How did the Shelby Designs Pickup System come about?
Many of you have asked our sales reps over the years how the Shelby Designs Pickup System (https://fretlight.com/pages/shelby-designs-pickup-system) was started and named. Well I'll tell you. Back in 2004, a little after the FG-421 was initially released for sale, I wanted to offer our customers an opportunity to upgrade their guitars. Being a strat player at the time, I was well aware of the aftermarket products and retrofit pickups that a person could purchase for their strat guitar. i myself upgraded my 1986 Squire strat with an EMG pickup system and I still play that guitar today, it sounds awesome.
I researched various pickups and designs and decided that the Alnico II magnet, which was used in various designs that sounded great, was a perfect starting point for a magnetic coil pickup. Next, I researched copper windings. I do have an Engineering degree so I took my knowledge from that and my knowledge from a being a player and designed a pickup that was noticeably hotter and brighter sounding than a stock pickup but wasn't over the top. I've always beleived that your amp is more important than your pickups. I play through a lot of vintage tube amps and I still wanted my tube amps to shine and produce more of the sound than the guitar. From my Marshall stack to my Vox AC 15 to my Fender Deluxe Reverb, the Shelby pickups sounded amazing. I'd achieved the goal I wanted. But I didn't want to stop with just better pickups.
Another thing that always bugged me about strats, and even my EMG retrofitted strat, was that changing the volume on the guitar really made the tone incredibly wimpy. I don't know anyone who uses the volume knob to actually reduce volume on a standard strat. I quickly learned as a player that when playing a strat, you control the volume on your amp or through a foot pedal and leave the volume knob turned all the way up. But of course I asked, why? Like everything else in the guitar industry, the strat's standard wiring really hasn't changed since the 1950's. So I set out to make the volume knob actually useful. A slight change in capacitor value and wiring scheme and presto - turning down the volume on the guitar on our Shelby System keeps the same tone, just at a lower volume.
Another thing I wanted to give customers was a choice of black or white pickguard and pickups. This was easy enough and it can really change the look of a guitar. I also added the N-Tune tuner to the system. When this was added to the Shelby system in 2010, having a tuner on your iPhone was not common. I still think that the N-Tune is awesome - you always have it there on your guitar. The 9V battery lasts for years and you never have to reach for your tuner or iPhone, even if it's only a few feet away.
Lastly, what to call it? I'm very dedicated to my family and children. One day I was watching my kids play outside. They were playing with a soccer ball in the yard. At that time I had 3 young kids and my youngest daughter, Shelby, was trying to keep up with the other two, a son and another daughter. Even at a young age she had a tenacity about her that was noticeable. She fought hard to get the ball and keep up with older bigger kids. A light bulb went off - I'll call the new pickup system "Shelby". That quickly evolved into the Shelby Designs Pickup System. Design a cool LOGO and get it built. Done.
It's actually an amazing value for the extra $100 we charge. It certainly fits the bill of all that I wanted out of a pickup system mod. 14 years later, the Shelby Designs Pickup System is going strong and there's no reason to change it. It sounds fantastic, makes the guitars look cool and it's extremely functional. We have sound examples on the FG-621 page on the website so head over and take a listen. We probably have half of our customers opt for the Shelby System when buying a 621 and to my knowledge, every one of them loves it.
Remember, we still sell a guitar, and it's a damn good one. You may not use the Fretlight system all the time, you may just want to pick up your Fretlight and play. And that's when having a great playing and great sounding guitar is a huge benefit in the long run. Oh, by the way, my daughter Shelby is currently in college and playing soccer. Very cool.