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  1. #1

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    Hey there, I'm looking to upgrade the pickups on my Eastman El Rey 2 from the original Asian Kent Armstrong ones.
    I really like the acoustic sound of the guitar but I hate the amplified one. The pickups sound very middy and extremely compressed to me, I want something more balanced and with a rich acoustic tone.
    The KA Handwound PAFs are used by many high end arch top luthiers and I haven't read a bad thing about them. The main reason I am hesitating is, they seem to be hard to come by in Europe, I could only find them from WD in the the UK, and I am a bit wary of them since they don't respond to my e-Mails, and they list them as having 6 weeks waiting time, and don't offer them as a set or at least different neck/bridge versions, so I am a bit confused.
    Are they worth the trouble so, or are there some more easily available that are just as good?

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  3. #2

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    Aaron Armstrong in the UK hand-winds the same pickups, if that's any help. That's his son..

  4. #3
    Interesting! I'll try to get in touch, thanks a lot!

  5. #4

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    kent armstrong handmade is big step up from his generic asian branded pups...his son aaron, is in uk but it seems he can only be contacted via wd music these days...so you might be in same predicament

    you can get lots of great paf type pups via thomann..take a look at lollar imperial! also seymour duncan still makes great pickups

    paf is not that difficult a formula...lots of good ones out there

    cheers

    ps- for euro side handmades...creamery and oil city both in uk are worth a look... as well as rautia in finland
    Last edited by neatomic; 07-21-2020 at 07:06 PM.

  6. #5

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    You're in Europe - try Bareknuckle!

    [there are a lot of good pickup makers out there! "Worth" is a funny concept ...]

  7. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    kent armstrong handmade is big step up from his generic asian branded pups...his son aaron, is in uk but it seems he can only be contacted via wd music these days...so you might be in same predicament

    you can get lots of great paf type pups via thomann..take a look at lollar imperial! also seymour duncan still makes great pickups

    paf is not that difficult a formula...lots of good ones out there

    cheers

    ps- for euro side handmades...creamery and oil city both in uk are worth a look... as well as rautia in finland
    I don't know so much about pickups, but if that was true, how is it possible that the asian made ones sound so much worse, if PAFs are so easy to make?
    From the specs I gather the KA Handwounds are around 8 Ohm Resistance and use Alnico 5 magnets. Will any other PAF in the same ballpark give similar results? I'm a bit wary of trying my way through the tons of PAF variations from different manufacturers, I don't want to go on an endless tone hunt. My reasoning was, if so many high end luthiers use it, it has got to be the best, and I'd rather get the best at once and be done with it.

  8. #7

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    I've owned two of them, a floater and a built-in, and they sounded fabulous.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by chameleon
    My reasoning was, if so many high end luthiers use it, it has got to be the best, and I'd rather get the best at once and be done with it.
    Luthiers often cater to their customers, despite what they like or consider "the best." I know a well-respected (on this Forum and elsewhere) luthier who only uses KA when people ask for them, but he personally does not like them. "Popular" does not necessarily mean "the best."

    For PAFs, try Lollar, Amalfitano, JM Rolph, Klein, et al. -- again, too many great pickups!!

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    kent armstrong handmade is big step up from his generic asian branded pups...his son aaron, is in uk but it seems he can only be contacted via wd music these days...so you might be in same predicament

    you can get lots of great paf type pups via thomann..take a look at lollar imperial! also seymour duncan still makes great pickups

    paf is not that difficult a formula...lots of good ones out there

    cheers

    ps- for euro side handmades...creamery and oil city both in uk are worth a look... as well as rautia in finland
    Contact info , phone number, email form here - though I agree that there are many other great options.

    Contact us | Armstrong Pickups

  11. #10

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    Kent Armstrong makes, or at least made, a single coil floating pickup that had a switch that changed the coil wraps from fairly hot to just warm. That is a great pickup.

    I know the thread is about humbuckers, so pardon me. I'll also suggest considering the Fralin P-92. It's hum-free and has a little more warmth (meaning a slight loss of clarity) compared to the P-90 but less than a humbucker. They sound great on an archtop. This video gives some indication but uses a semi-hollow.


  12. #11

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    Good call, Marty! I think P-90s in general are excellent for jazz!

