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Dialtone claims first infinitely tone-adjustable guitar pickup

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May 26, 2014

Livermore-based guitarist Brandon McCullough tries out the Dialtone 'infinitely adjustable...

Livermore-based guitarist Brandon McCullough tries out the Dialtone 'infinitely adjustable pickup'

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The “right” guitar tone is an elusive and personal thing, and many seasoned guitarists strive to achieve a particular tone that reflects their musical style or matches the genre in which they are playing. In response to this, Dialtone is set to launch its new guitar pickup aimed squarely at the musician who likes to adjust their sound on the fly. Claimed to be the world's first on-guitar version of an infinitely adjustable pickup, the Dialtone promises a lot of tone control without the need for further effects boxes or software control.

In the quest for the perfect sound, musicians will often mix and match combinations of amplifier, effects boxes, settings – even the thickness of the strings that they use. One aspect central to this quest is the pickup. Traditionally, the pickup is a combination of magnets and coils of wire whose job is to create electrical signals when the guitar strings vibrate.

However, these traditional pickups are relatively inflexible in the sound that they produce and so musicians often mix them up in various wiring configurations designed to give a particular sound; funk, jazz, rock, country and so on. Indeed, many musicians obsess so much about this that they look to more than just the pickup selection on standard guitars; they often wire and rewire their own in a quest for that “ultimate” tone.

Enter John Liptac, a musician sick of swapping out and rewiring pickups in his search for the perfect tone. Not content with the limited pickup selection for standard guitars, John decided to make one that would be adjustable, in situ, on the guitar itself.

Using his background in engineering and physics, and his knowledge of guitars, he designed an infinitely variable pickup that – with the judicious twiddling of the two knobs on it – could effectively tune the resonance (in this context, the ideal frequency at which the sound energy, or note, produced by the plucked string is at its most efficient) and the “Q” (simply, filtering the resonant frequency produced by the string to tune it to a narrow bandwidth thereby giving the note better “quality”). This allows the guitarist to fine tune the pickup for the best tone without having to pull it and rewire it.

The Dialtone 'infinitely adjustable pickup'

The result is the Dialtone infinitely adjustable tone pickup. Simply put, the Dialtone pickup allows the user to adjust for the optimum performance from their guitar strings. By making sure that the output from the pickup most directly reflects the true resonant frequency of the plucked string, and then further ensuring that the output is finely adjusted to that frequency, the output can be made to achieve the utmost clarity. This may also be particularly useful in ensuring optimal output as such things as string wear or changes in humidity affect the resonant frequency of the string.

Conversely, by adjusting the resonance and Q so that the output is, say, under-damped (decay with oscillation) or over-damped (decay without oscillation), then the guitarist can create various sounds on the guitar to achieve a particular tone. This may prove useful for those wanting to achieve a particular sound (e.g. “funky”) as previously mentioned.

“Dialtone pickups give musicians more control over their sound and flexibility in performance, (the) pickups work by integrating knobs into the pickup itself, letting the player dynamically tailor the instrument’s frequency response.," Liptac told Gizmag.

Dialtone 'infinitely adjustable-tone pickup' side view

Of course, guitar manufacturers often try to account for a particular tone using combinations of pickups – HSS being one such combination, where “H” = “Humbucker” (a pickup wired to reduce noise), and “S” (single-coil), and various switching arrangements allow guitarists to select between a range of various, but fixed, tones.

Additionally, units such as the Game Changer guitar from Music Man allow thousands of variations, while aftermarket pickup manufacturers also abound; the likes of the Fishman Fluence with the ability to toggle between various tones on the one unit being a notable example. There is, of course, even an app available to switch stompbox tones from an iPhone, if you so desire.

Similarly, there are a plethora of effects boxes – both digital and anlaog – on the market, along with all manner of computer software and MIDI devices that can change the tone of a guitar in almost infinite ways, even to the point where a guitar can be made to sound like almost any other instrument.

However, as a simple, endlessly adjustable way to “fiddle” your guitar between varying tones, the Dialtone may well offer a good choice for those who want a bit more versatility from their instrument, but don’t want to go down the effects-in-a-box or full on computer-controlled route to achieve it. And that’s what may appeal to some folks the most about this pickup. The Dialtone is currently only configured to replace humbucker pickups, but Liptac has plans to introduce a single-coil pickup replacement at some stage as well.

Dialtone is set for launch in a demonstration on June 1st in Livermore, California, and the company will be launching a 30 day Kickstarter campaign to coincide with that launch.

The Dialtone pickup can be seen – and heard – in action in the following brief video.

Source: Dialtone

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf.   All articles by Colin Jeffrey
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7 Comments

I found some additional information on these. Apparently, they use active circuitry and have a low output impedance. Unless the knobs are varying some physical aspect of the pickup, such as number of turns, I'm not sure why they need to be pickup-mounted. Otherwise, it looks like an active parametric EQ for each pickup. That circuitry could be moved into the regular control cavity. I'll need to see more to tell if there's something innovative here.

dawin12
27th May, 2014 @ 10:38 pm PDT

Darwin12,

In a broad sense it is similar to an EQ as both work in the frequency domain. However, how most people think of EQ is filtering of bass, mid, and treble. Dialtone Pickups operate by changing the characteristic parameters that naturally describe the sound of a pickup, the resonant frequency and Q. In general, the shape of the frequency response between an EQ and the Dialtone will be quite different.

