Kazumi Watanabe, Collings, and Lollar!

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Kazumi Watanabe - photo by Leslie Kee

We always love to hear about great guitar players, especially when they are using our pickups! Our Japanese distributor, Zenbu Japan, recently informed us that the legendary Kazumi Watanabe has been spinning many of his burning jazz and fusion lines on a Collings SoCo, complete with Lollar Imperials!

Mr. Watanabe has been one of Japan’s most important and influential guitarists (and composers) since the mid-seventies. He has played and recorded with many of the worlds greatest musicians, and received the prestigious Fumio Nanri Award in 1991. He has also been a visiting professor of music at Senzoku Gakuen College since 1996.

Please enjoy his playing!

Small in Stature, Big in Tone

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The Firebird and Mini-Humbucker might be the two of the most underrated and misunderstood pickups that are available today. These two designs are as versatile and complex as any of the pickups we make, and many discerning players are taking advantage of their unique capabilities in order to expand their tonal options.

Pickups in the “mini” family have a different tone than the larger PAF for various reasons; some apply to all the smaller ‘buckers and some are specific to each design. All of these secondary pickups share a smaller size, 2-5/8” X 1-1/8”. The narrower width of these pickups (1-1/8” compared to 1-1/2”) senses a shorter length of string vibration. This makes the pickup  sense higher harmonics generated by the string, which gives you a slightly brighter and more focused sound due to the smaller size.

The internal constructions of these little guys are also a huge part of the tone. A Mini-humbucker is made like a miniature PAF pickup, with one bar magnet positioned under each coil with adjustable pole pieces made out of a ferrous alloy and the other coil containing a ferrous metal bar that is not adjustable. This corresponds to a PAF with adjustable poles in one coil and a series of metal slugs in the other coil. A Firebird on the other hand, has a bar magnet in each coil. Each coil is wound around the bar magnet, one coil is south up and the other is north up. The inductance properties of steel and alnico magnet grades are very different. Also the magnetic field shape and strength are different between the Mini-Humbucker and the Firebird which gives them different characteristics.
Steel cores tend to have a higher inductance- you get more bass and more output verses an alnico magnet core. That gives Mini-Humbucker a smoother attack with more sustain and you’ll get more of a grind to the tone when you push your amp into distortion. Traditional Firebird pickups have a tighter, “spankier” tone that stays more defined when you really crank up your amp.

Not to be left out, Johnny Smith pickups are a hybrid of both the Mini-Humbucker and Firebird; they combine some of the clarity of a Firebird with the smoother attack of the mini. It’s actually quite a clever invention- one coil has a bar magnet in it like a Firebird but the pickup has a bottom plate made out of steel that is tapped and threaded to hold adjustable pole pieces for the second coil.  The magnetism travels from the bottom of the bar magnet along the steel plate to the adjustable pole pieces.

One thing to note if you’re thinking about Lollar-izing a guitar with these mini-marvels is our sizes are bit larger than the vintage specs. Our pickups covers for Mini-Humbuckers and Firebirds are slightly longer than vintage mini or firebird pickup covers. Vintage covers are 2.587” X 1.87” which translates to 2-19/32” X 1-3/32”. New covers are 2.687” X 1.87” which translates to fractions as 2-11/16” X 1-3/32”. New covers are 3/32” longer than vintage pickups but they will still fit in a vintage route with a new size ring mounts you can order from us.

These small humbuckers were never very popular when they were first introduced- they tended to be overly microphonic and too bright. Recently they have come back in to the spotlight. If they are made correctly they can be a very good pickup! You can mount a mini bucker or a Firebird into any guitar that currently has soapbar P-90 pickups installed. The conversion is very simple to do – it uses a special P-90 soapbar cover size adapter. We also take orders daily for players wanted use them as neck pickups in Teles for a nice spin on a classic style.

Visit our website for a series of videos showing different ways to mount and install Mini-Humbuckers and Firebirds. http://www.lollarguitars.com/mini-humbucker-installation.shtml

Oh My! What Do We Have Here?

The Genuine Lollar Experience

Hi Lollar fans! We sometimes get requests to verify the authenticity of Lollar pickups, whether its a set that pops up on eBay, or a used guitar that is said to be stocked with our stuff. Sometime in 2003 or 2004 we standardized how our pickups were marked, and it is still done the same today. The only way to know for sure that you have a genuine Lollar pickup is to check the bottom and look for the proper markings. We label them in a few different ways, from humbuckers to Strats… there are certain things to look for to insure authenticity.