  13. #12

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    I have 2 of Kens pickups. A single coil on my Elferink and a paf on my Mesrobian L5 clone. Both excellent, with the single coil being really special. I like the Lollars a lot too, I've heard both archtops and 335s sounding great with them.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by chameleon
    I don't know so much about pickups, but if that was true, how is it possible that the asian made ones sound so much worse, if PAFs are so easy to make?
    From the specs I gather the KA Handwounds are around 8 Ohm Resistance and use Alnico 5 magnets. Will any other PAF in the same ballpark give similar results?
    because they don't use the same parts...enamel wire...bobbins made of same material...magnets. etc etc

    also a handwind by a skilled winder thats been doing it for decades rather than a young girl in a factory that never even touched a guitar

    all the winders i mentioned ^ either do it themselves or have a small team of trained winders who've been doing it for years

    cheers

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Grass
    Kent Armstrong makes, or at least made, a single coil floating pickup that had a switch that changed the coil wraps from fairly hot to just warm. That is a great pickup.
    Yeah, scroll down a few inches.

    https://www.archtop.com/ac_access.html#anchor46177042

    Armstrong Handmade Floating Single Coil


  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alter
    I have 2 of Kens pickups. A single coil on my Elferink and a paf on my Mesrobian L5 clone. Both excellent, with the single coil being really special. I like the Lollars a lot too, I've heard both archtops and 335s sounding great with them.
    Can You compare the KA PAF and Lollar Imperials? Are they similar in any way? Different in which way?

    Many appraise the KA’s as the best for jazz tone but I have never heard or played them.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    kent armstrong handmade is big step up from his generic asian branded pups
    Tremendous respect for your contributions here but my experience is that even though Mr. Kent Armstrong is a genuinely nice person and a truly top-shelf winder, the Asian model Kents are indistinguishable from their Vermont-wound counterparts in a blind test.

    When pickups vary from the standard model you can tell. For example, the 12-screw Asian Kent PAF that came OEM in my old El Rey 1 was off in some manner that I don't recall. The straight Asian Ken PAF that came OEM in my current El Rey 4 is fine and does not call out for replacement.

    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    you can get lots of great paf type pups . . . paf is not that difficult a formula...lots of good ones out there
    Spot on.

    Quote Originally Posted by chameleon
    how is it possible that the asian made ones sound so much worse, if PAFs are so easy to make?
    "Psychoacoustics." People pay a lot for it.

    Quote Originally Posted by chameleon
    From the specs I gather the KA Handwounds are around 8 Ohm Resistance and use Alnico 5 magnets. Will any other PAF in the same ballpark give similar results?
    Spot on. Any difference between one 8k / A5 straight-PAF pickup and another are within the correction of setup, player's technique and amp tone knobs.

    All that said, you CAN hear whether the pickup has been potted or not based on pick-click and other microphonic phenomena.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Grass
    Kent Armstrong makes, or at least made, a single coil floating pickup that had a switch that changed the coil wraps from fairly hot to just warm. That is a great pickup.

    I know the thread is about humbuckers, so pardon me. I'll also suggest considering the Fralin P-92. It's hum-free and has a little more warmth (meaning a slight loss of clarity) compared to the P-90 but less than a humbucker. They sound great on an archtop. This video gives some indication but uses a semi-hollow.


    I really like these Fralin P92's. I have looked into them lately and agree, they are sweet..
    Nick

  19. #18

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    a paf is more than just resistance numbers..in fact that's the least of it!!...in old days they went by number of winds, not resistance...resistance was a result, not the determining factor...slight fluctuations in just the coating on the coil wire can cause big resistance number changes...a paf has a very specific recipe...like if nan's sauce calls for basil and you only have marjoram...might taste good, but it ain't the same!!

    on a pickup, even the polepiece screws matter!! true metallurgy/alchemy

    a veteran winder knows about these things...the knowledge i$ the premium

    cheers

  20. #19

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    The pickup sounds nice but our guy Chris Whiteman is killin it!
    We can put together one heck of an all star band here.
    JD

  21. #20

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    I've had the Lollar Imperial HB and I've had the KA HB (although as 'smoothtop' i.e. without adjustable poles) in a couple guitars. I still have the Lollar in my Collings Eastside Jazz (instead of the stock Lollar CC).

    If you ask me, the KA is quite a bit warmer. Whether that is "better" depends on a bunch of other factors. The KA sound is like "instant jazz" whereas with the Lollar it's not necessarily as automatic, but still sounds very good. My 2 cents.

