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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Interview with Padraig Corrigan of Corrigan Pickups

I recently had the pleasure of having an interview with Padraig Corrigan, the visionary owner of Corrigan Pickups, a company from Toronto, Canada, that has carved a unique niche in the pickup business with its great guitar pickups. In our conversation, we delved into the art and science behind the models of Corrigan Pickups, explored the company's commitment to quality, the vision to tone and craftsmanship, and discussed pretty much of everything as envisioned through the lens of Padraig’s extensive experience.


This interview not only sheds light on what sets Corrigan Pickups apart from others in the market but also offers a glimpse into Padraig's personal journey in his Tone Journey, his passion for his craft, and his vision for the future. Whether you’re a guitar player, a pickup winder, or simply someone who appreciates the finer details in his Tone Journey, there’s something in this conversation for everyone. Hope you like, then, share it, if you like.


Hello Padraig. Can you tell us about the founding story of Corrigan Pickups and the inspiration behind starting the company?


Hey Baris, firstly I’d like to thank you for taking the time to have this discussion with me! I appreciate what you do with Tone Journey, I always enjoy the articles and interviews you publish.

I have been a full time guitar tech for the last five almost six years and as with any profession or career that one genuinely cares about the want to better yourself and learn is neverending. I got into pickup winding because like all of us I am always chasing tones, I’m always looking to get the sounds of my favorite players. I have always dabbled with swapping pickups etc and as I mentioned the thirst for knowledge is an ich that must always be scratched. So, after a lot of research I decided to pull the trigger on my first winder, some DIY pickup kits and the rest is pretty much history.


If you were to ask anyone who knows me well they’ll all tell you that I didn’t get into this to start a business, but frankly there are only so many pickups I can make for myself before I can’t physically fit any more in my parts bin haha. So after pestering all my friends and players in the local area I decided to start the Instagram page purely just so my friends could see what I’m upto, and so we could start fun conversations discussing this strange world of winding. Just over a year later and registering as an actual business, Corrigan Pickups has grown at a rate that I’m very proud of. Corrigan pickups is now a team effort and not just myself. I feel like we offer some products that stir a little curiosity, and it has now grown to a point that my wife handles all the day to day running of the business. I have surrounded myself with close friends who I trust to help me with the growth of the business. They all help me in ways that I know I’m lacking in but working with people you love on work worth doing is one of the most fulfilling things one can do.

Corrigan Pickups Coils

What sets Corrigan Pickups apart from other pickup manufacturers in the industry?


This may not be the answer the readers are expecting, but if you love your guitar the way it is and you’re writing music that makes you feel something. Then that guitar has done it’s job and you don’t need to change a thing. Especially with the younger players, pickups are expensive and installation costs can be just as expensive and the last thing we’d want as a company is to make younger players coming up feel like their gear isn’t good enough. Sit down, practice, love the instrument and have fun.


WITH THAT BEING SAID. If your sound just isn’t cutting enough, if it’s not prominent and you’re struggling to emote what you want to through the instrument, then that may be a good time to look into getting some new pickups. They’re the microphones of the guitar, they only receive the information you put into them. If they’re not doing their job and they’re impeding on how the player puts their musical point across, get them out of there and get something that works for you.


As for the more physical considerations. Depending on what pickup you’re replacing, do you want to replace it with something of the same size? Meaning a neck single coil for another single coil? Or maybe a single coil sized humbucker etc? What string spacing do you need it in? What magnet choices are you aware of and do you need to do more research into what it is about your current pickup that you don’t like? What value volume pot is the signal going into? You wouldn’t want to put a humbucker into a 250K volume pot unless you intentionally wanted a darker tone. These are some of the variables anyone would have to take into consideration before changing pickups, it’s all very simple but for those who aren’t in the know It can be very intimidating. We’d be more than happy to assist anyone regardless if they get a pickup from us or not.

 

I do understand what you mean and i have very close thoughts with you, personally. Can you please introduce your most memorable own pickup models to my readers from all around the globe?


Well, The F*CKBUCKER is the pickup we’re best known for. It’s an 18K AlNiCo 8 and Ceramic 8 powerhouse, and even though we market it as an extreme output monster. If you were to put one into your instrument you’ll quickly find it’s a very articulate and dynamic pickup with a very pleasing and even frequency response. We honestly just thought the name was catchy and fitting.


