Against the Cheap Pickup

And by cheap I mean Korean and Chinese pickups.

You know these names: Guitar Fetish, Dragonfire, Entwhistle, Guitarhead, Giovani. Artec. These are pickups made by the Artec Sound factory in Korea. These pickups can be had for very little money. By all accounts some of these pickups sound “not too bad.” By a few accounts, written in the excited frenzy of the newest thing, they sound “awesome!” Hell, even Epiphone has pickups made by Artec. I’m sure I don’t know all the OEM and re-branded and “designed in NY/UK/USA, built in China” pickups that are made by Artec or similar Asian manufacturers.

But this isn’t about whether they sound ok, or good, or even “great for the money!” This is about the conditions in which those pickups are made and the conditions in which the parts of those pickups are made.

I admit, I have never been inside the Artec factory in Korea. Or is it factories? Or is it Korea and China? If you can find out, you tell me. Part of the problem is the very little information available about these facilities and their labor standards. I’ve never been inside the Wilkinson factory in China. I’ve seen pictures of the Tonerider facilities as provided on the Tonerider website, closeups of a CNC winder and a few parts and pickups held by obviously white hands. So maybe, possibly, these factories are an assembly paradise with workers being paid a respectable wage to work respectable hours in respectable and safe conditions. But I suspect otherwise. Why? Because the pickups cost twenty fucking dollars! Or less…

Can you think of any news stories about how great it is to work in a factory in China or Korea?

Or, let me ask you this: If there are constant reports of how shitty it is to work in the factories that pump out Android and I-Phones that cost us $600 to $800 (Pegatron has nets around its facility to keep employees from jumping to their deaths), what do you think the conditions are like in the factories that are pumping out $25 humbuckers?

How far do I take this with Revel Pickups? Consider the “Vintage ’71” Wide Range Humbuckers and WRHB Mod service. Several custom and boutique winders have these for sale each with their own ‘flavor’ of reproduced tone. The bobbins used have to be specialty manufactured and, because of the inherent cost of doing so, they get manufactured in China. This may not be true of EVERY winder but I know it’s true for most.

To avoid doing this, I manufacture my own bobbins in-house. These things matter to me and I go to great lengths to assure the parts I use are high quality and USA sourced. Doing this isn’t easy and doing it while keeping costs low is downright difficult. 

These things matter to you or they don’t. All this is coming from someone who has a vested interest in convincing you to buy ‘my’ stuff and not ‘their’ stuff. But to be honest I don’t care who’s stuff you buy as long as it’s good stuff made under good conditions. I can assure you Lollar doesn’t have suicide nets around his shop.  Neither do any number of pickup and guitar builders big and small.

Music is such a personal and beautiful thing and it feels so strange and terrible to be making it with gear that may be tainted with true suffering. And in so many ways this is an unintentionally hypocritical argument because the world we live in makes it very difficult to insulate ourselves and our lives from cheap products made in bad places under bad conditions. Every cell phone has at least one part in it made at the hands of someone who suffered to create it.

But I am talking about pickups here. I am talking about a small but conscious decision to be aware of where things come from.