Tone Specific is a brand of pickups made by three guys that met in a pool hall back in the late 1990's. These guys value their privacy & each of them try to keep a low personal profile. They are an interesting group of characters that share a passion for their craft. This passion comes through in the unrivaled build quality of their pickups.

They have an impressive list of session and touring guitarist that use their pickups. Even more impressive, is the fact that these pro guitarists typically order Tone Specific sets for all of their main working guitars. Many of them even replace their vintage pickups with the Tone Specific's.

About the Founder of Tone Specific

In the world of music and the game of life, a person must pay their dues. Nobody knows this better than the founder of Tone Specific. His pickups are the result of a lifetime of tone chasing. He’s a private man much like some of the mentors that guided him along the way. In our celebrity culture, some folks seem all too willing to build shrines to themselves. That's fine for some but he’s never been one to chase camera’s or fame. His main pursuit has always been achieving amazing tone. His belief is if you do good work, then people will notice and if you are lucky, those people will tell other people.  

It took him about 5 years to let us write this much about his story for this website. As Tone Specific has grown, so has the interest in the man & the company behind the mind-blowing tone. Developing this part of the website has been a joy because we've been able to learn so much about the guy we work with every day.

His strong ties to the NYC scene is well known, but he’s also pretty well respected on the LA, Nashville & Chicago scene's. In fact, pro's from all over the world use his designs in their main working instruments.

Luthier's are also passionate fans. Top Luthiers Stephen Marchione, Scott Platt & Ken McKay have build guitars for everyone from Mark Knopfler to Joe Bonamassa & everyone in between. It's a huge honor that these luthiers chose Tone Specific Pickups.

Scroll down the page to learn more.

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Mark Whitfield  Mark Whitfield, Legendary Jazz Guitarist

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Tone Specific's founder has been called a “Genius” by the likes of Jazz Legend Mark Whitfield, Blues Recording artist Lightnin’ Willie & the legendary guitarist Will Crosby (BB King, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples).

Others have shared similar praise including the great guitarists Leonardo Amuedo & Mike Gallaher (Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Adrian Belew). He’s humbled to be recognized by such amazing talent but he’s never been comfortable with this type of praise. He says “I’m just a guy with decent ears that had nothing better to do”.

His appreciation for great tone started early on in life but it wasn’t until years later that he really started to grasp what great tone was all about. During this time he met the late Sam “Bluzman” Taylor. This was his first connection to the NYC scene that has been so important to the success of Tone Specific.

Sam Taylor is a member of the Blues Hall of Fame. Tone Specific's founder said of Sam, “Sam just had great tone, no matter which guitar or amp he used, he had a way of finding the sweet spot of whatever he was playing.” The magic that Sam possessed in his heart & hands is what everyone was chasing. The founder of Tone Specific made it a life long focus to find ways to make it easier for mere mortals to achieve this on-demand access to great tone.

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Sam Taylor, Blues Legend

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Tone Specific’s founder decided to explore every nook and cranny in the pursuit of amazing tones. After years of buying or building every type of amp, guitar, pedal & pickups, he found that pickups were the weakest link of most rigs. Understanding this reality, he made it his goal in life to make pickups of such high quality that top-flight musicians would find them to be essential tools of their craft. 

He went on to spend years of his life tracking down vintage pickups & learning everything he could. He even went so far to obtain pickups from many modern makers & talked to as many as these people as he could. From this obsession he learned what worked and more about what didn’t work from these individuals. 

Sure there were lots of guys winding pickups but most of them seemed to be winding them as quickly as possible with an eye on automation & reduced cost. This wasn't appealing to the founder of Tone Specific. In his opinion, most of the guitar pickup industry was focused on making something only slightly different than what came stock in guitars. He thought this was a losing approach & that the goal should be making something with better tone, enhanced dynamics and more feel. Making pickups with great feel is what separates Tone Specific from all of the average pickups on the market. Marty5150 explains the feel of Tone Specific pickups in the video below.

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Being a true student of the game, the founder of Tone Specific learned there were a few guys making pickups worthy of his respect & he got to know each of their products as well as learn a lot from some of them personally. Tom Holmes & Peter Florance made great products and were always gracious with their time. Guys like Alan Hamel, David White, Bharat Khandekar & Tim White also come to mind. These individuals & their work all had much to teach but none more than Virgil Arlo. It was during his time working with Virgil Arlo Pickups that he learned what “vintage tone” was all about and how to incorporate enhanced dynamic range into every design.  