We’ve also just announced a new humbucker called “The Hi-Fi” which is an all neodymium humbucker with a low inductance and a moderate DC resistance. It’s actually louder than The F*CKBUCKER and has a more detailed crisp high end, it boasts an astonishing amount of string to string definition also.

 



Neodymium? Sounds powerful already :) You give many options for your customers like pole pieces not even the colour but also the type, many magnets etc. It gives a lot freedom to customers, right?


It absolutely does, we truly love working closely with every customer on every order. Having all of these variables only makes the entire process more enjoyable for both parties. We love to get to know the customer, what music they play, what instruments the pickups are going into. Having all of these variables just ensures that the customer gets exactly what they want/need. And let's be honest, we all love to spec out crazy custom parts.


We recently had a customer spec out a RED and ORANGE F*CKBUCKER with GOLD RAILS!?! We would’ve been silly not to say yes.

 

What considerations should guitarists keep in mind when selecting pickups for their instruments?


This may not be the answer the readers are expecting, but if you love your guitar the way it is and you’re writing music that makes you feel something. Then that guitar has done it’s job and you don’t need to change a thing. Especially with the younger players, pickups are expensive and installation costs can be just as expensive and the last thing we’d want as a company is to make younger players coming up feel like their gear isn’t good enough. Sit down, practice, love the instrument and have fun.


WITH THAT BEING SAID. If your sound just isn’t cutting enough, if it’s not prominent and you’re struggling to emote what you want to through the instrument, then that may be a good time to look into getting some new pickups. They’re the microphones of the guitar, they only receive the information you put into them. If they’re not doing their job and they’re impeding on how the player puts their musical point across, get them out of there and get something that works for you.

Corrigan Pickups in red

As for the more physical considerations. Depending on what pickup you’re replacing, do you want to replace it with something of the same size? Meaning a neck single coil for another single coil? Or maybe a single coil sized humbucker etc? What string spacing do you need it in? What magnet choices are you aware of and do you need to do more research into what it is about your current pickup that you don’t like? What value volume pot is the signal going into? You wouldn’t want to put a humbucker into a 250K volume pot unless you intentionally wanted a darker tone. These are some of the variables anyone would have to take into consideration before changing pickups, it’s all very simple but for those who aren’t in the know It can be very intimidating. We’d be more than happy to assist anyone regardless if they get a pickup from us or not.

 

Can you describe the design process of your own? How the F.ckbucker or The Big Slice was born at first? Can you share any interesting anecdotes or stories from the development process of a specific pickup model?


Nearly all of our stock models were born out of either my curiosity or out of my search for tones I wasn’t getting from the bigger brands. The Big Slice for example was the first humbucker I had made that I was truly happy with and could easily replicate, I wanted a AlNiCo 2 humbucker that had a little more punch than a PAF but wasn’t in the screaming output range.


The F*CKBUCKER however began as an experiment of “How much output can I get out of two coils and two magnets, without it being obnoxious and harsh” and I believe I achieved that. Of course the name is obnoxious but it adds to the charm. The original prototype was actually 21KOhm when wired in series which makes one think “Wow this thing is going to be insane!” but in reality having a DC rating that high means that the resonant frequency is so low that it cuts out any natural bite that the pickup would normally have. It almost acts like a low pass filter. Funnily enough I accidentally destroyed the original prototype, that was the day I learned that my wax pot was far too hot and melted the bobbins. You only make that mistake once.

 

Corrigan Pickups Coils 2

Can you share more about the core values that drive your company and how these are reflected in your products?


Corrigan Pickups has always been about getting quality products into the hands of working musicians, all we hear is how every day everyone is struggling a little more to make ends meet. I’m lucky enough to have a very full and happy personal and professional life, I have a wonderful home with my wife and our cats. I have a great day job and I get to work with a group of techs who are great resources for learning. I’m also aware that not everyone is this fortunate, with that being the case the team and I don’t think working musicians should have to pay through the nose to get custom pickups to help them achieve their musical goals. So we do our best to maintain a fair price for our products so that our customers can get the sound they need. If our profit margins have to suffer to maintain a consistent price moving through the years, so be it. It’s a passion project that we’re all fully behind, and I’m sure everyone involved with Corrigan Pickups can agree that our customers see that effort being made and appreciate it.


