Cavalier Phoenix Firebird for Tele neck

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by JMac52, Jun 8, 2019.

  1. JMac52

    JMac52 Tele-Meister

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    I built a Partsquire last year with a Vintage 60s RI body and 50s Classic Series neck, really just as a project to explore the Esquire thing. Initially I used the bridge pickup from a Bootstrap Original Recipe set and that sounded great, but I wanted to keep the Bootstraps together as a set so I replaced it with a Cavalier 51/52 Lion. I really dig that pickup.

    So it was cool having an Esquire in the stable but I ended up bonding with the guitar more than expected - the neck (is “Vintage C” an actual profile?), the weight, just overall feel - and as I found myself playing it more, I was missing having a neck pickup for the styles I usually play.

    I thought about a mini humbucker and as I was exploring that idea, came across some threads on these pages mentioning the Phoenix Firebird and learned how a true Firebird pickup is different from a mini humbucker. I was intrigued. This post by rigatele was particularly useful:

    http://www.tdpri.com/threads/cavalier-phoenix-firebird-quick-test.696800/

    I ordered the pickup on Sunday, the day before Memorial day, and was expecting 10 days not including the holiday, so I was shocked when it arrived on Saturday, in basically 4 business days.

    Of course I need to rout the body. I’m not much of a woodworker. I bought a plunge router when I built my studio monitors 5 years ago and haven’t used it since. A little rough, but I got it done.

    I bought the pickguard from WD Music, cut for a Gibson mini humbucker. I had to file it out to get the Firebird to fit.

    I wasn’t sure about the orientation of the pickup, so I emailed Rob. He responded within an hour, on a Saturday! (Answer: it doesn’t matter). Wired it up using the existing pots and cap - the first try was out of phase, but easily fixed.

    The pickup definitely produces more treble than a PAF-style humbucker. I’ve read folks describe it as a between a P90 and a PAF. I don’t know, I think it’s its own thing. I balanced it by raising the bass side and lowering the treble side significantly more than I do with a PAF. Then I balanced with the bridge by raising it, which I should have done in the first place . It sounded good before, but now - wow. The Phoenix sounds great on its own, clean and with some hair on it. I don’t play with a lot of distortion so haven’t really tried that. Together with the 51/52, is just sweetness.

    Looking forward to showing it off and playing it at a jazz workshop today.

    I’m definitely a fan of Cavalier pickups. Rob’s customer service is awesome. And if your looking for something a little different, give the Phoenix Firebird a try.


    IMG_2081.jpg IMG_2082.jpg IMG_2085.jpg IMG_2086.jpg IMG_2088.jpg
     

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  2. DHart

    DHart Friend of Leo's

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    I've considered one of those a few times, but never pulled the trigger.

    How would you compare it to a standard Tele neck pickup?

    If you can post some sound clips, that would be great.
     
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  3. JMac52

    JMac52 Tele-Meister

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    I don't currently don't have a "standard" tele neck pickup in a guitar I can A/B but I have the Twisted Tele in my Baja. I suck at describing sounds, but I would say the low end on the Firebird is rounder, warmer like you might expect from a humbucker. Treble is actually quite similar at least the way the way I have the Firebird high set.

    I'll try to get some sound clips this weekend...
     
  4. brucerbc

    brucerbc TDPRI Member

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    Love the Cavalier Phoenix. I recently swapped it in for a Dimarzio Mini Humbucker in my Std Tele and wired it without a tone control. It's paired with a Lollar vintage bridge. The mud / blanket is gone (confession: I also greatly prefer Twisted Tele vs Stock Tele neck pickups). Sweet, open and brighter, but not "bright" or harsh in ANY way. Sorry, I'm a hack player and not wired up for recording. Just had to say that I'm a big fan of this pickup.
     
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  5. GGardner

    GGardner Tele-Afflicted

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    I have a cheap tele body sitting around my basement and was thinking of putting an inexpensive Seymour Duncan in the neck (SM-3B or SM1-N). I'm curious if you considered either of those. Thanks.
     
  6. AJBaker

    AJBaker Friend of Leo's

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    Nice review!
     
  7. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Afflicted

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    Those are not Firebird type minis, they have steel blades not magnets as pole pieces. They may or may not sound good to you, but they are definitely not comparable with a Phoenix.
     
  8. JMac52

    JMac52 Tele-Meister

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    ^^^ what rigatele said.

    I did look at the SM1-N because that's what's in the Vintage 52 Hot Rod Tele. But once I got onto the Firebird idea, I knew I loved my 51/52 Lion and Cavalier has such a good rep, I had to go with the Phoenix.
     
  9. GGardner

    GGardner Tele-Afflicted

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    I generally understand that mini HBs and Firebirds are not constructed the same way. Nevertheless, they're advertised as having a similar sound, at least on the SD site--that's why I'm curious as to what the OP thought.

