I am excited to tell everyone that Station Guitars is now working with Porter Pickups to give you another option when searching for your tone. I wanted to give everyone an idea of the thoughts and motivation behind Porter pickups and why they are such a great fit with Station Guitars. With that in mind, Brian was kind enough to take a break from the soldering fumes and wax potting to answer some questions about his philosophy and techniques as they relate to pickups and tone in general.
What inspired you to build pickups? What did you feel was lacking in the marketplace?
I initially started out making my own guitars, and wanted to control all aspects of the build. There were a lot of pickups to choose from, but I wanted to be able to achieve the look and the sound to match what I was building guitar wise. I thought it would be a cost saving thing to make my own pickups, but I quickly figured out that getting the right wind and spending all the money on copper wire and parts was not very cost saving!
At Station Guitars, our slogan is “fuel for tone”. We help players find their signature tone. How does Porter Pickups fit into that idea?
I love the slogan! I’ve always been drawn to find certain guitar tones ever since I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan. I wanted to know how he made his guitar sound like that. I think we fit in with the slogan because each of our pickup models can be customized to match what the customer is after tonally. We can match pickups to styles, eras, wood types and more. Certain pickups, wire types, magnets etc, all work together to make a custom pickup, that is built just for the player they are going to. Since the pickups are the thing that translates the string vibration, custom wound pickups can make a huge difference in what comes out the rest of the gear line.
Tell me a little about the build philosophy at Porter Pickups.
I plan on always keeping things hand wound. I think there is some big tonal advantages to hand wound pickups. I make them that way because I can control the tension, winding pattern and I want to build them the way they used to be built. I do stock several go to winds in pickups models, but also enjoy doing custom winds after talking tone with customers.
Not asking you to share “top secret” info but what is more important to the end result sound of a Porter Pickup, the materials you use or the manufacturing methods?
It’s a combination of every part of the process. If I know what the customer is after tonally, the materials and the hand wound process can come together to make a truly custom pickup.
How many pickups do you produce per year?
It varies from month to month. Some months we will be building pickups late into the night, and others are slower. At the end of this year, we will probably average 15-25 sets a month, and in addition we get several rewind and repairs to do every month.
You offer Strat style sets in 50’s and 60’s. What is the primary difference between the two?
The huge difference is wire types. Both pickups have the wire that is spec to the era of the pickups. The 50’s wire has a heavier coating on it, so you get a little more space between the winds. The 60’s wire has a very thin coating on it, and is the same spec wire used in PAF and most vintage 60’s fender pickups. The same number of turns… with one wire type can equal a totally different output, and a totally different tonal character.
We selected Billy Penn because of his love for telecasters. We wanted someone who uses a tele as their main guitar to review our telecaster pickups. Billy knows his stuff and gives great detailed reviews of different products. We wanted something more than “These are awesome!” He provided great detail about the pickups as well as a good video review. As far as the YouTube stuff, it’s hard to get a true assessment of what things sound like, but it’s a good general gauge of what things are like. So many factors go into capturing sound on a video clip, not to mention what people are listening to it on.
We plan on releasing some different “custom series” pickups pretty soon. The thing I like about the custom series stuff is that the customer gets even more choices for their pickups and we have some unique things coming up starting with a unique strat and tele set. We also plan on releasing some bass pickups soon, as well.
Tele, Strat, Humbuckers, or p-90s? Which is your personal favorite?
I’ve always been a fan of the strat pickups myself. I’m really enjoying the Anthem PAF humbuckers a lot as well. The nice thing about releasing so many models is that I need to find a guitar to put them in for testing!
When it comes to output, is the current trend in pickups moving to higher or lower output pups?
Output can be an interesting thing. Certain lower wind pickups can do things higher winds can’t and wise versa. A lower output pickup can be wound tighter with a certain magnet and achieve some of the same tonal characteristics as a overwound one.
What other trends do you see in terms of guitar/bass electronics?
There seems to be more digital/modeling stuff out there than ever before, but at the same time there’s still tons of vintage and classic designed stuff being made. There’s so much information out there on changing out pickups and re-wiring guitars. With more and more cheap overseas guitars being made the internals of the guitars are usually low quality and lacking in tone of any kind.
Two words: Passive or Active?
Passive all the way. We don’t have any current plans for doing anything active. I think you can get plenty of good tones from passive stuff, just by tweaking the recipe.
Of course everyone can buy Porter Pickups from StationGuitars.com but if they want something truly custom in terms of winds, colors, output etc?
Our goal is to offer guitarists the look and sound they are after. We’re getting into some cool powder-coating of pickup covers and some other unique things to make the pickups stand out.
Many guitarists simply can’t afford a true vintage or high-end guitar these days. What would you tell someone who wants to upgrade their tone on a budget?
A good playing guitar can be made great with new electronics and pickups. New pots, caps, wire, and pickups make a HUGE difference in what comes out of the guitar. We have partscasters as demo guitars at shows for this reason. They aren’t supposed to sound good, and when they do, people want to know why. You can buy a good $300 guitar and put another $200 into it and have a guitar that sounds like a $1,000+ guitar for half the price.