The front (top) and back (bottom) of an alder Niwa body.
Note the smooth, finely cut cavities and incredible attention
to detail in everything from the flowing body lines to the
placement of hardware routes.
The guitar should sound like a fat, full Strat, with a hotter, Teletype bridge sound. The Tesla bridge pickup is a humbucker made
in a more standard way. Since 2009, I’ve used the same configuration I made for [Metallica’s] Kirk Hammet.
Of course, I also make custom pickups for my clients. The
Birdfish has three different humbuckers—from a very hot, PAF-like
version to a P-90-like version, and two real single-coils that have
more of a vintage tone. I haven’t built active pickups or circuits
Most pickup aficionados are familiar with alnico 5 and alnico 3
magnets, but you use both alnico 5 and alnico 8 in the Tesla and
Niwa pickups. Why?
I use the alnico 8 magnets for the inner magnets of the split-coil
pickups, where the north pole and the south pole are facing the D
and G strings. Alnico 8 has a stronger field power, and this compensates for the partial elimination of the field. When I work with
alnico 8, I don’t load the magnets up to the full saturation. I usually
go up to 85 percent of the magnetic saturation. To do that, I use an
adjustable impulse magnetizer. After that, I measure the magnetic
field strength of each magnet. This is very important, in my opinion, because it plays a major role in the harmonics of the tone.
I also have other magnet types—alnico 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8—but
I only use alnico 2 and 3 for custom pickups. My job is not to
rebuild classic vintage guitars. I believe the fact that everyone is
looking for vintage pickups isn’t based on the fact that they are the
best-sounding pickups—people are looking for very early pickups
that were designed before instruments and players evolved [to
where they are today]. But of course, these pickups and guitars were
big parts of [some of] the most important [guitar] recordings. In
the ’50s, you had to play a ’50s guitar—there were no ’60s guitars
yet. In the meantime, I try to stay away from all the tautological