For those of you who are into chasing the ultimate tone, a good starting point is to change the guitar pickups. Bare Knuckle Pickups have been at the forefront of creating hand-wound pickups for a number of years and their products are being enjoyed by thousands of guitarists at all stages of their playing development. Guitar Jar catches up with Bare Knuckle Pickups Managing Director Tim Mills, to find out more about the BKP company and product range.
…the thing I’m proudest of is the company itself for what it has achieved and that’s been built on the sound and performance of each and every one of the pickups…
- Hi Tim – I’m aware that you’re a bit of a guitar ninja. In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
I started playing in the early ‘80s and one of the biggest influences was hearing Randy Rhoads for the first time – the first time I played Blizzard of Ozz on my record player (yes it was all vinyl then!) was the defining moment when I discovered the meaning of life! Also around that time John Sykes came onto the scene, Vivian Campbell too and EVH and George Lynch were already there and I learnt masses from trying to recreate their playing. Older friends of mine were all listening to Floyd, Zep, Sabbath and Kiss and I fed off that too and it’s not until I look back that I realize how much of that I took into my own playing.
- It’s a known fact that you’re a bit of a dab hand at playing the guitar. Can you tell our readers who you’ve played with over the years? Are you involved with any musical ventures at the moment?
The biggest artist I’ve worked for and the one I’m most proud of working for is the blues rock singer Elkie Brooks – I played and recorded with Elkie through a lot of the ‘90s which, coming from a rock/metal background, taught me a lot as I suddenly found myself in a band with some serious session players. Extremely intimidating but a real eye opener and got me playing all kinds of music I had never ventured into before as well as teaching me a lot about music, writing and production. During this time I was also in a metal band called Shea featuring my wife on vocals and we toured the UK extensively and did several sessions for the Friday Rock Show on Radio 1.At the moment I’m playing in Ozzmosis, an Ozzy tribute band – I started doing this back in 2003 and to be honest despite the initial concerns about playing in a tribute band, have absolutely loved every minute of it. Playing the music of Randy Rhoads is coming full circle for me and doing the band is both challenging and serious fun. It’s a great way of keeping my chops up and allows me to test new pickups in a live environment which I always prefer. I have also played very briefly for Iced Earth and Civilization One.
- What were you doing for work before you set up Bare Knuckle Pickups? What was it like making the leap to run your own company in a market competing with some big names, such as Seymour Duncan?
Before BKP I was on the road with Elkie a lot of the time and in between that I taught guitar and also martial arts. When my first son came along being on the road didn’t have the appeal it first had so I started to look for an alternative way of staying within the music business but being based at home more. Coming from the south west there’s not a lot of session work so I started looking to my experience of the guitar and how else I could utilize that other than just playing gigs or teaching. It was about that time that I first really started experimenting with pickups. The more I did, the more I learnt and the more I felt I’d found a gap in the market that wasn’t being filled in the way that I could envisage it. Bare Knuckle Pickups grew from that and hasn’t stopped since.
- I remember laying my eyes on Bare Knuckle Pickup branding a good few years back. Where did the name come from? Was it a spontaneous decision for the name or was it something you had in mind for a while?
As well as playing guitar I’ve been heavily into martial arts which in its own way I found as creative as music – I’d decided that I wanted to produce and market the pickups built on the basis of time honoured values and to try and hark back to the days when Great British manufacturing was a force to be reckoned with. As your hands are both integral in playing guitar and martial arts the idea of Bare Knuckle came about – the art of just using your hands! Once I’d found the name the rest of the branding all fell into place.
- The range of BKPs is fairly large these days catering for most tastes. What was your first pickup design and was it a long process from going from the idea in your head to a finished product that you ultimately sell?
It was the Miracle Man humbucker. My quest started out as trying to find an alternative to active pickups – not that there’s anything wrong with actives but I wanted a more personal tone, more character and dare I say, dynamics. I went back and forth for the best part of a year before I got what I wanted. Although I was working on 3 more designs roughly concurrently, the Miracle Man humbucker was the first.
- What’s the latest pickup to be added to your range?
The most recent humbucker was the Painkiller humbucker and it’s been a huge seller for us and extremely well received by the metal and progressive playing community. We’ve also expanded into both 7 and 8 string humbuckers too.
- Which pickup is the most popular and why?
There’s not much in it between the top 4 actually – The Mule, Nailbomb, Stormy Monday and Warpig are the top sellers, but to be honest the others aren’t far behind!
- Do you ever get approached by artists/bands to create a new pickup based on their requirements that can ultimately be sold to the general public?
Yes and we’ve brought out several signature pickups for artists like Steve Stevens and we also make the pickups that go into the Matt Bellamy signature guitars for Manson Guitars.
- As a gigging guitarist, what BKP would you suggest I add to my Stratocaster (maple board) to give me an all round rock machine that can also handle good clean tones?
Assuming it is standard SSS layout and not HSS, I would recommend the Irish Tour single coil set. These are our best selling Strat coils and for sheer balance of vintage tone and output they can’t be beaten – perfect for hot blues rock tones but also retain a lovely woody clean tone too.
- How has the “credit crunch” affected BKP as a company?
We trade worldwide and have a large network of official BKP dealers as well as quite a strong advertising presence which has enabled the company to grow year on year so I’m glad to say we’ve weathered it very well.
- As a business, how do you stay motivated?
I think one of the key things we do, other than make pickups to the best of our ability, is centre on customer service and it’s that interaction with the customers that makes it interesting and keeps things firmly in focus. The other side of it is the actual building of the pickups and playing the guitars with them in – what more motivation do you need!
- What was the last gig you went to and did the guitarist(s) use any of your products?
Motorhead and Saxon – both Phil Campbell and Paul Quinn both play BKPs in their guitars.
- What albums are you currently listening to?
I’m driving the lads in the workshop mad with the latest Ratt album ‘Infestation’ – takes me right back to the early days and I love the songs and the playing. Good times! I’ve also got the new Ozzy album ‘Scream’ on the go.
- Do Bare Knuckle Pickups have any products up their sleeves due for release soon?
There are some new developments in the humbuckers and some new additions for the Strat and Tele single coils to come out later this year. We’ve also launched our own range or custom pots and only this week added BKP branded deluxe leather guitar straps.
- A DeLorean Time Machine has just pulled up outside the Bare Knuckle Pickups office. Where would you like to go on the BKP timeline? Would you go back to rectify any mistakes, stay where you are or take a sneak peek in the future?
Stay where we are – the past is history and we’ve learnt from that and the future is based on our actions today. I’m enjoying today.
- What pickup are you most proud of and why?
The thing I’m proudest of is the company itself for what it has achieved and that’s been built on the sound and performance of each and every one of the pickups.
- Lager or Cider?
After that lot a pint of Lager please!
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