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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Interview with Ray Hadiwono from Ray Tone Lab Pickups

Hello Ray. Can you tell us about the founding story of Ray Tone Lab Pickups and the inspiration behind starting the company?

Hi Baris, im glad to be here. Thank you for the opportunity. I’d actually learned pickup building long time ago in early 2000 back when i lived in Los Angeles. i learned the skill from few friends who worked in the major guitar companies. İ got to know some people in the guitar industries, visited guitar factories, meeting and learning from other builders, tech, musicians. I was also playing guitar in a Rock band back then, Our band played regularly around LA from Sunset strip to San Bernardino. I guess I was fortunate being in the right environment.


Electric Guitars has always been my my passion. I was constantly in a quest for a great guitar tone, fiddling with guitars, amps, and of course guitar pickups. I tried to get the most out of my gears with limited budget, like most musicians LOL . i had also had the chance to learned to build an electric guitar. But after i returned to my hometown Semarang,Indonesia, i got busy with family business and life, that i got lost in touch with music and guitars for a while.


Until COVID happened, i got plenty of time at home then i got a chance to focus with guitars again.


One day, I was curious with Indonesian Custom guitar culture. So I’d ordered a custom guitar from local luthier and i tried to order pickups from an Indonesian known builder. Then, i was dissapointed from the whole experience: long turnaround time, minimal custom options and below standard customer service and also the final product was non satisfactory, then i started to think “I can definitely do better than this! ”. So That’s how It started.

 

I had a similar story once but just about starting making guitars, but its another story, buddy :) What sets Ray Tone Lab Pickups apart from other pickup manufacturers in the industry?

In Indonesia especially, i think we are unique. We would like to think that we are a Custom Shop pickups company . we have our own line of products but customers are free to request adjustment to their need for example. Low wind HERITAGE 59 (PAF) or maybe with different magnet combinations . They are also able to customized their pickups with different options of finish and colors. Everything is hand made, coils are hand wound ( oh yes! with the right pattern they make the difference : more dynamic, freq. details and clarity).


Ray Tone Lab Pickups Heritage 59

We have a super fast turnaround time in delivery too, i remember last year a customer needed a set of pickups for his show the same weekend. İ was able to finished the order in 2 days then sent it overnight. He got them on time and he was happy.  I also do rebuild (sometimes i get old Fender/Gibson pickups to be fixed, its amazing to find them here).

  

Can you please introduce your most memorable own pickup models to my readers from all around the globe?

RAYBUCKER/SOLO PRO are my best selling HH sets. High gain but versatile set. Can play any genre. We haven’t get any bad reviews about them.

REDGUARD SPECIAL-T is my best selling T style guitar set. Muscular beefy tones but still keeping the famous 50s T sound true.

HERITAGE S-’62 and S-’69 sets are our popular S style models seems to satisfy most of our customers ranging from pre and post CBS era sounds.

 



  

How does Indonesian culture influence the design and production of your pickups? Has living in Indonesia got advantages to you about manufacturing pickups?

Oh definitely , Indonesian market is different than in the US. In Indonesia, more and more people (especially younger generations) are prefer to build custom guitars or  “hot rodding” used guitars. than buy a new one from the store , because of lower rate of hourly labor than US or Europe, Custom guitar in Indonesia is more affordable, and customer can get a unique instrument with specific parts and electronics of their choosing. When they need guitar pickups there are not many options here. In the US, its easy you can just call Seymour Duncan or Dimarzio to order a Green Humbucker bridge and Orange humbucker neck. In Indonesia , you would need to special order and import them,its more hassle. Especially nowadays, the currency and  import tarrif are keep getting higher.

 

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

RTL pickups ( what our most customers called us) is all about building the best pickups with the best materials possible and customer satisfaction is the most important. Thats how RTL grew up from mouth to mouth , from one community to others,and  from one guitarist to another.  On each orders i’m always listening to what customers need  before, and provide to them informations before and after purchase (sometimes they need help with the wiring etc.) we are also check on them how do they like the pickups, what can be improved on ,was the delivery on time? etc.


Also We don’t discriminate between artists and regular customers : all products have the same materials, quality  and equal turnaround time for each customers.

 



Could you walk us through the process of designing and producing a new pickup model from concept to final product?

Back to our Company’s Value: were all about the customers, Most of the time my approach when building a pickup is based on customers and musicians inputs , i check on guitar forum a lot and reading /listening to what they say about certain sound or certain pickups. for ex: This (brand) strat set is amazing, but i wish  the bridge have more output, or maybe this  (brand) humbucker is too bright sounding etc.


Sometimes i want to experiment with different materials, Our CRUNCH PLAN8T model for example is our high gain humbucker model using alnico 8 magnet . Alnico 8 have about the same power with Ceramic but without its weakness (harsh top end)  but major manufacturers don’t use them much beacuse of higher cost.

