Early Pickups

Acoustic Guitar – Early Pickups

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Harry DeArmond (born January 28, 1906, died October 12, 1999)

The DeArmond Pick-up –

John Henry DeArmond was a budding guitar player who in 1935, at the tender age of 10, fashioned a guitar pickup from the coil off of an old Ford Model A. John’s older brother Harold, seized upon the idea and looked for ways to profit from it. DeArmond believed that offering an add-on pickup that would avoid cutting a hole in the top of a guitar, and also give depression-era players a way to go electric without buying a whole new instrument, was the way to go. Harry DeArmond teamed with a Toledo, Ohio, company named Rowe Industries and the first DeArmond pickups were introduced in 1939. That same year, 14-year-old John hopped a train for California where he would make his living as a musician until joining the Navy.

Harry DeArmond had started producing pickups early in the decade and Dobro produced a small number of amplified resonator guitars.  From the mid ‘30s until 1975. He designed every single DeArmond-brand pickup during that time, from the 1st after-market attachable guitar pickup to the Model 200 (Gretsch Dynasonic) and beyond.


DeArmondFactory1915Harry DeArmond
established a working relationship with Harold ‘Bud’ Rowe’s company to manufacture and develop these pickups. The company was located in the former Junction Schoolhouse at 1702 Wayne Street in Toledo, Ohio.

Initially there were 2 models for flat-top guitars (the RH and the RHC which incorporated an integral volume controller) and two pickups for archtop guitars (the FH and FHC with a volume controller). Both types of pickup, initially called “guitar mics“, were passive electromagnetic, employing the same wide shallow coil shape with individual Alnico 2 pole-pieces

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TDeArmondRHhe Models offered were the RH forDeArmondFHPickupDesign “Round-Hole” guitars, and the FH for “F-Hole” guitars. Mounted within a metal casing, the pickups consisted of six Alnico II pole pieces on a bakelite spool, scatter-wound with 42-gauge copper. For round-hole guitars, the pickup would fit within the sound hole of the guitar, with a volume control flywheel sitting at one end. The RH type was flush-fitted into the soundhole and retained with adjustable springs, to minimise damage to the instrument and to facilitate removal. As it projected only a few mm above the soundboard and had an edge mounted, almost flush potentiometer knob, it hardly interfered with the instrument’s playability.

The FH type comprised a coil assembly in a plain chrome-plated brass cover, fixed to a rod that lay parallel with, and just below the height of the 6th string. The units offered two mounting options. On a string-clamp unit, the pickup would float on a rod which would then clamp to the strings between the bridge and tailpiece. The pressure rod was as long as the distance from the end of the fingerboard all the way to the bridge, meaning the pickup could be widely positioned. This setup became known as the “Monkey on a Stick.”

For a neck-mounted unit, the pickup rod would attach to the side of the fingerboard on the bass side. All FH units had volume and tone controls housed in a separate box that attached to the strings between the bridge and the tailpiece.   The pickup could easily be slid along the rod from the bridge to the neck, providing a wide variation in tone. Its volume controller was in a separate small box, attached to the clamp behind the bridge.

Model FHCGuitar Mic” –
Chrome plated cover with black insets.
(Early models without black insets, may be nickel plated.)
Dimensions: Length- 3 3/16″; Width (at high “E” string) 1 5/8″; Depth: 3/8″.

Minimum recommended string clearance: approx. 7/16″ from guitar top to bottom of strings at the end of the fingerboard, when strings are fretted at the highest fret.

DeArmond pickups enjoyed widespread popularity. WWII disrupted business, but a full-page ad in the April 6, 1946, issue of Billboard magazine announced the company was back to production on Monroe Street in Toledo, Ohio. On Nov. 18 of the same year, DeArmond filed a patent for the RHC. The patent drawings show a slender pickup bearing a striking resemblance to the Fender units that would appear in the years to follow. DeArmond was granted his patent for the RFC in 1948.

Also in 1948, (perhaps a year or two earlier) Rowe Industries released his Trem-Trol,  the first widely available external effects unit.   The Model 800 Trem Trol. This foot-operated floor-mounting unit comprised a mains voltage motor that rocked a small sealed bottle fitted with two electrical contacts and containing electrically conductive fluid. The variable frequency of the ‘make and break’ action of the mechanism created a type of tremolo effect. This effect unit was used by Bo Diddley and by many other artists.

