Alpha is a challenging project. But it was well worth it. The innovative use of non-traditional materials such as Carbon Fiber and Bamboo opened up new and interesting avenues for sonic exploration. The ideas were unconventional, somewhat rebellious, and perhaps to others, even heretic. Yet the result proves that indeed the concept was sound.
Currently, Alpha uses Dimarzio stacked pickups (DiMarzio Injector™ Bridge, DiMarzio Injector™ Neck, DiMarzio Area 69 Middle). These are splendid pickups! I love the grit and nasty attitude when you crank up the amp with loads of overdrive. I also love the clarity and the clean glassy-strat tone. But then again, this passive pickup design is more or less the same design as it was originally invented some 50 years ago (The Dimarzio Injectors are actually a cross between single coil pickups and the humbucker. Technically, these are stacked humbucking pickups).
Alpha is still evolving. Right now, I am at the 4th iteration. For Alpha-4, I would like to incorporate yet new ideas and innovations. I am hopeful that I’ll be able to document Alpha-4 as it is being developed. Quite recently, I’ve been heavily experimenting on electronics, starting with… the pickups.
Woa! What is that, you say? It’s a hexaphonic pickup (traditional pickups are monophonic). It has six low impedance coils (each with 1000 turns guage 43 magnet wire). The hex pickup is active with six differential low-noise, low-power pre-amplifiers —one for each coil. It has the same footprint as the ubiquitous Strat single coil, yet has a very low profile. The total height is a mere 8mm (0.3 inch). The low profile is achieved by using small neodymium magnets and (SMT) surface mount integrated circuits for the active electronics. Low profile means that you, as a guitar builder, do not have to route a deep cavity for the pickups. Such deep cavities degrade the structural and sonic integrity of the guitar considering that the pickups are placed at the crucial section between the neck and the bridge.
Eventually, the goal is to have hexaphonic sustain drivers as well. That, and with extensive processing for each string, will give us musicians full control over the dynamics of the guitar. I know hexaphonic sustain has been done in the past with the Moog guitar, but that was a very expensive gear. I want something more affordable. And I want a system that can be adapted to just about any guitar. This IMO is the holy grail and I know this is very difficult to do right, but every journey starts with the first step.
I am having good progress with this “6-pack” pickup project. The results so far are encouraging! I intend to release the designs as Open Source Hardware, targeting musician DIYers as well as enthusiasts and luthiers who want to incorporate modern electronics into existing and future designs. Surely, it will be incorporated into the next Alpha.
If you have no idea why hex pickup is an important evolutionary step, then stay tuned. We’ll have more on this… For now, here’s an article from Craig Anderton, one of my favorite electronic musician: