Good Tone Pickups is a premium guitar pickup manufacturer based in Switzerland. We had the opportunity to interview the owner of Good Tone Pickups, Ralf Schoenberg, and ask him a few questions about his company.
Hi Ralf, thank you for taking your time to speak to us. Could you tell us a little bit about how and when did you start your company?
I started Good Tone Pickups in April 2010 after having very good response from many guitarists around my music environment. Basically, I was never supposed to establish a pickup manufacturing at all because I started a few years before to create my own sound in my guitar collection just to have a great tone for myself. When they all asked me to do one of my pickups for them I first refused to do so, because I wanted to have my personal sound just for myself and assumed that my taste of sound never would meet today’s market demands. But one day one of the guys encouraged me to offer Pickups to everybody. I first thought if my discriminated ears hear the same way like all the others, it must be worth to figure out a business idea. I must confess that it is also big luck or a god-sent-gift to have that ability to do so.
What is the story behind the company name?
Well, I think that Good Tone speaks for itself, because every guitarist wants to have good tone and many are searching their whole lives to get that tone and that satisfaction. Maybe Good Tone is helping them to get closer to what they are looking for.
What motivated you to begin building guitar pickups? And what type of pickups do you build? Humbucker? Single coil? P90? etc?
I always had an affinity for Pickups since I swapped the lousy Select against a Jackson J-80 Humbucker in my Washburn HM-5 when I was 14 years old. Since then I have tried hundreds of different Pickups from DiMarzio to Seymours ect. On all the Strat or Tele singles I always hated their hard attack and shrill appearance clean and especially overdriven. Even most of the Humbuckers sounded dead without proper overtones what makes them impossible to use on clean settings. I first started to develop the Classic Blues Strat set which now has become Good Tone‘s
bestseller and then started with PAF Humbuckers because I always liked the classic rock tone and character of the old Les Pauls. Today Good Tone offers a wide range of all classic Pickups also Tele, P-90, Classic Humbuckers, Distortion Humbuckers or even customized stuff which often is desired by guitar builders.
Do you make pickups with a certain period of time in mind regarding guitar tone, as for example a PAF-style pickup? 54 strat style etc?
I never focused on a specific period of time because it is more crucial that a pickup sounds great itself and I suppose that it is also impossible to categorize a specific sound to a specific time because Fender‘s and Gibson‘s were mostly handmade and so differed extremely in their parameters and sound. Even Gibson in the 1950`s didn‘t specify the material they were using for their Pickups. They just took what was currently available. For example you can find 3 different Alnico types they were using in those days but the worst was that they were winding each of the bobbins on two different winding machines to irregular number of windings between the boobins which explains why old PAF can differ between 7.4kilo Ohm up to 9 Kilo Ohms what really affects sound. We also do not know if the wire was differing in diameter and content of copper. I rather guess that in those days the content of copper was very low (max.70 percent) which has a huge impact on tone. Using Plain Enamel coated wire is not an evidence to get that old PAF vibe. A leading example is a well known US pickup manufacturer who is using plain enamel and one of the original winding machines from Kalamzoo to wind his PAF replica. His replica does not even come close to the sound and dynamic of an old PAF.
Can you describe to us the process, from idea to conception, of building a great pickup?
Let me explain this as follow, mostly customers come with a certain idea how they expect their instrument to sound, asking them first what construction (wood, hardware) is crucial to know. Then playing style and tone forming is also a significant fact to know before you start. With knowing the parameters you can start to distinguish the ingrediences being used to get the desired resonance frequency. Type of wood and hardware has a significant influence to tone and is one of the most underestimated things when people buy replacement pickups. All those Mexican and Roadworn Fender Strats are a leading example for this phenomenon, they all come with thin sustain blocks which kill string energy and therefore overtones and sustain become extremely diminished. If installing Good Tones, they never will response with full potential until you replace the sustain block. Another extreme I realized instrument with a fantastic dry tone but a bad response when played on the amp. I had once a customer who was completely frustrated about his Strat and wanted to give her the last try before throwing her in the bin. This amazed me, even though the instrument had a good resonance from the neck and body and a fantastic hardware from Callaham. I installed him a mixed set of Good Tones and when I played the first tone it was a complete different instrument. The customer was stunned completely and told me that this is the best he ever heard in his entire life. And so it always goes on!
Do you collaborate with a specific type of guitar players, genre-wise, in the evaluation process when building pickups?
Oh yes ! Lukas Schwengeler, one of our no. 1 swiss session guitarists, got a Good Tone signature set on his Pagelli guitar. Claudio (Pagelli)contacted me and told me that there is a customer who is interessed in Good Tone PAF‘s which have sent out for test. But Lukas wanted a PAF set which is well balanced in volume but also boasts up with original twangy, crispy Telly sounds without volume loss. After discussing with him it was clear what way to go. Don‘t ask me how I got the idea to develop this pickups, I don‘t know! Another many inputs I get from guitar builders like Egon Rauscher (Soultool Guitars), Marco Bernasconi (Bernasconi Guitars) and Gerd Nikolaiski who create fantastic instruments and have become close friends of mine too. At the moment Tommy Vetterli (Coroner, Ex-Kreator) is checking out the Good Tone Doombucker which is perfect for drop tunings and extreme hard music stuff played today. (It‘s just too hard for me as I am an ordinary old school 80`s Heavy Metal poser)
Are you and your team also musicians?
Yes, I have played guitars in 25 years and grew up with all those Hard ‘n` Heavy stuff and developed later to further styles like Blues, Jazz and World music. I also like African music because it is so optimistic and groovy.
What is your own favorite pickup and why?
Definitely, the Good Tone Classic Soapbar and Hot Soapbar in combination, no one offers that rich tone with sparkling highs and is so versatile to use. What accomplished guitar brand and musicians would you most like to see use your pickups, and why? Actually, any musician or guitar brand (except all that Chinese craps which are resource wasting), I think all could profit from my pickups regarding tone and performance.
Given that this is for a blog, what role has technology (the Internet, your website etc.) played in the success of your business?
A huge role as I maintain my website on my own and also get all the contacts and information I need from the Internet. And it would be extremely time intense if you had to investigate without the Internet.
Any new exciting things on the bench from the Good Tone tech team?
Yep, Egon and I are working for a fantastic new release for the next Frankfurt Musikmesse 2012 and also Good Tone is going to release many new models like the P-90 in Humbucker size and singles with quarter inch rods which can be operated in a tapped mode or something especially for the Telecaster.
Any famous last words?
Never judge a book by its cover!