WHAT IS HANDWOUND & SCATTER W OUND?

I’m often asked what hand winding or “scatter wound” means. Here’s a quick explanation.

Hand Winding/Hand Wound 

It would be commonly accepted among pickup winders that “hand wound” means that the traverse of the wire back and forth on the machine spun bobbin is hand-guided. The coil itself is not literally wound by hand. A machine turns the bobbin upon which the coil is wound. With so many winds of such fine wire and with precision being a necessity, a machine is necessary to spin the bobbin.

The very fine wire that comprises a pickup coil is fed through my fingers and onto the bobbin. The tension and traverse I use are unique to my style, and both are being determined by me and not a machine.

Scatter Winding/Scatter Wound

Scatter winding or scatter wound means that the wire is not laid down side by side with the last wind. In this very literal definition, any hand wound pickup is also scatter wound, the human hand being incapable of the precision necessary to perfectly lay the wire down side by side. This is also true of some mechanical winders, where the play in the components of the mechanism translate into a “scatter” unique to that machine.

But what is meant by the term Scatter Wound is the idea that the wire is wound in patterns that are not nice perfect rows. Certain winders do it certain ways and therein lies the better part of the nuance of a pickups’ sound. Therein lies the art. A painting can be copied and still be a beautiful painting, but if it had to be reproduced by hand by another painter, the art of the painting would be found in the nuanced differences of colors, brush strokes, and even mistakes.

Why Scatter Wind?

Because it sounds great. BUT, not every hand wound pickup is scatter wound and a lot of scatter winding is a matter of degrees. By NOT laying the wire down right next to the previous turn more air space is created in the coil. This scatter and consequent air space lowers the distributed capacitance. And when the distributed capacitance is lowered more treble will come through and the resonant peak is increased. The pickup will express more tonal complexity and exhibit more harmonics.

 

But you would be shocked at how few winders hand wind pickups anymore. 

Is there anything wrong with machine wound pickups? Not at all. But…there can be. Machine winding allows newer pickup makers to easily churn out a pickup using a common recipe and, in so doing, a guitar pickup that is nothing special and doesn’t sound very special is produced. Many coveted pickups have been made and are being made with machine wound coils. But why a machine is being used is an important aspect of these pickups. More importantly to me is that many machine wound pickups are manufactured under ethically questionable circumstances. This has less to do with the machine than it does with the living and working conditions of the countries in which they’re manufactured. But in this particular scenario these pickups are being machine wound and assembled as quickly as possible. And maybe that pickup sounds OK, but it’s one of thousands, all of them the same.

But assuming it’s a reputable pickup maker who uses a machine for whatever reason, there’s doubtfully anything wrong with those pickups just because they are machine wound. Some of them are amazing. Some of them suck. So it goes.

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