    Point is, I think there are some real differences here. But all the good pickups can sound good...it just comes down to taste.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Sherry
    Tremendous respect for your contributions here but my experience is that even though Mr. Kent Armstrong is a genuinely nice person and a truly top-shelf winder, the Asian model Kents are indistinguishable from their Vermont-wound counterparts in a blind test.

    When pickups vary from the standard model you can tell. For example, the 12-screw Asian Kent PAF that came OEM in my old El Rey 1 was off in some manner that I don't recall. The straight Asian Ken PAF that came OEM in my current El Rey 4 is fine and does not call out for replacement.
    There is an interview somewhere with Kent where he states that the Asian pickups, at least the ones made in Korea, are hand wound by one guy who uses the same materials, specifications and techniques that Kent does. Kent trained him.

  23. #22

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    I like KA handwound 12 pole PAFs. I have 1 guitar with floater and 1 with set. I could not be happier with these, and I can't imagine changing them. I've been a humbucker guy for most of my 50 years of guitaring. Mostly Gibson, including original 1961 PAFs with the sticker.

    I replaced the Asian made in my 2007 Eastman Pisano 880 with a Vermont made. Noticeable difference. Not psychoacoustics. It's a bigger, warmer sound. I think others may prefer the Asian. In this case you'd say the Asian one brings out the acoustic quality of the guitar. The story is that John P. worked with Kent on a pickup design for these guitars. Maybe John prefers the airier sound.

    I didn't like it. I tried speaker swaps, different amps and EQ pedals. I changed the pickup and I instantly had what I'd been seeking. So it comes down to the sound you're looking for. It may be that the newer Asians are not the same as what was in my Eastman.

    One obvious difference is that the Asian one is 'standard' PAF construction with a metal case and presumably some air inside. The Vermont one is a solid block of phenolic or something. No idea what's under that coating. It might be described as potted, as noted in an earlier post.

    So that's a sample size of one in one guys experience. The Asian KA PAF had an emphasis on upper mids. The Vermont-made has less of that and more lower mids. Asian brings out harmonic over-tones. Vermont emphasizes the fundamental tones more. In my limited experience.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    kent armstrong handmade
    Also available at DJANGOBOOKS:

    Kent Armstrong Handmade Pickups - DjangoBooks.com

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Grass
    Kent Armstrong makes, or at least made, a single coil floating pickup that had a switch that changed the coil wraps from fairly hot to just warm. That is a great pickup...
    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    Yeah, scroll down a few inches.
    ac accessories
    Armstrong Handmade Floating Single Coil
    I have this pickup mounted on a couple of my archtops. "If you've been looking for the sound of the old DeArmond Model 1100 or Gibson P-90" ...this really works for both, IMO.

    This pickup is not offered as a made-in-Korea version, so expect to pony up for it in the $160 range. Well worth it.
    Last edited by Hammertone; 07-24-2020 at 03:23 AM.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    There is an interview somewhere with Kent where he states that the Asian pickups, at least the ones made in Korea, are hand wound by one guy who uses the same materials, specifications and techniques that Kent does. Kent trained him.
    that's old press

    dongho electronic factory in sk has been making armstrongs pickups for years... they manufacture pickups and parts for many in the industry


    cheers

  27. #26

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    Well, as of 3/2019, Kent Armstrong USA posted:

    "Just a FYI Kent has not licensed anyone in China to build his pickups......He does have a Korean partner who builds and sells Kent Armstrong pickups which he builds to Kent's specifications...."

    and then Kent posted:

    "I saw the posts asking about my pick-ups made abroad.
    In answer to all, my Korean partner builds to my specifications faithfully. I use his parts here in Vermont to make conventional pick-ups like humbuckers and single coils. I also use them to prototype for customers wanting to have them made in Korea.

    I can promise you that my Korean ones are every bit as good as the ones I would make here in my shop.

    Most sincerely Kent Armstrong"

    Kent Armstrong Pickups


    FWIW.


  28. #27

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    A pickup pairs uniquely to the instrument, so it is worth trying a few in your guitar to see what you prefer. You may learn about your guitar in the process.
    I've gravitated to Kent handwound PAFs in every one of my jazz guitars. They have the full and natural sound I really like, and they sound great configured as series/parallel or coil split too.

    If you have an opportunity to work directly with Kent, he is a stand up guy and really bends over backwards to take care of his customers. Pleasant enough chap.

