YAMAHA Spinex Pickup Mystery Solved?
Updated: Nov 6, 2018
Trying to find real information about Yamaha's Spinex pickups is no easy task. If you've searched the web you mostly find all kinds of speculation bordering on the ridiculous. Well, read on if you'd like some real details, from real sources.
Specially Developed Humbucking Pickups
"Yamaha has rethought and redesigned the double coil humbucking pickup, even down to the new Spinex alloy which we designed expressly for magnetic pickups."
The Yamaha SG 2000 had been the top of the line for the SG models since its introduction in 1977. The SG 3000, introduced in 1982 represented in Yamaha's own words 'our ultimate solid-body electric guitar'. This was a much flashier, high end model using mother of pearl and abalone inlays, but as a flagship model it was also the first Yamaha model to come equipped with a newly designed pickup, the Spinex.
As I started to buy vintage Yamaha's, the Spinex pickup came up time and again. Information was extremely thin on these other than players consistently saying these were very clear sounding and positive reviews. But I couldn't find anything specific about them.
I was intrigued and decided to track down a guitar equipped with the mysterious Spinex pickups. My first was an SG-1000NW, and I was very surprised when I first played this guitar. It is definitely high output and very clear sounding. I also got an SA model with Spinex pickups, and again it sounds very clear and articulate across its range of tones. For the SA, its a less fat sounding guitar than you typically find on a vintage semi hollow body.
So What Did Yamaha Have to Say?
A bit of first hand experience with these pickups only raised my interest in trying to understand what Spinex actually were. The passing references I came across only seemed to add to the mystique. So I began poring over catalogs, flyers, shop manuals and anything else I've been able to find on SG and SA equipped Spinex guitars. What I found was that Yamaha seems to have let out Spinex information a little at a time, over several years. Now there may be some comprehensive Yamaha Spinex document or white paper somewhere, but until it is found here's what I've discovered.
Initially Yamaha simply referred to special alloys when they rolled out the SG 3000: "...newly designed pickups made of special alloys" and "...the new Spinex alloy which we designed expressly for magnetic pickups". So back in 1983 you had to wonder if this was just marketing hype or these were made from other worldly elements.
In 1984 we learned a little more:
"The use of Spinex, a unique Yamaha magnetic alloy, plus specially developed pole piece materials and coil wiring results in pickups that offer warm, deep resonance with minimal feedback and unusual clarity".
There it is the clarity! So what it sounds like they are telling us is that Spinex is a magnetic alloy they developed for these pickups. But is that the whole story? Pole piece materials?
In 1986 they refined this slightly, with a little more emphasis on the pole pieces:
"The use of Spinex, a unique Yamaha magnetic alloy, plus specially selected pole piece materials and coil wiring, offer warm, deep tones at unusually high outputs, with minimal feedback and maximal clarity".
That is a great description of how these sound - high output, minimal feedback and maximal clarity. But there seems to be more to the pole pieces here as well?
"When you hear Spinex, you'll know what your guitar truly sounds like"
The Whole Spinex Story
In the 1987 SA model information there is finally a much more complete explanation of the mysterious Spinex pickups:
"SA Series guitars feature our innovative Spinex pickups. Yamaha researchers found a way to control the response of each humbucking pickup coil individually. We do it by controlling the carbon content of the steel in the pole pieces. Low carbon steel produces a crisp, bright tonality; high carbon pole pieces emphasize the warmth and richness of the classic humbucking sound. Together they produce a wide response, a unique tone full of character, spark and intimate detail."
So Yamaha is ensuring a full range of tones produced are captured by using what appears to be two different sets of pole pieces, with different alloys for each coil in the humbucker. One set with low carbon steel and the other with high carbon steel. Additionally, Yamaha developed its own alloy for the magnets in these pickups.
Yamaha Spinex mystery solved!
I can see why Yamaha might not have wanted to let the world know all of this as it must have required substantial R&D expense to develop and manufacture these pickups. Secret sauce indeed!
I mentioned earlier that Yamaha used Spinex pickups across more of its product line. I suspect that the characteristics of these were developed for specific models (i.e. SG vs SA), as Yamaha has model specific pickups, including of the Spinex variety.
Spinex pickups: "unusually high output, with minimal feedback and maximal clarity"
Yamaha stopped using Spinex pickups in 1988 or 1989. Guitars equipped with them definitely sound true to Yamaha's description: unusually high output, minimal feedback and maximum clarity. In addition to the pickups themselves, all Spinex equipped Yamaha's appear to have been equipped with a new 'Small-Mass Bridge', which again originally appeared on the SG 3000. I'll compare this bridge on the SG and SA to the earlier versions in another entry.
Spinex make for an interesting footnote in the history of Yamaha and guitar pickups.