The early Chinese-made Electromatic Jets had very odd pickups fitted. They are mini-humbuckers, set into the body in a big, ugly hole with no pickup surround.
They looked wrong and mine were really microphonic. They had to go.
I briefly tried a P90 in the cavity, but it didn’t fit. Anyway, if it’s a Gretsch it has to have Filtertrons. Unless it has DeArmond Dynasonics. OK, now I’m confused.
For the neck position I acquired a stock Filtertron via eBay, direct from the USA. However, I wanted a bit more oomph for the bridge position. I was lucky enough to get a used TV Jones Powertron Plus for a good price on eBay too, so I just needed a couple of pickup rings and I was good to go.
The stock cavities are not wide enough for a Filtertron, but are too long. The first job was to glue some packing pieces in to make the hole smaller. I had some offcuts of maple, which is the same timber the top is made from. I cleaned the paint from around the edge of the cavity and sanded down the maple offcuts to fit. High density foam jammed in the hole held the packing pieces in place while the glue dried.
Unlike Gibson ‘PAF’-type humbuckers which hang from the pickup ring, Filtertrons are screwed into the body wood of the guitar. Just to be extra annoying, the cavity was a bit too deep, so here you can see some more packing pieces, made from mahogany this time. This guitar is semi-hollow, so under the pickups there is a massive hole.
Having done this once before, the hard way, on the Malcolm Young guitar, I have made a template for routing out the cavities.
There was a major problem with this guitar in that the bridge was in the wrong place. I had to fill and re-drill the post mounts closer to the neck. You can see that I’ve cut the neck pickup cavity as far forward as I can. If I went any further the pickup ring wouldn’t cover the hole.
Because I’m the sort of person who paints the inside of model aeroplanes, I’ve painted all the bare wood. It will all be covered so this really isn’t necessary. But I know it’s there…
Fancy braided wire and CTS pots, going to a Switchcraft switch. This guitar originally had a master volume and master tone. I never use the tone control so I’ve wired it with two volumes. I’m not sure if I like it like that so I might change it back.
There you go. The neck pickup has to sit very low because of the way the neck is set. A USA Proline Gretsch Jet has a floating bridge on a wooden base which sits much higher. The fingerboard is correspondingly further off the face of the guitar so the pickups sit higher. From a couple of feet away nobody will notice.
The neck pickup sounds fantastic but I didn’t actually like the Powertron Plus. It’s too dark for me and had a honky, midrangy sound which didn’t suit my style. It’s probably great for some people, but not for me. It was also incredibly microphonic, which was pretty poor for a very expensive pickup. I had it re-potted for a tenner by Jaime at The Creamery pickups.
Even without the microphonic squeal I didn’t like the sound. I decided to go all-in and ordered a standard Powertron. Much better. It’s as beefy as a PAF (actually it’s wound a bit hotter than a PAF) but still has a bit of twang. You can use this wherever you’d use a Les Paul, but with all the fun of a Bigsby and a very different look.
This was a lot of work, and possibly more trouble that it was worth. The new Electromatics already come with Filtertrons and the correct surrounds for less than this guitar and the pickups cost.
If I absolutely had to do it again I’d rout the cavities out to PAF size and use TV Jones English Mount pickups which hang from the surround like PAFs. That way if the Filtertrons didn’t float your boat you could drop any one of a million after-market humbuckers in.