The Story of the Samarium Cobalt Noiseless Pickup By Dan Smith


For years, pickup designers have been striving to develop the ultimate noise-free single coil replacement pickup—a pickup with as little 60 cycle hum and extraneous noise as possible, with the classic bell-like tones and fidelity of Fender’s standard-setting, original designs. There have been notable attempts from within Fender, as well as from outside designers and manufacturers. In the mid eighties we worked with Don Lace on his uniquely designed Fender Lace Sensors, which were used on Fender’s Plus Series guitars and basses through the mid-nineties. This was followed by our own highly successful Vintage Noiseless pickups, introduced on the American Deluxe Series instruments in 1998. Both of these designs were, and still are, excellent examples of pickup design at its best.

But since day one, there has been one thing that has always remained constant at Fender—the desire to innovate, and to always try to improve the product. Another constant has been our willingness to not only listen, but to solicit and accept the input of those outside the company. It first started with musicians like Jimmy Bryant, Bill Carson and Dick Dale, and grew to include inventors like Harold Rhodes, Don Lace, and Floyd Rose.

In 1995 we began working closely with the legendary pickup designer Bill Lawrence. We were trying to develop a pickup that would accurately reproduce the B string on a five string bass while still retaining the unique tonality of the Fender Jazz Bass. The result was the highly acclaimed pickup in the Roscoe Beck Artist Series Five-String bass.

Since that time Bill has brought us some excellent design ideas, but none have been better than what he brought us a little over a year ago!

We mounted his new prototype into our test bed guitar and began testing it against our original ’56 and ’63 Stratocaster pickups – the benchmark we’ve used for the past 10 years. We were literally amazed—no noise canceling pickups we had tested before had come this close to capturing the true essence of Fender’s original designs. The more we played it, using a variety of amplifiers and playing styles, we came to realize that this pickup actually exceeded our expectations—under certain conditions it actually out performed the originals!

Since those first tests, we have been working closely with Bill to fine tune this exciting new design so that we could incorporate it into our American Deluxe Series instruments. But what makes this design so special?

When Bill first approached us, we set some lofty goals. We wanted pickups with no hum; no microphonics; close to zero magnetic interruption of the string path; and the widest sonic parameters possible—everything from Fender’s classic single coils to tones not yet imagined. Bill had his own rules—the pickups could have no internal flaws and they had to be extremely consistent from pickup to pickup.

His work in understanding and controlling the eddy current effect had intrigued us. Through him we started to understand why two pickups that seemed identical could perform so differently—one sounding dull while the other would sing. Bill could actually determine what had made the one pickup so much better than the other and, more importantly, with this new design we could control that factor in each and every pickup we made. But, for this new concept to become reality, we had to open our minds and question every aspect of pickup design as we knew it—from the materials used, to how they are made and how they would be tested.

Where in the past we’d been adamant about sticking to Fender’s traditional materials, this time we deferred to Bill’s desire to test a variety of materials, some of which had never been used in conventional pickup design. The name of this series itself speaks to the result of his testing—SCN stands for Samarium Cobalt Noiseless. The magnetic force is from miniature samarium cobalt magnets which, in conjunction with the moderator bars, deliver a wider, softer magnetic field. The pole pieces and moderator bars are made from special alloys to avoid inductance leakage and circular currents, as well as for the control of the eddy current effect. The copper wire is precision made to custom specifications.

When it came to manufacture, Bill’s demand that these be flawless led to the development and building of our own coil winding machines—nothing currently available would meet our requirements. In addition we are now using test parameters and procedures not associated with normal pickup production. This insures that each and every pickup meets the same demanding criteria—each one has to amaze us just as that first prototype did over a year ago. Once again Fender’s heritage of innovation and a willingness to consider the unconventional has led to the development of a new and exciting product – Fender’s SCN Series pickups - the heart and soul of the American Deluxe Series guitars and basses.