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 within the LA, Nashville, Jazz & Luthier communities. You’ve probably already discovered most of that information but much of what you’ll read below isn’t as well known.

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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. 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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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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John “JJ” Cale was an incredible songwriter & a great musician probably best known for writing hit songs that were recorded by Eric Clapton. He was also an incredible guitarist. Neil Young once said “When I think of great guitarists I think of Jimi Hendrix & JJ Cale. There’s no one better than him”. Tone Specific’s founder said of Cale “he could do more with 2 or 3 notes than most guy can do with the whole guitar.”  Cale has influenced a wide range of artists. When listening to an Eric Clapton or Mark Knopfler, it doesn’t take long to hear a little JJ Cale.

Tone Specific’s founder & JJ Cale both lived pretty close to the Road to Escondido in the back country of San Diego County. They also shared a passion for tinkering & modifying their guitars. Tone Specific’s founder designed a set of pickups with Cale in mind, he said “I always regret not finishing those final Twang Set prototypes fast enough to take to him out in Valley Center”. 

JJ Cale played a lot with his fingers as opposed to a pick. Mark Knopfler also plays without a pick most of the time. The “Twang” line of pickups were designed with these types of players in mind. Tone Specific’s founder said “they respond very well to the the flesh on your finger tips, they have great dynamics and respond well to being snapped too”. 

Anyone that knew or followed JJ Cale, wanted to be more like him. His ability to have a great career outside of the limelight, his laid-back style, along with his songwriting & guitar chops are all the stuff of envy. If you have not done so already, get over to iTunes and download his entire catalog. Along with the late Leon Russell and others, JJ Cale is credited as one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound & has had a huge impact on many artists.

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JJ Cale live w/Eric Clapton

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Speaking of the great Leon Russell, his good friend and former guitarist, 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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Allan Holdsworth was another incredible guitarist that lived just down the road from Tone Specific's founder in San Diego's North County. When speaking about Holdsworth, George Benson once said “He does things I have not heard the guitar do....He’s not trying new things, he’s mastering them.”

Holdsworth influenced everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Joe Satriani. The founder of Tone Specific was also heavily influenced by Holdsworth and commented "Allan didn't really have any peers, in many ways he was bigger than any genre of music".

The Tone Specific Jazzy Series were designed with Holdsworth in mind. Allan used a variety of effects and amp including some of the old Yamaha digital amps and processors. Tone Specific's founder said "You could get some interesting tones out of those old Yamaha digital units but dialing them in just right could be a challenge, especially with average pickups".  

Most of the time Allan used Humbucker equipped guitars. This was because typical Tele's & Strat's were lacking what he desired. Our Jazzy Series Strat's & Tele's were designed to solve this issue by delivering a warm & complex round tone that still retains a great deal of tightness. This makes them super easy to dial in with just about vintage or modern device.

The 1957 Jazzy Humbuckers also share these characteristics. You can cover just about any genre of music with these amazing pickups & they really shine when covering Jazz Standards or blazing new trails in the world of Fusion.

Check out the video below with our good friend Ford Thurston & Allan Holdsworth. 

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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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Rudy Pensa is a legendary guitar shop owner in NYC. They also build some terrific guitars at Rudy’s. Tone Specific’s founder got to know Rudy a little during his time working with Virgil Arlo Pickups. Rudy was one of Virgil Arlo’s top dealers. Tone Specific’s founder said of Rudy “I learned more about this business in my first two minutes talking to Rudy than most people will ever know.” It was his honor to work with Rudy & Virgil and he happily speaks of these times. 

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Victor Ratz is the owner of Red Circle Guitars in the Phoenix, Arizona area. He's a pretty well-known tone expert. Victor been the most prolific dealer of Tone Specific which has been a huge help. 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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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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