Gear Icons: Seymour Duncan

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Gear Icons: Seymour Duncan

Seymour Duncan
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Seymour W. Duncan wanted to learn more about pickups themselves, learning from Les Paul himself, as well as Seth Lover.

Seymour Duncan is a name synonymous with the electric guitar. Their huge range of pickups, particularly humbuckers, are loaded in as many guitars as you could imagine, their expansive range of pickups having something to offer for every player from every genre.

The tonality of their pickups ranges from blistering gain in the Black Winter sets, available in 6 and 7 string options, to warmer, more vintage sounding pickups like the Seth Lover set. But where did it all begin?

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Seymour Duncan history

Seymour Duncan was founded in 1976. Duncan himself had become interested in guitar and electronics at an early age, after fixing a broken pickup using a record player turntable to rotate the pickup and re-wind the pickup wire around the bobbin. In this process he improved the sound, and his pursuit of that was solidified.

The mid 60s saw Duncan working at local music stores, eventually beginning to develop his own parts and designs to shift and shape the tones of guitars, reaching out to sources such as Les Paul, Seth Lover, and Fender for advice.

The late 60s saw Jimi Hendrix’s manager contact Seymour to arrange a meeting, Duncan presenting Hendrix with a custom pickup when they met at Xavier University on March 28, 1968.

Seymour moved to the UK and began working with Fender, doing repairs for George Harrison, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend to name a few.

Seymour Duncan Les Paul

Seymour Duncan and Les Paul

This inspired Duncan to learn more about pickups themselves, learning from Les Paul himself, as well as the aforementioned Seth Lover.

Seth Lover

Seth Lover himself was a designer of amplifiers and instrument electronics, including inventing the humbucker, as well as early fuzztone distortion device: The Maestro. Seth Love worked for Gibson through the 40s and into the 50s, the humbucker being invented in 1955, before Lover moved to Fender in 1967.

The mid-70s saw  Seymour Duncan approach Seth Lover as a mentor, and the rest is history.

Seymour Duncan early history

Initially offering a pickup winding service, Duncan’s reputation quickly grew and they, Seymour himself and his wife Cathy Carter Duncan. Began offering custom Stratocaster, Telecaster, and humbucking pickups. They continued on the custom path before moving into manufacturing, the company winding, designing and building pickups.

Seymour Duncan Cathy Carter Duncan

Seymour Duncan and Cathy Carter Duncan

They moved into bass pickups as well, manufacturing under the Basslines name before this was absorbed into the larger company in 2013 and continued to produce their bass pickup designs under the Seymour Duncan name. Seymour Duncan was Vintage Guitar Hall of Fame in 2012 for their contributions to the music, having built a huge roster of some of the world’s biggest artists.

Famous guitar players

Seymour Duncan have produced pickups for some hugely influential players, particularly in the rock and metal space.

Their first artist signature pickups was the SH-12 Screamin’ Demon model, produced for George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob. Another first was Dino Cazares (Fear Factory, Divine Heresy) who helped Seymour develop the now hugely successful Blackout series of active humbuckers. Blackouts feature a preamp for additional gain, and are hugely popular in metal and extreme genres because of the compression and gain available from an active humbucker. The Blackout has now been revised countless times, with multiple artists doing their own versions, Blackouts also being available in 6, 7 and 8 string options.

One of Duncan’s most famous pickups is the “JB”, a humbucker built for Jeff Beck (JB) after a guitar tech of Beck’s swapped out the original PAF (Patent Applied For) pickup in one of his Gibsons.

Other well known players of their pickups include Kurt Cobain, Billie Joe Armstrong, Tom DeLonge, Dave Mustaine and Randy Rhoads.

The company today

Today, Seymour Duncan continue to produce pickup for more contemporary artists like Cory Wong, Brad Paisley and Lari Basilio. They’ve moved into the pedal world, taking their world-class knowledge of electronics and guitar tones into the pedal world.

Keep reading from Seymour Duncan here.