Fender is known for many things, but humbucking pickups ain't one of 'em. The sonic reputation of this storied company has been built on a foundation of twang, spank, quack, chime and every other onomatopoeia one might use to describe the singular sound of Fender single-coil pickups. This reputation has made it difficult for Fender to gain a solid foothold in the humbucking pickup market, a market that was essentially created by Gibson and its brilliant pickup designer Seth Lover in the fifties, and one that has since been thoroughly taken over by Seymour Duncan, Dimarzio, and various other aftermarket pickup manufacturers. It is somewhat ironic then that one of the most coveted and valuable of vintage humbucking pickups is a Fender product.
Fender's Wide Range humbuckers, familiar to most players from the Telecaster Deluxe, Thinline, and Custom models, were originally produced from 1971 through 1979, and have since attained a near legendary status due to their sound, unusual construction, curious history, and rarity. Much like Gibson's pioneering PAF, the Wide Range was also invented by Seth Lover, who had switched teams around 1967 and began working as a project engineer at Fender. He designed the Wide Range pickup to help Fender reboot its image, which had become synonymous with single-coils, and help the company break into the burgeoning humbucker market.
Despite its strong desire to produce a humbucker that could compete directly with those from Gibson, Fender did not compromise a bit of its own distinctive personality and tonal signature when creating the Wide Range. In fact, the Wide Range humbucker has much more in common with a Strat or Jazzmaster pickup, both tonally and in its construction, than it does with Gibson's PAF. Original Wide Range pickups have a clarity, cut, and dynamic range that PAF's can't touch, while also sounding fat and operating hum-free. And while a typical Gibson-style humbucker is constructed using a bar magnet underneath its coils, the Wide Range is constructed using individually slotted and threaded polepieces that were made from Cunife (copper-nickel-iron) magnets.
In more recent times, as the legend of the Wide Range has grown, Fender and other companies have built modern reproductions of these pickups. While often fine pickups in their own right, many of these reproductions, including Fender's reissues, miss the mark in feel and tone when compared to vintage examples. The original Wide Range design, using individual magnetic polepieces rather than a single bar magnet, is a big part of the tone equation, but the other part is the Cunife magnet material, which has long been obsolete in every other industry that used to use it, and is essentially totally unavailable in the present day. Cunife magnets are also the main reason that original Fender Wide Range humbuckers regularly sell on the vintage market for 400 dollars apiece, sometimes more.
So what is a modern-day Wide Range enthusiast to do? Well, if you have money coming out of your ears or you're just really lucky, you can score some original WR's. There are also a very limited and equally expensive number of modern reproductions that use what I must assume are the last remaining stocks of Cunife magnets on Earth. If you can live without Cunife, though, the options increase greatly and the cost of entry goes down dramatically. Many of these models use common, less expensive, and sonically similar Alnico magnets in place of the magical unobtainium, managing to reproduce the sound of vintage Wide Range humbuckers in very convincing fashion thanks to carefully considered construction techniques and lots of tuning by knowledgeable ears. Here are a few of our favorite modern Wide Range humbucker reproductions.
Telenator Limited Edition Cunife
Telenator is a company that was, believe it or not, founded solely to reproduce exacting clones of the Fender Wide Range humbucker. It is also the only one that currently manufactures a Wide Range repro using genuine threaded Cunife magnets. By all accounts these are unquestionably spectacular pickups, made to order by hand with some seriously rare-ass magnets, but if you were looking to save money over the purchase of actual vintage Wide Rangers, then think again. At 449 bucks the Telenator LE Cunife is priced comparably to a vintage example in excellent condition. Obviously, these are not for everybody. The good news is that the company makes Wide Range reproductions in various lower cost forms as well, including Cunife-Alnico hybrid and pure Alnico. It also offers a pickup modification service that converts current Fender-built Wide Range reissues to vintage spec and construction. Telenator should be stop number one on your journey down the Wide Range rabbit hole.
Curtis Novak WRHB
Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth is one of the modern era's most enthusiastic and visible Fender Wide Range fans, installing these pickups in many of his modified Jazzmasters to create what he has dubbed the "Jazzblaster." Obviously, Mr. Ranaldo knows a good Wide Ranger when he hears one, so when he received some reissue pickups from Fender that didn't sound like his beloved vintage versions, he sent them to revered pickup guru Curtis Novak for a complete overhaul. Mr. Novak has used his extensive experience reworking old WRs like Lee Ranaldo’s to create his WRHB model, an exacting copy of the vintage Wide Range humbucker that uses the sonically crucial threaded rod magnets for that fat, yet highly detailed tone that made the Wide Range humbucker so coveted. At 190 bucks a piece, Novak's WRHBs are not inexpensive, but they are hand-wound to whatever specs you desire, and they are as tonally authentic as it gets.
Lollar Regal Humbucker
Jason Lollar is a god among modern magnetic pickup winders, so back around 2010 when word got around that he was working on a vintage Fender Wide Range reproduction, guitar nerds went nuts. This pickup model, called the Regal, was the most buzzed about product in Lollar's history, and when it finally became available it was clear that it was more than capable of living up to its hype. The Lollar team reportedly spent several years in R&D before releasing the Regal, and it shows. Besides the all-important threaded magnet polepieces, the Regal also uses a custom pickup cover made of slightly thinner metal than the originals, which allows for enhanced clarity and high-end sparkle. And where vintage Wide Rangers were all wound to the same spec, Lollar chose to wind bridge and neck models slightly differently for optimum musical balance. The Lollar Regal is 210 dollars direct, and worth every penny.
Mojotone 72 Clone
Mojotone really does it all these days, from cabs and speakers, to tube amp kits and just about any guitar part that has ever existed. The company's pickup line has really been expanding recently. One of its coolest offerings is the 72 Clone Wide Range Humbucker. It reproduces the original's chime and clarity using a design based on threaded individual polepieces, just like the vintage models, with some additional enhancements. Mojotone's Wide Rangers are outfitted with 4-conductor wiring, enabling various tapping and splitting wiring schemes, and they are also fully vacuum potted, where many originals were not. The company also underwinds its neck pickup for a better balance when switching between pickup positions. At just under 130 bucks, Mojotone's 72 Clone is a steal.
Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Wide Range Humbucker
Duncan doesn't offer a WR repro as part of its standard production line. If you want Seymour and the crew to whip you up a Wide Ranger, however, it can be easily done via the awesome Seymour Duncan Custom Shop. Naturally the Duncan Custom design uses the appropriate threaded rod magnets like the originals, substituting Alnico V in place of the original Cunife magnets due to Alnico's ready availability and tonal similarity. The pickups are wound to vintage specs, and are offered with quite a few different options, including wax potting or no wax potting, and single conductor or four conductor wiring. They can be ordered direct from the Duncan Custom Shop website for 180 dollars a piece, or 340 dollars for a pair. Get at 'em.