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.
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.
Vintage Vibe Guitars