Don Mare has cracked the vintage Strat tone code!!

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by VaughnC, Aug 16, 2008.


  1. VaughnC

    VaughnC Supporting Member

    Messages:
    14,805
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Well, those of you who frequent The Gear Page regularly probably know that, when it comes to Stratocasters, I’m a Strat-o-nut of the highest order…BUT I’m not easily impressed when it comes to what I consider to be a great, old, mid ‘60’s Fender Stratocaster tone. My old ’64 Strat’s tone is the standard by which I measure all others and I’ve been on a Strat-o-quest for the past 8 years trying to find a pickup that would deliver a tone that’s at least close to my dearly departed ’64.

    I’ve literally tried dozens of different pickups in various Strats only to be tonally disappointed in one way or another and I was ready to give up the chase…then I happened to have a few interesting conversations with pickup builder Don Mare. Based on my old ’64 Strat, I described to Don the tone I was seeking and he was the first pickup winder who knew exactly the tone I was chasing: thumpy, but focused wound strings, sans any ice pick from the unwound strings, with no honky mid clutter. In my experience, and to my ears, this is a difficult tonal balance to achieve in a Strat. Unlike original Fender's, with most modern Strat pickups I've tried, if the wound strings were clear & focused then the unwound strings tended to be ice picky and, if the unwound strings were sweet then the wound strings tended to be muddy and unfocused. If you’ve ever played a good example of a mid ‘60’s Strat, perhaps you know the tone I’m trying to describe?

    So, after discussing a lot of the technical details of what we both felt made for a great sounding Strat pickup, I challenged Don to build me a set of pickups that would deliver a genuine mid ‘60’s Strat tone that would make this hard to please Strat-o-nut happy. Don accepted my challenge…and, as a guideline, I gave him the resistance readings I recorded from my old ’64 Strat: bridge 6.3K, mid 6.2K, neck 6.1K, and he took it from there.

    A couple of weeks later, Don sent me just a neck pickup to try out in my Vintage Hot Rod ’62 Strat to see if he was on the right track with his "Josie" wind ("Josie" or "Rosie" was an employee at Fender in the 50’-60’s who happened to stumble upon a coil winding pattern that created this very special pickup tone, and Don told me that he figured out her unique coil winding pattern and borrowed it for his designs). Here's a photo of my old '64's Strat pickups where "Josie" signed the neck pickup:
    [​IMG]
    When the "Josie" wound Mare neck pickup arrived, I installed it and I was prepared to be disappointed (again!)…but, instead, the hair stood up on the back of my neck! There’s the friggin’ mid ‘60’s Strat tone I’ve been seeking that no other pickup I tried in the past 8 years would deliver! So, I gave Don the go ahead to "Josie" wind the bridge & middle (non-RWRP) pickups based on my old ‘64’s specs.

    The bridge and middle pickups arrived today and, fortunately, I got home from work a little early so I couldn’t wait to drop them in my Vintage Hot Rod ’62 Strat. About 40 minutes later the last two Mare, "Josie" wind pickups were installed and, after balancing out their height adjustment, I thought I was playing my old ’64 Strat again!! The tone is big, bold, focused, clear, with no mud or ice pick….Don friggin’ nailed it!! I played the friggin’ thing for 3 hours and could not put it down.

    Beyond their killer tone, there are two other things I like about these Don Mare Strat pickups. First, with many other Strat pickups I’ve tried, there was a tonal shift between non-quack positions 1, 3, & 5, and quack positions 2 & 4…some pickups would get relatively darker in positions 2 & 4 whereas others would get relatively brighter. There’s no tonal shift between quack and non-quack tones in the Mare pickups. Secondly, they have the best dynamic range of any pickup I’ve tried. The harder you pick, the louder they get…many other pickups I’ve tried would only get loud to a point and then they’d compress and squish out. Stand back with the Mare’s!...which also means that you don't need an overwound, muddy bridge pickup to deliver the goods. I just set the 6.3K bridge pickup slightly closer to the strings than the other two pickups and its a done deal...tone & heat.

    Well, thanks to Don Mare, my Strat pickup chase of 8 years is finally over…and now it looks as though my backup Strat will need the Mare "Josie" upgrade as well. When it comes to Strat tone I’m not easily impressed…but I can’t say enough good things about these Don Mare "Josie" wind Strat pickups, his attention to detail, and his customer service. Anybody can wind wire around a magnet….but, in this Strat-o-nuts opinion, if you like that good old Fender Strat tone, Don Mare has the golden Strat-o-touch. :AOK

    Don Mare's website: http://www.buckcannon.com/index.html
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2008
  2. WahmBoomAh

    WahmBoomAh World Crass Guitarist Silver Supporting Member

    Messages:
    3,405
    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2005
    Location:
    New York
    oh no ! Get out the screwdrivers boys !

    Just for torture ... did you try the CS`69`s ? if so , what was your impression of them in relation to Josie ?

    I`m otherwise pretty happy with my parts strat w/ 69`s ( I WAS) !

    thanks for the report
     
  3. Gary Ladd

    Gary Ladd Member

    Messages:
    1,544
    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2005
    Location:
    Control Room
    I think Jim Rolph has done that too, did you try his pups?
     
