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Pete BiltoftMy background and how I got started winding pickups is probably different than you might imagine…

I started making guitars and pickups back in 1994, but the basis of my story really dates back much farther. My father, Max Biltoft encouraged my interest in fabrication starting at an early age. Max grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Beaver Crossing Nebraska. Farm life in the early 1900’s required people to be both self sufficient and unafraid to tackle difficult tasks including repair of farm equipment using very rudimentary tools. With a father such as mine it was natural for me to spend my spare time in the garage workshop. Whatever my current interest was, Max was right there encouraging me to take things apart to see how they worked and to explore ways to make things work better.

Eventually time came for me to get serious about what I was going to do after high school. I enjoyed science and since I had no clear career ideas; it seemed like a good idea to get a BS in Chemistry- with that background it seemed like a good “launching pad” from which I could make a future career decision. Four years later, with a BS in Chemistry (with high honors) from Georgia Tech in hand, I had learned one very important thing: I did not want to be a chemist! Graduate school seemed like a good way to put off a career decision for another few years so with the financial support of the National Institute for Health (NIH) I studied metallurgy (again at Georgia Tech). Metallurgy was much more attractive to me than chemistry in that I was able to operate some big and intricate machines ranging from huge metal forming rolling mills and tensile testing equipment to electron microscopes.

The next four years were spent working in Boulder Colorado for Rockwell International in support of the Department of Energy. Much of that work is still classified, but I can tell you it did involve development of advanced fabrication technologies. I was fortunate to meet scientists and engineers from Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) during this time and developed good contacts and was eventually offered a job in California. That was 20 years ago. During my time at LLNL again I was lucky to do what I really like: develop novel fabrication techniques. At this lab I had my first experiences with computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining, laser cutting and welding and a wide range of fabrication techniques. It was during my time at LLNL that I first started to turn the skills I had learned at Georgia Tech, Rockwell and LLNL toward making guitars and pickups in my spare time.

The first guitar I built was a neck through super strat with a black walnut body and maple neck. I still have this guitar and use it as a test bed for the humbucking pickups I develop and the humbucker single coils called the HS-90. I spent several years researching information on pickup design and eventually found the book written by Jason Lollar on the topic. The information in Jason’s book filled in the gaps in my understanding of pickup design and really got me started. It was also during this time I purchased my own CNC mill and later CNC laser. I use these machine tools to make not only the parts for the pickups, but also the specialized tools and fixtures required to wind the pickups. For the next several years I experimented with pickup design parameters including wire gauge and types of insulation, tension on the coil during winding, scatter-winding techniques and wax potting under vacuum. I was lucky to have friends who were both good players and willing to install my pickups in their guitars and give detailed tone reports. During this time I also added a frequency analyzer, Gaussmeter, Q-meter and other instruments to help me zero in and optimize pickup designs. At this time I was also expanding my business, marketing pickups in local guitar stores and at regional guitar shows. Gary Ross, a friend at LLNL introduced me to marketing on ebay. Business has doubled for me every year since. With the increased demand I needed to expand production capability, so I built two new winding machines and hired my first assistant, Katie Kelly. Katie, being very bright and having excellent attention to detail was soon making some very high quality pickups that sounded great!. As business continued to expand I convinced my long time friend from LLNL, Joe Harper to join the V V G team. Joe is a very skilled individual with a strong background in precision fabrication. With Joe’s help we built another couple winding machines and made some much needed improvement in the design of the winders in the process. Joe built a satellite winding shop near his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon and from that shop has cranked out an impressive number of very high quality pickups. With the help of Katie and Joe, guitar and bass players in locations all over the world are making great music using pickups by V V G. We are proud to say the list of locations in which V V G pickups reside include 48 of the 50 states in the US, Canada, Costa Rica, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The range of pickups available from V V G now includes several versions of strat style single coils, pickups for tele including versions with adjustable poles or blade pole pieces, a range of P-90 styles (soapbar and dogear), P-bass and J-bass style pickups, Humbucker size single coil pickups, Pickups for Jazzmasters and Jaguars, pickups for Kay guitars, Humbuckers and a few very custom pickups for instruments such as the tenor guitar, violin and Sarode. At Vintage Vibe Guitar we enjoy a challenge and invite you to describe the pickup you would really like to have in your instrument.

Pickups, for me are the heart and engine of the electric guitar. I enjoy both the challenge of making pickups and the pleasure of hearing the tones that these little miracles can produce. It is my most sincere wish that the pickups made by Vintage Vibe Guitars help you achieve the tone you have longed for.

Best wishes-

Pete Biltoft

Vintage Vibe Guitars

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