DeArmond pickups from the 50’s are considered the sweetest sounding transducers ever made for jazz guitars among many musicians. The pickup came in many variations and sometimes I get them in the workshop for repairs. Most common is the famous “Guitar Mike”.
This Gibson L5 is fit with a model 1000 “Rhythm Chief”. My job was to re-install the pickup permanent on the instrument without the sliding attachment and the volume and tone control. To do so, we decided to drill a bigger hole in the tailpiece to fix a Switchctaft output jack / strapholder combination. The pickup would be fixed on the body with double sided tape. A piece of very sensitive masking tape would protect the guitar finish.
I tested the pickup, fixed the new output jack, removed the controls from the pickup, connected the pickup and…no sound! I called the customer to tell the bad news and we decided to open the pickup – at the customers risk. DeArmond pickups have been made with extremely thin wires and because they are almost 70 years old, the insulation around the wires can be dry and easy to damage. Some pickups just die when you look at them.
After opening the pickup I connected a temporal connector, and the pickup just worked. After closing the pickup – no signal. After a close look and some physical tests ( pressing here and there, moving the cable) it seemed to be a thin wire got disconnected after pressing the side of the pickup. Because the pickup has been waxed (probably not original) we decided to leave the pickup and make the cover a bit wider so it would not clamp the side too much. I made a small piece of brass to slide in the side to keep the cover on the pickup. This worked. After attaching the pickup secure to the Gibson L5 the customer has a semi-permanent fixed system in wich he doesn’t need to be afraid of broken cables, another common problem with older DeArmond pickups.
This operation shows how careful you have to be with the pickup and how sensitive the material is. To rewind the coil is another problem; most pickup builders refuse them as it takes sometimes over 10 tries to make a new one.
Here is a 50’s DeArmond Guitar Mike, I had to replace the cable. When replacing the cable (original 50’s too) the insulation within the cable just came out like powder, making the cable worthless. To replace the cable, you have to careful open the pickup. This one has not been waxed, and makes it possible to re-solder the wires directly to the coil. This is still a tricky job, if you damage them or if you are shakey with the soldering iron it can end up in the trash bin.