  4. cbpickin

    cbpickin Tweed Supporting Member Silver Supporting Member

    Messages:
    6,141
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2006
    Location:
    Central Coast, CA
    Are they Alnico V or II?
     
  5. KeithC

    KeithC Silver Supporting Member

    Messages:
    5,229
    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2005
    Location:
    OK
    Nice review. The Strat dilemma for sure...big, nice no mud wound strings but also no over the top ice pick on the unwound strings.

    The other thing you mention that I have noticed is the fact that some pups do have the brighter quack positions and other seem to darken up.
    Never understood why.

    I don't own any Mare pups so have nothing to add other than to say they sound like they do what I would want out of Strat pups.
     
  6. KBR

    KBR Member

    Messages:
    1,606
    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2004
    Location:
    Central, Oregon &
    You should hear His tele pups, too!

    A master Pickup Tone Man!
     
  7. VaughnC

    VaughnC Supporting Member

    Messages:
    14,805
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Yup...Jim makes some excellent pickups, but the '64 set I tried just didn't have the particular tone I was seeking.
     
  8. VaughnC

    VaughnC Supporting Member

    Messages:
    14,805
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    No, the '69's are one set that I didn't try. From the various comments I've read about them I was concerned that they might be a bit too bright for my taste.
     
  9. Stratofuzz

    Stratofuzz Supporting Member

    Messages:
    1,655
    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2006
    Location:
    San Juan Capistrano, CA
    I have his '57 Junior Watson replicas, and am very impressed. They do have the short coming of a slightly darker/ duller tone in positions 2 & 4. However I have never been a fan of those positions anyway. With these pickups the bridge/ middle sounds great. BTW the middle pick up is non reverse wound.

    I am in no way an expert in Stratocaster pick-ups or vintage tone. I just know what I like, and these Don Mare pickups blew away the stock Eric Johnson pick ups. They are more sensitive to picking, have more punch, a more full/ resonant sound. I have been thinking about building a Telecaster with his pickups, but after reading your review I may just build a rosewood neck Strat with these pickups installed.
     
  10. playon

    playon Supporting Member

    Messages:
    1,834
    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2005
    Location:
    Washington State
    I have tried both Don's pickups and the Custom 69s, Don's are much better. The 69s sound a bit thin for my tastes.
     
  11. bluesjuke

    bluesjuke Disrespected Elder

    Messages:
    24,156
    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2005
    Location:
    Gretchen's House, Bluesland, TX.
    Glad to hear your search is over!
    First time I heard Don's work was Junior Watson with Nemeth and man I was most impressed.
     
  12. chenette

    chenette Supporting Member

    Messages:
    276
    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2007
    I have had a telecaster for a few years and not played it very much and then I got Don Mare pickups. My tele is a MIJ Paisley. I'm now a telecaster player and my strat with Kinmans has sat out for the last few months. Perhaps, its time I call Don for strat set.
     
  13. RvChevron

    RvChevron Member

    Messages:
    2,467
    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2002
    Location:
    Hong Kong, China
    Vaughn C, you might have just shown me the pickups I want for my coming strat project. The tone you described was pretty much what I like.

    So Don Mare "Josie" wound it is.

    Thanks for the review!
     
  14. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

    Messages:
    14,628
    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2005
    Sounds great description of classic strat tone. If I ordered a set, I'd definitely go for non RWRP too Vaughan. I know what you mean with the notch positions changing tone, but I really like the way the notch positions darken just a bit, gives that hollowness. Especially in position 2, it sounds great with overdrive when it's darkened. Instead of twangy, it's tangy!
     
  15. TimH

    TimH Member

    Messages:
    4,642
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2005
    Location:
    Toronto, ON, Canada
    Can you describe how they compare to Suhr FL's?
     
  16. gkoelling

    gkoelling Member

    Messages:
    15,380
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2005
    Location:
    In The Basement
    Great review, Vaughn!

    I have Don's pups in two Tele's and nothing else I've tried comes close.
     
  17. Tonefish

    Tonefish Member

    Messages:
    5,279
    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2006
    Location:
    Wherever I am
    thanks for the review.

    I'll have to try those strat pickups. I like Don's tele ones for sure.
     
  18. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

    Messages:
    11,809
    Joined:
    May 19, 2003
    Are these a production pickup?
     
  19. VaughnC

    VaughnC Supporting Member

    Messages:
    14,805
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    A person could go broke trying every Strat pickup on the market ;)...but the pickups that were in one of Suhr's Strat style guitars that I tried at a local dealer (not exactly sure of the pickup model) didn't have the mid 60's tone I was seeking. It seemed to do better with modern hotter Strat tones. There are so many Strat flavors out there...but I was seeking a particular flavor that I heard from an old '64 Strat.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2008
  20. GAT

    GAT Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    17,117
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2005
    Location:
    Reno
    VaughnC,

    I'm a strat nut too and I finally bought an all original '65 strat and I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. I was knocked out by the tone of that guitar and I compared it to three other stellar strats and they all paled in comparison.

    I need to order these for my others! Thanks!
     

Share This Page