    This is cut and pasted from the SD site: "The Vintage Mini Humbucker neck pickup delivers the classic Firebird tone that is a blend of bright, single coil high end, and more focused humbucker low end."

    https://www.seymourduncan.com/pickup/vintage-mini-humbucker-neck

    "SM-1n Vintage Mini Humbucker Neck Pickup is a vintage-correct replica of classic Firebird® pickup."

    https://reverb.com/p/seymour-duncan...m52-ICFYy2yAodd40NuA&gclsrc=aw.ds&hfid=521174
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2019
  10. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Afflicted

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    If you have an SM you can lend me, I can verify that advertising claim by performing the electrical response tests. I already tested the Phoenix, which I own and use. I guess to be fair, I'd have to test an actual Firebird pickup as well though. It would make a great study to include even more Firebird copies, but I can't afford that sort of thing.
     
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  11. GGardner

    GGardner Tele-Afflicted

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    Sorry. I have nothing to lend. I'm toying w/ the idea of buying something. And since I don't have much disposable income, I've come to rely more and more on forum discussions, which I know can be dangerous. I was thinking of a SD mini in the neck because the price is not outrageous and because they appear in the hotrod '52, but I have no problem going w/ the Cavalier either. Just a curious inquiry on my part.
     
  12. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Afflicted

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    Well the concept is plausible, if you grant only the simplest interpretation of what SD says, which is basically that it comes out somewhere between a single coil and a humbucker. If it uses thin blades like a Lawrence, it could easily do that so it would be no surprise. In fact, a lot of people like Gibson style minis, which are basically scaled down humbuckers. Much is made of it, and I have used them too, but in fact they don't differ radically from regular HB's.

    To sharpen it more, the main difference with a trad Firebird construction (using Alnico bar poles) is a boost at the resonant peak which emphasizes the treble, compared with steel pole construction. That is because there is much lower eddy current loss in Alnico vs. steel.

    Here is a comparison of the Phoenix vs. a cheap import mini using steel blades (however, with the brass cover removed!) Notice that the Phoenix also has a higher resonant frequency:
    phoenix_vs_Andoer.png

    When the standard -3dB cutoff is used to describe the beginning of the fall off in response, the Andoer has a 4.8 kHz and a Phoenix has a 6.4 kHz cutoff. This combines with the several dB difference in peak to significantly boost treble.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2019
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  13. DHart

    DHart Friend of Leo's

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    Much to consider here! I can't personally vouch for how the Duncans are designed, but from their own description it sounds like there is a single A5 bar magnet, presumably under a pair of coils, with steel bars running under the covers in place of pole pieces. That would be a distinct departure from a "true" Firebird pickup design, which would have a bar MAGNET in the center of each coil - each magnet serving in the same capacity as adjustable pole pieces and slugs serve in a humbucker design. The Duncan approach seems like a quasi-sort-of Firebird pickup, with an unconventional design, rather than a true Firebird pickup.

    In ANY event, I've compiled some data which you may find useful.

    Mini humbuckers and Firebird pickups look similar, have about the same size (be aware that there is some variation in sizes, depending on the manufacturer), but they don't have the same sonic characteristics.

    Also, be aware that the size of the mounting hole and the distance between the mounting screws varies between the different suppliers of mini-humbuckers and Firebird pickups.

    Doing your homework in advance of purchase is always a good idea.

    I did a survey on these a while back and at the time, these were the specs (be sure to check current specifications for any changes): Prices are per-individual pickup.

    Armstrong: 2.5” long x 1” wide $81

    Duncan: 2.59” long x 1.095” wide, 2.924” distance betw screw mount holes $150

    Gibson: 2.63” long x 1.13” wide, 2.94” distance betw screw mount holes $150

    GFS Mini 59: 2.67” long x 1.1” wide, 2.94” distance betw screw mount holes $36

    Mojotone 2.67” long x 1.10” wide, 2.95” distance betw screw mount holes $100

    Fralin: 2.68” long x 1.13” wide, 3.095” distance betw screw mount holes $160

    Cavalier: 2.7” long x 1.125” wide, $120

    DImarzio: 2.71” long x 1.11” wide, 2.95” distance betw screw mount holes

    With Kent Armstrong Mini Humbucker, order a WDMusic pick guard with hole routed specifically FOR Armstrong Mini Humbucker, as it is slightly shorter in the long dimension, and narrower, than Gibson standard mini humbuckers.

    WDMusic Mini Bucker Pick Guard Rout: 2.6” long x 1.12” wide 2.964” betw screw mount holes

    And, the physical construction of a TRUE Firebird pickup is significantly different from a Mini-Humbucker.

    It would be easy to confuse the two - but they're quite different. And then, there is the Johnny Smith 'hybrid' - a third variant that is a combination of the two.

    Mini-humbuckers vs TRUE Firebird humbuckers

    A mini-humbucker is made like a miniature PAF pickup. It has a SINGLE bar magnet, positioned under, and between TWO side-by-side coils. One coil has adjustable screw polepieces made out of a ferrous alloy; the other coil contains a ferrous metal bar that is not adjustable. The magnetism is transferred from the single bar magnet, through the steel adjustable pole pieces, toward the strings. This design is the same as a (downsized) Gibson PAF, with adjustable poles in one coil, and a series of non-adjustable metal slugs in the other coil.

    A TRUE Firebird pickup traditionally has TWO bar magnets; one bar magnet in the center of each coil. (No pole pieces. The bar magnets themselves serve to provide the magnetism through the cover to the strings, as the individual pole pieces in a humbucker do.) These magnets may be either AlNiCo, or ceramic, depending on the manufacturer. And for those with AlNiCo magnets, the magnets may be A2, A3, A4, A5, etc. again depending on the manufacturer. These do NOT have individually adjustable pole pieces and the cover itself is typically solid on top - no openings on top. Each coil is wound around a bar magnet, one coil is south up and the other is north up. Also, the magnetic field shape and size are slightly different between the mini-humbucker and the Firebird mini humbucker.

    What you hear is going to be very much individual to your own ears. Generally speaking:
    • A mini-humbucker has a smoother attack with more sustain
    • A Traditional Firebird pickup has a tighter, spankier tone. Tone tends to stay more defined even when you crank up your amp.

    More info here:

    https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/Humbuckers_and_Mini_Humbuckers
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2019
  14. Rob DiStefano

    Rob DiStefano Poster Extraordinaire

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    it all distills down to what the essence of a firebird pickup is all about - twin bobbins with a bar magnet inside each bobbin, where each bobbin is wound with 42awg coil wire. as to the magnet family, it must be alnico in either a5 or a4 model, and i believe that a5 is by far the better choice.

    there are no fasteners, screws, rivets or whatever used for building firebirds. they're all held together with potting wax and two spots of solder to hold the cover onto the frame. it's not an easy pickup to make if it is to be made "vintage style".

    the footprint (length and width) of a firebird is dictated by its frame and cover. as noted above in DHarts post, this can vary a bunch by each firebird manufacturer, and this is solely dependent on the availability of specific frames and covers. the biggest difference will be between duncan and everyone else, where duncan firebirds employ a smaller footprint than the typical true gibson firebird. i wish there was an industry firebird frame/cover standardization, but there simply isn't, so we all do the best we can and that might mean one needs to do a bit of pickguard pickup hole sanding. i *think* that unlike most other pickguard manufacturers, wdmusic custom pickguards will still work with their customers in providing firebird pickguards CNC'd to your exact dimensions. most other pickguard manufacturers will differentiate between a duncan (small) or gibson (large) firebird routed pickguard, but that will always be a slight gamble where "touch up" pickup hole sanding usually will be required.

    the classic gibson firebird uses a single conductor wire with a braided shield covering, and the finish leads of both coils are internally joined. the single wire is hot and the braid that's soldered to both one side of one coil and the frame is the ground. if there is a phasing issue when one firebird is required to pair with another non-firebird pickup, the leads of that type of wired firebird can't be swapped for obvious reasons. i prefer to use a fully shielded dual conductor where each lead is connected to the start lead of a coil, the finish leads are internally connected. this allows either lead to be hot or ground, and thus can be swapped to care for phasing issues. some folks ask about using a four conductor so that the coils can be wired to a DPDT switch that will allow the pickup coils to be selected as series (normal), parallel, or split. personally, this is a mistake and the results of not using only a series connection for both coils no longer renders firebird tone, nor any viable tone at all, IMHO.

    i love vintage firebird pickup tone. they're a bit difficult to build, but they're the only humbucker i'll bother to create and offer.
     
  15. DHart

    DHart Friend of Leo's

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    I'm really glad that you chimed in Rob, to discuss how you build Firebirds.

    I like everything you said about how you build your Firebirds, including the way the leads are run. When the day comes for a Firebird pickup... you're the man I'll call! :)
     
  16. hopdybob

    hopdybob Tele-Holic

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    Rob, do you have a youtube video link to a song where you hear "that' vintage tone? i am just curious.
     
  17. zombiwoof

    zombiwoof Tele-Afflicted

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    I thought that the Duncan FB pickups were the same size as the original FB pickups, but Gibson makes their current FB's a little bigger now, so the Duncans show gaps between the pickup and the rings when you sub them for modern Gibsons?. That was my understanding, but maybe I'm wrong (it has happened before).
    Al
     
  18. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Afflicted

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    You can go to about 2:50. The dub is not great but you can get an idea. 1971.
     
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  19. hopdybob

    hopdybob Tele-Holic

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    thank you for the link.

    i think that the guitar where those pickups would be mounted will do a lot of the sound, put this in a tele you would get more brightness
     
  20. Zepfan

    Zepfan Poster Extraordinaire

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    Gibson quit making real Firebird pickups several years ago, they have been making minibuckers under Firebird covers.
    The new 2019 line up for Gibson's Firebird guitar does list the "Custom Shop Firebird" pickup that's made to traditional Firebird specs and construction style as a option. Nice of them to offer now, but with the high cost of the guitar and whatever they'll charge for those pickups- it's safe to say that I won't be buying one anytime soon.
    Saw the info in the new Sweetwater Catalog. All the prices for the new line Gibson's were out of this world. 1958 LP Slash "Brazilian Dream" is only $12,999.00 USD, I almost tossed the catalog in the trash after that one.
     
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