The circuitry could easily be put in the cavity, but I thought that this would add too many knobs in one place and limit usability. Toss in the gain/volume and you would be at about 7 knobs! Now you are talking about modifying the body of the guitar as well. To me, this was too much complexity to be worth it. The idea is to give as much control over the sound as simply and usee-friendly as possible.

Please contact us via the contact information listed on our website if you have any other questions. Thanks!

- John, founder of Dialrone Pickups

Dialtone Pickups
28th May, 2014 @ 06:17 am PDT

User-friendly is relative. These pickups may be friendly to a luddite, but having to manually adjust settings on a physical object is a nightmare best left for the previous millennia. Not having presets doesn't make sense in a 2014 product. As it is, this looks like clutter that will help keep people stupid via enabling their laziness at learning how to do things like a competent human.

Make the pickups controllable by a wireless module that lives in the guitar cavity. Update the wireless module with newer tech as necessary; start with Bluetooth LE. Let DAWs handle presets via a companion plugin.

Jessy Catterwaul
28th May, 2014 @ 07:23 am PDT

Jessy,

With all due respect, it doesn't sound like you have a lot of knowledge about the electric guitar market. What you describe certainly embraces modern technology, but many guitarists are known to have a traditionalist streak, which is understandable. The first successful solid-body electric came out in 1950. The controls on a Les Paul, I imagine, are nightmarish in your eyes. There are tone and volume knobs for both bridge and neck pickups, plus a three-way pickup selector switch. Some players even have push/pull knobs to go between humbucker and single-coil mode. While we're at it, let's add a mini-switch for series or parallel wiring. Oy. The technology described in your post would also add unnecessary expense. Basically, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Of course, there are also more tech-y guitars for tweaky types, a couple of which are in the related articles below. In my eyes, the Dialtones look fairly user-friendly.

dawin12
28th May, 2014 @ 12:56 pm PDT

Hi there, Jessy. Thanks for the feedback. We really appreciate hearing a variety of perspectives. To respond to your points simply, what you describe is just not what we would want as musicians, and we're pretty sure it's not what would appeal to most players. At some point, from what you describe, it would be easier to just hook in to a computer. We are excited about producing something that colors the true tone of the guitar, and is easy to use, flexible, and doesn't involve lugging a bunch of gear around or having stuff hanging out of the guitar.

Dialtone knobs will have tick marks or a similar indictator system (we're experimenting with a few different options) so it will have points of reference, but the dials will not lock into place. To give you a quick inside scoop, we actually do have the locking option with the potentiometers we evaluated, but we're pretty sure that we'll decide against it because we don't want the knobs to feel restricted or locked in to certain settings. With free form knobs, the guitar play can effortlessly change tones to any degree at any time.

If you have any further questions, concerns, or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact us using the information our website. We are trying our best to ensure the information out there about Dialtone Pickups is complete and accurate, but there is no easy way to monitor comments posted on various sites not belonging to us. Please know that we are listening and always happy to help!

Andrew Shultz & Tory Taylor, Dialtone Pickups

Dialtone Pickups
28th May, 2014 @ 05:47 pm PDT

So, I educated myself a little more about parametric EQs('cause I ain't a know-it-all), and I'd like to share some information with you that sheds light on the Dialtones. I should say upfront that this is GENERAL information and may NOT be completely accurate in describing these pickups.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8erPNLiMkpM

The video link above contains useful info up to the 6:45 mark. It's a nice coincidence that he uses electric guitar as his source signal. The Q and Frequency knobs he adjusts correspond to the two knobs on a Dialtone, while the Gain knob is akin to the Tone knob on your guitar. Take note that the notch filter he shows should be ignored, as it doesn't apply here. Also, the shape of the response curve on his graph is not the response of a guitar pickup. Rather, it shows how he is changing the frequency content of the input signal, be it guitar, trumpet, pink noise or whatever.

For the shape of a pickup's response, consult Figure 4 in this next link:

http://buildyourguitar.com/resources/lemme/

Figure 14 approximates how the guitar's Tone control affects a pickup's response. Lastly, Figures 8 & 15 relate to the Dialtone's Frequency knob.

I imagine as more information comes out, the relevance of this primer(or lack of) will become clearer. I'm also guessing that Dialtone will put out another video in time for their Kickstarter campaign - one with a true guided tour of what this puppy is capable of! We shall see.

dawin12
29th May, 2014 @ 02:12 am PDT

I wouldn't mind trying one out, but i play 7 string guitar, and usually companies don't make stuff for them to soon if ever. It seems the knob is in the a bad spot for a person that likes to palm mute a lot like myself. Wouldn't palm muting cause that knob to move. Sure wished my tone knob had some way of knowing exactly what position your exactly.

Jeffry S Mercer
3rd June, 2014 @ 01:15 pm PDT
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