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeSF
    A pickup pairs uniquely to the instrument, so it is worth trying a few in your guitar to see what you prefer. You may learn about your guitar in the process.
    this is my experience, too. At least with archtop guitars; it seems to be less true with solid body instruments

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    this is my experience, too. At least with archtop guitars; it seems to be less true with solid body instruments
    There was this one time where the archtop&KA pickup were just absolutely not a match, an upper midrange spike that was nearly offensive to my ears...I sold the archtop and kept the pickup, lol.
    true story.

  31. #30

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    OP mentioned an Eastman El Rey 2. I've not owned it but in my Eastmans of the past, found them rather bright, and the Kent PAF-0 overwound version was just the perfect match to attenuate some highs. An added benefit of an overwound pickup, is your parallel and/or split sounds have more guts!

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeSF
    There was this one time where the archtop&KA pickup were just absolutely not a match, an upper midrange spike that was nearly offensive to my ears...I sold the archtop and kept the pickup, lol.
    true story.
    I had a rather similar experience with the KA 12 pole floating PAF. I had mounted it to the pickguard like it is designed for and found that I just did not like the sound. There was a very hard edged brightness that I just could not dial out. I went through several other pickups, settling for a couple of years on a neck-mounted Pete Biltoft Charlie Christian style pickup. I really like the sound of that pickup. A couple of months ago I read about using Blue Tack to mount floating pickups to the top of the guitar. It seemed like an intriguing idea; I gave that a try, reinstalled the KA and the pickup really is transformed into a much warmer, fatter sounding pickup with much less upper end harshness. And quite frankly I'm not sure anything could be simpler in terms of mounting the pickup. It takes about 15 seconds. [Edit: the pickup is about 1/8" further from the strings, which of course also affects the tone].

    I should contact Kent and see if he would make me one of those pickups with a Johnny Smith style neck mount. [Edit: I have a pet theory that is probably full of ****, since I am neither a luthier nor an acoustic engineer. It goes like this: much like picking your amp up off the floor and putting it on a chair, decoupling the pickup from the top of the guitar reduces the bass content of the signal. Benedetto popularized mounting the pickup to the pickguard, in part because he was looking for an amplified acoustic sound rather than an electric sound and in part because he did not want to cut holes in the top of the instrument. Gibson had done something similar with the "McCarty" pickup in the 40s. This reduces the coupling between the pick up and the guitar, therefore emphasizing the string sound in the signal and reducing the vibrational input of the guitar. I could be all wrong about the physics of this, of course.

    When the Gibson Johnny Smith guitar was being developed, Gibson had developed a new mini-humbucker pickup and that model was the first guitar to get it. The pickup was mounted to a bracket attached to the end of the neck. To my ears, that location sounds like a midpoint between the top-mounted pickup and the pickguard-mounted pick up. Inspired by Peter Bernstein's tone, I had modified a Gibson Classic 57 pickup to be mounted with a neck bracket. It worked pretty well, but the pickup was just thick enough that it was too tight a fit between the top and the strings. Balance was hard to achieve as a result. I replaced that pickup with the Pete Biltoft HCC mentioned above, also mounted with a neck bracket, and I really like the tone of that. That pickup was on the guitar until I got my recent wild hair about the KA; the Biltoft will probably go back on one of these days because I like the single coil sound with about half of the treble rolled off with the tone knob.

    DeArmond pickups could be mounted with a neck rod, coupling it in that sense, and rested on the guitar which also couples it to the top, and held down on the other end by the pick guard. One of our forum members mentioned using Blue Tack to mount a DeArmond pick up to his guitar and liking the result; that was when I decided to try that with my KA pickup. It's been a fun quarantine experiment.].
    Last edited by Cunamara; 07-25-2020 at 02:31 PM.

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    ... I read about using Blue Tack to mount floating pickups to the top of the guitar. It seemed like an intriguing idea; I gave that a try, reinstalled the KA and the pickup really is transformed into a much warmer, fatter sounding pickup with much less upper end harshness.
    whoa, great tip! thx for sharing that story.

  34. #33

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    Sure. The caveat there is that on some guitars mounting it to the pickguard sounds wonderful. There are a lot of examples, for example, on YouTube of exactly that. As was pointed out upthread, it really is a combination of the instrument, the pickup, the amp, etc. It's difficult to say that because this guitar sounds like x with that pickup, that guitar will sound the same. There seem to be too many variables for that. It is one of the things that makes this all so fascinating.