There are many factors/elements that produce well known guitar tones that we all grew up with and by which we all formed our own standards and conceptions what the best guitar tone is. One of these that is frequently neglected, but at the same time very important ingredient in the final equation are – the pickups.
The very fundamental issue with excellent mass produced pickups that are being produced nowadays is the simple fact that thy are – mass produced. It is true production in mass series lowers the cost and make the product that is more consistent. But we all know that the best pickups (Gibson's PAFs '57-'60, Fender's single coils '52-'65) were made by hand and a one piece at the time, not by computerised robots/machines and in huge series. Today big brands are easy on using terms handwound and custom built for pickups, even though the way their products are being made has nothing to do neither with handwound or with custom built. The wind is done by the machine that is programmed to simulate randomness of winding by hand. These pickups are being wound on a machines with high speed making the chance of wire breakage rather high. That is why the tension is low and the winding pattern is uniform, and that is exactly the opposite to the way the best vintage pickups were made. That is why my pickups are wound by hand.
Vintage correct materials, NOS 42,43 AWG plain enamel and 42AWG formvar wire, AlNiCo II,III,IV,V magnets (charged to a specfic Gauss level for certain pickup models), nonuniform tension while winding, the very patter of winding itself (scatterwinding) – these are all the factors that bring my pickups pretty close and sometimes equal compared to best ones you had played.
Scatterwound pickups, unlike those wound by machines, have very open and clear bass and middle, and highs are bright but not harsh. The secret of vintage 50's PAFs is in scatterwound and mildly mismatched bobbins and the pickups not being wax potted.
In 50s the bobbins were wound until they were full and that means without counting the turns. Tension varied, pattern varied and result was – bobbins with different number of turns. So if the 2 different bobbins were used in a one PAF HB, that mismath made posible for some of the important frequencies to remain and not to be 'bucked', as it happens when 2 bobbins are being exactly the same. And that is the result of mismathed bobbins – pickup's tone has a full spectrum of tone, with just enough highs and clear bass. Further, pickups that are not wax potted are more musical with the caracteristic honk and singing tone. And if these pickups are adequatly wound they will not be microphonic making the wax potting obsolete.
The vast majority are wound on automated/programmed machines and they all have uniform idealy equal winds and number of turns, and all are heavily wax potted. And that makes for the result we all know so well, unfortunatelly – muffled bass, harsh highs and undefined middle with the tone being anemic, sterile and uninspiring.