Handwound & Handcrafted Guitar Pickups made in Normandy

Meet Steve Marlowe from TonalityTools Studios

Meet Steve Marlowe from TonalityTools Studios
28 March 2021 Cecca Guitars
Telecaster Haar Guitars

Impossible to find pickups

A few weeks ago, I came to know Steve Marlowe through a simple email via my site. (Steve has nothing to do with Philip, played on screen by Humphrey Bogart: he is the founder of TonalityTools Studios in Phoenix, Arizona. He is also Producer and Chief Engineer there.)

After a first contact, he told me the story of the very limited Les Paul “Benchmark” guitars that the Gibson Custom Shop specially built and released in 2013 and 2014.

Surprisingly, at the end of 2019 it was found that the Gibson Custom Shop still had a small box of the pickups from 2014 sitting on a shelf. So, in 2020, five more Benchmark Les Pauls were specially commissioned to use these remaining special low wind Custombucker pickups…5 unique ‘58s (R8s), each with 1959 neck profiles and lightly flamed tops were custom produced: The last of the “Benchmarks”.

The pickups are Custombuckers, but slightly under wound, and slightly potted. And, they use the Alnico3 magnets, as do all Custombuckers. The low wind versions are Custombuckers, but with a few less windings and lightly potted.

The sound is extremely musical with a presence and musical clarity not typical of normal Custombuckers, which are fabulous pickups in their own right.

Steve had the chance to pick up two of the new 2020 special run Benchmark Les Pauls with these rare pickups – one for his studio, and one for a sister studio in Scottsdale, Arizona.

As a result, he became quite familiar with the sound and responsiveness of the low wind Custombucker pickups, and he could compare them directly to several other Custom Shop Custombucker guitars recently acquired from the Custom Shop.

Again, the special low wind pickup that equips these Benchmark guitars is an Alnico 3 PAF, but unlike the Custombuckers, they are slightly underwound. This peculiarity gives them a rich dynamic musicality and exceptional openness.

An incredible feedback

And that’s where our meeting happened: Steve was looking for an equivalent to these pickups as Gibson has no plans to ever make them again and few exist.

Steve came across Cecca Guitars and noticed on our website that we produce a low wind version of the Custombucker, which we call the “Delta Roots”…No other boutique pickup designer seemed to describe what Steve was looking for, so he contacted me.

Over the course of several emails (I’m in France, and Steve is in Pheonix Arizona), Steve told me the whole story of these few Benchmark Les Pauls and their pickups, and he explained how, thanks to his friend, the highly respected Harvey Moltz, owner of Rainbow Guitars in Tucson, he (Steve) came to own these guitars.

Steve asked me to make our Delta Roots neck pickup equivalent to the PAF of the Les Paul “Benchmark” pickup. He needed it to equip a custom Telecaster from Haar Guitars in the Netherlands.

As a result, the pickup was produced by Cecca Guitars (I mustn’t fail this one! 🙂 and a few days after receiving the pickup, Steve gave me this amazing feedback.

This has been exciting and rewarding for me; a small French Boutique pickup manufacturer.

Here are Steve’s comments after upgrading the Haar Telecaster with our low wind Alnico3 PAF…

“We have been spending some time with the new pickup you kindly provided.

“It has been ‘burning in’ – pickups sound markedly better after they have been played a while as the wire and magnets pass current.

“So far, we are really impressed. As you know, we have many Gibsons. Some have low-wind and normal Custombuckers.

Your pickup seems more musical, expressive and tonally more pleasing.

“You are pretty amazing as we receive many pickups and very few impress us, honestly.”

Telecaster Haar Guitars

The beginning of a collaboration

Since that pickup for Steve, I have also made him a humbucker set for his Studio’s JohnnyA – a rare prototype of the model from the Gibson Custom Shop. It is presently receiving its upgrades and I’m sure Steve will share the results with us!

Additionally, Steve has asked me to produce a Nocaster set that is as nuanced, dynamic and expressive as possible, based on a rare Nocaster also in his Studio collection.

It is extremely exciting to develop this new Nocaster / Telecaster set, and  you will find them on our store as soon as they have been validated by Steve.

About Steve Marlowe and TonalityTools Studios

Steve Marlowe founded TonalityTools Studios in Phoenix Arizona in 2005 after working with many artists as a sound engineer for years. His mixing and mastering skills, as well as his influences as a guitarist know no borders: Jazz, Reggae, Hip Hop, Pop, Indie Rock… He has produced, recorded and mixed great names in music all over the world.

Steve is also something of a guitar expert and collector. As such, TonalityTools Studios has a magnificent collection of instruments for all genres and styles. Amps too. He has shown me some pretty amazing ones!…Including a signature Jimi Hendrix prototype Stratocaster from the Custom Shop, built and signed by John English and John Page (Masterbuilts at Fender Customshop in Corona California and Fender’s Headquarters are in Scottsdale, a short ways from the Studios).

Steve has based his work on the fidelity of the reproduction of music, whether live or recorded. He has developed a unique processing, called Bit Density Processing, which allows you to get as close as possible to the reality and musicality of analog recordings while still taking advantage of all the benefits of digital production. Thanks to this technology, he has remastered and digitized many releases, historic jazz particular.

More about:

TonalityTools Studios & Steve Marlowe

Rainbow Guitars

I warmly thank Steve for letting me share his story, his comments and for his help to write the English version of the text!