How do you ensure the quality of your pickups, and what makes them unique in terms of sound and performance?


AS far as QC goes my wife is actually a huge part of this, she helps prep every bobbin. Meaning she’ll measure pole piece spacing and bobbin dimensions to make sure it meets our standards. She will also help sand every bobbin to make sure that there aren’t any burs or casting marks. As for the winding I ensure that our layer counts are consistent to the model/sku and that once wound it reads within our tolerance for Resistance, Capacitance and Inductance. If the bobbin doesn’t meet the standards, I cut it and start again. Thankfully since we upgraded to the two Mojotone winding machines this is a rare occurrence.


All of our humbucker bobbins are potted before final assembly and potted once the entire pickup is assembled. This may seem overkill but it’s a nice failsafe and a piece of mind practice. I’m not superstitious… I’m just a little stitious.


All magnets are tested for their gauss rating as we charge all of our magnets in house (except the ceramics and A8 magnets) and again if they don’t meet the tolerance rating, we start again. Same goes for magnet dimensions, we have a tolerance of acceptable dimensions and if they don’t meet this we simply don’t use it.


We also now pot at a very specific temperature with a specific blend/split of paraffin to bee’s wax. May seem overkill but every little step makes a difference.


All of these finer details add up and our goal is always to ensure that the pickups have a strong and prominent midrange, that is always the desired audible quality we look for out of our pickups without it suffering the “Kermit the Frog” element. These extra little steps we take definitely add up and help us achieve this. Dynamics and a low capacitance, retaining the bite and treble response without ever being harsh. This is what makes our pickups unique.

 

Padraig Corrigan

Can you mention a bit about your “raw materials”? Can you source good materials with quality for bobbins, coil wire, magnets etc.?


We all live in the most modern moment that has ever been and being that this is the case it has never been easier to source quality materials. There is a law of diminishing returns to all aspects of skilled work and finding quality materials at a responsible price is the name of the game, ensuring this only aids the outcome of keeping our pricing reasonable and affordable for everyone to enjoy what we do. We have a handful of suppliers that we work with closely and trust to keep a consistent level of quality for what we order from them, and thankfully it’s extremely easy to keep in touch with all of them should a problem ever occur.


We also feel that our pickups should be serviceable should anything ever happen, we rarely have an issue with our pickups and their longevity due to our rigorous QC process but should there ever be an issue we can always service our products and by keeping our pickups within tolerances of a more global spec finding replacement components is relatively simple. This is something I’m very passionate about given my full time career, too many times I have been in a situation where a guitar I’m repairing gets stopped in its tracks because I’m waiting on the manufacturer to send me a proprietary part to finish the job. I’d hate for any of our customers to experience this or their repair techs, it’s all about paying it forward and making life easy for the next person. It’s a rare circumstance but not out of the realm of possibility and as such we have the fail safes in place.


You have already told us about the wax potting process of your pickups. On your website you tell most of your customers want, while you encourage them to try unpotted. I am familiar with unpotted pickups for PAF class/variant pickups. But for hi-gain territorry, isn’t it challanging?


99.9% of the time if a customer has made an order with us that isn’t a P.A.D, they’re going to expect that pickup to be potted. It’s just a general expectation. Unpotted pickups have their own charm, their own character. They amplify the resonance of the body a lot more than a potted pickup, if you tap the body you’ll hear it a lot more with an unpotted pickup. That in itself does have some drawbacks but it also brings a different dimension to the sound of the instrument. If the tension of the coil wire around the bobbin is tight enough and wound in a very consistent way, the output of the pickup and its DC resistance doesn’t necessarily mean that a high output pickup that’s unpotted will whistle/scream more than a PAF style pickup.


That’s why we recommend trying it, if you don’t like it we can always pot it after the fact.

Corrigan Pickups Baseplate

I would certainly, absolutely, creazily like to try a unpotted F*CKBUCKER :) You also encourage people to order fully custom pickup designs. Depending on my experience with people and customers, this can be thrilling or exciting while it can turn into a horse shit with some “certain people”, if you know what i mean. Where is the border, if it happened to you?


