Porter Pickups is a US based company specialising in producing hand wound guitar pickups. In most cases, guitarists who embark on the Holy Grail of guitar tone often turn initially to loading a new set of custom pickups into their instrument. Guitar Jar catches up with Brian Porter, to quiz him on the range of Porter Pickups available, plus why he thinks hand-wound pickups really are that special.
…since each inch of wire passes through the hands of the pickup maker, it’s truly something they have put their own touch into…
Porter Pickups Strat Set
- Hi Brian, before get into the details of the Porter range of products, can you tell Guitar Jar readers if you play the guitar and if so, what/who influenced you to start learning?
I do play guitar as much as I can. I started wanting to play guitar when I was a teenager, because a friend was starting to learn. I was playing a lot of simple 3 and 4 chord songs initially, when I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time. I loved the way he played and there was something about his guitar sound that woke me up. From there I went to find out about his influences, and discovered even more music I liked.
- What’s your role in the company and do you have a team working for you?
I am pretty much involved in every aspect of the company. It’s basically my wife and I that handle the ordering, dealer contacts, and building. I currently do all the winding myself, and will as long as it’s possible. It’s truly a “Porter” pickup.
- What were you doing for work before you set up Porter 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?
I started out making guitars a few years after an apprenticeship with John Bolin of Bolin Guitars, I was also teaching some guitar as my main source of work. The pickups really grew out of the guitar making thing, once people heard them and wanted to buy pickups for their guitars. It’s interesting getting a business going with such huge and established names, but there’s also a lot of guitars made everyday that can use new pickups!
- The hand wound pickup market seems to be increasing with companies such as Bare Knuckle and Wizard leading the way here in the UK. What’s special about using hand-wound pickups compared to using mass-produced pickups?
I think there is a lot of advantages to hand wound. I went with hand wound because thats how they were made initially. I think there’s something to the human element in a pickup build. In the case of winding a coil, the winder can control several variables in the shaping of the tone such as tension of the wire, the pattern etc. In many cases, you can talk with the person who is hand winding your pickup, which creates a unique custom build when you factor in the magnet types, wires and the custom wind. With pickups, some randomness in the coil is actually a good thing. Since each inch of wire passes through the hands of the pickup maker, it’s truly something they have put their own touch into.
- I have a ’79 Strat with a maple board. Which Porter Strat pickups would you recommend I install to give me a good spread of clean and dirty tones?
I would go for our 1950’s set. It works well with maple boards and has a cool vibe and feel to it. Each position is very versatile and is balanced well.
- What’s the latest pickup to be added to your range?
We added our PAF clones we call the Anthems in May. They are the first pickups in our Custom Series. The Custom Series pickups are available in tons of options from covers, to baseplates, string spacing, magnets, bobbins, etc, all included in the price. You basically start from the bottom up with the Custom Series pickups.
- Which pickup is the most popular and why?
Our Smooth-Classic Humbucker set is the most popular. It features an AlNiCo 2 neck pickup called the Smooth Humbucker and an Alnico 5 Pickup in the bridge called the Classic Humbucker. It’s very versatile across different guitar types and works well for all types of styles. The neck gives you tones from bluesy rock to jazz, and the bridge is a great rock and all around pickup. The middle is a nice mix of the two, making the regular three way switch setup work really well with these two pickups.
- Which pickup are you most proud of?
It’s hard to say which ones I’m most proud of, but I enjoy seeing the reactions of people to the different pickups I make. I’ve got a set of 50’s in a franken-strat for store demos, and it gets played as much or more than any of the other pickups.
- Can you tell our readers about the established guitarists who use your pickups? Are they using “stock” Porter Pickups or do you wind them to their unique specifications?
We’ve got a lot of smaller bands using the pickups. We have Studio and road guitarists Sam Weaver using our Modern Single Coil Pickups. He’s done several recordings and tours with Christian artist Todd Agnew and Ardent Records artist Jeremy Horn. I wound a set for Sam with our Modern pickup materials, but to the same number of turns as a 62’ strat set.
Porter Pickups Tele Set
How has the global economic downturn affected Porter Pickups?
It’s been both good and bad for us. We’ve had several stores come close or about to close that carry our pickups, but at the same time, we’ve still seen growth over the last few months. We just signed a distribution deal for the pickups within the last two months, and that will be launching to their networks soon.
- How do you stay motivated? Are you thinking ahead about future products to offer the guitarist community?
I stay motivated because my name is on the business. My goal is to help people find the tone they are after, and show them the advantages of new pickups on a guitar that plays great. We’ve got several new pickups coming out over the next few months. We’re doing a few more Custom Series sets for strat and tele’s, as well as releasing some bass pickups.
- Do you produce pickups for 7 String guitars?
I can do 7 string humbuckers, but with limited bobbin options.
- A DeLorean Time Machine has just pulled up outside the Porter Pickups office waiting to take you to 88mph. Where would you like to go on the Porter Pickups timeline? Would you go back to rectify any mistakes, stay where you are or take a sneak peek in the future?
I think everything happens for a reason, so I try not to look back unless I’m learning from a mistake. I would maybe go back to the 50’s and 60’s and buy some guitars! (good answer! 😉 Sam)
- Lager or Cider?
- What’s the plan for Porter Pickups for the next 12 months?
We plan on releasing several new pickup models and types, as well as doing more in-store demos, guitar shows and events. I really enjoy meeting players. We will also be working on more promotional videos and expanding the brand name.
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