Fan of Jimi Hendrix? Chances are you love his Stratocaster® tone! While, it is true Hendrix played other instruments – like a flying V – his go-to axe was clearly a Strat®. In his day, Hendrix went through a countless number of Stratocasters. Whether he burned them, smashed them or collected them, Hendrix had plenty of 1960s era Fender Strats.
42 AWG Plain Enamel Copper Wire
So what were the pickups like in these Strats? Back in the 1960 Fender used two types of copper wire, Heavy Formvar, and Plain Enamel. It is common knowledge that Fender started using Plain Enamel sometime about 1962-63. Exact dates are commonly debated and argued but the point is Fender changed copper wire in the early 1960s. The wire change did make a tone change in the guitars. The first difference is the growl that Plain Enamel has. It is known for its edge, bite and yes…growl!
Gray Fiber Bobbins
In addition to changing the copper wire, Fender also changed the color of the bobbin base from black to gray. This allowed the winders to see the darker Plain Enamel much easier, especially when tying off and soldering the leads. Aesthetically, the gray bobbins add a unique look and have often been a favorite among pickup enthusiasts.
Alnico V Magnets
Fender has experimented with lower strength magnets, like Alnico II and III in its single coils. However, since the mid-1950s, Fender has primarily used beveled Alnico V magnets in their Strat pickups. While many believe the bevel to add a unique pull to the strings and increase the dynamic response, some will tell you the story behind the bevel to be different. Some say that the smaller Alnico magnets would often get chipped and therefore they began to make the “chip” uniform by simply bevelling the magnet. True? Who knows. They look cool and sound even better!
The DC Resistance Output
While many pickup makers will claim they have that magic Hendrix pickup set to sell you, the fact of the matter is Hendrix used 3 off the shelf factory made pickups. True, Mr. Duncan did wind him a set. But, day in and day out Hendrix used plain jane Fender pickups. Back in the 1960s, Fender’s staff of winders would wind single coils to about 5.5-5.6k. (Exactly the output for the Planet Tone 1963/1965 Neck pickup) Sure, there were variances. Perhaps a winder got caught in conversation and it got a few more winds or maybe just a pinch of tension was added and the pickup ended up at 5.8k or so. These things happened. However, day in and day out…the target was right around the mid 5k mark….5.5-5.6k.
This would have been true for all three positions. And, it is true, there would have been no RW/RP in the middle position. Lower outputs create amazing clarity and allows for a stack of Marshall amps to just sing beautifully without any mud.
Lefty / Reverse Stagger
Hendrix turned right-handed guitars upside down and then restrung them for a left-handed player. However, the magnet stagger remained opposite. In other words, the height of the low E now was the height for the high E. A completely different response than traditional stagger patterns. Want Hendrix tone on a right-handed guitar? Buy a left-handed 1960s set from Planet Tone.
Ultimate Hendrix Set
So a simple, fairly accurate Hendrix set would be (3) three 1963/1965 Classic neck pickups. Not only does this pickup nail the output but it uses the same gray fiber bobbin, same Plain Enamel wire and same Alnico V beveled magnets with vintage cloth leads.
Want to order a set?
You can order from Planet Tone here. A handmade set is about $100.
Photo of Jimi Hendrix copyright BBC.