That’s a pretty interesting question, from my perspective it’s all about addressing the expectations and knowing one's limits. We don’t have a large work space, we don’t have a machine shop and so whatever we do take on has to meet the limitations we currently have. If it cannot be done mostly by hand, we won’t do it. We can cut flatwork, we can cut and tool up anything we really need and thankfully in Toronto there is a large maker community and plenty of places where I can get parts laser cut or CNC’d if need be so fully custom stuff isn’t so much of an issue.


If a prospective customer is wanting an quad humbucker consisting of 8 bobbins with their own independent stacks to make each bobbin noiseless when split, in a custom colour, and a myriad of other wild specs built in less than a month for less than $500… that’s just not going to happen. That of course is an extreme example and would never happen but you get the point.


We recently had a potential customer reach out wanting a 9 string pickup for an electric Chinese Zither he’s building, and of course the first thing we said was “YES! BRING IT ON! LET’S DO THIS!” After a few weeks of back and forth of getting to know the customer, getting specs for the build and doing some research of our own we found that any current examples of this instrument all use piezo systems as their strings aren’t particularly magnetic and as such any pickup we would build would be pretty much useless. That is a great example of “We have found that we can’t help you and this is why, but at least we both learned something and we’ve aided you on this journey” He was very appreciative of the research we had done for him and we’ve now made a good impression on someone who isn’t even a customer. But all of these small interactions help to build a positive company image and the likelihood of him now recommending us is a lot higher. Five minutes of research today could amount to a customer for life.


We’ve found so far that qualifying all of these custom orders to within our limitations drastically reduces the possibility of not coming through for the customer, or even worse providing something that doesn’t meet the standard just to say we did something.

 

Are there any particular artists or music genres that inspire your pickup designs? It seems you really are into “heavy” music, right?


It’s no secret that I’m a Metal guy, but like anyone I’m into a lot of different kinds of music. Everyone involved with Corrigan Pickups is into a wide variety of music, but I’ll try to focus my answer more towards myself as that is the context of the question.


I’ve been playing Guitar now for almost 20 years and I’ve played in cover bands, function bands, metal bands, Jazz bands and orchestras and any creative person will usually find inspiration from many different environments. Of course models like The F*CKBUCKER or The Angmar come from a side of me that is into extreme metal etc. But the Jailbreak P comes from my eternal love for Thin Lizzy, they’re my favorite band and that pickup is a direct response to how “Live & Dangerous” makes me feel. Lynott’s playing on that album is live and dangerous and that’s what I wanted out of a P Bass pickup for myself. Something loud, dangerous and in your face.


Our JP of Doom set was born from multiple custom orders from customers wanting that legendary “Jaco” tone from their Jazz bass. That set took multiple attempts and dialing in the specs until we nailed it, paired with a .022uf cap on your tone control it does get you there.


The Big Slice was as I mentioned an attempt to make a vintage spec pickup with a bit more balls, I wanted a pickup that would nail Clutch (the band) and Holdsworth tones without any compromise.

 

What has been the most challenging project or product development phase for Corrigan Pickups, and how did you overcome it?


Other than learning how to wind and not break the wire with my hands, 3D printing prototype parts was a steep learning curve due to 3D modeling etc. I honestly still don’t have a firm grip on it but I love to learn. Coming up with fair pricing and just running the business side of things is something I’m still learning day by day, but with the small team around me it’s getting easier. Having a team of people you trust to bounce ideas off of is key.


I feel like I have challenges every day as we’re all in a state of learning but that’s part of the fun. It’s not like you can go to school for pickup winding, so independent research is a constant for me. I love it. I love seeing what everyone else is doing, trying it myself or trying my take on it.


The F*CKBUCKER definitely took the most time, the most R&D and the most failed attempts. Bobbin dimensions changed, magnets changed, wind counts changed. I’ve prototyped that pickup more than any other. It’s once of those things that you’re chasing the dragon, I knew what I wanted but I wasn’t entirely sure how to get there. I’m proud of that pickup, through the trials I found the sound in my head.


Corrigan Pickups Coils

 

How do you stay innovative in a market that is both traditional and competitive?