While you can hear the Virgil Arlo influence in many on the Tone Specific designs, each design has its own tone. Some people say the Tone Specific's are of equal quality to the Arlo's, others like the Arlo's better & and some are so kind to say the Tone Specific's are superior to the Arlo's.

Tone Specific's founder is uncomfortable with such comparisons. He summed it best when he said "Every step of the way, we spare no time or expense to make the best pickups around but the Arlo's are really special. Just to be mentioned with a set of pickups that people pay $2,000 for is a huge honor".

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Will Crosby (BB King, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples)

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Will Crosby is one of the most respected musicians on the scene. He was born with Blues in his blood. Howlin' Wolf's drummer S.P. Leary was his godfather. He currently lends his guitar and vocal chops to the BB King Blues Band. Prior to that he spent many years recording & touring with Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples & many other amazing artists. 

Mr. Crosby and Tone Specific's founder have be come very good friends over the years. They both share a passion for the blues & great guitar tone. Our founder said of Mr. Crosby "He's the most genuine individual I ever had the pleasure of meeting plus he plays a mean guitar"

The respect is mutual as Mr. Crosby has been putting Tone Specific Pickups in his main working guitars. His favorite sets are the 57/61 Deluxe P.A.F. Humbuckers & the 1959 Blues Strat Pickups.

By the time Mr. Crosby was 10 years old, he was playing guitar with his father’s band in Chicago. Years later, Mr. Crosby began playing with Pops Staples and went on his first international tour.

He then had the opportunity to compose and arrange for other artists including Carey Bell. Out of their collaborations and creative efforts, the album, “Good Luck Man” won the W.C. Handy Award. 

Accolades are nothing new to Mr. Crosby. He was awarded the Albert King award in 1996 and has performed at the White House during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. He's also performed at the Grammy's on multiple occasions. 

He's built a legendary career & is well respected all around the world by top-flight musicians and music fans too. It's a true honor to be able to provide an essential part of Mr. Crosby's sound.

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Leonardo Amuedo

Leonardo Amuedo, Live on Stage

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Leonardo Amuedo is an amazing guitarist that is well respected in the jazz and session communities. He says that playing his Tone Specific Pickups is “like plugging in to a expensive studio rack compressor” He had the Arlo’s installed in a guitar after some Session player friends from the LA scene told him of their glory. He really enjoyed performing with the Arlo's but all of his main guitars now have Tone Specific Pickups installed. Leo has been an amazing ambassador for Tone Specific. He introduced us to the amazing luthier Stephen Marchione as well as Jazz Legend Mark Whitfield, both of whom have become strong advocates for Tone Specific.   

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Dani Robinson plays and sings the parts of Jimi Hendrix with the Biily Cox Experience & he’s played both the Arlo’s & the Tone Specific 1965 Deluxe Strat. He thinks they are both great but he uses the Tone Specific’s in his main guitar that was gifted to him by Eric Johnson. Dani is shown below with Buddy Guy covering some Jimi Hendrix tunes. 

When describing the amazing tones coming from his Eric Johnson model Stratocaster loaded with the Tone Specific 1965 Deluxe Strat set, Dani said "I imagine this is what it was like to plug into a 1965 Strat....back in the year 1965!"

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Dani Robinson

 Dani Robinson live w/ Buddy Guy

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Michael Gallaher is a good friend of Tone Specific's founder. Like many other guitarist Mike has a wall full of guitars & most of them have Tone Specific Pickups. In addition to working with Leon Russell, Mike has toured with Joe Cocker & Adrian Belew.

Mike has owned many vintage guitars included some 50's Strats. He even crossed paths with Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan back in his Texas days. When Mike ran into the brothers at a studio he was blessed enough to get to check out Stevie's "Number 1 Strat".

Mike is still impressed every time he picks up a Tone Specific equipped guitar. Mike recently said "I've played everything & there is nothing like the Tone Specific's, they are the best. They make all other pickups seem useless."

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 Michael Gallaher, Legendary Guitarist (Joe Cocker, Leon Russell)

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Speaking of Mike Gallaher, it's not uncommon to find him jamming over at Red Circle Guitars & their impressive stock of high-end instruments. Victor Ratz is the owner of Red Circle Guitars in the Phoenix, Arizona area. He's a pretty well-known tone expert.

