I boast about scatter winding. Many high-end guitar pickup builders do and do so to such an extent that it’s becoming a cliche. And that’s a damn shame because scatter winding really is something special.
So a machine wound pickup is exactly that. A machine spins the pickup bobbin and it also distributes the wire onto the bobbin. The tension of the wire is constant and the distribution is uniform and results in the wire being laid down very evenly, one layer very close to the next, over and over.
A hand wound pickup still uses a machine to turn the bobbin. But the wire tension is determined by the fingers and can be manipulated throughout the winding process. And the distribution of the wire is hand guided. Hand winding does not necessarily mean the pickup is scatter wound.
“Scatter wound” is kind of a misnomer. It suggests complete randomness and, indeed, is sometimes referred to as “random winding.” But it isn’t random. It’s very intentional and incredibly varied. An experienced winder knows what sort of scatter to use to produce a particular tone, what sort of tension necessary to scoop frequencies or highlight others, and otherwise produce a unique and very beautifully sounding pickup by directing the wire through their fingers.
It is an art unto itself. It’s nearly wizardry. And it’s one of the reasons why hand wound and scatter wound pickups cost more than others. Because they are worth it!
Scatter winding allows for the wire to be laid down unevenly. This puts more air space into a coil and lowers the distributed capacitance that exists between the many turns of wire. And this lowered distributed capacitance allows for more treble to come through increasing the high end clarity. It also increases the resonant peak and greatly extends the frequency response. The pickup sounds more complex, more open and clear, and louder by the nature of these combined characteristics.
Scatter winding also means that each pickup will be unique. The degree of the uniqueness is slight but certain. Twenty scatter wound pickups will sound different from each other. It is the nature of the thing.