But in other time, your own Customer might surprised you! I got a message from satisfied customer, i was surprised that he is using our REDGUARD SPECIAL-T (T style single coil) to play Djent music. He said the sound is perfect.


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

Quality Control on every step from the beginning (purchase materials ) to ready to ship products in the end. You really need to know quality of good materials from magnet, baseplate, coil wires and know how to tell the difference . This is crucial.  You can not just trust manufacturers 100% all the time. Errors happens.  İ have found some of them that could be fatal to our products. For example : i found mislabeled Coil wire the label said 43 AWG but after thorough checking its actually 42 AWG, in other time, i got a shipment of Alnico 5 magnets but after checking its gauss level  i found out they were not Alnico 5.

 

Been there once. Bought some alnico 2s and after gaussmeter measurements i saw they were too high for A2s. Can you mention a bit about your “raw materials”? Can you source good materials with quality for bobbins, coil wire, magnets etc.?

As i already covered some of that in previous question, there are many manufacturers and materials are different builds from one company to others (for example some company 42 AWG is 0.061mm but other is 0.063mm, and they would produce different sounds). We just keep the ones that trustable , have the best-consistent products and suits to our need.

 

Are there any particular artists or music genres that inspire your pickup designs?

Wow there are many. I can name a few; John Petrucci, EVH,  Paul Gilbert, George Lynch, Jake E.Lee and Andra Ramadhan -Guitarist /Songwriter from the biggest Rock Band in Indonesia : DEWA 19, i got the opportunity to create his signature pickups for his limited edition guitars. Amazing, they were sold out in 6 days only. Thank you bro Andra!

 

Your taste of music rocks, bro! What has been the most challenging project or product development phase for Ray Tone Lab Pickups, and how did you overcome it?

Maybe Rebuilding old /antique pickups. Because some of them  are not in the best conditions . Indonesia is very humid ( think of our Bali island ) so... old pickups that i found is mostly corroded, i have always try to keep the original coil wires but some of them are in bad condition, beyond saving, that the corrosion has gone inside the wire and magnets. Like the Vintage Fender 1973 Mustang that i rebuilt , i had to carefully open, “strengthen” the structure before the rewinding process to original spec. Knowing its someone’s precious item its always a tense experience.

Vintage Fender Mustang 1973 Rebuilt Project

Can you share a particularly rewarding moment or milestone for Ray Tone Lab Pickups?

It might sound simple to you . But getting orders and repeat orders from satisfied customers somewhere far, different countries like New York, Netherlands and Shanghai is very rewarding experience.

 

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

İ Agree with Seymour Duncan ( that i respect a lot) on this one (from your previous interview). Supply and demand!  Again always listen to customers! Especially the new generations.  Watching the trends, popular music, new and upcoming bands. İ just found out from a friend the other day that RTL was a topic of discussion in discord , a platform that i’ve never been in. So that’s something new.

 

How do you see your position in the pickup making scene?

I don’t want to think too much and too far. At the moment, we are just aiming to be the best Custom Shop Guitar pickups in Indonesia. Making the best quality products and provide the best services possible. İ think in the end, customers are the one who will decide our position in the market.

 

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

The guitar scene is getting bigger and bigger i think, so the demand is huge. especially during the COVID, people stay at home and find new hobbies , there are many new guitar players entering the market. But at the moment,the global recession might affect that. Price might increase and buying power might decrease.

 

Are there any emerging technologies or trends that you believe will significantly impact the pickup market?

Hmm not yet at the moment. IMO in Electric guitars world nothing in the market is as revolutionary as what Leo Fender, Seth Lover created back in the 50s yet. I mean we’re still heavily (if not all) using their design today.  But im open to suggestion though haha im not againts technological advances.

 

Ray Tone Lab

What future plans or projects does Ray Tone Lab Pickups have in the pipeline that you're excited about?

There are discussion with some guitar makers to use our products as OEM . i already have plans for some batches of productions. Let’s see. *fingers crossed

 

How does Ray Tone Lab Pickups plan to expand or diversify its offerings to meet changing customer needs or market trends?

We are offering Humbucker sized P-90 with various kind of magnets combinations, also utilizing more alnico 4 and 8 magnets that are sometimes get overlooked. im considering neodymium magnets too, i think they are preety good for bass pickups, but they need the correct dimensions. Not sure yet for guitars though. But I keep on looking! Please check out our Instagram @raytonelabpickups for more information. Thank you!


Thank you very much, Ray. I appreciate you taking the time to help me and bringing this lasting piece to life, especially during such a busy period. It was truly an interview I am proud of. I would love to try out and review your pickup creations one day. Until then, take care and see you soon.


Interview with Ray Hadiwono from Ray Tone Lab Pickups

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