Winding wire material for Duncan SPB3 (and clashing Enamel/Formvar info from other manufacturers)

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by EmaTheMirror, Feb 6, 2021.

  1. (TL;DR: read the bold)

    It's quite known from pictures (and stated in its description too) that the "vintage" SPB1 is wired with dark purple-looking plain enamel wire, which Duncan state as period correct. I have one too and can confirm it's plain enamel indeed - I guess the same applies for the Antiquity line.

    Funnily enough, as much as I searched, I could not find any photo of the naked bobbin of a SPB2, 3 and 4 (Steve Harris) without the plastic covers on.

    Can any owner or anyone who saw them confirm whether they are plain enamel too or wound with orange-ish formvar wire? I'm mostly curious about the SPB3, but any further info on their line is welcome.


    And now for the second part of the thread title, which is a never ending contradiction:
    Aguilar produce their take of a 60s P pickup using (and I quote from their site) "period correct heavy Formvar wire", which looks quite obvious from the photos of their products. Fralin use said wire too, although they don't claim it being "period correct" - instead, they say they use "42-Gauge Heavy Formvar wire to give an era-authentic 50’s tone, only thicker".
    S. Duncan described their SPB1 as "A completely faithful reproduction of Leo Fender's 1957 dual coil pickup design, the Seymour Duncan SPB-1 Vintage For P-Bass is a ingenious creation. Possessing the same hand-fabricated forbon bobbins, plain enamel wire and the same hand ground, sand-cast magnets."
    I could go on with other producers doing vintage repros/takes with either one or the other material.

    Now, there's endless speculation about the fact that the Duncan is after a late 50s rather than early 60s winding and so on. It's also known that back in those days Fender's specs were not 100% consistent and also subject to availability of materials, but AFAIK (and I might be wrong) Fender used Formvar and P. Enamel alternatively for Strats and other pickups, but stuck to Plain Enamel wire for all P bass pickups in the 50s,60s and possibly 70s. At least, I've never seen a vintage split-coil by Fender made with Formvar, in picture or real life.

    When Aguilar (or other manufacturers) refer to their use of heavy Formvar as "period correct" for their 60s split-coil, are they referring to Fender's use of said wire in some of their pickups regardless of instrument and generalise or did they effectively come across some original vintage Fender split-coils wired as such?
    I guess that Fralin's proclaimed "thicker" quality of their pickup might be partially down to their choice of wire and thickness.

    That's not to judge on the quality of Aguilar's products at all, which I generally highly regard. I'm not even doubting about the tone qualities of their 60s model, but this is one of those debates that nevertheless keep on popping up in forums, and my guess is that "period correct" refers to different things according to different people:
    - correct according to what materials they were using in their products (which some might see as being a bit of a stretch)
    - correct according to their actual production of a specific line, in this case the P bass pickup
    - correct in terms of timbrical qualities, regardless of actual materials used. This might be Fralin's case and IMO can make a lot of sense, practically speaking.

    What do you actually know/think about this?
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2021
  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I think you'll find that all pickup makers define their product by how it sounds. When they say "period correct", they mean that their pickup sounds, in their testing, just like some particular model/year vintage pickup. They've tested samples of the originals, and worked out the formula of their new model pickup to match that sound. The construction details and materials may be exactly what was used in the originals, or they may be slightly different. It depends on the realities of what materials they can get today, and what they find during testing. They try to match the vintage details and materials, because it's good marketing info, but the priority is to match the sound. The period correct sound is what the customer really is paying for.

    With wire insulation, there's no real difference in sound between the chemistry of Formvar and enamel insulation. But the thickness of the insulation on the wire can affect the sound of the pickup. The thicker the insulation is on the wire, the larger and looser the coil ends up. Which can make the sound "thicker" and "warmer". Pickup makers may use Formvar-insulated wire of heavier insulation thickness and/or different winding parameters to make their coils sound like the originals. There are different ways to adjust the formula to get there.

