Review: Curtis Novak F-Tron and Melody Maker Stealth P-90 Pickups

California-based maker Curtis Novak is many players’ go-to guy for creative approaches to alternative pickups for tricky modifications and restorations.
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California-based maker Curtis Novak is many players’ go-to guy for creative approaches to alternative pickups for tricky modifications and restorations. We tapped him to reinvigorate a vintage single-cutaway 1960 Gibson Melody Maker D—a vintage gem notoriously let down by its underwhelming pickups—and also for his own take on a classic Gretsch-style Filter’Tron. For the Melody Maker, Novak prescribed a pair of MM Stealth P-90s. Our review test set displayed a neatly constructed pair that fit sneakily beneath the original Melody Maker plastic covers, each with dual alnico V magnets below and steel polepieces running up through the coil. Installed and tested through Tone King Falcon Grande and Imperial Mk II combos and a Komet 60 with a 2x12 cab, the Novak pickups delivered all the bite and grind you’d hope to hear in a vintage single-coil-loaded Gibson. They gave this guitar great depth and dynamics while adding enough power to juice up any of my test amps. They brought this also-ran student model to life, making it a genuine contender for both recording and gigging, and for those reason they earn an Editors’ Pick Award.

Melody Maker Stealth P-90

Novak studied original Gretsch Filter ’Trons and even analyzed NOS vintage magnets to create his own F-Tron pickups, and the results prove the worthiness of the effort. Our test set included a stock vintage-wind neck pickup and a bridge unit wound toward the hotter side of vintage specs (as many players prefer these days). Installed in a Thorn SoCal C/S guitar, they offered a fast road to the elusively Gretschy blend of twang and snarl that great original Filter ’Trons achieve. Blending impressive clarity with toothsome depth, excellent touch sensitivity, as well as added grind from the bridge unit that pushed the amp a little harder, the Novak F-Tron set are a viable alternative to the major names that tend to dominate the Filter ’Tron sector. (Note that the F-Trons are made to vintage Filter ’Tron dimensions and might be a tight fit in some guitars routed for the slightly smaller TV Jones version.)

SPECIFICATIONS

MELODY MAKER STEALTH P-90 SET

CONTACT curtisnovak.com
PRICE $135 each (including plastic covers)

MAGNET Alnico V
DC RESISTANCE 7.16kΩ neck, 7.62kΩ bridge
COIL WIRE 42 AWG
BUILT USA
KUDOS Cleverly constructed pickups that offer a sly way to bring classic P-90 tone to a vintage Melody Maker.
CONCERNS None.

F-TRON SET

PRICE $155 per pickup
MAGNET Alnico V
DC RESISTANCE 3.84kΩ neck, 5.78kΩ bridge
COIL WIRE 42 AWG
BUILT USA
KUDOS A toneful alternative to the major name in repro Filter’Trons, with added versatility.
CONCERNS None.

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