Sound like 1956 with Magna-Sonic pickups
If you play an electric solid body guitar today, you’re tipping your hat to Paul Bigsby, whether you know it or not. In 1948, Bigsby built what many believe to be the first modern solid body— a single pickup beauty for Merle Travis. After that, the orders started coming in: good for a businessman, but bad for a businessman who wanted to make everything himself, including pickups. As a result, a real Bigsby guitar is few and far between. Plus, forget about affordability—in 2012, one sold for $266,500!
Until recently, those in-the-know could cop the sound without breaking the bank by purchasing a vintage Magnatone guitar. Bigbsy was hired in 1956 to design several guitars for the Inglewood, California company. No one really knows how involved he was in the process, but some Magnatone models featured pickups that sound “virtually identical” to Bigsby’s own, according to guitarist and Bigsby owner Deke Dickerson. Since Bigby’s name wasn’t physically attached to the guitar, a Magnatone used to be yours for a song. The word is out now, though, and that song will set you back $5000-$9000.
If that’s too rich for your blood, then you need to meet John Munnerlyn.
Munnerlyn is a graphic designer who created skateboard artwork for years. He’s also a huge rockabilly nut, having played in many rockabilly bands since the 1980s in California.
That’s how he met Ashley Kingman, guitarist for Big Sandy and his Fly Rite Boys. Kingman’s go-to guitar was a Magnatone Mark V:
But after 15 years of constant use, Kigman’s Magnatone was falling apart. So Munnerlyn stepped in and offered to build him a new one. Once the body and neck were done, Munnerlyn had to deal with the pickups.
“I first made a set of prototype pickups. I was sort of guessing how they were made,” Munnerlyn recalls. ‘We were really nervous about taking Ashley’s pickups apart, because he couldn’t get a replacement anywhere, and he was relying on that guitar for his tone.” However, Kingman wasn’t satisfied with the prototypes, which led them both to a point of no return: “We’ve realized we had to open his originals to find out how they were made.”
Inside was nothing like what he was expecting. But Munnerlyn was able to tap that mojo, and is now selling his own version, called the Magna-Sonic.
Like the originals, the Magna-Sonics are low output, which mean you’ll have to turn your amp up. “Lower output pickups are great because you don’t lose your dynamics and sensitivitly,” says Munnerlyn. To build them, he had to make covers, pickup mounting rings, source the screws for pole pieces, custom order magnets, round over the tops of the pole pieces, and get them nickel plated. “There is a lot of work involved,” he said.
As for the sound? “Compared to other Bigsby-type pickups I’ve heard, these pickups want to rock a little more. They’re really good for rockabilly and blues–and of course Travis picking. They have a percussive attack that thickens up the sound a little bit. They’re not super thin sounding like some single coils. The back pickup is a little more like a P90.” He believes they are perfectly suited for a Tele:
Munnerlyn makes them to order. A single is $275, a pair is $500.
Check out how they sound here:
For more, check out: http://www.johnmunnerlyn.com