guitars - to put things in the context of more than one other guitar. Maybe a weekend getaway to Nashville is in order? I would be very interested in comparing a push-pull Emmons, or a really nice Sho-Bud. Also, I liked your point about the low s and mids, where it might be those frequencies that keep the Fender in such high regard. I do have some time with this COVID thing keeping me grounded, and a few more tweaks try from the suggestions here so we'll see where that takes me in the mean time. Thanks!
_________________
Williams SD10, Milkman Half and Half, Peavey NV112, Divided by 13 CJ11, Fender Pro Reverb, Strymon Iridium, Sarno Black Box, Goodrich Volume Pedal, Umpteen Guitars and Effects, Eastman Mandolin
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post  Posted 28 Jul 2020 10:50 am    
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Quote:
I replaced the BL705 pickup with first a Wallace True Tone, and then a George L E-66.

I totally agree that there are some aspects of a guitar's signature timbre that you can't completely nullify using different pickups, effects, amps, cables, or whatever. However, depending on how that Wallace True Tone was wound, I don't think you've remotely covered the gamut of potential tonal changes possible to get you in the ballpark of an old Fender pedal steel sound. I have an old Fender 800, and those pickups are wound completely differently than any modern pedal steel pickup. I personally like BL705 pickups, and more typically wound (around 17.5K Ohm) True Tone or other Emmons-style pickups for a more modern sound, but none of these have ever gotten me anywhere near an old Fender pedal steel sound.

Take a look at these old threads where Bob Carlucci and others discuss pickups to get in the ballpark of an old Fender 800 sound on his Carter. Note that some of the soundcloud clips are still up, including one that compares an old Fender 800 back-to-back with a Carter with a split-coil True Tone with the full wind at 12K and the split-coil wound at 9K Ohms.

https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=230379

https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=216683

https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=104849

https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=216639

BTW, I got my Fender 800 from Bob. He knows and loves Fenders, and I always thought he figured out pretty well how to extract that type of sound out of other guitars. I'm sure there are other threads on this, but these ought to give you a pretty good idea how to start if you wanna go in that direction.

Saw Don Pawlak with Dale Watson in Nashville last year - his was a great 70s Sho Bud sound, not really Fender-ish. But great. You'll see in my reply on one of those threads from years ago about the coil-tapped pickup in my circa '73 Sho Bud. The coil-tapped setting got me in the general range of an old Fender sound, wound around 10.8K Ohms. Perhaps not as sparkly, but much closer than any modern pickup I've used in any guitar.
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Kenneth Mennen


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 28 Jul 2020 4:06 pm    
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Thanks Dave - This looks like a very interesting collection of related information. Sort of makes me feel like I should have done some homework before creating my post! Smile I will take some time tonight to digest it...
_________________
Williams SD10, Milkman Half and Half, Peavey NV112, Divided by 13 CJ11, Fender Pro Reverb, Strymon Iridium, Sarno Black Box, Goodrich Volume Pedal, Umpteen Guitars and Effects, Eastman Mandolin
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