    You can ask the different pickup makers if their "period correct" pickups use enamel-coated wire. They may or may not. And so what? That doesn't mean that their pickup doesn't sound right.
  3. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Bruce already wrote what I was going to write, so I'll add one thought: At the end of the day, you have to decide what, exactly, you want to chase. Is it a pickup that sounds a certain way? Or is it a pickup that matches some historical design in terms of certain manufacturing details? I don't think it's meaningful to chase the second when it's really the first you're after.
  4. All valid points so far, but I'd like to quote a couple of points I wrote before, just to avoid any potential misunderstandings or misinterpretation of my OP:

    However, I am still very curious about what's beyond the plastic covers of the Duncans I mentioned in the first part :)

    (... just wondering if the SPB3 might sound like a pre-cbs split-coil in case they use plain enamel, of course)
  5. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Subbed, just to find out how the notion of vintage period-correctness will be reconciled with the Duncan SPB3... :cool:
  6. Never underestimate the power of plain enamel for a true quarter pounder with enlarged poles demagnetised by period-correct controlled aging.
  7. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Never underestimate the a marketing theme. Those of us who design and build pickups will smirk and roll our eyes at statements like that. It assumes that plain enamel insulation and controlled aged magnets are magic secret ingredients that you must use to get that magic vintage sound. They may have been used back then, but we can get to that sound today using other ingredients.

    Never underestimate the ability of pickup makers to adjust the parameters of their designs, using the parts and materials available, to get the exact sound they want.
    Jim C, Snaxster and dwizum like this.
  8. I tend to agree with myself, but then we'd both be wrong.
  9. Snaxster


    Nov 29, 2008
    Adding to others' comments about marketing and product definitions (" era-authentic 50’s tone, only thicker." So funny!):

    Here is a photo of my all-original 1968 Fender Precision Bass pickup. Is that formvar? Hmm. :D


    As he and I corresponded about a 1965 Jazz Bass pickups pair rewinding and re-creation project he was doing for me, my favorite maker of Fender-type pickups wrote

    "Plain Enamel did [have] and has many different colors. Mid-1964 on it was Plain Enamel wire. I've seen transition models from early '64 with grey bobbins and Formvar wire. And we are talking bright copper colored wire. What was on there was dark coppery colored but Plain Enamel was also that color at times - plus the fact that it is widely understood that post CBS everything went to Plain Enamel within a short time on all pickups as a streamlining thing. Of course there are exceptions to this or if a pickup was leftover.

    ...I've certainly been wrong before, but to the best of my experience every 1965 Fender pickup I've seen has Plain Enamel and that wire was anything from coppery red to light purple to dark purple."​
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2021
    EmaTheMirror likes this.
  10. Interesting, the plot thickens (unlike my humour in this thread)*

    As rightly mentioned before, the main difference is anyway down to the insulation thickness -> diameter, thickness and spacing of the winding. And that's only one of all factors at play.

    Going back to the first point of my OP, I'll reformulate the question:

    Being it clear that I'm aware the SPB3 is NOT after vintage specs regardless of what wire they use, that the underestimation of esoteric magnets is gibberish I can come up on the fly to have a laugh and so on, does anyone know (or have a picture) of a Duncan coil without covers, besides the SPB1?

    It's mainly out of curiosity and (overestimated) hunger for knowledge of components of pickups I don't have... you know, pure bass forum curiosity. Let's call it voyeurism if you want. Or coil porn, if you want to be less poetic.

    *apologies for the lack of exclamation marks within brackets, I tend to find them rather prosaic and fun-spoiling in most cases... like a Big Bang Theory episode, I mean...
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2021
    dwizum and ctmullins like this.
  11. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    If you really want to know what materials Seymour Duncan uses in their specific model pickups, why don't you call them and ask? Seriously. Sometimes Seymour himself will come to the phone and talk to you. He's a nice guy, and will explain pickup details to you. I worked with him back in the '90's on a bass we were developing for SWR. Or his other staff members will answer your questions.

    You'll probably find that they are using modern materials to make their pickups, because the older materials are hard to get and are inconsistent in quality. The modern materials are better to work with, more durable, and safer chemically. They normally use modern Formvar coated wire, because that is what almost all magnet wire manufacturers produce these days. In some cases, they may use enamel-coated wire if there is a reliable source for it. But really, only for marketing reasons.
    Jim C, dwizum and EmaTheMirror like this.
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