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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Interview with Steve Blucher of DiMarzio (2010)

Steve Blucher of Dimarzio Pickups
Steve Blucher: A Dimarzio Veteran

Hello Mr. Blucher.

Hi Baris.

Its a great pleasure for me to make an interview with a legend like you. You are with us on Sound Magazine. First of all, i like to ask you about yourself. Many people know you as pickup winder of great players. But who is there behind, can you tell us please?

The fact that my name is known a little was not intentional. I am not solely responsible for the pickups that come from DiMarzio. There are other people in the company (including Larry DiMarzio, of course) who contribute to the design and manufacture of every pickup.

Let’s begin with the latest projects first. I guess what you are on may be a secret but, can you whisper us something, give us some cool news?

If I did that, it would no longer be a secret. I understand it is fun to know things in advance, but I hope you understand we often need to be careful about this sort of information. In the past, we have sometimes said we were going to do things that got delayed for various reasons, and we have learned it is better not to disappoint anyone unnecessarily. I can say that we are currently working with several world-famous guitarists on new pickup designs,and we will make announcements when we are ready to introduce the new designs to the market.

DiMarzio released very special pickup set for J.Petrucci, LiquiFire and CrunchLab. How was the process of designing and producing those pickups? Can you tell some details?

It took place at the beginning of the recording of the Last Dream Theater CD. John had many guitars with him in the studio, and I was able to install different pickups during the rehearsals and while the rhythm tracks were being recorded. I have known John for many years, and was able to spend a lot of time working with all of his amplification and processing gear. I have always found this very useful in terms of discovering how the pickups should perform.

dimarzio logo

What are the differences between D Sonic & Crunch Lab and Air Norton & LiquiFire in the terms of winding, magnets, structure, material and sound-wise?

The earlier and newer models may appear to be very similar in both construction and material, but the new models include many subtle internal changes which we have learned over time can make large differences in performance. Unfortunately, they are the sort of changes we cannot be specific about, because they involve methods of doing things that I do not think other companies are doing. The purpose of the differences in John’s case has always been to more sharply focus the “voice” of the pickups to match John’s approach to his sound. The best description I can give of this voice is very smooth treble response combined with bass response that is as clear as possible without being thin-sounding.

Steve Blucher of Dimarzio and Herman Li
Steve and Herman

Why there are magnet and d.c. resistance value differences between 6 and 7 string versions of LiquiFire? Are oersted and gauss values of their own AlNiCo&Ceramic magnets similar?

The most important thing I am concerned with when designing a 7-string version of a 6-string pickup is that they perform as similarly as possible. The gauss values of the 6 and 7-string versions are very similar to each other, even though we prefer to use ceramic magnets with all of our 7-string pickups. I think you will find the resistance values of the 6 and 7-string versions of these pickups are actually quite similar to each other, and the frequency responses are also very similar.

8 stringed electric guitars are expanding day by day. It can’t be foreseen by now what will the future of extended range guitars be but how about DiMarzio’s approach about extended range guitars? Will you release pickups for 8 stringed intruments in near future?

We are, actually, presently evaluating the 8-string guitar market for possible development of 8-string pickups.

We know the funny story behind Fred pickup. Its name could be Dino or Wilma pickup. How do you choose those nick names for pickups?

I probably chose them because of watching too much television as a child :) but also because the name made players laugh. I think we are often in danger of taking things too seriously, and a funny name can remind people to sometimes see things in a lighter way.

Bill Reim and Rich Lasner of Ibanez and Steve Blucher of Dimarzio
Bill, Rich and Steve

Lets talk about “evolution” pickups which may be your most famous humbuckers because of Steve Vai. We know that there were 3 or 4 prototypes and what he had liked was “evolution”. But what about the others? What happened to them? Are they (or any of them) mass produced?

The prototypes that an artist doesn’t accept are not usually produced. However, we learn things from every prototype (including things we shouldn’t do again), and the lessons are often used for other pickups. Sometimes we bring an unused design back to life, but this does not happen often.

Tell me the story behind “Steve’s Special”? Many people think “Steve” in “Steves Special” refers Steve Vai wrongly which is referring you. Why is that pickup is special about you?

It was originally a pickup I made for my own guitar, but John Petrucci liked it when he tried it, and called it “Steve’s favorite pickup” in a guitar magazine. Players began requesting it, but the name didn’t sound good to us. “Steve’s Special” is easier to say and remember.

As much as i notice the pickups i had broken into pieces, many of DiMarzio pickups have relatively heavily wax potted? Dont you think it is little too much for sensing the overtones and harmonics?

No. Wax potting does not have a negative effect on any aspect of pickup performance if it is done properly. Wax potting reduces extraneous noise, but I do not believe it reduces the ability to reproduce overtones and harmonics in any way. We have conducted many tests related to this subject, and I have never found a properly a potted pickup to perform more poorly than an unpotted pickup in any way.

Why is the market for 10K PAFs (10.00K AWG#42 wire PAF clones) this scarcely populated? In fact, why did you discontinue the VPAF-Hot model?

The market for PAF clones in general is very heavily populated. However, I have never seen an authentic patent-applied-for pickup from the 1950s that actually measured over 10Kohms, and I am not completely comfortable in calling such a pickup a PAF. The Hot VPAF was discontinued because we found it possible to combine the best elements of the VPAF bridge model and Hot VPAF in the 36th Anniversary PAF bridge pickup, and we felt it would create unnecessary confusion to have both models.

