The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop: A Brief History

Seymour Duncan are synonymous with tone. They have produced the most recorded pickups of all time, and their products can be found on shelves and in guitars anywhere. They’ve even branched out and released a killer line of pedals, and are picking up modern artists left and right. Tosin Abasi, Jeff Loomis, and Nick Johnston are all using Duncans, just for a small example.

However, if I mentioned Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, you’d probably be a little lost as to what they have to do with Seymour Duncan, right?

There’s a best kept secret in the pickup world right now, and it’s the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop.

They have a 40 year legacy of creating both some of the most unique and the most authentic pickups around, for the biggest artists on the planet.


The History

Seymour, the founder and namesake of the company, was living in London at the advent of ‘60s rock and roll. Working as a guitar tech, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton all came to him for work on their guitars.

Seymour was looking for tone that didn’t really exist yet, so he began winding his own pickups.

Fast forward to 1976 and we find Seymour in California, co-founding a new company with Cathy Carter Duncan (the other half of the name). They were originally doing rewinds for huge artists like Eddie Van Halen, and this was the origin of the custom shop.

This was, however, during a time in which aftermarket parts were becoming more and more popular, so stock models were created and slowly rolled out.

By 1980 their flagship Strat set, the SSL1s were released, and their major early humbuckers were gaining popularity, such as the JB, Jazz, 59, Custom, Pearly Gates, and Distortion.

Around this time, the legendary “MJ” joined the Custom Shop. Still winding pickups to this day, she is an important part of the legacy and builds right alongside Seymour and his son and has been winding pickups for over 30 years!  Players MJ has wound pickups for include Van Halen, Slash, Peter Frampton, Warren DeMartinini & Eric Claptopn – need to say, she knows exactly what she is doing.

Over the years, both the Custom Shop and production models continued to innovate. They accrued an impressively long roster of artist customers including Yngwie Malmsteen, David Gilmour, Billy Gibbons, and Mark Knopfler, just to name a few.


The Track Record

So what have they done in all this time? Quite a good deal!

I think a good way to put it is vintage craftsmanship meets modern tone because, man, if you look into the way they go about building pickups, it is surprisingly old school.

The folks at Seymour Duncan have collected masses of actual vintage wire and magnets. Seymour has a collector friend he gets 1930’s speakers from to salvage parts. Everything they don’t get from authentic suppliers is made in-house.

This obviously makes them great at replicating legendary tones such as stable pickups and PAFs, but it gives them a modern edge too. They’ve put out really cool products over the years, like acoustic soundhole pickups, actives, rails pickups, and many modern signature models such as Mark Holcomb’s Alpha/Omega set.

It’s surprising to see a huge company like Seymour Duncan put to much time and care into their pickups, which is something a lot of larger companies tend to forget about.


The Process

So how custom is a custom shop Seymour Duncan pickup exactly?

Well, for starters you’re going to be in contact with people that have built more pickups than you’ve ever played. I’m a huge pickup nerd, but they know things about wire, coil pitch, and magnets that I would never be able to imagine.

So not only will these experts be there to answer any of your questions, they’ve also designed a great number of “stock” custom models that are fantastic, such as the Warren DeMartini RTM, the Brobucker, and the Psychadelic Strat set.

I also find it really helpful that they provide a lot of information on all of their production pickups as well. If you can tell them something like “I’d like a hotter Custom Custom” or “I think I’m looking for a Black Winter with an Alnico VIII magnet” it will give you a great starting point!

Obviously there are a lot of different ways to go about getting a Seymour Duncan Custom Shop pickup, but you can’t really go wrong with modifying an existing model, getting a “stock” model, or having them replicate a vintage pickup.

As you can see, the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop are dedicated to their craft. Whether it’s for something vintage/period correct, or for a sound totally unique to you, they will get the job done. With great service as well.

Personally, I primarily use stock pickups because they get me where I need to go, but the Duncan Custom Shop is a fantastic option for anyone looking to get something perfectly suited to their needs. Even better, their Custom Shop’s pride in their work carries over to how the rest of the company operates, and all of their pickups are made in the USA to very high standards. You can even check out a list of some of my favorite production pickups here.

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.

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