Exclusive interview by Lenny Kalcic
Seymour W. Duncan is a guitarist and guitar repairman, but is perhaps best known as the man behind Seymour Duncan Pickups, the world’s leading manufacturer of guitar and bass pickups located in Santa Barbara, California. A good portion of Seymour’s life has been devoted to studying, and helping to create some of the world’s most identifiable guitar tones.
Born in New Jersey, Seymour grew up in the fifties and sixties, during a time when electric guitar music grew into greater acceptance. Seymour’s teenage passion was focused upon guitars by a great uncle who introduced him to the music and legend of Charlie Christian, Chet Atkins and Les Paul.
As Seymour tinkered devotedly with materials and techniques, his bag of tricks grew and grew. At Les Paul’s suggestion, he bolted for England in the late ’60s where his intention to play soon mixed with the opportunity to further his pickup research working in the Repair and R&D Departments at the Fender Soundhouse in London. It was here that he did repairs and rewinds for such artists as Jimmy Page, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Frampton, and Seymour’s guitar hero, Jeff Beck. It was through his work with Beck in particular, that Seymour honed his pickup winding skills – some of Seymour’s first signature pickup tones appear on Jeff’s early solo albums.
Seymour has made pickups for most of today’s most discerning and diverse players from Aerosmith to ZZ Top and all points in between.
EGM: What inspired you to pick up the guitar and get into music?
SWD: I was interested and inspired by music for as far back as I can remember. Like a lot of other people, music just moves me. As for guitar, it was watching the early axe slingers like Neil Levang, who played on The Lawrence Welk Show that first attracted me to guitar. Later on, I started to get interested in rock ‘n roll music, and that’s when I discovered Jeff Beck and The Yardbirds.
EGM: What makes a great sounding pick up and what is the story behind the legendary JB?
SWD: A great sounding pickup is one that makes the player sound better to himself and to his audience. A great sounding pickup is one that will inspire creativity to the player by giving him new tones and new found control over his tone.
As for the JB, that story is pretty well documented. I was working with Jeff Beck in London in the early ‘70s and one of the many great results of my work with Jeff was that pickup along with the JM or Jazz Model, neck pickup.
EGM: What has been your greatest experience so far?
SWD: Every day is a great experience for me. I have a really great life. I have my pickup company which is the world leader in its category. But I have other things going as well. I just released a CD of all original instrumental tunes; you can find it on iTunes.
I’ve always been interested in flint knapping and I’m on the board of Indiana University’s Cultural Anthropology Department. I have vast collect of old baseball mitts, fireman’s hats, military patches and insignia, and old machinery.
I had a health scare earlier this year, but it looks like I’m OK. I’ve got three grown sons and they’re all great, doing their own thing. I have a great wife, Diane. When you’re Seymour W. Duncan and you get to live the live I live, just waking up in the morning every day is your greatest experience so far!
© Evolution Garden Media 2011