Victor has been the most prolific dealer of Tone Specific. He's always ordering a few months ahead so he doesn't run out of inventory. If you want a set but don't want to wait, then you should call him now. His ability to provide excellent customer service to the growing crowd of Tone Specific players has been invaluable. He's played all of the most important pickup brands on the market and he says the "Tone Specific's are the best on the market, just far superior to everything else being made."

Victor recently said that one of his pro clients expressed to him that after installing the the Tone Specific's in a few of his guitars, he feels like his guitars without Tone Specific Pickups installed are basically useless. Victor said "I feel the same way, many guitars on my wall have the Tone Specific's & those are he only guitars I play."

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Allan Holdsworth & Ford Thurston

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Ford Thurston is an in-demand guitarist on the Nashville scene. If you watch the video above you will understand why his services are so coveted. This guy has some serious hands & a great ear for vintage tone. Ford has has an impressive stable of vintage guitars including many vintage Gibson ES-335's. He drops Tone Specific P.A.F. Humbuckers in all of his main working guitars, including the Holy Grail (1959 Gibson ES-335).

Ford is not the only amazing player in Nashville that heavily rely's on Tone Specific Pickups for his tone. Much like NYC, there are many top pro's that use Tone Specific Pickups in all of their main working guitars. Speaking of amazing Nashville Pro's, check out Guthrie Trapp playing Tone Specific P.A.F. Pickups in a Gibson r9 Custom Shop Les Paul.

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Guthrie Trapp, top Nashville Guitarist

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Legendary Pickup Makers & Pro Guitarists are not the only people worthy of mention when telling the story of Tone Specific. The legendary amp builder, Ben Fargen, has not only been a valued advisor, a couple of his amps were during some of the R&D of several of the Tone Specific designs. One of his old guitars even showed up in a @JayLeonardJ demo. 

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Stephen Marchione

 Stephen Marchione, Legendary Luthier

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Stephen Marchione is an incredibly gifted luthier. Very few people have a combined understanding of tone, feel & aesthetics. He’s taught us many lessons and we’ve worked on a few designs together. Tone Specific’s founder says “It’s a real honor that Mr. Marchione uses our pickups. The fact he's has taken such an interest in our process is just icing on the cake”. Stephen has introduced Tone Specific pickups to the jazz great Mike Moreno & dozens of other elite players including Will Brahm & Mike Severson. Mike once said playing the Tone Specific’s is “like plugging into one of the old Neve consoles”.

Speaking of the incredible Stephen Marchione & Mike Moreno, check out Mike playing a Tone Specific equipped Marchione masterpiece in the video below. 

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Mike Moreno, Top Jazz Guitarist

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Ken McKay is another great luthier and his attention to vintage detail in his builds led him to using Tone Specific pickups. Tone Specific’s founder recently said of Ken’s work. “I’ve played a lot of vintage guitars & Kens builds are better, my pickups have never sounded so good as they do in his guitars”

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Dan Courtenay is the owner of Chelsea Guitars, located in the historic Chelsea Guitar in NYC. He has a tremendous ear for tone and understand vintage instruments as well as anyone. He’s been a longtime dealer and advocate of Tone Specific and plays them in his favorite vintage Les Paul.

 

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Lightnin' Willie

Lightnin' Willie & Billy Gibbons playing Willie's Gibson

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Breck Philip is a concert promoter, frontman, charity advocate & Tone Specific customer with several sets. He’s been a strong supporter of Tone Specific & has kindly introduced us many guitarists including the blues great, Lightnin' Willie. Breck also introduced us to the amazing charity Guitars4Vets. 

Guitars4Vets is a charity close to the hearts of all of here at Tone Specific. Our founder’s brother, uncle & late stepfather are all veterans. We also have a winder on staff that is a veteran & another one of our winders has two brothers that are Veteran’s. We all realize that none of us could do what we do without these hero’s. It’s an honor to know these fine people & to contribute to a program that helps other amazing veterans. 
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So now know more than you ever could imagine about the influences and motivations behind Tone Specific Pickups. The journey has been all about seeking the best possible tone & learning from some terrific people along the way. If you’ve ever heard or played a set of Tone Specific’s you know what everyone is so excited about as you can hear and feel the difference from the first note.

The goal of Tone Specific’s founder was to make pickups that were so excellent that pro’s would view them as essential tools to their trade. If you listen to what pro’s are saying, then you know the goal has been achieved. The good news is that you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy these incredible pickups. We look forward to building you a set for your special instrument. 

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Behind the Scenes at Tone Specific Pickups

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