As you can tell by now I’m not one for tradition. Right as I was getting into this one of my favorite YouTube channels “FanBlade Instruments” put out a build series, I forget which one but he said something that resonated with me;


“Because it’s tradition, is the refuge of those devoid of imagination”


When I heard that a light bulb turned on and a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I don’t need to make vintage replicas, it’s been done and I don’t have anything new to offer. I’ll still make them but I don’t identify Corrigan Pickups as “that” brand. The F*CKBUCKER is a prime example, two extremely powerful magnets with powerful coils whilst retaining clarity. I’m sure it’s been done before but if it has, it hasn’t been that popular. Maybe it’s not the best idea to make pickups that stray from the norm, but at least we can say they’re ours and we know that we make a quality product that pushes the boundaries.


I think it was Steve Vai who said “when I heard “that’s the way it’s always been done” that was my que to go the other way” I’m paraphrasing but you get the point. We’re always looking into ways we can innovate and intrigue our demographic whilst being familiar.

 

Corrigan Pickups Coils

From your perspective, how is the guitar pickup industry evolving, and where do you see it heading in the next few years?


Technology is always evolving and adapting. I think that the Fishman Fluence products have been the most recent step towards a truly different method of pickup design and manufacturing, their method pretty much ensures that each pickup comes out identical to the last once and they can dial in with absolute precision how that pickup sounds. I also feel that like with all things, trends, fashion, music, all come back around and I hope we see a resurgence and revival of the consistently inconsistent. The reason we all like those old 60’s and 70’s recordings is because the gear was made to a standard and specification that was all completed by hand, and therefore inconsistent. Everyone tries to do their best, but when all is said and done no one is perfect and there is beauty in the handmade. The irregularity is perfect. There is a very good chance I’m wrong, but pickup winding is an art that we at Corrigan Pickups share with a small group of people. There are plenty of companies doing it, but in comparison to most other industries, hand wound pickups is a very small world. I personally hope we see musicians starting to look locally for their Guitars, Pickups, Amps, Pedals etc. Why wouldn’t you want to go to someone to have them build something just for you? That thing they build for you will be the only one in the entire world, and it’s yours. This probably more my want to see the perspectives change more than the industry evolving. But I hope this is the future we’re collectively moving towards.

 

Are there any emerging technologies or trends that you believe will significantly impact the pickup market? New 3D printing tech for new bobbin designs maybe?


3D printing is getting better by the hour, within the next five years we’ll all probably have the means to 3D print metal at home. That’s pretty cool, I also think the home/hobbyist level benchtop CNCs are getting better by the day also. So that technology alone is going to greatly impact what we all do to a degree that I think we can’t even comprehend right now.


CNC controlled winding machines are also becoming very popular which I think is pretty cool if you’re in need to consistently wind 30 bobbins a day.

Corrigan Pickups Coils

These machines are going to shape the future of our industry and I think it’ll be for the better.


What does the future hold for Corrigan Pickups? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you're excited to share?


Corrigan Pickups have a few projects currently underway and will lead us through to 2025, we are currently working on some R&D to expand our Hi-Fi line to greatly involve Bass pickups. We’re going to stop production of most of the single coils, we will still make them however if requested.


We’re standardizing our three most popular models and these will go into full time production under our “standard” line. These will not be customizable but will give everyone the opportunity to get our products into their hands without the lead times of a custom order.


We’re also trying to find a facility in which we can set up shop, we’ve completely outgrown the space we’re in now and with the team growing as much as it is we need the space haha.


All I can say is, keep an eye out because we have lots of cool things planned!

 

Corrigan Pickups

It all from me. If you have parting words to all readers, now it is the time Buddy :)


Corrigan Pickups is small, we like that we’re small. We enjoy the relationships we develop with our customers and our artists. We’re always chasing a new sound, we’re always refining and looking into new ways in which we can achieve what our customers are looking for.


We’re a small and very close team, and we’re strong because of that. So if you’re ever in need of a new sound, or just some guidance on finding a sound that you may be looking for, we’re here for you. Whether or not you order a pickup from us, we’re here to help in any way that we can and we’d be happy to do so.


As I mentioned before, if you’re making music and you have an instrument that is inspiring you to play then you don’t need to change a thing. Write songs, join a band, release your music. But if you’re having an issue with your current pickups and feel like you could use our help or you just want to try something different and fancy getting something custom, please feel free to reach out to us!

 


April 2024

 

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