CURRENT PRODUCTION:

HUMBUCKERS: All our humbuckers have tags screwed to the bottom and are stamped with “LOLLAR IMPERIAL” followed by the year, and if it is a neck or a bridge. Color is important as well… a black label is standard wind, grey is a Low Wind, and red is a High Wind. The name of the builder will be initialed in the right bottom corner.

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STRATS AND TELES: All of our Strat and Tele style pickups have this info hand written on the bottom: Lollar, the type of pickup (position if it’s a Strat), initials of the builder, and the year it was produced. LOLLAR is also stamped on the top middle on Strats. We use either white or black paint pens to handwrite on our pickups. A few models like Thunderbird and Johnny Smith pickups  have black baked on enamel that we apply with a laser.

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P90s: On our P90 pickups, all the info is stamped like a humbucker, except for our Special winds which are indicated by a hand written label, such as 50’s, -5% or +5%. Same for soapbar or dog ear.

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Besides the markings, our overall construction is top notch. If the pickup seems a bit off- not as solid as it should be, it might not be a Lollar. For instance, wax is usually completely wiped off after potting leaving little to no trace, instead of drippy gooey globs all over. We also buff any exposed forbon (like on Tele bridge pickups) so it has a satin sheen instead of dull, matte type finish.  Our lead wires on single-coil pickups lay flat, and there are no frays in the cloth wiring. We also tape all of our coils to protect them from damage. We even buff our plastic pickup covers!  Our humbuckers come with clear plastic tape over the top to protect the finish on the pickup cover. We only use high quality lead wires.

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OLD SCHOOL LOLLARS:

If it says Custom on the bottom (along with Lollar and the date) it could be anything- it may not be in phase with anything else we make and it may not match any specs.  If you know the name of who originally purchased the custom item we can usually look the job up and see what the specifications were.

Occasionally we get asked questions about pickups for sale on eBay that are supposedly Lollar made. It is rare for people to try to pass off fake, uninstalled pickups for Lollars, but here are a couple photos of horribly made pickups that have Lollar written on the bottom.

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Fake

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Loller? Uh, no.

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Crap-tastic

Yikes.

Yikes.

More often, a guitar was sold claiming to have Lollars installed and was purchased by someone and resold. The purchaser had been told Lollars were installed and they never verified it. Even this is not common (but it happens) , so here’s how you can tell…

Going as far back as I can remember (before ’96 or ‘97) the bobbins could have been made out of anything other than vulcanized fiberboard – maybe wood, or often I would make them out of the thin plastic that cassette tape cases were made of- these would be fairly roughly made and would have no markings.

After ‘96 or ‘97 I would have made my bobbins out of vulcanized fiberboard- this is the same material Fender makes their pickups out of. The quality of construction would be quite high, as all of my parts were cut by hand using jigs – everything would be uniform, but nothing would be signed yet unless someone asked me to. You can tell if a P-90 is mine because I have always made the bobbins by hand and after ‘96 or ‘97 they would be made of vulcanized fiberboard.

After my book came out I started to see a few other manufacturers making P-90s using the plan I drew up- vulcanized fiber assembled bobbins. The only time I might use the standard cast plastic bobbin on P-90s would be to restore and old Gibson P-90 that had bobbin rot beyond repair.

Sometime around ‘98 or ‘99 I would have started to write model names on the bottom of pickups and dating them- still no signature unless asked for it. If the pickup in question has a model name that corresponds to something I still make then the specs are the same- same magnets and turn count. If you bought a pickup in 1996 and you buy another one today to match with the old pickup, the new pickup will be in phase with the old one- I never changed that.

Also, if you have an old single coil neck pickup (like a P-90) and you buy a new bridge pickup, not only will it be in phase but the set will be hum cancelling. Around 2001 or 2002 most of my pickups had established model names, and you’ll see the model name either abbreviated or written out on the bottom- usually in paint pen along with the date and my initials or last name.

If all else fails and you are still not sure, take a picture of the bottom and send it to info@lollarguitars.com and we’ll take a look for you.

Save the neck (pickup) for me…

Old fashioned Lollar family Christmas“When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a brand new set of P90s, dogear…”

Ok, not exactly the same, but you get the idea. Allow us to take a minute to wish you all a happy and safe Holiday Season, and to say a sincere THANK YOU for your tremendous support and enthusiasm throughout the year.

We’ll be closing the shop starting December 24th, 2011, and returning on January 2nd, 2012. Please feel free to visit our website 24/7 for all of your Lollar needs, and keep those email coming. We promise to get back to you as soon as we wake up return to Camp Lollar.

Happy Holidays Everyone!!!