DeArmond pickups were factory-fitted to instruments produced by Airline, D’Angelico, Eko, Epiphone, Fender, Gretsch, Guild, Harmony, Hofner, Kustom, Levin, Ovation, Premier, Martin, Messenger, Microfrets, Silvertone and Standel.

Beginning in 1949, DeArmond began supplying Gretsch with a single-coil pickup called the 200. Later renamed the Dynasonic, the 200 was a complex unit. Large Alnico V pole pieces were spring-loaded to facilitate height adjustment. The magnets were powerful enough that if mounted too high they could actually cancel the vibrations of the string. The bobbin was made of bakelite and the unit was wound with .43 gauge wire. Over the years, the Dynasonic has been loved by some (Cliff Gallup, Billy Zoom) and hated by others (Chet Atkins pulled his off and Eddie Cochran replaced his neck-position Dynasonic with a P-90). Gibson’s Seth Lover found the pickup good enough that he felt compelled to respond with the square-magnet P-90 found in early Les Paul Custom models. From humble beginnings, DeArmond cast an influence across the industry that still resonates today.”

The DeArmond Model 1100 Adjustable Rhythm Chief archtop guitar pickup introduced in 1954, is considered by very many enthusiasts to be one of the three best pickups ever produced, the others being the Charlie Christian model and the P-90, both produced by Gibson. Gibson developed the P-90 as a direct response to the innovative Dynasonic Model 2000 guitar pickup produced by DeArmond and first used by Gretsch in the early 1950s.

His designs featured on Harmony Stratotones and Gretsch 6120s, Martin archtops and Kustom K-200s, Standel and Premier guitars, Guild and D’Angelico guitars, early Micro Frets models and even Fender Coronados. He designed the legendary DeArmond 1000 and 1100 archtop pickups as well as the FHC flat-top unit. These pickups remain in high demand 30 years after they were last manufactured, and the Model 200 is being recreated by several modern manufacturers.  The Rowe company built over 100 of DeArmond’s designs over the years, and all of these pickups have a unique character that is totally different from other manufacturers’ pickups. The tones range from hot and gritty to sweet and refined, but always with a rich, full sound that could make cheap guitars sound like monsters.  Harry DeArmond should be mentioned in the same breath as Leo Fender and Lloyd Loar, as he contributed to many of the best-sounding electric guitars ever made

DeArmondBugMicDeArmond Archtop Bug style pick up.
This is a rare vintage pick up from the 50’s.

The small attaching bracket which two screwed is missing but no one wants to damage a good guitar anyway. Guitarists found that it great to just slip and wedge under the strings between the bridge and tailpiece.

It makes an archtop sound more natural than a magnetic pick up. A very handy little bug, a DeArmond contact that slipped under the trapeze of say an L3

The original floating pickup, supplied as standard equipment on D’Angelico, Guild and many other classic archtops from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Classic retro look and vintage single-coil sound, with slim design to fit on guitars with clearances to approx. 7/16″. May be mounted with neck rod, or string clamp and bracket. May be supplied with 1 or 2 knob control units, or without controls. Older models may have hardwired cords or screw-type mini-microphone connectors; later versions use 1/8″ mini-phone jack. Though out of production for almost 3 decades, they are still in demand.

DeArmond100In 1954, the company released an improved archtop model called the Rhythm Chief 1000. The design of the 1000 had some serious backspin on it: 6 Alnico V pole pieces, 2 larger in diameter than the other 4. The 4 pole pieces for the lowest strings were wound together 1st, then the other 2 magnets would be inserted and the whole coil would be wound. This resulted in much fewer windings around the B and E strings. DeArmond is known for using very thin wire, ranging in sizes from .38 to .44 gauge. The 1000 was followed soon after by the Super Chief 1100, an elegant chrome unit with 6 adjustable poles and a remote volume and tone control that also included a push-button rhythm switch.

DeArmond branched out into designing and producing on-board units for literally dozens of guitar manufacturers. DeArmonds were found on some of the highest-quality guitars of the time such as Guild, D’Angelico, Epiphone and Martin. DeArmonds were also available on some of the cheapest guitars available, Airline and Silvertone.

FingerTapTo promote the sensitivity of his pickups, Harry DeArmond developed a tapping technique, sometimes playing 2 guitars simultaneously.

This method was later adopted by Jjmmie Webster  (opposite 1908-78), Gretsch‘s designer and endorser, and further popularised 40 years later by players such as Stanley Jordan.

Autumn Leaves – Stanley Jordan – Twin Guitars

Harry DeArmond retired in 1975, by which time over 100 different pickups for a wide range of stringed instruments had been designed and manufactured, together with amplifiers and effects units. He made a major contribution to the design and development of pickups for stringed instruments and was granted several patents.