Dimarzio Virtual Hot PAF and Al Di Meola Bridge
My Goldie has Virtual Hot PAF

What is your favourite coil insulation material for making single coil, P90 and humbucker pickups? Formvar, Plain Enamel, Polysol, or anything you use relatively more?

I don’t have a favorite insulation material actually. The actual dimensions and quality of the wire are more important to me than the insulation material.

What are your opinions about alternative magnet materials like Samarium Cobalt or Neodymium like rare earth materials and their alloys?

I think they are very useful, and will become more so in the future. The combination of high gauss and small dimensions has much to offer.

What do you think about active pickups? There is a visible market for ultra hi-gain active humbucker arena and this arena was used to ruled by EMG till Duncan releasing "Blackouts"? Do DiMarzio have plans for this active pickup market?

We do not have plans to release dedicated active pickups, but I should mention that a passive pickup can be connected to a properly designed preamp to produce as much gain as the highest-output active pickup is capable of, and we have done research on this subject.

Do you think that the emergence of "boutique" winders in early 2K and their continued success for the remaining part of the decade, hurt DiMarzio's sales and reputation? Could it be said that due to those, DiMarzio had to retreat from the market for historically accurate pickup clones, and positioned itself mainly in the the "shredder's niche"?

The answer to the first question is no, because the emergence of many individual pickup makers had the effect of focussing attention on the entire pickup market. I am sorry to say that I must completely disagree with the premise of the second question. DiMarzio never produced “historically accurate pickup clones”, because we never wanted our pickups to be used as counterfeits or duplicates for the pickups of other manufacturers. If anything, the exact opposite is the case. We now have more pickups that have a “vintage” sound than we have ever had before.

What kind of pickup, do you guess, would be the successful one in the near future? The relatively old hi-output designs like Super D or X2N or Duncan's JB, or something more modern and technological?

The music market as it relates to electric guitar seems very diverse to me right now. I do not see one style or sound acquiring extreme influence, which makes it practically impossible to make any assumptions (or guesses) about successful pickups.

DiMarzio gives EQ values for their pick ups which may be misleading for many. What kind of techiques and equipments do you have to achieve those actual bass, mid and treble values? Are they relative values or quantitative results?

There is no industry standard everyone agrees on to describe EQ values, so tone values offered by anyone might be termed “misleading”. Our intention in offering these values is to enable players to compare the relative sounds of our pickups. I do not think the results are misleading if that purpose is kept in mind. The values are relative and therefore subjective. I see no problem with this approach, which is intended solely to help guitarists choose the best pickups for their purposes.

Of course comparing would do better. But the problem is the people who has idea to see chart values and decide. Anyway, who are your inspirations on pickup making?

I have many musical inspirations, but I guess I have never thought about inspirations in terms of pickup makers.

Who are your most favourite luthiers, guitar players and pickup makers?

My current favorite luthier is Jim Soloway, who makes Soloway Guitars. I have too many favorite guitar players to list.

DiMarzio Endorsed Artist: Kevin Dillard and Steve Blucher
DiMarzio Endorsed Artist: Kevin Dillard and Steve Blucher

Is there any pickup by another label or stock pickup that was made by guitar companies which you wished to be designed by you? Do you have pickups you do like from another brands?

This is a difficult question to answer, because I do not think this way. There are pickups from many other companies whose performance I like, and I have learned things from all of them, but wishing I had designed something already in existence would be counter-productive.

What’s your advise on discovering new sounds from pickup swaps? In tone and sound-wise, what are the most critical parameters about electric guitar pickup swapping?

Although it may seem odd, the most important parameters do not have to do with pickups. The most critical factors are the amount of knowledge a player has about the specific guitar, amplifier and effects that are being used. However, a player who is willing to experiment might discover something new by trying a radically different pickup from what he is familiar with, such as replacing a powerful and dark-sounding pickup such as a Tone Zone with a much brighter and quieter pickup like the EJ Custom neck model.

Leave all other factors like guitar itself, amps, cables, Just in pickup-wise, what pickups do you recommend from DiMarzio stuff for helping our readers who wants to achieve those certain sounds; Claptons so-called "Woman Tone", Eddie Van Halens "Brown Tone", SRV’s great fat&full strat tone, Eric Johnson’s magical violin-like tone, Petrucci’s ultra fast clear shred tones…

I apologize again if I appear to be uncooperative, but I do not think it is possible to honestly recommend pickups without considering other factors. When a player describes a sound he or she has in mind, I always ask what type of guitar and amp is being played. I think at least that much information is necessary. For instance, I would not recommend the same pickup for someone trying to get the “brown sound” with a basswood guitar as I would for an alder guitar.

Do you know anything about Turkiye and Turkish Guitar scene?

I must confess my ignorance. I visited Turkey a few years and heard some good players, but I was not there long enough to become familiar with the musical scene. I have heard some of Hakan Savkli’s playing, and I think he is a very good player. My personal taste also includes experimantal music, and I like the work of Erdem Helvacioglu.

Ok Steve. I’ve come to the end of my part. It was a great pleasure to get this interview with you. I deeply thank you for your kindness and care. Thanks a lot.


This interview has been published on October 2010 issue of Sound Magazine

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