Aged Stratocaster* sound fully explained & illustrated

While I have your attention I want to announce the release of an important new Kinman Strat pickup, the Magnum Opus series. These pickups represents a major milestone in the evolution of hum-cancelling design for Stratocaster* pickups because it is the first Zero-Hum pickup to achieve non-aged genuine 50’s Strat sound 100%

Non-aged means scooped low mids (high transparency) and brilliant pristine highs with a tendency for Ice-Pick, fast gun-shot attack and wide dynamic range where the sound does not break up easily under heavy pick attack. And wonderful sharp twang on the low wound strings and also the overall sound has a high presence factor in the upper midrange.

Aged Sound means rounded tone with lower presence factor in the high-mid frequency range and the low mid scoop is missing. The highs are not as pristine brilliant (but very agreeable all the same) and the attack response is a little slower. Also the dynamic range is not quite as wide so the sound more easily breaks into crunch. Note separation is not quite as good either. With Kinman Gen-1 models all of that adds up to a very nice sound all the same and is prefered by many players.

The Gen-2 models such as the Impersonator E69 and the Gen-3 Magnum Opus ’55 and ’59 models are such a revolution because all existing noiseless Strat* pickups with Alnico rod magnets (regardless of brand) deliver Non-Aged Sound.

Now I will explain Aged Sound in more detail with this rather interesting experience I had some years ago: a customer sent two 1964 Stratocaster pickups for repair, both were open circuit with broken wires in the coils. In one pickup the break was near the termination point and I was able to repair it without rewinding. The other one could not be repaired and had to be rewound, which I did using the original Formvar HF42 wire type. I wound it to the same DC resistance and tension which I judged from the repaired pickup. It looked identical and the resistance measured identical to the repaired pickup. But when I tested them in a guitar they sounded very different.

The one with the original coil which I repaired sounded dull and lifeless, it also had comparatively low output and the sound broke into distortion when I picked it strongly. The rewound one sounded just like a great NEW Strat pickup, bright, spanky, alive and loud and no matter how forceful the strings were picked/strummed the sound held together and did not break up.

With my curiosity aroused I measured the magnet strength and found them to be the same as a new pickup. I re-magnetized both pickups anyway but the sound did not change from either pickup. This experiment exploded the myth that aged magnets were the reason for this huge difference in sound. So I concluded it had to be the coil itself since there is nothing else to explain it. Seymour claims weaker magnets are the reason that old pickups sound ‘old’, but I can not confirm that claim whatsoever when I deliberately degaussed magnets.

To confirm my suspicion about aging of the coil I ran some analytical Q plots on both pickups, see the image below. To obtain absolute conclusive proof I also rewound the second (excessively aged) pickup. It then sounded identical to the first rewound pickup and returned an identical Q plot.

It turns out that Formvar insulation is not age stable, it’s an unsophisticated old technology coating that degrades over time, unlike modern Polyurethane coatings which seem to go on forever. Formvar is also sensitive to heat treatment so depending on the length of time spent in, and the temperature of the wax pot at time of manufacture, it took longer to degrade. That’s the reason some old Strat pickups aged more severely than others over a similar time span. Those with slight to moderate aging lost some ice-pick brittleness and sound sweeter than examples of new pickups. Those with excessive aging, like the one I repaired, sound so dull and lifeless as to be unusable, something like turning the tone control down to 3.

This displayed (or attached) image clearly of my Q plots shows the difference between the 2 pickups, the black trace is the one we are concerned with. The taller peak represents non-aged sound of the rewound pickup. The lower peak portrays aged sound of the original repaired pickup. Both pickups had identical high-peak plots after rewinding.

So there you have conclusive scientific proof for aging of old Fender pickups, Formvar wire degrades in time. It definitely is not due to aging of magnets.

Until now ALL hum-cancelling Strat pickups with Alnico rod magnets, regardless of brand, delivered Aged Sound to one degree or another. Because I understood the Aged Sound phenomena I have always advertised my pickups correctly as delivering Aged Sound of various degrees, others don’t tell you (it seems they don’t know about it).

Now back to the Gen-3 Magnum Opus, remember it is the first hum-cancelling Fender* type pickup to produce genuine 1950’s non-aged Stratocaster* sound. Back in January 2009 Hank Marvin asked me to design a hum-cancelling Strat* pickup that he could use on stage with the Shadows to achieve his legendary 60’s ‘Shadows’ lead guitar sound. It has taken countless hours over years of intensive research, experimentation and inventive development to achieve the goal. Meanwhile Hank used Fender CS-54* pickups, the closest sounding modern pickup to his 60’s sound. Now he and his inner circle much prefer the Magnum Opus ’59 simply because they outperform the Fender*.

It is the Gen-2 and the Gen-3 Stratocaster models that reaffirm Kinman as the outstanding and undisputed leader in noiseless technology that will be the pinnacle of Strat* sound for years to come. .

The King of Noiseless & the Prince of Tone.

Cheers ….. Chris Kinman.

* Strat, Stratocaster, CS-54 and Fender are registered Trade Marks of FMIC, Kinman is not associated with FMIC but they kindly allow us to refer to their Trade Marks to reference our pickups.