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DeArmond 1100 Rhythm Chief Pickup

The entry-level model was known as the FHC while the higher-end models were named the Model 1000 Rhythm Chief and the Model 1100 Adjustable Rhythm Chief.

Harry DeArmondmy father – played all stringed instruments, but his main instrument, of course, was the guitar.  He had a band locally for many years called The Admirals and played at various dance halls and for quite a while at a club/restaurant here in Toledo.  His greatest technique after he invented the DeArmond pick-up was to play two guitars at once by playing only on the neck of each guitar.  I was told by my mother after they took a trip to Nashville and visited with Chet Atkins that he considered my father one of the all time guitar greats as far as his technical abilities with both playing and inventions.  My father, however, did not want the life style pursuing his talents brought and concentrated on the development of the DeArmond pickup.  I’m certain you are aware that there were DeArmond pickups for most stringed instruments, including the violin and banjo, although Dad always said he thought a banjo player never needed a pickup.  Dad had several patents on his inventions.   I also have the first pick-up my Dad ever made and I will send you a picture of that as well.  Thanks so much for your interest.  I occasionally get enquiries about my father and it is always nice to take a walk down memory lane.  – Suzanne Barnhart.

John Henry DeArmond 1925-96
Born Aug. 5, 1925 in Hugo, Okla., John DeArmond spent his childhood in Little Rock, Ark. He was 10 years old when he disassembled a coil from a Ford Model A and fashioned it into a device, which, when attached to his electric guitar, amplified the sound of the strings.

The device – essentially a small microphone that turns vibrations into an electrical signal became the foundation for a company he later founded with his older brother Harry.  Harry DeArmond did not invent the device but he improved it, and his pickup became an industry standard.  “He was a force to be reckoned with,” said Ritchie Fliegler, marketing manager for Fender Musical Instruments Worldwide.  At 14 John DeArmond hopped a freight train to Santa Monica, where he earned a living playing his guitar on the street. He also fronted a swing band called Johnny De Armond and the Armondites.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, John DeArmond married, and established his company, which had grown to produce foot pedals, amplifiers and pickups for a variety of stringed instruments. The brothers sold the company in the late 1970s.   Fliegler said the DeArmond pickup is still highly sought by players and collectors alike.  “The DeArmond guitar pickup was really the quintessential jazz pickup from the late ’40s through the ’50s,” he said. “It had a lot of character, it sounded good, and it was well made.”

After selling the company, DeArmond moved to Dallas. In the late ’80s, he returned to California, living in Canyon Country and the Anza Borrego Desert.  A few years ago, in response to demand he began producing the DeArmond guitar pickup again. He was also the featured entertainer a one-man band at the Palm Canyon Resort in Anza Borrego, according to his son. John DeArmond is survived by another son, Douglas DeArmond of Tehachapi; a brother, Harold DeArmond of Toledo, Ohio, and two sisters, Christine Laquer of Phoenix, and Alline Seymour of Border, Texas.

The DeArmond was the original floating pickup, later copied by Kent, Sekova, and other brands.

The top model, the Model 1100 Adjustable Rhythm Chief, was often seen on D’Angelicos, Guilds, and other top-of-the-line archtops from the period. They were generally supplied with one or 2-knob control boxes, either hardwired with cords, screw-type mini-microphone connectors or, on later versions, a 1/8″ mini-phone jack. The 2-knob versions came with a “rhythm” switch push button (to change the tone and volume quickly when the player switches from rhythm to lead playing).

The entry-level model was known as the FHC while the higher-end models were named the Model 1000 Rhythm Chief and the Model 1100 Adjustable Rhythm Chief.

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DeArmondPickupThe neck rod attached to the neck of the guitar with 2 small screws while the string clamp (sometimes called the pressure rod) attached to all 6 strings on the lower side of the bridge.

Underside of the DeArmond>

 Modified DeArmond  Neck and Scratchplate Mounted

Design intention –
clamp to the strings beyond the bridge supports the floating pickup fixed to the neck with volume and tone control box on a pivotal extension.

Music Pickups – DeArmond History etc.


900Dearmond1948DeArmond900

Model 900 Attachable transducer pickup for Double Bass.  The bracket is bolted to the Bass tailpiece and holds the transducer head against the instrument’s body.  The earliest version had a screw-in cable arrangement.  DeArmond circa 1948

Vintage DeArmonds
DeArmond ‘Microphones’