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Michal Tůma in the workshop. | Photo: Tuma pickups archive
Michal Tůma in the workshop. | Photo: Tuma pickups archive
Dr.Hyenik -

Dreamstruments #22: Tuma Pickups

Another brand that is being brought to notice in the guitar world more and more through patient work is Tuma Pickups. Whoever dreams of pickups with an authentic vintage feel like Robert Nebřenský (Vltava) or Vladimir "Guma" Kulhánek, or needs them repaired like Michal Pavlíček, has come to the right shop in Černá Hora near Brno.

Of course, Michal Tůma does not only make vintage pickups. For that matter, after high school, he first started building complete guitars for himself and friends under the brand M.T.Poor (a witty anagram of B.C.Rich). Coincidentally, later on, he also bought a pickup winder from Jolana company, although he didn't really know what he was going to do with it. Gradually, however, the pickups made him wonder more and more and he wanted to understand how they worked. So he bought a book from the USA about their history, which – apart from understandable trial and error and studying old pickups during repairs – became the basis of his know-how.

The advantage is that Michal, as an active guitarist (rockabilly blues band The(y)Wanted) can immediately verify everything in practice with his own fingers and ears. He's always been drawn to old vintage classics, so he decided to follow the voice of his heart. Of course, he doesn't shy away from any commissions, but he naturally focused on this area. That is, "old and weak" pickups with a distinctive character, more often singles than humbuckers, and always with an emphasis on original techniques, materials and technology. He would also test his birthday presents on these types of pickups, as he demonstrates in the following video.

We discussed at length the technology of making pickups because unlike, say, guitar making, there is not that much information available. Michal attributes the most importance to the wire itself. While repairing old instruments, he had the opportunity to verify that the old wire does play a little differently, especially in pleasant pitches. Today, the original method of lacquering the wire is no longer used and connoisseurs still perceive subtle sonic nuances. Michal was lucky enough to find a few spools of original wire (from 1944, for example), which made him very happy – despite the extra caution he needs to take as the age of this material makes it much more susceptible to cracking.

We agreed that there are no perfectly universal instruments or pickups. It always depends on the particular style, gear and, most importantly, the guitarist themselves and their requirements. For example, I don't like the clean sound from strong humbuckers at all (OK, I hate it). But in my youthful metal period, I didn't really hear any other clean electric guitar sound from recordings. It was only over time that I broadened my horizons with other guitars, other pickups and other styles, and learned to appreciate a good clean sound. So to cover a wide sonic palette, it's preferable to have a wider selection of guitars.

Tuma SV Custom 63'

Therefore, even choosing the best pickups from the Tuma pickups range is not easy, and Michal has been gradually picking out representatives of each basic category. Mostly he makes SV singles in the 1963 Stratocaster style with grey fibre and heavy formwar wire (double lacquered). He offers them in a standard version with German wire or a custom version with the more expensive American one. The SV Custom 63' is a pure vintage classic, which bluesman Michal Beneš (The Cell) demonstrates in his Jurkovič Strat in great detail.

We also discussed the pros and cons of wax or lacquer impregnation. Fundamentally, it helps against annoying whistling, but, of course, the pickup doesn't sound quite the same afterwards. This is again especially evident in the treble, which vintage sound fans are very sensitive to (and conversely, various noises are an organic part of their recordings). It also depends on the level of gain, of course, and that's why Michal has been working intensively on his own noiseless singles, the prototypes of which I could try out and I think we have a lot to look forward to.     

He likes a lot more Fender-like singles à la Broadcaster. The Telecaster is Michal's favourite guitar, and he says this pickup, with its stylish baseplate (a plate that extends the magnetic field to the entire bridge), creates that essential "tele sound".

Tuma WR6 Wide Range

Another interesting group are special humbuckers made of two Fender single coils connected in series, which have dynamics similar to a single, but without the hum and with a sound more concrete than classic PAF humbuckers. When I was looking for an interesting pickup for my Pavlica "Partcaster", Adam Krofian (The Atavists) recommended me the Tuma Wide Range. After a more detailed consultation, I ended up with Alnico 2 magnets (to give a slightly softer expression in hardwood) and four cables to expand the sound palette by splitting.

I'm so happy about it that I've just ordered a WR6 for my new baritone guitar as well, and I'm looking forward to seeing how much the definiteness and separation of individual tones improve over the cheap and unnecessarily powerful original humbucker. Baritone guitars are more sensitive about this, which is why, for them, pickups are used on the borderline of the categories, such as Filtertron (Gretsch guitars) with a strong magnet, weak wire with few coils, which delivers a specific sound and plenty of treble.

Between worlds

Pickups that (like the Wide Range) straddle the worlds of fat humbuckers and biting singles are Michal's favourite group. Typically, for example, the so-called Goldfoil, which is a wide-coil single in the HB size that has "a lot of iron" and a lot of treble, too. Its distinctive look is also sometimes used as a visual element only, but inside it is perhaps a more familiar P90 as in this video test.

The P90 is another popular representative from this category or a stronger and dimensionally wider single with excellent response to the guitar volume pot that can be both sparklingly clean and roaringly rock. I also have one set of HV90 or Tuma P90 humbuckers.

Michal Tůma, after his earlier orthodox approach, is now not too averse to more powerful pickups from the harder end, nor downright special orders, such as an accordion pickup (each reed with its own coil), an exotic kalimba nor a Fender piano. Although he still puts the main emphasis on the properties of the wire, he tries to accommodate different assignments by appropriate combination of magnet type and strength, number of turns, coil width and other details. For example, the requirements for bass pickups, which in the Tuma Double JB version offer extended sonic possibilities thanks to the splitting (used much more often in guitar pickups). However, as Michal says, he produces pickups without a story – everyone can then find their own one. Which is an interesting custom marketing twist.

The long list of his satisfied and returning customers only proves it: guitar makers Wolf Guitars, Standa Papež, Libor Kobrle, Stanislav Jurča, Dominik Poul, Tomáš Jech, Miles Guitars, Suligo Guitars, Red Bird Instruments and, for whom Michal repairs some boutique gems. His pickups are also used by bass legends such as Guma Kulhánek and Matěj Belko, guitarists Petr Kulich Pokorný (Etc), Honza Homola (Wohnout), Adam Krofian (The Atavists), Jarda Svoboda (Traband) and renowned producers Martin Ledvina and Ondřej Ježek.

Currently, Michal Tůma is also preparing a renewed production of guitars, fine-tuning the updated design of boxes, pickups and logos, so if you dream of proper instruments with a strong smell of the old days, do not hesitate to contact Tuma pickups.

Archive wire | Photo: Author Spools of wires | Photo: Author Working on the kalimba | Photo: Author Tuma single-coil pickups | Photo: Author Tuma Broadcaster | Photo: Author Tuma Double JB bass | Photo: Tuma pickups archive New eco-pack Tuma PV90 | Photo: Tuma pickups archive Tuma Wide Range | Photo: Tuma pickups archive Future Tuma guitars | Photo: Tuma pickups archive
Tagy Dreamstruments Tůma Pickups Michal Tůma

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Dr.Hyenik Orfanik
A multi-guitarist on an experimental journey towards unconventional sound and style contexts using all kinds of instruments, techniques and obscure tools. . . . According to Whiplash magazine, he is also a musical pervert, a mysterious intellectual with the visage of an overgr…