Seymour Duncan: The Man Behind The Tone

SeymourD Seymour W. Duncan outside his factory in CA holding a 1950 Fender Broadcaster guitar.

Today, we want to take the time to honor the man behind one of our cherished partners, Seymour W. Duncan. As one of the top dealers of Seymour Duncan Pickups in the world, we owe a lot of our success to the outstanding products created by one of the most ingenious tone-crafters music has ever known. Although most players already know a lot about Seymour Duncan pickups, few of them know the amazing story of the company’s namesake, from his start as a guitarist and luthier to his rise as the man behind the world’s leading manufacturer of guitar and bass pickups.

Birth of a Legend

Growing up during the fifties and sixties, a revolutionary time when music legends changed the electric guitar from a hobbyist’s toy into a staple of the mainstream, Duncan found himself instantly attracted to the instrument at a very young age. By the time he hit his early teenage years, his interest turned into a tremendous passion thanks in no small part to his great uncle who introduced the young Duncan to music by electric guitar legends Charlie Christian, Les Paul and Chet Atkins. Soon after, his playing skills grew a considerable amount to the point where he was regularly performing at packed clubs well before he could even legally drink.

A Passion for Technique

In fact, it was during one of these gigs that Duncan’s now legendary pickup ingenuity first showed signs of the innovative force it would eventually become. It started with his Telecaster’s lead pickup which broke on him during a performance, forcing Duncan to make due the rest of the night with solely his rhythm pickup. Being a naturally resourceful musician, Duncan decided to repair the broken pickup himself by rewinding it with the help of a record player spinning at 33 1/3 RPM.

As he developed his skills on the guitar, Duncan’s knowledge on the inner workings of the instrument grew as well, taking every chance he got to talk to musicians about guitars, tone and electronics. Soon after, he spent and invaluable time with legendary musicians such as Les Paul and Roy Buchanan. It was during this time, seeing the masters at work that he realized that it was his guitar and not his playing that prevented him from recreating the signature tones that defined the great musicians of the day. From that moment on, his passion turned into a lifelong commitment and was hooked into breaking down the dynamics and differences of pickups. As he began experimenting with different materials and techniques, his bag of tricks grew exponentially.

Journey Across the Pond

During the late sixties, Duncan made his way to London at the suggestion of Les Paul. While his original intention was simply to play, he received an opportunity to further his passion for pickup research through a job offer at the Repair and R&D department of Fender Soundhouse. It is here that he was able to work with the best of the best in music, doing repairs and rewinds for artists such as George Harrison, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend as well as Duncan’s personal guitar hero, Jeff Beck. It was his interaction with Beck in particular that helped Duncan master his pickup winding skills. In fact, some of Duncan’s early original tones actually appear on Beck’s early solo albums. It goes without saying that by the time Duncan decided to head back to the states, he had amassed an impressive list of fans and friends.


Duncan eventually settled in California where he reconnected with Les Paul as well as befriending industry legends Leo Fender and Seth Lover (inventor of the humbucker). As he continued to learn and apply his skills, the demand for his custom pickups grew to the point where in late 1978, along with his wife Cathy Carter Duncan, he decided to open up his own company – Seymour Duncan Pickups.

You can still find Duncan working diligently to this day, whether it’s toiling away at new pickup designs at his factory or aiding musicians of all skills with his informative tone-clinics and regular convention appearances. It is this dedication to his craft and a passion focused on helping musicians take their tone to amazing places that has not only made his company a worldwide leader in pickups, but cemented Seymour W. Duncan as a music legend in his own right.

After more than 30 years in the business, the Seymour Duncan has become a staple for musicians everywhere. And here at PAL, we couldn't be more proud and excited to offer our customers the very best in ingenuity and tone that Seymour Duncan is known for. Here are just a few of our favorites pickups:

JB Model SH-4 Humbucker

SDSH-4_BThe world's most popular humbucker. Provides slammin' output while retaining singing highs, aggressive harmonics, and just the right blend of sustain and distortion. Goes from sweet warm tones to raw rock 'n' roll. Compared to the SH-14 Custom 5, the JB has a stronger treble detail. Some players use it with 250K pots to smooth out the highs. Comes with four-conductor hookup cable.



'59 Model SH-1 Vintage Blues Humbucker

SDsh-1n_sh-1b_1These bad boys are faithful replicas of humbucker inventor Seth Lover's "Patent Applied For" models. True to their 1959 specs with the same alnico magnets, plain enamel winding, nickel plated studs, wooden spacer, black paper tape, and balanced coil windings. The tone is bright and smooth like a vintage PAF should be. Sports a single conductor braided cable.  Also includes wiring diagram and mounting screws.



SHR-1 Hot Rails for Strat

SDshr-1-bridge-white (1)One of the highest output and most popular pickups Seymour Duncan has to offer. The two thin blades, strong ceramic magnet and powerful coil windings give you the incredible sustain and a fat, full sound that's needed for playing heavier rock music. This pickup responds to the subtlest finger movements. Comes with four-conductor hookup cable.



There's plenty more where that came from! Check out our entire selection of Seymour Duncan products here!

Leave a Reply