Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Pickup Review

 

Fender Custom Texas Special Pickcups

Here’s the thing: I don’t normally like high output single coil pickups. I think the best pickups for strats and tele’s are usually the lower output ones, then ones that let more of the sound of the wood come through. Recently, though, I had the opportunity to try out a guitar with Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Pickups, and I was surprised at how good they sounded. If you get a chance, pick some up and slap ’em in your strat-style guitar.

Also, if you’ve never replaced the pickups on your strat, but need a tutorial, there’s one available here at GuitarMakersOnline.com: http://www.guitarmakersonline.com/how-to-replace-strat-pickups/

If you don’t know the history of  Texas Special Pickups, they were made to approximate the sound of Stevie Ray Vaughn, when Fender was developing the Stevie Ray Vaughn Signature Stratocaster. They take their name from a Train Line from the early 1900’s in America.

As I stated earlier, these pickups were wound to be on the high output side: but what does it MEAN to be high output? Interesting question. To answer it, we’ll need to discuss how a pickup works.

 

Technical Overview

The function of a pickup is to convert the mechanical energy of a guitar’s string to the electrical energy of current. This conversion process is called induction. Basically, moving a piece of metal through a magnetic field produced by an electromagnet causes a very small current to be produced in that electromagnet’s coils.

In the case of most passive guitar pickups, the magnets are made of an alloy of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt, or more colloquially, Alnico. Now there are a few different kinds of Alnico magnets that are classified from I to V in roman numerals. Each type of Alnico has its own characteristics, and therefore, its own sound. These particular Texas Special Pickups have cylindrical magnets made of Alnico V.

In single-coil guitar pickups, the six cylindrical magnets, or “pole pieces,” are wrapped with very thin copper wire many thousands of times. Usually in the case of Strat pickups, this wire is 42 AWG. The wire is usually coated with some kind od material to keep it from shorting out against itself. In the case of the very first Strat pickups, the wire was coated in a type of resin called polyvinyl formal, or formvar. Fender experimented with many different wire coatings. The wire used in Texas Special Pickups is coated in enamel, much like the wire Fender used from about the time of the CBS takeover through the 60’s.

The propensity to induce current is called inductance, and its unit of measurement is called a Henry, after the man who discovered that such a thing could be measured.

Inductance can be correlated to the overall output of the pickup in terms of volume. So the higher the value in Henries, the louder the pickup. Texas Specials have inductance values of 2.4 Henries for the neck, 2.6 Henries for the middle, and 3.58 Henries for the Bridge.

Another measurement commonly used to compare different pickups is the DC Resistance, measured in Ohms. Generally, this resistance is caused by the amount of wire wrapped around the magnets, i.e., the more the number of wraps around the magnet, the higher the resistance. Many people mistakenly believe that if the pickup has a high DC resistance, the pickup will also have a high output. This is not necessarily true. DC Resistance has more to do with the resonant frequency of the pickup, or the most dominant frequencies, that are transmitted to the amplifier.

In this set of Texas Special Pickups, the neck pickup measures 6.2k Ohms, the middle pickup measures 6.5k Ohms, and the bridge pickup measures from 6.5k to 7.1k Ohms.

 

Sound!

But how do they sound? Here’s where the fun part comes. Generally, when people write or talk about the sound of pickups, they start to use words that don’t mean anything, like “glassy,” “round,” or “beefy.” I hate that.

It’s really hard to describe a sound using words, so I’ll include some YouTube clips that I feel best exemplify the sound of the Texas Special. Again, I would have to offer a few caveats: First of all, YouTube videos are a far cry from hearing what a pickup sounds like on your own equipment, in your own guitar, in your room. Second, the vast majority of YouTube videos are notoriously recorded at low cost, largely with the microphone on the flip camera or iPhone–not the BEST way to capture sound and make the viewer get the idea of the unadulterated sound of the guitar or amp, much less the subtleties of pickup sounds. Finally, since the Texas Special was designed with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar tone in mind, LOTS and LOTS of videos claiming to highlight the sound of these pickups consist of people that can’t play very well doing terrible versions of SRV songs…be warned. I did my best to find videos that were good players doing what I thought sounded like Texas Specials to me.

Let’s have a look!

Another problem I found when looking for good examples of the Texas Special
sound was that the majority of videos just showed people playing the neck pickup and nothing else. While that may be fun, it still doesn’t give us the sounds of the other pickups in the set.

Here are two of the best examples of what I feel the Texas Special
neck pickup is supposed to sound like…and the player is really good, too:

 


Again, this guy was really good, but he never went past the first two pickup positions…and no one else really did either. That is, until I found this guy….and you can probably skip ahead to about 2:50 to hear him play through all the positions. Not the best quality, perhaps, but at least he gets through all the positions:


It was here that I ran into a kind os brick wall. Most people I looked at either didn’t go through all the pickup positions, were terrible, or were playing SRV or John Mayer songs….sigh. Then I remembered that Texas Specials come standard on the Stevie Ray Vaughn Signature Strat, the Bonnie Raitt Signature Strat, and the Mark Knopfler Signature Strat. So I scoured YouTube again for examples of these three models to see if perhaps they went through all pickup positions…here’s the best example I could find:

To Sum Things Up

So there you go. Here’s what I think: Texas Special Pickups are a great(!) way to upgrade your existing strat. They are high quality pickups made with high quality materials and if you like the way Stevie Ray Vaughn or Bonnie Raitt or Mark Knopfler sound, then you should definitely pick up a set of Texas Special Pickups and get your guitar sound to the next level!

 

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