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The Intriguing History 

of *Bill Lawrence Guitar Pickups

By the original founder EZ Wajcman

EZ Wajcman 1965

 

 

Munich, Germany in 1965  

It was a typical Friday evening when a young musician walked into my Club “Castel Bar” to visit Nathan Grossman, his friend and the club’s manager.  During the lengthy conversation that followed, he told me about a traumatic experience in Italy. Just hours before a show he was involved in auto accident which damaged one of his guitar pickups. He had managed to fix the pickup, make it to the show on time … and at the end received a standing ovation. 

What was a “guitar pickup?” I had no idea until he retrieved a Fender Strat from his car and demonstrated in detail to me the “Charlie Christian Sound” every guitarist dreams of achieving. I remembered listening to Charlie Christian on Benny Goodman's recordings from the 40's. Charlie Christian influenced every jazz guitar player of his period and those that followed.   

the story sparked in me an idea. If all guitarists are really looking for the “Charlie Christian Sound,” why not create a guitar pickup replacement business that delivers it? 

From that moment on, the first replacement guitar pickup business in the world was born. We talked about it throughout the night. The next morning—a Saturday—we visited a children's’ toy store on the Sonnen Strasse to buy a small motor from a child’s train. It would become our coil winder. We made a bobbin out of a green plastic ruler and we located some magnets and magnet wire. For the rest of the weekend we worked to build a prototype.

 

Would it be accepted?

By Monday morning the pickup we created was ready and installed in a Fender guitar. I thought it was performing beautifully, but I needed some other expert opinions before launching a business. That same day we drove to Erlangen and Nuremberg and demonstrated the new product to four different guitar manufacturers, like Hoyer, Hopf, Hoefner and Framus. They were very impressed!

A week later I hopped on an airplane for my first trip to American soil. From the airport I went straight to Brooklyn and found myself standing in front of the old Gretsch building. Placing the call from a public phone, I asked in my broken English for Mr. Fred Gretsch. I explained to him that I was a young man who had just arrived in America from Germany. I had come for the sole purpose of gaining his evaluation of a hand made sample of a guitar pickup I had with me. I told him I believed it was the best Guitar Pickup in the world.

Mr. Fred Grestch responded warmly, and invited me in to see him.  He handed my sample pickup to his guitar tech to install in a guitar. They could not believe the sound it produced. He became all excited and said to me, “Man, you have a piece of gold in your hands.”  Then he phoned Guild guitars in Newark, New Jersey and made an appointment for me to demonstrate my pickup to them.  Again, it was the same response.  Four days later I returned back to Germany, rented a place on Reifeisen Platz, in Munich and started a company.  

 

A photo I took In my *Bill Lawrence office 1965 

 

All this transpired just 11 years after Leo Fender and his business partner, Don Randall, created the Stratocaster — the most commercially successful and copied electric guitar design in history. Leo Fender crafted the original Stratocaster to out perform all other electric guitars. In 1954, it was “a guitar for tomorrow.” Astonishingly, after 50 years, it still is.  

 

What should the company be called? It needed a name. 

The musician who had walked into my club, was performing under the name Billy Lorento, but actually Fred Wilfer owned that name the owner of Framus Guitar Company in Nuremberg. 

After going over a list of possibilities, we decided to convert the Italian sounding name “Billy Lorento” into the English name “*Bill Lawrence” And that was the birthday of “*Bill Lawrence Pickups.”  I designed the Logo and the catalog and worked days and nights to market the new "*Bill Lawrence products" 

 

The first Bill Lawrence Pickup made 1965

Bill Lawrence catalog cover,  printed 1965 (Inhaber j.Wajcman=Owner j.Wajcman)

In 1966 I purchased two airline tickets. We went to the united states. We felt it is time to introduce the *Bill Lawrence pickups in the US.  

 

The *Bill Lawrence reputation

Over the past 39 years, tens of thousands of guitarists have replaced their original pickups with *Bill Lawrence Pickups to improve the quality sound of their guitars. Over the years I have seen guitarist spend hundreds of dollars on replacement pickups and still not fix their real problem.  You see, a pickup can only amplify the real sound a guitar produces.

If there is no sound quality in your body, the best pickup will not help.  It’s just a waste of money. It is my belief that professional musicians need an affordable instrument to go on stage with and perform. We install our pickups in "SwampKaster" guitars manufactured in the same traditional guitar shapes using the best materials and craftsmanship and show how *Bill Lawrence Pickups sound the best.  

All original traditional *Bill Lawrence Pickups are made in California, USA. Each pickup is checked for top quality. Our SwampKaster guitars are made of  hand-selected, high quality Swamp Ash wood from the deep southern swamps of Louisiana. This is the same wood many 50's Fenders were made of. It is easily distinguishable from Northern Ash by its weight and sound. This is a very musical wood offering a nice balance of brightness and warmth with lots of “pop.”

                        

If the sound is not in your body, the best pickup isn't gone help

 

What’s in the sound?

“The guitar sounds acoustically correct even without amplification as the body and hardware together create one complete resonant unit. The Bill Lawrence guitar pickups then take the very small acoustic output of the body and amplify that pure original sound. The body acts as a sounding board.

The finish on the guitar is very critical the clarity of the guitar's acoustical voice. A lightweight guitar has the best tonal balance and sustained sound—yielding transparent timbres with bell-like overtones. Maple necks produce a bright, clear sound. The truss rod designed to counter string tension and hidden in the neck, is also a component.  And the fingerboard definitely contributes to the ultimate sound.  Maple fingerboards produce an even balance, yet sustain and yield bright tone. Rosewood fingerboards are warmer sounding, with less defined attack than one may from Maple.  Notes seem to bloom after being picked. The bridge is another very critical element in the tone chain. It links the strings to the guitar and the bridge's contact with the guitar's top determines how much string vibration is transferred to the body.  

Play the SwamKasters and you’ll agree, there is not a better sounding guitar being made today. And thanks for listening to our story. I hope you enjoyed it.

EZ Wajcman

 

 

 

 

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* Disclaimer: Jzchak Wajcman dba “Bill Lawrence USA“, is not associated with the designer Bill Lawrence since 1984.